Friday, September 2, 2022

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House

Following a visit to the UK, including the BBC Proms, the Australian World Orchestra returned home (some members presumably going back to their respective global bases, the AWO sports a rotation of personnel) and continued to work with Zubin Mehta, this time a Richard Strauss programme, played two night ago in Melbourne, and now in Sydney.

Good to see Mehta walk on without his stick, although he sat to conduct. Don Juan (Lenau’s) started well, unanimously, if perhaps with a touch of middle-age spread for the first couple of minutes, but the playing was detailed and lavished with rich-sounding strings, the activity of the music increasing, and then romancing to an eloquent oboe solo, supported by equally fine horn and clarinet, and sensitive strings, before horns en masse rose to the occasion and the philanderer was off again … only to meet his doom, a moment of unbridled transfiguration here before the music slips into murky depths. (A mention for the broadcast: good picture, less-good sound, which was diffuse and with elements of echo; whether technical problems or the acoustic, I cannot say.) Till Eulenspiegel was terrific, with a brilliant horn solo (Andrew Bain, I believe, from the LA Phil), and a real feel for the cartoon nature of the music, its storyline shifts, wit and parody, all swallowed whole; carefully crafted in rehearsal, unleashed in performance.

Ein Heldenleben (much more than double the length of the previous two works put together) completed the concert, Mehta conducting all from memory, the AWO’s strings laid-out old-style – antiphonal violins, cellos left-centre, basses, nine, behind) – and the broadcast sound was now much improved. It was a glorious account of Heldenleben, sweeping and sonorous, with concertmaster Daniel Dodds (Lucerne Festival Strings and Lucerne Festival Orchestra) superb as the Hero’s ‘Companion’ (Rebecca Chan, Philharmonia Orchestra, had led the first half, with distinction in her solos), exceptional playing and characterisation of Pauline, the future Frau Strauss, with a voluptuous orchestral payoff, lingering before going into Battle, which was surprisingly stately albeit precisely cacophonous, if pulse-related to the preceding episodes, symphonic poem indeed, with victory horn-signalled and an opportunity for the Hero to look-back on past achievements – self-quotations, including from Don and Till – and then with a sepia-tinted/loving presentation of what remains, effective and affecting, leading to retirement and a sunset.

Zubin Mehta was then made an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia, accepted humbly.

BBC Proms 2022 – Prom 48: Australian World Orchestra. Zubin Mehta. Webern & Brahms. Siobhan Stagg sings Debussy’s Ariettes oubliĆ©es, orchestrated by Brett Dean. Live BBC Radio 3 broadcast.