If one was looking for proof in the wisdom of Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s visionary decision to select young Australian Nicholas Carter as Chief Conductor, this was probably the concert.
For some conductors, it’s purely the ability to achieve a great sound, but in this case in point, it was also obvious in the unusual, but highly effectively and innovative programming of Messiaen, Sibelius and Berlioz. If one is seeking a narrative for this programme, the theme which comes to mind is the ability of orchestral music to capture and bring to life the rich characters and emotions of life.
Messiaen’s Le Tombeau Résplendissant is a 1930s work that is filled with two strong examples of life, shaped by Messiaen’s strong religious conviction. The work has two marked themes – one a jarring, energetic feel, capturing the spirit and gratitude of life and the other a quiet, calm and eerie capture that captures the calm and piece of death.
In this Adelaide premiere of the Messiaen, Carter and the ASO created a very fine performance, which beautifully captured the work’s energy and pathos. The precision required in the bright, angular sections was sheer perfection. With no unclear sound blends, the energy was piercing. Visually it was like watching a 85-piece orchestra performing a complex ballet movement. In the quieter section, the dynamic control, the pace and the energy created a wondrous spine-tingling eeriness. In the quietest moments one could hear a pin-drop and see an audience fully with the orchestra and captured by the music’s drama.
What one witnessed and appreciated – in the Messiaen particularly, but also throughout this concert – was Carter’s refined conducting technique, consisting of clarity, no-wasted energy and a genuine communication of his enthusiasm for what he is conducting.
From Messiaen, we were transported to the unusual, but delightful, Sibelius Violin Concerto, with rising-star 18-year old violinist, Grace Clifford. Maybe it was just me, but this performance for the first time really brought together this concerto’s Yin and Yang characters, the Yin being beguiling calmness and light and the Yang an energetic, but refined virtuosity. That this occurred was very much due to Clifford’s depth of musical maturity way beyond her years and Carter’s ability to appreciate and bring out the finer details of this concerto.
Clifford, apart from her musical refinement, is an incredibly talented musician who portrays an inner-calm of unusual quantity. She is also fortunate to have the ability to create refined, precise musicianship with a delightfully broad dynamic range, even on the high notes.
To end Carter’s successful first year as ASO Chief Conductor he programmed the grand French Romantic symphony, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and, from start to finish, Carter and the ASO demonstrated what a refined group of musicians they are.
In Dreams they revelled in the quiet dynamics, counterpoint and building of the drama. In At the Ball, the tempo perfectly captured a waltz of young love and passion. In Scenes in the Fields the calm, distant-feel came to life with clean soft energy. The celli and double bass created a beautifully rich, warm unified melodic line, while the brass revelled in their bold movements. From the March to the Scaffold, matters descended with a Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath where the ASO captured the music’s dark and manic energy.
Balancing Berlioz’s dynamics in a smaller than ideal venue was no small feat, but one which Carter managed incredibly well. One can only imagine and dream how it would be to hear the ASO perform this in their much deserved and overdue purpose-built concert hall. After such an impressive concert, one can only wait and see what Carter creates in 2017!