Charming British conductor Martyn Brabbins opened the concert with an informal address to the packed crowd revealing some inside information into the Australian premiere of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ composition Overture to St Francis of Assisi op. 302 (2009). With “Max’s” 80th birthday celebrations looming, Brabbins promised the former University of Adelaide lecturer’s piece was “action packed”, and then set about delivering exactly that and more. Brabbins relaxed yet commanding style ensured the splendid overture burst with promises of a spectacular opera that Davies “never got around to writing”.
Two long years since he last performed with the ASO, Behzod Abduraimov quietly took to the stage for the main attraction; Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 op. 30 (1909).
From the first movement, Abduraimov exhibited amazing power; his controlled restraint juxtaposed the unleashing of the ferocious cadenza that literally shook the Steinway and surrounds. Brabbins connection to Abduraimov was extraordinary to see on it’s own, but the latter’s astonishing dexterity, delicacy of phrasing, and punctilious and passionate orchestral support made the performance absolutely stunning.
Abduraimov who, aside from unassumingly wiping his brow a few times, made one of the most technically difficult classical piano concertos ever composed, look like a breeze, and sound like a dream.
Mysteriously, only part of the audience stood to applaud despite Abduraimov’s astounding performance receiving lengthy and enthusiastic clapping and wolf-whistles. Brabbins and Abduraimov embraced warmly, and on returning to the stage for the last of the applause, Abduraimov humbly pointed to the music indicating credit should go to the composer; seems like he’s a nice guy and a genius.
If Davies brought the expectation and Rachmaninov brought the brilliance, then Sir William Walton’s Symphony No.1 in B flat minor (1935) certainly brought the drama. Although Abduraimov was an extraordinarily tough act to follow, Brabbins brilliantly took no prisoners for the performance of Walton’s four movements touted as a “riot of orchestral colour and virtuosity”.
Evoking a mélange of emotions, exactly as intended, the symphony’s performance, underpinned somewhat with Walton’s deep sense of melancholy and foreboding revealed awe, turmoil, and surging, almost hysterical beauty. Brabbins asked for outstanding elements, and soloists and orchestra delivered in spades.
Amid whistles, applause and plenty of smiles, Brabbins received flowers that he tossed over the podium (presumably into the arms of a recipient with good reflexes), sadly concluding an outstanding concert experience.
Reviewed by Gordon Forester
Venue: Adelaide Town Hall
Season: 23-24 May 2014
Duration: 130 minutes
Tickets: $20 – $109
List of links: