The Rite of Spring may famously have caused a riot when it premiered at Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris in 1913, but it soon became part of the repertoire. More than a hundred years – and countless performances and recordings – later, it can still be an exciting work, particularly in the masterful hands of someone like Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen, who made his Sydney Symphony Orchestra debut in this concert, launching the orchestra’s new Symphony Hour series with a thrilling performance of Stravinsky’s colourful score.

Pietari Inkinen. Photo © Yamaguchi Atsushi

With the SSO making a temporary home in the Sydney Town Hall while the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall is remodelled, the Symphony Hour series is a new initiative of shorter, earlier concerts designed to lure in city workers who might be tempted, before facing their evening commute, to knock back some craft beer and Stravinsky. Not an unappealing prospect. The program will be bulked up further with Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela when the SSO goes to the Sydney Coliseum Theatre.

Inkinen opened proceedings in grand style with the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s 1868 opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. A Wagner specialist – Inkinen conducted Opera Australia’s Ring Cycles in 2013 and 2016, and Meistersinger in 2018 ­– he drew incredible depth and a rich, organ-like sound from the orchestra, the strings lush and brass refulgent. Wagner wrote the Prelude before the rest of the opera, foreshadowing the grandeur of the song contest and the ‘Procession of the Masters’ in the final act, and if the Town Hall wasn’t already sufficiently inaugurated by the orchestra’s season opener, it certainly was now.

The SSO’s Principal Bassoon Todd Gibson-Cornish carried some of that brassy shine over to the haunting solo that opens The Rite of Spring, giving a particularly burnished performance. While there was little sense of distance in this space, the detailed colours that bloomed in the opening minutes were exquisite. Inkinen gave the driving string accents in the Dance of the Young Girls plenty of heft without losing any clarity (or giving away too much of the intensity to come) and the percussive Games of the Rival Tribes was lithe and muscular. The low strings in the Spring Rounds had a primal gravitas before the music boiled over into crashing climaxes at the end of Part 1. The orchestra was in brilliant form throughout, and there were some beautiful, velvet alto flute moments and fiercely abrasive muted brass cries. The brutal stamp of the Glorification of the Virgin was shattering, while Inkinen twisted on the podium in the final Sacrificial Dance, as if caught up himself in the rite’s grim ecstasy.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra performs The Rite of Spring at the Sydney Town Hall until February 20, and the Sydney Coliseum Theatre, West HQ on February 22


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