Wigglesworth lifts the bar in program which proves an orchestral workout.

Adelaide Town Hall
November 21, 2014

It wasn’t all that long ago that Mahler would prove to be beyond the ken of the local orchestra. Such repertoire would generally be the fare of visiting orchestras and festivals. However with Arvo Volmer’s excellently received cycle of all nine completed Mahler symphonies, not to mention the two Wagnerian Ring cycles since 2000, the Adelaide orchestra’s ability to comprehend and master these late Romantic masterpieces would bear fruit. And if anything, this performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony surpasses even Volmer. 

This particular programme would prove to be a generous one (as most orchestras would be satisfied in presenting the Mahler alone), with the addition of Franz Liszt’s highly virtuosic Second Piano Concerto with soloist Jean-Efflam Bazouvet, here was something more akin to the generous evening entertainment that we would associate with Liszt himself – placing him, as film director Ken Russell would do, as classical music’s first cross-over rock star where personality also becomes important. And of course in this music, and so appropriately, the pianist played directly to the sold-out audience with gargantuan musical forces supporting him in this equally extrovert example of artist as central hero. However this was a performance which went beyond mere navel-gazing almost being capable of convincing the enthusiastic audience of the composer’s intention. But what is central in this type of work – and just who is the boss here? The conductor or the soloist? Here it would appear that each was prepared to support the other.

However in the main work of the concert it was the orchestra as virtuosic vehicle which was to the fore with Wigglesworth shaping this music as if it were the most intimate of chamber music as much as the most impassioned. Here was a highly motivated approach to this popular symphony which dovetailed beautifully with the no-holes barred approach exhibited by all in the Liszt.

In the Mahler everything worked as it should – with the strings bringing to bear the all too appropriate elegiac manner to the oh so familiar fourth movement, the adagietto. Similarly guest horn soloist, Adrian Uren, deserved singular praise for his part in this large scale work. In fact the whole orchestra gave wholeheartedly from the opening fanfare of trumpet leading to the intense percussive crash that puts to work to task. Here was quite the orchestral workout and all gave their utmost with conviction and empathy – a primary example of just what this orchestra is capable of.