Reviewed by Priscilla Issa
The 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic Orchestra, held at The Concourse, made for a truly spectacular afternoon of music. The orchestra capped off the year with an incredible program. It included works by the two Russian greats, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and a celebration of the homegrown talents of renowned pianist Roger Woodward and composer Naomi Dodd.
Whether or not you are a fan of the bombastic fanfare typical of neoclassicism, the KPO’s interpretation of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, led by renowned Sydney-based conductor, Paul Terrancini, was rousing and exuberant. The work was performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1954 in commemoration of the 37th anniversary of the October 1917 Revolution. Some believe the composition to be an example of Shostakovich’s conformity to the Stalin-run regime and to ceremony. Others believe it represents the composer’s shifting ideology post-war for a renewed life. Regardless, the speed at which the work had been completed is astonishing. It was composed in a mere three days!
Terracini’s masterful direction in dynamic and emotional variation captured these polarising ideas - both political pomp and yearning for a new day. The opening theme, played by the clarinets, and soon followed by the woodwind section, was an invigorating start to the KPO’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. The lightning fast string passages, evidence of the technical finger dexterity of members of the orchestra, captured Shostakovich’s hunger for vitality and rejuvenation in the aftermath of ‘Stalinism’. The brass section brings in the second theme, which soars over the languid string melody, highlighting the solemnity of the totalitarian regime. Anyone encountering the Festive Overture for the first time will have doubtless been overwhelmingly impressed.
Naomi Dodd’s Deep Calls to Deep, a sophisticated and nuanced modern work from a young and developing local talent, evoked vivid imagery of the mystery and magnitude of the ocean. Audiences could hear the thundering claps of waves, the stillness and serenity that subsides in the wake of a violent storm, and the eerie sounds of clicks, whistles and pulsed whale calls. How does one make whale noises using classical instruments? Dodd has impressively worked it out. A combination of cymbal, timpani and string bow magic is how! This was a truly moving work. It left audiences astounded and wanting more. There is no doubt this talented, young composer will continue to impress Australian audiences.
The third item on the program was Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony for Strings, Op. 110A. It is another of Shostakovich’s works composed in a mere three days. The composition is a reworking of his String Quartet in C minor, Op 110 and was written in Dresden, the site of the aerial bombardment that took place in the Second World War. Described as one of the most horrific events recorded in modern history, this composition was specifically written in memory of the victims of WWII and fascism. Shostakovich’s personal signature, DSCH (D, E-flat, C, B), is a forlorn evocation of destruction and hurt. The second movement culminates in a cacophony of sound, highlighting the madness and violence of war. Terracini’s take on the macabre twisted waltz in the third movement was a highlight. In particular, the schmaltzy lingering on suspensions and the major key interjections of the strings captured a ‘things are not quite right’ feeling. The unsettling fourth movement begins with three striking chords in the strings. In fact, the composer’s son, Maxim, had indicated the chords were just like the KGB’s threatening door knocks. The KPO perfectly conveyed this feeling of unease. The same could be said for the final movement - it was not the positive emotional resolution audiences were hoping for but captured the gravitas perfectly.
The highlight of the program was most definitely internationally acclaimed pianist Roger Woodward’s take on Prokofiev’s Concerto for Piano Op 26. This work is a beast, to say the least. He brought the house down with his stamina, exuberance and formidable technique. Woodward made the piano sing in the first movement. The Russian folk song shimmered through the melody and was supported sublimely by the woodwinds and castanets. The second movement saw a twisting and turning over all 88 keys across five virtuosic variations. Not once did he falter. The final movement - from waltz to coda - was breathtaking. It was a thrill to see the KPO perform alongside this Chatswood native. Australia is proud to call Woodward their own virtuosic genius. Bravo!
What a way to finish off the year! Well done, KPO. Your supporters look forward to another successful 50 years!