Aye, maybe it was my Scottish lineage rising to the fore, but one could almost feel the lashing seas, rugged shores and westerly winds of the North Atlantic as WASO sailed into its second spring concert last week.
The orchestra kicked off Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 with a prelude of Mendelssohn’s haunting The Hebrides Overture followed by Mozart’s lovely Violin Concerto No. 5.
The Mendelssohn piece was inspired by the composer’s trips to the British Isles as a young man, specifically an 1829 excursion to the Scottish island of Staffa, with its famous basalt sea cave, known as Fingal’s Cave (purportedly ‘discovered’ by Joseph Banks…yep, that Banks).
Though called an overture, the music is intended to stand as a short complete work, and it does not tell a specific story, but rather, sets out to evoke the mood and scenery of that remote maritime location.
There are two themes at work in the piece. The opening notes express the feelings the young composer wrote while visiting the cave, and are conveyed by modulating and lilting violas, cellos and bassoons. This lyrical theme, suggestive of the power and beauty of the cave, engenders feelings of solitude and loneliness. The second theme depicts movement at sea, the rolling swells, winds and scudding clouds.
It is brought alive with evocative use of flutes, oboes, clarinets, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings.
During his Scottish tour a rapt Mendelssohn sent a postcard to his family with the opening phrase of his overture written on it.
“In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there,” Mendelssohn wrote to his sister.
It worked. On the other side of the globe in the Perth Concert Hall the other night we got a splendid taste of what young Felix was so eager to convey to his kin.
Next we were carried to a completely different musical realm via Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. Australian violinist Emmalena Huning played the solo – and what a performance it was from the young star!
At 19-years-old, Emmalena is already a highly accomplished violinist and is currently furthering her studies at the Royal Academy of Music, London.
It is believed Mozart wrote the concerto in 1775 and it is scored for oboes, horns and strings.
The Allegro aperto opens with the orchestra playing the main theme, a technique quite typical for Mozart. The solo violin comes in with a short but sweet adagio passage accompanied by the orchestra. It then transitions back to the main theme with the solo violin playing a different melody on top of the orchestra.
The Rondeau (Temp di Menuetto) finale is based on a minuet theme, which recurs several times.
Then things get complex. Mozart delighted in changes in tempo, melody and cadence, sometimes verging on dissonance, but would always spring a melodic masterpiece from seeming disorder. This was part of his undisputed, playful genius.
In the middle of the movement the meter changes dramatically and a section of what sounds like Turkish music is played, hence this movement has resulted in the work being nicknamed by some as “The Turkish Concerto”.
The change is obvious with a shift to A minor (from A major), and by the use of various elements, such as unison chromatic crescendos, repetition of very short musical elements and collegno playing in the cellos and double basses. This last is the setting of the strings of the instrument in motion with the wood of the bow rather than with the hair. A wonderful rhythmic racket!
This was a beautiful interpretation of a Mozart favourite and a flawless performance by the solo artist. Brava, Emmalena!
Then it was on to Antonín Dvořák’s marvellous Symphony No. 8. Conductor Jessica Gethin put in a sparkling performance on the podium, leading her charges through this symphonic favourite.
Dvořák composed the symphony in 1889, and conducted its first performance at Prague on February 2, 1890.
At the time, he said the piece would be “different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way”. The Eighth is cheery and lyrical and draws its inspiration from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák loved and admired.
The score was dedicated: “To the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Joseph for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature, in thanks for my election.”
It calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, and strings.
The first movement, Allegro con brio, features resounding use of timpani. It opens with a lyrical theme in the cellos, horns, clarinets and bassoon with trombones, violas and double basses pizzicato (plucking of strings). This gives way to a “bird call” flute melody. The joyous nature of the movement is interlaced with more sombre minor-key sections.
Despite being marked Adagio, the second movement moves along at a steady canter. It begins with a typically beautiful clarinet duet and ends quietly and softly.
Most of the third movement is a lyrical melancholy waltz. Near the end, the meter changes and the music is similar to the second movement.
Allegro ma non troppo (meaning fast, but not overly so) is the most turbulent movement. It begins with a fanfare of trumpets, and then progresses to a beautiful melody, which is first played by the cellos.
Controlled tension mounts and is finally released with a cascade of instruments exultantly playing the initial theme at a somewhat faster pace. From there, following a flute solo, the movement progresses through a tempestuous middle section, modulating from major to minor several times throughout.
After a return to the slow, lyrical section, the symphony leads out on a chromatic coda, in which brass and timpani thunder the finale.
Quite a night! From the Hebrides, to Salzburg, to Bohemia in a fantastic evening of escapism!
Who needs the WA borders open, when WASO can transport us so vividly to fabled and exotic places, aswirl in a fantasia of beautiful sound?
To find out about upcoming concerts and WASO goings-on visit www.waso.com.au