Adelaide Town Hall
August 17, 2018

Woodwind concerti are few and far between in most symphony orchestras’ seasons, so it is always exciting to see a saxophone concerto in one of their programs. Amy Dickson gave the Australian premiere of Scottish composer James MacMillan’s Saxophone Concerto in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Romantic Rachmaninov concert. This work has a fairly standard three movement structure, with a slow, lyrical second movement in between two fast movements, and draws on elements of Scottish traditional music.

The first movement, March, Strathspey and Reel, as the title suggests, featured various rhythms and patterns from Scottish folk dances, with somewhat angular melodic lines. Dickson navigated the technical demands of this movement with grace and agility, and the ensemble with the orchestra, under the baton of the ASO’s Principal Conductor Nicholas Carter was extremely tight.

Gaelic Psalm, the second movement, was inspired by the practice of Gaelic psalmody, with the saxophone fulfilling the role of a cantor leading a congregation – or, in this case, the string orchestra. This movement, with its sparse textures, lyrical lines, and drones, really showcased the soloist’s powerfully full but beautifully warm low register, and her incredible control in the upper register.

The final movement, Jig, again made great technical demands on the soloist, but Dickson navigated these with ease, and her playing was spectacularly even and controlled in scalic passages. The movement ended with a slow, soft, spectral passage: it may have been an unusual choice to end a jig, and a rather virtuosic concerto, with such soft and static passage, but the ethereal effect was engrossing.

Preceding the concerto was Gabriel Fauré’s Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande. The ASO produced some stunning colours and textures in this performance, with a particularly sublime sound from the strings in the opening passages, and gorgeous solo work from woodwind section throughout the piece. After the subtlety and nuance much of the music in the first half of the concert, the dramatic outbursts of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.3 seemed rather cacophonous at first. But the ASO brought incredible enthusiasm and energy to this epic work.