An experience of sublimation 

By Chris Mineral

Rommel was in North Africa and Colonus the mudlark won the Melbourne Cup the year the MSO first performed Debussy’s La Mer.

Debussy inspired Maurice Jarre, the French film composer who sired Jean-Michel Jarre, whose Oxygene 4 would be the theme music for the 1980 Americas Cup updates from Newport Rhode Island.

But first … on Monday, October 2 – from Swan St Richmond Premiership to Hamer Hall with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – and it is a classical core concert of Brahms, Debussy and Stravinsky.

After the intermission there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air at Hamer Hall with the grand piano sitting centre stage.

Several years ago the scintillating violinist Wilfred Lehman chose to play “some Brahms” at a concert dedicated to his music at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon.

Tonight the MSO with guest conductor Otto Tausk on the stand would perform Brahms First Piano Concerto in D minor (Opus 15) with the virtuoso pianist Ashkar Saleem.

The First Piano Concerto had its premiere on the world’s stage when Ferdinand Mueller was the director of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The vast scale of Hamer Hall was rendered intimate by Saleem’s sublime musicianship.

Otto Tausk has worked with Valeriy Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theatre and he had the orchestra well balanced. The trumpets and brass were at a fine level, not at all bombastic. The French horns were a standout. They sustained the elevated ambitions of Brahms music, the Adagio section was the highlight. Saleem was superb and sublime.

Tausk, Ashkar and the MSO received a half dozen ovations and a bravo. A very successful performance by a most accomplished virtuoso musician, the great MSO and an excellent guest conductor.

Earlier the MSO performed for the first time Igor Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique. Stravinsky’s influence can be heard in Wilfred Lehman’s compositions.

Scherzo fantastique sounds like music that accompanies the old-school original Star Trek TV series starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy when Captain James T Kirk, Spock and a group of red shirted crew are teleported by Scotty down to the surface of a strange, eerie, desolate planet. It’s a very entertaining, imaginative and phenomenal piece of music.

Sergei Diaghilev introduced Stravinsky to Claude Debussy on stage after the final curtain had come down on a performance of The Firebird. And at Hamer Hall, after the Stravinsky, we experienced Debussy’s La Mer. The principal harp player was in her element. She was exceptional and well assisted by a couple of extra harp players.

In the original manuscript of La Mer (published in 1905 by Durand and Sons) is an illustration of a wave from Hosukai’s Under The Wave Of Kanagawa – the colours in varied shades of blue, green, beige and tan.

The cellists were all very present, with four different parts written for cello. The Melbourne Cello Festival, held at University of Melbourne had just concluded, and the cello and double bass section had the look and feel of Vettel and Raikkonen racing their Ferraris around the Monaco Grand Prix circuit with the utmost precision.

Debussy’s influence can be heard in Alice Coletrane’s Astral Meditations, with the harps and violin prominent. Brazilian Sun by Coco Rosie is also reminiscent of Debussy.

La Mer has a flowing oriental feel and in the movie The Dancer Loie Fullers’ fascination with the orient is depicted by the way she helps promote Japanese Kabuki theatre artists.

An amazing performance, the muted horns were a restrained delight, the flute brilliant. Tausk held the reins long and the music ebbed and flowed with majestic ease.
The MSO is a very talented orchestra and its classical core concerts are an experience of sublimation.

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