Review: Limelight Magazine Australia ★★★★☆ Tasmanian Symphony/Brahms Double/ Elschenbroich/ Letonja

★★★★☆ Power couple Benedetti and Elschenbroich unite in a show-stopping performance.

by Stephanie Eslake
Federation Concert Hall, Hobart

Beethoven and Brahms were paired in a thrilling programme presented by the the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, with young stars Nicola Benedetti and Leonard Elschenbroich joining the group for a double concerto.

Leonore Overture No 3, Op 72b broke the silence on this memorable Saturday night. It is one of four overtures Beethoven wrote for his opera Fidelio. The programme notes describe the piece as “a dramatic prelude too heavy for the ensuing opera”, though whether the orchestra lived up to such an introduction is questionable. The opening did leave a lot to be desired – too many entries were messy and the overall sound too subdued. Very eventually, it heated up (largely aided by the solitary brass player who brought colour to the opener by heralding his line offstage and behind a door). Not the orchestra’s most exemplary start to a concert – an opinion firmed after hearing its outstanding capabilities later in the evening.

After this work, internationally praised violinist Nicola Benedetti and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich entered the hall; Benedetti in a fiery red dress and Elschenbroich slick in his fitted suit. That they are a couple is not obvious on a visual level, but their ability to perform with such a well-matched interpretation of Brahms perhaps hinted at their closeness. They presented the composer’s Concerto for Violin and Cello, Elschenbroich opening the Allegro sternly. Brahms often places the two in a similar register, and in these instances their musical equality was most evident. The orchestra came to the fore with fervour.

The Andante was greatly pleasing – Benedetti’s timbre as pure and light as Elschenbroich’s was textured and substantial. Benedetti was so concentrated that she seemed entirely sucked into the piece, while her musical partner looked well at ease. At no point did the two appear competitive, but complemented each other tastefully while paying respect to subtle nuances in their lines. This combination of young talent produced a show-stopping performance of this concerto.

Perhaps the most famous work of the classical repertoire commenced after interval – Beethoven’s Symphony No 5. To Beethoven, the work is said to have implied “fate knocking at the door”. It’s certainly a door the TSO opened with zest these two centuries later! The sheer familiarity of the four-note opening motif induced a few giggles from the audience. Letonja gave a fast take on the work – no messing about. The orchestra, immediately tight and appropriately abrupt, seemed a completely different group than that which opened the evening.The Andante con moto was as rigid and regal as the Allegro was explosive. But the Finale was one to remember. Letonja appeared to have hit his physical peak, throwing his arm about in a circular motion as if to wind up the orchestra’s energy. It worked. The performance was a united breath of life into this glorious masterwork.

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