★★★★★ A perfect example of the level of musicianship of which this orchestra is truly capable.

Adelaide Festival Theatre
February 13, 2016

February and March have been traditionally praised for the quality and quantity of live music programming here in Adelaide; however the past few years have seen a laying off a musical content during the Festival as such, leaving it to the likes of such local groups as the Australian String Quartet and the Adelaide Symphony to take up the slack. And their first concert for 2016 under the more than capable baton of incoming Chief Conductor Nicholas Carter was a perfect example of the level of musicianship of which this orchestra is truly capable.

In a more than generous programme which featured both Beethoven’s much loved Violin Concerto as well as a concert performance of the central Act One from Richard Wagner’s Die Walkure – perhaps the most representative and therefore generous introduction that we could have to the sixteen-hour cycle of operas known as the Ring of the Nibelungen.

Of course the orchestra is well attuned with both of these choices – having played them with the likes of Kennedy and others in recent years (the Beethoven) and electing themselves as the Australian Wagnerian orchestra of choice – with two complete Ring cycles and Parsifal under their belt.

The Canadian violinist James Ehnes has, with his local performances with the ASO, always delivered extremely well received notices in repertoire stretching from Vivaldi to Britten and again in such central repertoire as the Beethoven concerto, did not disappoint with Carter and his forces giving well-balanced support to the work. Such was the audience’s appreciation of this performance that it was given a spontaneous standing ovation (a rather rare occurrence in conservative Adelaide) to be followed by a contrapuntally balanced yet equally virtuosic excerpt from one of Bach’s solo sonatas. This would have been also most enough for a programme in itself and yet was followed by the generosity of the entire of the entire first act from The Walkure!

Nicholas Carter conducts the ASO with Simon O’Neill, Michelle DeYoung and Shane Lawrence © Simone Reid

This was more than a generous reminder of the orchestra’s prowess in this hyper-Romantic musical theatre. It was also a stiff test to prove the mettle of the new conductor Carter, and the vocalists chosen for this Herculean task – a task which no one failed. The hour of drama presented a trio of exemplary voices who were clearly audible over such gargantuan musical forces. The trio of soloists – Simon O’Neill (Siegmund), Shane Lawrence (Hunding) and Michelle DeYoung’s Sieglinde – proved to be ideally cast as exponents of these long and arduous roles  and all sang with precision and compassion. And it should be noted – as with the orchestra’s run of complete performances of the cycle – here they displayed as much importance to our understanding of Wagner, as the vocalists themselves. Here was a truly excellent introduction – not only to the orchestra and this year’s choice in programming – but to this equally fine young conductor  – Nicholas Carter – himself.