This early evening programme started with the Fanfare from the ballet La Peri by Dukas. This work has saved the composer's very popular Sorcerer's Apprentice from being a one-hit wonder although he didn't help his cause by, as a critic, destroying 80% of his output. The fanfare was a late addition to the ballet, replacing the customary overture. It formed a pleasant, if brief, introduction to the concert and the eleven brass players savoured their task.

Miguel Harth-Bedoya © Erik Dyrhaug
Miguel Harth-Bedoya
© Erik Dyrhaug

What would Dukas have made of Saint-Saëns' Second Piano Concerto? It was composed with some urgency in 1868 to fill a space that had become available at short notice under the crowd-pulling Anton Rubinstein as conductor. One would expect Saint-Saëns to dash off a conventional work under the circumstances but this is far from the case. The famous introduction by the soloist alone is inspired by Bach's Chromatic Fantasias and the theme returns more softly to close the movement, which also atypically never rises above Andante. Vadym Kholodenko settled into the spirit of the work immediately and his exceptionally light touch was perfect.

The rapport between soloist and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya was precise, as one would expect from a partnership that has a long association with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Kholodenko's handling of the rollicking scherzo and the exaggerated rhythm of its second subject was equally as effective. The third movement does not really live up to its Offenbachian soubriquet, but is a high spirited molto perpetuo which captivated.

After such an energetic, yet sensitive performance, it was very generous of the pianist to give us an encore of the Ground in C minor, probably composed by Henry Purcell. 

Alan Holley's recently composed Oboe Concerto, subtitled "A  Shaft of Light", was written for Shefali Pryor, Associate Principal who already has a long CV with a fair amount of solo experience. It remains a mystery to me why contemporary Australian music frequently concentrates so heavily on the sounds of birds (witness Peter Sculthorpe and Ross Edwards among others). All countries have singing birds but not many composers include it in their musical idioms.

The first movement started with 'Ross Edwardian' chords and soon gravitated to the sounds of birds portrayed by squeaky violins. The soloist intertwined her notes effectively and the second part of the movement ended with a duo for the soloist and timpani based on the display sound of the lyrebird. The lyrebird is actually renowned for its superb imitations including fireworks, car tyres and mobile phones but thankfully none of the latter were heard!

In the doleful second movement, trumpet and Flugelhorn soloists moved to the rear wings of the platform and, muted, produced a particularly eerie effect. The third movement was essentially a short recapitulation, the composer stating that the work invokes a vision of man-made and natural cathedrals but this writer found himself unable to identify with this.

Overall for an initial hearing of a contemporary work, this piece was well-received. I found it impressionistic rather than tuneful and wondered if it lost its way at times. Certainly this doesn't apply to the soloist, who coped superbly with a long and difficult piece and understandably pulled up rather breathless. I would like to hear this work again in order to to understand it more fully.

It seems to be the form for soloists in contemporary concertos to have the score in front of them; I'm unsure why and Shefali didn't seem to need it.

Lack of familiarity was hardly a problem with the final work, Mussorsky's Pictures At An Exhibition in Ravel's orchestration. This work appeared to be "Flavour Of The Season"during my recent visit to London and Leeds and I must have heard it a dozen times, mostly in its original piano version. This orchestral version is brilliantly scored and just as enjoyable. It was here that Harth-Bedoya really came into his own. I particularly enjoyed his interpretation of the ox-wagon and Limoges market segments. These were surpassed however by the Gates of Kiev climax, where his extravagant movements on the podium were fully productive and his enthusiasm was reflected in the orchestra's performance.

One special word for the tuba player Steve Rossé: his part in the Oboe Concerto was very prominent including an obligato interlude in the second movement. This usually underemployed instrument also played a large part in Mussorgsky's piece. I felt he played superbly and he'll seldom have a harder night's work. 

I enjoyed this concert immensely. It was imaginatively programmed with contrasting pieces from different eras and the audience clearly agreed.