Elgar and Mahler, Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s first Maestro concert under the baton of recently appointed Chief Conductor Designate Umberto Clerici, was a rich and contemplative concert full of sweeping emotion and ideas.
Joining QSO for Sir Edward Elgar’s Concerto in E minor for Violoncello & Orchestra, the composer’s final work, was cellist Daniel Müller-Schott. As a soloist, Müller-Schott brought personality and flair to the piece, as well as technical skill and precision, all the way to the concerto’s dramatic finish.
Elgar’s concerto was moving, the kind of music that you can feel in your body, and Müller-Schott played with emotion and intensity as the power of the orchestra swelled and receded around him. Written at a time of personal and national turmoil, in the middle of World War I and after a surgery to remove the composer’s tonsils, Elgar’s cello concerto rose and fell, a conversation between the soloist and the wider orchestra. Following considerable applause, Müller-Schott returned to the stage and performed a crisp encore of Gigue from Bach’s Cello Suite No 3.
This piece was also a fitting beginning for Chief Conductor Designate Umberto Clerici, a cello soloist himself, who shared his knowledge and experience with the audience as well as the orchestra. Atop the podium, Clerici seemed to be enjoying himself, conducting with sweeping gestures and otally engaged with the musicians under his baton. Clerici will commence a three-year term as the orchestra’s Chief Conductor from 1 January 2023.
Following the interval was Gustav Mahler’s first symphony, Titan. The composition began as a symphonic poem nicknamed after a novel by German romantic writer Jean Paul. However, Mahler’s rich and expansive symphony is not a musical translation of this text, but an attempt to capture all of life and death in a single hour-long piece of music. Speaking to the audience before the piece began, Clerici explained the symphony as a hero’s journey, but where the hero is anyone, any human being.
The first movement, Langsam schleppend, connected the audience to nature with woodwind birdcalls and pastoral imagery. The second movement, Kraftig bewegt, was by contrast connected to the body, returning from the alpine landscape to the visceral with a waltz.
The third movement, Feierlich und gemessen, used irony and symbols of childhood to contemplate youth and death. This movement turned the familiar nursery rhyme Frère Jacques into a funeral march, building in a canon like a schoolyard song. The fourth movement, Strumisch bewegt, represented a fight against the self, Clerici said, in which the hero must die to overcome. The program notes aptly described this movement as cyclonic, taking the listener from Hell to Paradise, and Clerici’s perspective offered the audience an additional depth of understanding.
Elgar and Mahler was an evocative and existential concert, bringing together two thematically ambitious works with the talent and technical skill of QSO’s musicians, a world-class guest artist, and the enthusiasm, vision, and knowledge of QSO’s incoming Chief Conductor.
Elgar and Mahler was performed at the QPAC Concert Hall on 17 & 18 June 2022.