Canberra Symphony Orchestra Llewellyn Series: Violin. Conductor: Nicholas Milton. Llewellyn Hall. Wednesday, November 8, 7.30pm.
The Canberra Symphony Orchestra have a dedicated following, and on Wednesday evening they were eager to hear the now Berlin-based 23-year-old violinist Harry Bennetts.
The concert opened with a long-time concert favourite, Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila. Despite Glinka being hailed as the father of Russian classical music, this opera overture is the only orchestral piece of his regularly performed outside of Russia. This playful work is comprised of themes from throughout the opera, but is based largely on lightning fast dances, which give double bassists a run for their money. Like much Russian repertoire, this piece demands the musicians effortlessly and instantly shift between contrasting characters – from heavy and gritty to light and playful. The CSO's strings made fine work of these demanding passages, but were at times either lacking the lightness needed, or struggling to balance with the powerful brass section.
Second on the program was the piece the audience paid to hear: Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, op.35, with the young Bennetts as the soloist. Bennetts graduated from the Australian National Academy of Music last year and has since been on scholarship at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Academy. After hearing his first bow stroke, it's no wonder why.
The work was originally written for Leopold Auer, who initially deemed it "unplayable", but you wouldn't know it from watching Bennetts' performance. This concerto asks a lot of the soloist – not just technically, but emotionally. The composer requires the violinist to switch instantly between a host of drastically different, but similarly virtuosic, styles and characters.
Bennetts' heartfelt and technically fantastic performance was met not only with a standing ovation at the end of the work, but with spontaneous applause and an ovation between the first and second movements, The audience was unable to resist showing its collective appreciation of his masterful cadenza work.
After the audience had recovered from the shared moment of wishing our young soloist the best of luck in his time in Berlin we were treated to another classic from the Romantic orchestral tradition: Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D major, op.43 (1901-02). Sibelius' lush harmonies and genius orchestration were served well by the CSO's forces.
While the work was played with skill and sensitivity, it was a bit underwhelming after the excitement of the Tchaikovsky. Of particular note was the sheer power of the CSO's brass section. While this work certainly requires a heavy brass presence, the strings here struggled to hold their own, especially in the final extended section in which the composer gives us the resolution we've been promised. In the end, however, our problems solved, we went home happy.