Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert review Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony and Sydney Opera House May 2024

SYDNEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – TCHAIKOVSKY’S FIFTH SYMPHONY – SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

Five stars

The Sydney Opera House Concert Hall was packed on Wednesday night, including all the choir seats, for the opening of Emirates Masters Series with the Sydney Symphony OrchestraTchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony – Intoxicating Melodies. From the viola section, Jane Hazelwood came downstage to welcome us and introduce the program. Her speaking was beautifully paced, informative and humorous.

Conductor Han-na- Chang with Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert reviews.
Conductor Han-na Chang with Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House May 2024. Photo: Craig Abercrombie

For this series, the orchestra welcomed the return of Guest Conductor Han-na Chang, currently Artistic Leader and Chief Conductor of the Trondheim Symfoniorkester and Opera in Norway as well as Principal Guest Conductor of Symphoniker Hamburg – Laeiszhalle Orchester. She is a commanding presence and holds her space on the podium.

Chang launched into the Overture from Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Ludmila as a sparkling start to the program. The tempo was perfect, bringing out the best in the music and the players.

Chang’s conducting style is uniquely her own. Some parts seem to have every note emphasised, some with conducting down by her thighs and other parts simply have a sweep of the arm over the orchestra as if to say “you’re doing great, keep going” with no beats at all. Our Sydney Symphony are world class players so, it would be interesting to hear from the musicians as to what is too little, too much or just right in terms of musical leadership.

Chang had plenty of smiles for the different sections which is refreshing and an encouraging way to “lead” rather than “rule”.

concert reviews for pianist Behzod Abduraimov at Sydney Opera House whatson Sydney.
International pianist Behzod Abduraimov performs Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Craig Abercrombie

After a quick reset, the Steinway was brought out and Chang introduced the evening’s guest pianist from Uzbekistan, Behzod Abduraimov. As a teenager in 2009, Abduraimov won the London International Piano Competition with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and was invited to perform with the Sydney Symphony that same year. This time around, he performed Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2. This work was written for the composer to perform himself at the premier, back in 1914. Considering this era was before the great War and the ensuing Russian Revolution, it was as modern and disruptive as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring causing many to walk out, yell and cat call at the premiere. It took a few decades for the audience to become familiar with such a new way of composing. 100 years on now, all stayed in their seats though it is still disturbing in many parts and not an ideal piece to keep the attention of children.

The mammoth technical skill required to play this concerto shows that, as a player in his early 20’s, Prokofiev must have been an exceptional musician. The work was reconstructed after the original went up in flames (house fire) and was expanded to just a touch over a half hour. There are influences you can pick out. Sometimes it feels a bit like Rachmaninov, sometimes like the lumbering oxen in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, sometimes a touch of Gershwin (likely added in the 1924 update). Plus, you can pick out that unique Prokofiev signature writing which reappears in his work 10 years later in “Dance of the Knights” from his ballet Romeo and Juliet.

There is a wonderfully clever piece of writing after the first cadenza (with the piano playing unaccompanied) where the orchestra starts playing at an imperceptible level, then suddenly amplify the volume within a few beats. The effect is like the arrival of a freight train you didn’t see coming. Another part has the piano delicate and vulnerable backed by a menacing orchestra. The third “Valse” movement is macabre, like an invitation to a monster’s ball and the final movement salutes the composer’s Russian ancestry.

From the beginning of the concerto, Abduraimov very quickly dived into the deep intensity of the piece. His body physically breathed its way through the slower parts of the work. Abduraimov’s playing is outstanding. From slow, gravity laden phrases to nimble, frantic sections, every note he plays has focus, purpose and meaning as if telling you a story using words of great wisdom. Every tangent Prokofiev detours, Abduraimov celebrates. The first cadenza felt like Abduraimov was birthing an enormous idea, slowly revealing an immense masse of emotions. His is an extraordinary talent.

The audience fully appreciated Abduraimov’s performance and gave him 3 rousing curtain calls.

Concert reviews, what's on Sydney with horn player Guillaume Tetu and Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
French horn player Guillaume Tétu with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Sydney Opera House performing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony in May 2024. Photo: Craig Abercrombie

After interval was the concert title work, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. This is a substantial and popular work that has become part of the ongoing repertoire around the world 140 years since its premiere. Chang conducted with no score, well memorised. The musicians threw themselves in to the work with full body and emotion for the complete duration, flying on the musical waves. They were clearly enjoying it. The second movement featured a guest horn player, Guillaume Tétu, who performed his solos with strength and precision. He received his own special applause.

Tchaikovsky is such a crowd pleaser. This Symphony is filled with lush orchestration, easy to remember, singable melodies that repeat, drawing you back to base camp each time. There are romantic parts that only a master ballet composer could produce and spine tingling crescendos that only someone who invented the 1812 Overture could repeat.

The crowd went wild and gave very generous applause for multiple curtain calls. Chang was gracious in her bows and turned the orchestra twice toward the back, acknowledging those in the choir seats which was a popular move.

There were smiles all round that could not be dampened by the rain lashing the Opera House foyer windows as the audience departed. If you only get to one concert this year, choose this one. Tickets are selling fast.

More performances for this program at the Sydney Opera House:
Friday 10 May 2024, 8pm
Saturday 11 May 2024, 8pm

Book your tickets for Sydney Symphony here: https://www.sydneysymphony.com/#calendar

Program

GLINKA – Ruslan and Ludmila Overture
PROKOFIEV – Piano Concerto No. 2 Op. 16
TCHAIKOVSKY – Symphony No. 5 Op. 64

Artists

Han-Na Chang – Conductor
Behzod Abduraimov – Pianist
Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Related Links

More about Han-na-Chang: https://www.hannachangmusic.com/biography
More about Behzod Abduraimov: https://www.harrisonparrott.com/artists/behzod-abduraimov
Listen to Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeNeQrUXymg

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