W.A.Symphony Orchestra Andreas Haefliger (piano) Matthias Bamert (conductor)

W.A.Symphony Orchestra
Andreas Haefliger (piano)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Matthias Bamert (conductor)

Perth Concert Hall


Making his first appearance with the W.A.Symphony Orchestra, Swiss musician Andreas Haefliger was soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.

Over many decades, I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to this ageless masterpiece – in live performance, on radio and recordings – but I cannot recall a reading so startlingly forthright, even aggressive, as Haefliger’s. With its heroics, it was an unusual take on a much-loved concerto.

In the famous cadenza towards the conclusion of the first movement, the soloist weighed in with a thrustingly in-your-face treatment of the notes that took this listener aback – so much so that the poetry inherent in much of the writing took second place to muscularity. But the extended trills that play a significant part from the end of the cadenza to the conclusion of the movement were near-flawlessly spun.

Here was an interpretation that was overwhelmingly (although not exclusively) virile and passionate in its treatment of the score but rather less persuasive in evoking the tenderness and quiet reflection that lie at the heart of much of the writing. And from a seat in the 17th row, there was in the finale what sounded an over-generous use of the damper pedal which often blurred outlines and lessened the impact of Schumann’s fascinating rhythmic intricacies.

Throughout, Matthias Bamert was a loyally supportive conductor, meticulously anticipating his compatriot’s every musical intention and drawing from the WASO a response that was, for the most part, as vigorous as the playing of the soloist.

Warm applause and a floral bouquet wrapped in shiny paper elicited an encore that, coming after such a robust reading of the concerto, was a delightful surprise. In his account of Schumann’s The Prophet Bird (from Waldszenen), Haefliger beautifully captured the fragile, restrained essence of the music which, with extraordinary authenticity, evokes images of this curious fowl’s idiosyncratic body language.

Despite outbursts of unwanted and maddeningly insistent clapping between movements of Mahler’s vast and sprawling Symphony No 1, these discourtesies (which broke out like an unsightly rash) seemed not noticeably to put Bamert and his forces off their stroke as this mammoth opus unfolded. In passing: if, at the conclusion of a movement, the conductor had held his baton raised, this – based on decades of observing audience attitudes – is usually sufficient for even compulsive handclappers to get the message and hold their peace.

It is no mean achievement for a conductor to commit a work of this length and complexity to memory – and the confidence that stems from that grasp of the score seemed to rub off, as it were, on the musicians of the orchestra.

It was a good night for the strings, not least cellos and double basses who responded to Mahler’s demands with stylish aplomb. And apart from some sour notes from the off-stage trumpets early in the piece, the WASO’s brass players were on their musical toes, especially the horn subsection, all eight of whom stood as they played the closing pages of Mahler’s Titan.

As curtainraiser, we heard Carl Vine’s V which, with its fanfares and syncopated rhythms, sounded very much more convincing in the near-perfect acoustic environment of the Concert Hall than when first encountered at an open air performance at Langley Park some while ago.

Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn

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