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Review - QSO with Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances: lush sounds and sweeping strings

Right: soloist Chad Hoopes.

Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by Stanley Dodds

Concert Hall

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank


Concert performed on May 12. One hour 30 minutes including interval

It’s been a while since I attended a QSO concert and on this night I realised what I have been missing. The orchestra played superbly in a program that was nicely balanced with music that was new to me, conducted with authority by Stanley Dodds.

There was a short intermezzo from Austrian Franz Schmidt, a violin concerto from American Samuel Barber and the beautiful final work from Sergei Rachmaninov – The Symphonic Dances, which was written in 1940 three years before he died.

After listening to two earlier pieces from Austria and America, this was very Russian in texture and feel and modern to the point of including a saxophone solo. There was a lot of percussion, including triangle and tambourine; rousing sounds from the timpani and the depth of tone from contra bassoon and tuba as well as bass trombone and clarinet.

The moods constantly switched between jazzy pizzicato to sombre and lush, with string and horns playing a strong role. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the waltz in the second moment and the foot tapping build-up to the final powerful chord sequence.

It brought a short but very sweet concert to a fitting climax.

But the opening piece set the tone for an evening of lush sounds and sweeping strings with Franz Schmidt’s intermezzo from the opera Notre Dame, based on Victor Hugo’ novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The opening was created by high pitched strings followed by beautiful harp passages which slowly gave way to the full power of the orchestra with spots of syncopation and wild folk tunes as it matched the character of the gypsy girl Esmeralda. It built quickly to a crescendo and then suddenly, it was gone.

It was the perfect lead in to the exquisite Samuel Barber Violin Concert, played by another American Chad Hoopes. I have to admit to being a fan of American orchestral music. I love the brash jazziness of it all, the perky confidence of a New World coming into its own against musical history of Europe and the sweep of music inspired by a huge land.

Barber’s concerto has all that, plus an often tricky solo violin score that sometimes blends with the orchestra and fights it at others.

The young soloist, 23-year-old Chad Hoopes, has been feted around the world for his talent and unique interpretation of the music he plays and he wowed the packed Concert Hall on this Saturday night with his virtuosity and incredible tone. Not to mention his sparkle-covered boots!

The concerto’s solo ranged from gentle and plaintiff, to almost inaudible notes that hit the highest register and then raced off into finger blurring fast triplets in a non-stop battle with the orchestra in the final movement.

And the orchestration was bold and brassy with heaps of timpani roll and vibrant brass. It was an amazing privilege to hear such spectacular music played with instinctively clever interpretation from such talented young musician. It won’t be too long until I see this great orchestra at work again.

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