SSO, Dutoit, Roman Trilogy

On Wednesday night to this concert by the Sydney Symphony conducted by Charles Dutoit.

I normally go on Saturday but swapped to accommodate a clash with the Australia Ensemble.

If you go on a regular night you find that acquaintances are sustained with people who go on the same night and I was conscious of being in a less familiar crowd. I still found myself just in front of two people (one an older brother of a friend from school) who sit in the same row as me on Friday nights.

Even between different nights of SSO subscription audiences there are subtle differences between different “crowds.” The Wednesday audience is a little bit less flash than the Saturday one, more classic “ABC” types.

A couple of rows in front of me I spotted two familiar faces sitting next to each other. (OK, I know faces don’t sit.) One looked like David Griffiths, currently clarinettist with the Australia Ensemble and so in town from interstate this week. The other took me a little longer to put a name to though I finally worked it out: it was Andrea Molino, a conductor who has been brought into Opera Australia by Lyndon Terracini, who first got to know him conducting more contemporary works before Terracini got the OA gig and put all that edgy festival stuff behind him.

Why was Molino here? He’s not rostered on for Opera Australia until Carmen mid next year.

It turns out Molino was in Sydney to conduct a recording for ABC Classics of a recital by Nicole Car with the AOBO. She is quite the singer of the moment.

I’ve got my beefs with Terracini but I’ve been impressed with Molino. There is quite a good little film up on the net, Bellezze diverse – Different beauties featuring Molino and the preparation in 2014 of performances of Tosca in Melbourne and La Boheme in Sydney.

I love opera-backstage docos.

Molino routinely conducts performances without a score and it is fun to see how that enables him to conduct rehearsals with the principals in a very free and up-close way.

I know it’s not a novel idea but the way the film skips between rehearsal and performance footage is very neat. I liked most the moment (at about [21:02]) when the film cut from the boy in the Christmas-eve scene in Boheme to Molino singing it as a cue in a piano rehearsal.

It is maybe a pity given that so much work has been put into the film that quite so much time was given over to commentary by Lyndon Terracini and harbour/opera house travelogue promo fluff. Some of what Terracini said was interesting but there was a point where it, like the travelogue-ish stuff, passed over into promotional territory and at times the voice over obscured more interesting native footage. Oh well, perhaps that was how the film got to be made.

Back to the SSO.

Earlier in the week I had read Henry James’s “Daisy Miller.” Poor Daisy, a bold young American breaking all the rules, catches malaria at night in the Colosseum and dies within the last three or four pages. While that was not all colour and movement it was a good preparation for the myth of Rome.

The title “Roman Trilogy” referred to the second half, made up of all three of Respighi’s “Rome” pieces, played in reverse order to their order of composition: Festivals, Fountains and Pines.

This was a massive undertaking. At first it felt like the Italian equivalent to Carmina Burana, ie, Fascist spectacle music. That could be unfair to Respighi. Later I got into the groove more, even as, in the more jolly bits of Fountains, it felt like we had slipped into one of those American post-war “coins in the fountain” movies. That definitely is unfair to Respighi because he came first.

We didn’t get the Roman trumpets as far as I could see.

Inevitably, in the first of the two quietest bits, a woman in front of me had to take her mobile phone out of her handbag to stop it. She didn’t turn it off so a few seconds later we got the “missed call” chirrup. During the second, the birdcall in Pines, a woman in my row developed the equally inevitable cough. She had a winter jacket on her lap. Why did she not muffle it with that? A hand in front of a cough does little. I shrugged off the first distraction but the second came at a more critical moment and was more maddening because protracted and avoidable.

In the first half we had another Roman piece – Berlioz’s festival overture. This was a brilliant opening. It is not long and leaves you wanting more with a burnished trombone chord at the close.

In between, Daniel Müller-Schott played Schumann’s cello concerto. This was the source of the alternative title which the SSO gave the program: “Schumann’s magical cello.”

Schumann’s own Italienische Reise only took him as far south as Milan and Venice, and afterwards he was inclined to be dismissive of Italian music. I suppose the cello concerto was intended as a kind of contrast.

I found it a bit difficult to settle into Schumann’s world. This is odd because I love most Schumann and I know his cello concerto counts as a major cello concerto. On this particular evening I was left feeling that it wasn’t the best Schumann and that if it is a great cello concerto then maybe cello concerti aren’t all that great.

The concerto got a mildly enthusiastic reception only. This could have been a matter of context and the make-up of the audience. It’s not that there weren’t interesting bits: the cadenza in the last movement is fascinating and the slow movement quite lovely.

It would have been lovelier still if Müller-Schott were able to moderate a bit of a grunting and hissing thing he seems to have going. Nobody wants to spook an artist by mentioning this sort of thing because we know that mannerisms like this are a by-product of the effort put in. Fortunately, nobody much reads this so I doubt any harm has been done.

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