Review: CSO's Sibelius Llewellyn Series/01 | HerCanberra

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Review: CSO’s Sibelius Llewellyn Series/01

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On Thursday night I ventured out to see the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) perform Sibelius (and Dvorak and Schubert) as part of the Llewellyn Series at the School of Music’s iconic Llewellyn Hall.

I love music with all my heart but my knowledge of classical music is limited to the repertoire from years of singing in choirs so I wasn’t familiar with anything the CSO were going to play. This was also my first time seeing the CSO and I wasn’t sure what to expect. HerCanberra’s Emily Allen thinks very highly of them, but I’ve also heard whispers that they’re not as good as Musica Viva. Emily was right and the whispers couldn’t be more wrong—the CSO is outstanding. Here I share with you my fairly uneducated review of their performance.

The night begins with Schubert’s The Magic Harp Overture—an impressive introduction with quite striking changes in harmony. The conductor, Nicholas Milton, has a fascinating style that almost feels like he’s animatedly telling a story to a group of friends. The dynamic intensity of the piece waxes and wanes under Milton’s deft hands and finishes beautifully and decisively. I am now a Schubert convert.

After the introductory piece, Milton pauses to welcome the audience and thank everyone for coming. He’s proud to announce the CSO has almost sold out subscriptions for 2015, indicating an incredible level of engagement and support from the Canberra community.

“The orchestra will take us all on a special journey—a special adventure—with our community,” he enthuses.

We launch into the next part of our journey with Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, featuring New Zealand’s Edward King as the soloist. The first part builds an intense sense of anticipation which soon segues into adventure. King is incredibly dextrous on the cello and paints the picture of a gorgeous yet tortured artist. His solo sections seem wistful at first, especially when compared with the French horns which seem to be saying, “Cheer up! This too shall pass.” Then he twins with the clarinet and the music becomes stronger and more confident, all leading rather dramatically to an evocative, cinematic ending. It’s an uplifting performance, with each instrument having an important part of the story to tell. I resolve to get more familiar with Dvorak.

After intermission we are treated to the headliner—Finnish composer, Sibelius, and his Symphony No. 5 in E flat major. Referred to as “one of Sibelius’ most shining, life-affirming creations,” the Ambassador of Finland himself is here and it’s unlikely he will have been disappointed. The performance is very beautiful and polished and it’s clear the musicians are in its thrall. For me though, the composition itself lacks the grit and intrigue of Dvorak. Perhaps it’s my lack of knowledge of the genre but I find I’m repeatedly swept away by the music like a leaf on a stream, losing all connection with the here and now (similar to when I’m supposed to be meditating). And yet sometimes it’s so nice to just relax and go with the flow—to let beautiful music carry you off on a journey or an adventure and not worry about how closely you’re paying attention.

The evening has left me serene, happy and keen for more. If you’d like to come on a musical adventure with the CSO, the second Llewellyn concert on 6 and 7 May will feature Matthew Hindson’s Boom Box, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. For this concert the CSO will welcome the remarkable pianist Hoang Pham, winner of Australia’s 2013 Young Performer of the Year Award.

the essentials

What: Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s 2015 Llewellyn Series
Where: Llewellyn Hall, School of Music, Australian National University
When: 6 and 7 May 2015

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