Maestro and pianist Howard Shelley celebrates 30 years with the Tasmanian Symphony.

Federation Concert Hall, Hobart
May 1, 2015

In his 30th year collaborating with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Howard Shelley shows no signs of slowing down. Taking the roles of both conductor and soloist in this concert, Shelley spread high spirits with his Hobart audience.

The orchestra opened in fine form with five movements of Dvorák’s Legends, Op. 59 B122. Dvorák wrote the work for piano duo from 1880-81, but orchestrated it immediately. Despite moments of trivially poor intonation at the outset, the Molto moderato was wondrously sentimental and Allegro con moto flowed smoothly; it felt unnatural not to clap after this movement had finished. In a jumbled order, Legends came to a close with the impassioned third movement Allegro giusto.

What a joy – and challenge – it must be for a maestro to physically produce the music he conducts. So it was for Shelley during Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No 1 in G Minor, Op. 25. His lidless piano was positioned to face the orchestra, and at times Shelley would burst from his seat to conduct – one swift movement between two challenging musical roles. Other brief moments saw him conduct with his left hand while playing with his right – revealing his instinct to embrace all aspects of the work. On top of it all, he even turned his own pages of music. But these physical disruptions were inaudible and the result was nothing less than a seamless performance of the composer’s First Piano Concerto.

The scalic piano passages of the Molto allegro con fuoco were taken quickly but comfortably, with the Andante rich and tender. The biggest jolt of energy was reserved for the Presto – Molto allegro e vivace – Tempo I, and brought about by the impeccably tuned brass. Noticeable here was the extent of which Shelley had held back to allow for his jovial ending.

Fauré’s whimsical Dolly Suite, Op. 56 was originally composed between 1894-97 as a piano duet for Dolly, the daughter of Debussy’s second wife. But the suite was orchestrated by Henri Rabaud a few decades later, and this enchanting arrangement filled the concert hall with playful dances. Capturing Dolly’s childish innocence, it was a remarkable show of youth for Shelley despite this being his third decade with the orchestra. The Kitty valse (Kitty Waltz) was buoyant and delightful, and a prominent tambourine carried the fun through the final Le pas espagnol (Spanish Step).

The evening came full circle as the music of Dvorák appeared again – this time, his Symphonic Variations. The composer’s initial theme is based on his work for voice The Fiddler, B66/3 – both pieces written in 1877. The TSO’s performance was a complete success – a display of Shelley’s own ‘variations’ of skill as a conductor.

The strings were taken to splendorous heights, challenging the occasionally dominant brass. The ever-building fugal finale was comically interrupted by cellos singing a romantic variation of the melody as the triangle called for attention. A robust major conclusion created a feeling of utter satisfaction. May Shelley continue to work his magic with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra well beyond this, his 30th year.

Sign up to the Limelight newsletter