Nordic Adventures – led by Norwegian conductor Eivind Aadland – highlighted the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s strengths, with plenty of sweeping melodies, sonorous textures, and rich harmonies. It opened with Arnold Bax’s 1919 tone poem Tintagel. The composer began writing the work after visiting Tintagel Castle, a medieval fortress on the cliffs of the Cornwall coast, and drew on the site’s mythological associations with the tales of King Arthur, and the story of Tristan and Isolde.
Tintagel begins in a gentle, pastoral mood, with shimmering upper strings, and bird-like trills from the flute, before a dramatic escalation featuring the brass section, which the composer described as “a tonal impression of the castle-crowned cliff of Tintagel, and, more especially, of the long distances of the Atlantic.” The latter part of the piece features evocative swells in volume and texture, building to a suitable dramatic ending. The ASO’s strings were in particularly fine form in this work, producing a truly sumptuous sound in the climatic moments.
Eivind Aadland and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Annika Stennert
Although Tintagel shared some stylistic elements with the other music on the programme, as a work by an English composer depicting an English castle and drawing on Celtic mythology, the connection to the Nordic theme of the concert was tenuous at best. This seemed like a missed opportunity for Aadland to introduce the Adelaide audience to a lesser-known, or, dare I suggest a contemporary work by a Nordic composer, to give a broader perspective on Nordic orchestral music.
Next on the programme was the ever-popular Piano Concerto in A minor by Grieg, featuring Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg. In a blog post for BBC Music Magazine, the pianist describes this work as containing both “passion and fire”, and “beauty and benevolence”, and he was able to capture both sides with finesse. Giltburg demonstrated admirable restraint in the first movement, holding back the tempo, phrasing and dynamics in order to pace the drama effectively. The second movement once again featured beautifully controlled playing from both orchestra and soloist, with the ASO bringing out some ethereal colours in the softer moments.
In the final movement, Giltburg captured the youthful exuberance for which this work is renowned, with his exuberant, virtuosic playing. During the bows, Aadland singled out three of the orchestra’s principal players for well-deserved applause: hornist Adrian Uren, flautist Geoffrey Collins, and cellist Simon Cobcroft, who all performed their solo lines with sensitive nuances and flawless tone quality.
The second half of the programme was Sibelius’s expansive Second Symphony. This work gave the woodwind section plenty of opportunities to shine, and they certainly did, with exquisite phrasing, seamless dovetailing, and excellent blending and balance. The bassoon duet in first movement was a highlight of the performance, making this reviewer wish that the instrument was featured more prominently in the standard orchestral repertoire.