Queensland Symphony Orchestra delivered an invigorating concert with Beethoven and Sibelius, conducted by Alexander Briger AO and featuring violinist Grace Clifford. In conjunction with the concert, QSO also launched their 2022 season under the tagline Powered by Music.
Beethoven and Sibelius started strong, opening with the colourful Prelude to Act III from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. Based in medieval legend, Lohengrin premiered in Germany in 1850, and the prelude to Elsa’s Bridal Chorus finds the cathedral in chaos, as told through crashing cymbals, bold brass, and dancing strings. The beautifully coordinated swooping of bows in the large violin section added a visually exciting element to this high-energy performance.
The concert continued with a moody and moving performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor with guest soloist Grace Clifford, who played with an intensity and skill that left me breathless. When it premiered in 1904 to a lukewarm reception, Sibelius revised the work, and it is this refined 1905 version of his only concerto that continues to be played more widely today. Clifford, widely recognised as one of Australia’s finest young violinists, played with great emotion in her face and body as she swayed from side to side, but her fingers were sure and nimble as she tackled the technically demanding concerto.
Alexander Briger conducted with sudden, sharp movements, and there was an engaging interplay between conductor and soloist. The first movement, Allegro moderato, began with the violin and quickly gained speed and intensity. The second movement, Adagio di molto, was more fluid and mournful, and the final movement, Allegro ma non tanto, danced and swelled jauntily with bass undertones.
The evening concluded with a rousing performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Guest conductor Alexander Briger requested that the contrabassoon be included: “Beethoven originally used two contrabassoons in his 7th symphony even though it’s not notated. They played along with the double basses. It’s a lovely effect, sounds amazing (and very different!) and the basses and contra player love it,” Briger was quoted as saying in the program. With this historical context in mind, Principal Contrabassoon Claire Ramuscak played alongside the double bass section for this performance.
The first movement, Poco sostenuto – Vivace, was cheerful and jubilant and the second, the famous Allegretto, built and released like the rumble of thunder. Presto, the third movement, bounded along, quick-footed and light-hearted until it evolved into a gentler trio, and the fourth and final movement, Allegro con brio, finished on a vigorous note, energetic from start to finish. Again, the synchronicity of the bows in the strings sections was visually enchanting, and the depth of sound added by the contrabassoon was noticeable alongside the double basses.
Beethoven and Sibelius was a joyful concert, full of energy and verve, and a stunning display of talent from Grace Clifford in her breathtaking execution of Sibelius’ concerto.