The wide and narrow stage with two rows of seats facing each other is problematic: the group dominates the central stage, leaving the actors-singers only a shallow stage strip at the front, and cramped spaces at left and right of the stage, diminishing the impact of dramatic action. Performing the action simultaneously left and right divides the audience’s attention – a sin in theatrical staging.
With its raucous songs and daring characters, strange passage remains a fun and exuberant production, despite any sound or directing issues. Reviewed by Kate Herbert
Beethoven’s Ninth ★★★★
Hamer Hall, July 1
Crowned with an instantly recognizable tune, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on Schiller Ode to Joy still has enormous pulling power. This power was confirmed by near-capacity audiences who flocked to hear this musical beacon of hope and human solidarity performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Principal Guest Conductor Xian Zhang.
The finale of the symphony was indeed an unbridled celebration of joy, full of vigorously engaged singing and playing, but the road to that ecstatic climax was at times a laborious one.
Contemporary Chinese composer Zhao Jiping Violin Concerto No. 1 turned out to be an unpromising prelude. His unadventurous eclecticism offered little opportunity for the soloist Ning Feng to show off his undoubted virtuosity, or for the audience to appreciate the golden tone of his 1710 Stradivari, especially when the solo part was overwhelmed by the full orchestra. Even so, he gave the score his all, bringing an intoxicating romantic flourish to his lyrical moments and brilliant aplomb to his basic virtuoso violin exclamations.
Xian Zhang’s broad and hands-off approach to the symphony was a mixed blessing. While not without excitement, the first movement could have benefited from more attention to rhythms and gradation of dynamics, just as the whiplash effects of the Scherzo needed influence. galvanizing. Lush in plush string tone, the third movement effectively ushered in the energetic finale.
Bass Nathan Berg impressed with his engaging and frank invitation to the joyful festivities, joining soprano Madeleine Pierard, mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Dark and tenor Rosario la Spina in a well-rounded solo quartet. Well-prepared by Michael Fulcher, the choir sang with luminous clarity and incisive attack, deftly negotiating Beethoven’s demanding choral writing.
Additional orchestral energy propelled the music to a tumultuous conclusion, claiming that nearly 200 years later, Beethoven’s genius lives on in bringing people together in both simple and profound ways. Reviewed by Tony Way
A concert for peace ★★★½
Melbourne Bach Chamber Choir & Orchestra, St. Paul’s Cathedral, July 2
Raising funds for humanitarian aid in Ukraine, this carefully timed act of musical solidarity reminded us that a distant conflict resonates so close to home. For Melbourne Bach Choir artistic director Rick Prakhoff, whose grandparents fled Ukraine as refugees in the last century, and Ukrainian bass soloist Alex Pokryshevsky, the occasion was particularly poignant.
Mykola Lyssenko Prayer for Ukraine, in a traditional Orthodox musical style, established an atmosphere of quiet reverence, enhanced by a warm choral tone. Lyssenko’s bittersweet Funeral march for Taras ShevchenkoA Ukrainian musician’s tribute to the founder of the modern Ukrainian language, found eloquent expression under the hands of Calvin Bowman on the piano.
A contrast Prayer for Ukraine, this time by avant-garde Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, communicated a hushed, uneasy fervor. Silvestrov, who turns 85 this year, fled Kyiv in March and now lives in Berlin.
Unable to flee Budapest in the closing days of World War II, Kodaly composed his Missa Brevis in the basement of the city opera. This lively and dramatic work sometimes posed challenges to the choir in terms of internal balance and intonation. However, the performance was enhanced by character solo contributions from mezzo-soprano Belinda Paterson, tenor Will Grant and Pokryshevsky, as well as understated but colorful organ accompaniment from Bowman.
The well-realized richness of Rachmaninoff’s a cappella Dyevo Bogorodyitse and the string orchestral version of Barber’s Elegiac Adagio contrasts with more contemporary appeals for peace. Like a mantra welling up from deep within, the minimalism of Arvo Part Domine Da Pacem made a haunting impression, while Lithuanian Peteris Vasks’ overtly emotional staging of the same text sparked a heartfelt musical outpouring, filling the vast space of the cathedral, a defiant musical act in the face of a devastating war.
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