Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
July 4, 2018

From violinist Niccolò Paganini’s rumoured dealings with the devil to the almost limitless repertoire penned for devotion, music and the spiritual plane have often gone hand in hand. This was the theme of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Spirit Realms – Sacred and Profane,a concert of Ross Edwards, Rachmaninov and Mendelssohn conducted by Canadian maestro Julian Kuerti making his debut with the orchestra. Who better, then, to headline such a concert than British-Australian pianist Stephen Hough, who has himself flirted with joining the priesthoodand is possessed of a technique that one might be forgiven for attributing to demonic influence.

Rachmaninov, another formidable virtuoso, wrote his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini– based on the violinist’s distinctive 24th Caprice – for his own performance in the wake of the lacklustre response to his Fourth Piano Concerto. Unlike the Fourth, it proved an immediate hit, combining showmanship and humour with musical heft and charming finesse. Hough, who has been doing the roundsof the state orchestras (he heads to Brisbane for a gig with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra after he’s finished in Sydney), brought all of this and more...