Hamer Hall, Melbourne
July 5, 2018

From the opening rhythmic timpani motif of the Britten violin concerto to the heroic theme in the finale of the Bruckner, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was difficult to fault at its concert on Thursday night under the steady hand of Australian maestro Simone Young. The orchestra excelled in the feverish central movement of the violin concerto, leaving ample space for German violinist and frequent MSO collaborator, Kolja Blacher, to shine in the Scherzo’s impressive cadenza. They marched sturdily over rocky terrain through Britten’s tonally ambiguous finale, which ended unnervingly with the soloist wavering between an F-natural and an F-sharp — flitting, undecided, between minor and Major structures — over a more certain D-major chord in the orchestra.

Written on the eve of world war in 1939, but in fact a meditation on the Spanish Civil War, Britten’s violin concerto is equal parts moody and stormy, akin perhaps to a melancholic Korngold concerto, and recalling Prokofiev’s own first concerto for violin and finding later echoes in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto in A minor. It is however unmistakably Brittenesque, replete with forms and textures favoured by the composer, including the distinct passacaglia of the...

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