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Review - Pictures at an Exhibition: a beautifully played musical concert

By Eric Scott

Alison Mitchell and Irit Silver

Pictures at an Exhibition

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Conductor Benjamin Northey

Concert Hall

Queensland performing Arts Centre

South bank


Seen on April 30.

It was a delight to be back in the Concert Hall to see and hear the great Queensland Symphony Orchestra in full flight. And there was the plus of a world premiere piece with the composer in the audience.

It was a performance filled with ghosts and goblins, lush sound and triumphant finales in a 90 minute show conducted elegantly by Benjamin Northey.

The program opened with Rimsky-Korsakov’s overture from his folk opera May Night, where the boy fights a comical fight against witches and ghosts for the love of his sweetheart. It was a clever mood setter for the rest of the performance with its romantic opening with the soft sounds of woodwinds and ‘cello and the sudden switch to brass flourishes and melodies running from deck to deck of instruments and then the music intensifying to furious action as the boy battles with witch to win his bride to be.

It was a stirring opener that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Gordon Kerry was sitting a few rows in front of me as the slightly smaller orchestra gathered for the premiere of his Sinfonia Concertante for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra. A first performance of any new work is nerve-wracking but Kerry had no need to worry with this performance. Northey and his musicians were spot on with this moody four-movement piece that runs for around 20 minutes.

Soloists were Alison Mitchell on flute and Irit Silver on clarinet. In contrast to the frantic end of the overture the opening sounds for the sinfonia were muted with gentle upper strings and low woodwinds which created for me the sounds of wind sighing through a forest of trees.

The instrumental interplay whether solo or duet was startling and clear; birds chirping; frogs twittering; movement in the air in kaleidoscope of musical colour. It is an intriguing composition and it was refreshing to personally interpret a piece of music with no preconceived impressions.

The full orchestra was back on stage for the final piece – Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition arranged by Maurice Ravel in 1922.

It is one of the pieces of music that I can listen to at any time, with the short musical tales told with infinite variety in Ravel’s famous orchestration of the original solo piano suite. It was a superb rendering by the orchestra from the trumpets heralding the wander through the St Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts, through children playing happily in the Tuileries Gardens to the darkness of the catacombs and through to the mighty grandeur of The Great Gate of Kiev, Mussorgsky’s tribute to architect Victor Hartmann.

As the final chords crashed down the audience stamped, clapped and cheered: a fitting response to a morning of great music. The orchestra revelled in the freedom from lockdown and small audiences to produce a beautifully played musical concert.


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