On the weekend the opening Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn showcased well-crafted woodwind solos and an energised string section. The celebrity soloist was the UK’s Michael Collins featuring in Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No 1 and Debussy’s Premiere Rapsodie. The bravura of Weber’s Concerto was given a psychedelic edge with the breakneck speeds of Collins’ scale passages and dramatic mood swings. But at Friday’s concert there was also untidiness: intonation and timing issues in the winds, missed notes in the horns and conductor Otto Tausk caught off-guard by Collins’ spontaneity. The soloist had moments of sharp pitch and shrillness which don’t belong in Weber’s lush Germanic sound world.
There is often a sense at WASO concerts that the real show begins after interval. The opening overture and concerto might be flashy with a celebrity soloist but there is a new intensity as the orchestra is enlarged for the symphonic repertoire and the principal wind players take over.
The improved focus after interval meant Debussy’s Rapsodie fared better. Collins’ flexible clarinet tone suited Debussy’s multi-hued music. The clarinet interjected conversationally with floating high notes and crisp brightness or nestled into the orchestral cushion of sound with feather-soft delicacy.
Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 showed evidence of Tausk’s attention to detail; the melodic theme heard in the violins in the first movement was broken into folksy fragments while the energetic attack of the violas gave them welcome prominence. Leanne Glover’s cor anglais solo established a gentle lyricism in the Largo which was matched by the elegaic strings and lingered over by Tausk in a spine-tingling ending. Andrew Nicholson (flute) and principal oboe (unnamed) sizzled in the third movement and the familiar brassy climaxes and flowing lyricism of the finale felt fresh and perfectly proportioned. This was WASO at their finest, making the inconsistency in the first half more regrettable. John Adams’ arrangement of Piazzolla’s Todo Buenos Aires was the ‘Bonus Track’.