By Mae Anthony
Western Australia’s largest and busiest performing arts organisation, the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO), are impervious to the strains of any challenge. Their vast array of concert programs offers insightful and touching evenings of extraordinary musical sensations. In fact, the subtle artistic nuances surrounding their choice in programming is one of the finest elements of the WASO institution. Their most recent concert Baiba Skride Plays Mozart is indicative of the very fact.
To open, they started with Schoenberg’s famous “Verklärte Nacht” (Transfigured Night), kicking the evening off to a rather challenging start. This piece was inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel, a late nineteenth-century German poet. Two lovers walk through a forest, whereby the woman tells the man she has been unfaithful and is now carrying another man’s child. The man responds with kindness and unites them to make the child theirs; the night and natural world has transfigured him and stripped away social prejudices and boundaries and unites the two lovers.
Originally composed in 1899, it was received with confused and baffled reception due to the unusual harmony (or lack thereof) and the nature of the poem. In 1934 Schoenberg reworked the score for orchestral setting, and this was the version WASO played. The lyrical melodic lines were beautiful, and the high-pitched ethereal string settings towards the end were nothing short of divine. The only dispute I had was with the opening section in that it lacked a certain fullness in sound. However, it’s safe to warrant that I found this less concerning as the piece went on, and I adjusted to the reduced sound of the string orchestra in the space, and the quietness grew on me.
Following the heart-wrenching and harmonically unsettling Schoenberg masterpiece, they invited the concert’s international guest to the stage: Latvian violinist Baiba Skride. As the current artist-in-residence for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, she regularly appears in guest performances with some of the world’s leading orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic and London Philharmonic, and has recorded numerous recordings with Orchestras, pianists, and as a solo artist. Performing on a 1734 Stradivarius, she joined Principal Conductor Asher Fisch and the WASO for two evenings playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4; a creative choice in balancing the two Romantic-era pieces surrounding it.
Had Mozart pursued his violin studies, he could have been the finest violinist of his day. He was one of the greatest minds human history has ever encountered; his compositions are pure genius and he has made the most extensive contribution to the musical canon, particularly in the style of song. Skride’s superb execution of tone and sensitive phrasing was breathtaking; this was particular, but not specific to, her solo sections, which were always potent and sweet but never overindulgent. In the more intense harmonic sections, she shaped each phrase with perfect precision, whilst still maintaining a clarifying sense of lightness.
The final piece of the evening was Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg. This piece was originally composed between the years of 1856 and 1861, and is characteristically Brahmsian down to a tee, but it is magnified by Schoenberg’s arrangement in which he pays homage to the original composition, whilst still extending it, such as in using a larger source of instrumentation than Brahms ever used in his writing.
The beauty in WASO’s performance was how they showed all of the big, beautiful sound of Brahms. The orchestra moulded a ginormous sound that fit the acoustic of the Perth Concert Hall perfectly, with specific praise to the strength of the brass and wind sections who, along with the excellent programing and amazing guest artistry of Baiba Skride, made the night. It was a luminous reminder that big and flashy is not why the performance of the piece was impressive, but it was in the way it embodied the sound of the harmony, infusing the Brahms sound with the first Schoenberg composition and the softer suppleness of the Mozart. It was also the highlight of the evening for the conductor, WASO Principal Conductor, Asher Fisch. He exhibited his breathtaking musical artistry: bold, captivating, and constituting the finest control.
WASO shows are an excellent way to spend an evening; they have programs that meet a variety of interests and artistic niches, not just limited to Classical music. They are diverse, daring, and always interesting.