Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, ‘Symphony No 40’ ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, March 15 ⋅
Review: Rosalind Appleby ⋅
As the summer festival season fades into the background local arts organisations are ramping up their seasons. On Friday night the Perth Concert Hall was buzzing with enthusiasm as the West Australian Symphony Orchestra welcomed new CEO Mark Coughlan (complete with a brass fanfare!) and principal conductor Asher Fisch took to the podium for his first concert in 2019.
The program included Poulenc’s lesser-known Stabat Mater alongside Mozart’s popular Symphony No 40, a hint of things to come according to Fisch who is interested in introducing forgotten gems of the repertoire to Perth audiences. The concert also featured 2019 artist in residence soprano Siobhan Stagg singing Ravel’s Shéhérazade. The Australian soprano (hailing from Mildura) is building a successful international career and will juggle her commitments as principal soloist at Deutsche Oper Berlin to return to Perth for performances of Strauss’s Orchestral Songs and Verdi’s Requiem.
Stagg’s luminous voice found the perfect vehicle in Ravel’s three songs inspired by the exoticism of the east. Shéhérazade sits at the lower end of the soprano range and Stagg’s creamy bottom register suited Ravel’s languid writing. The orchestra seemed to enjoy shaping Ravel’s colourful orchestration, with some darkly glorious low string and percussion timbres in Asie and moments of smouldering warmth in L’Indifférent. But the moment that will remain with me was Andrew Nicholson’s flute shimmering and sighing in a mesmerising duet with Stagg in La Flûte enchantée.
Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, written in 1950 after the death of a friend, took us down a darker road. The solemn opening soon gave way to spitting vehemence as the WASO Chorus, supplemented by the St George’s Cathedral Consort, sang with grim intensity. The two choirs were mostly well blended and their delivery of the line ‘dum emisit spiritum’ had a hushed glow however the exposed a capella sections were less successful with drooping pitch creating uneasy transitions. In the centre of proceedings was Stagg, her crystalline top end radiating light. Poulenc’s unexpected mood changes were cleanly conveyed by the orchestra.
Opening the concert was a crisp Symphony No 40, with the orchestra immaculately navigating Mozart’s deceptively simple transparency. Whiffs of opera buffa and opera seria mingle in this symphony in Mozart’s darker than usual musical elucidation of humanity. Fisch captured the mix of buoyancy and fragility with thrilling contrasts between elegantly poised phrasing and dynamics so soft you could hear the scratch of bow hairs.
The concert, with its inclusion of less familiar repertoire, a sensational artist in residence and an orchestra in good form bodes well for the year ahead.
Pictured top: soprano Siobhan Stagg.