Increasingly, Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s management puts the spotlight on its players. Associate concertmaster Alan Smith introduced the guest concertmaster, Natsuko Yoshimoto, from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Jill Atkinson, harpist, spoke about Marie-Pierre Langlamet, Berlin Philharmonic’s principal harpist and soloist for Ginastera’s Harp Concerto. Phoebe Russell, Principal Double Bass, wrote the program’s welcome note. Celebrating the instrumentalists as well as the conductor and soloist is a good move. In valuing individual players there is a noticeably deeper engagement in the Maestro Series concerts.
Diego Matheuz. Photo © Lucas Dawson Photography
Supposedly, someone quipped that the definition of an intellectual is a person who doesn’t automatically associate the galloping impetus of the last movement of Rossini’s William Tell Overture with the Lone Ranger, America’s iconic hero from a TV series of the same name. Conductor Diego Matheuz is to be congratulated on the direction he gave the orchestra for this Overture because the infamous last movement, seared into our culture’s collective brain, had immense precision. Despite the delivery’s breathless pacing, there was subtlety enough to avoid the clichéd imagery of thundering hooves. Matheuz led a tight yet dignified orchestra, the performance well served by the conductor’s restraint.
Throughout the program, Matheuz, a violinist cultivated by Venezuela’s legendary El Sistema orchestra, demonstrated an affinity with the strings, especially enabling the lower strings to shine. One of five soloing cellists, Matthew Kinmont’s persuasive singing cello and vivid shaping in the introductory movement captured an appreciative audience.
Following this evergreen work, Alberto Ginastera’s lesser-known visceral sound world refreshed the ear. The composer found the Concerto a challenge to write because a harp can be overwhelmed in an orchestral setting. In the first movement, Ginastera’s score avoids eclipsing the soloist by presenting two main frames, the first fierce and syncopated with the harp expressing spiky, percussive elements spiced by gruff woodwind asides. The second theme presents a more traditional treatment of the harp, tuneful, flowing and tender. Langlamet conjured the oppositional moods and technical challenges of these contrasting passages distinctively. A lengthy harp cadenza precedes the Finale and Langlamet breezed through its treacherous reaches brilliantly. Langlamet’s encore, a Prelude by Prokofiev, foreshadowed the composer’s Romeo and Juliet ballet music still to come.
Sword fights, moonlit love trysts, tsunamis of rage, rousing marches and melting romance in Prokofiev’s ballet score is direct and cinematic and offers numerous opportunities to hear individual players. Sarah Butler, principal trumpet, clarinet and bass clarinet by Irit Silver and Nicholas Harmsen, and Yoshimoto’s leadership was a breath of fresh air. Matheuz’s elegantly stretched section endings, airy repose, variably shimmered colour, massive sound tempered by scarcely audible whispers, resulted in an inspired performance in this consistently entertaining concert.