It was disappointing to hear that principal conductor AsherFisch had returned to Berlin earlier in the week due to a personal emergency. But the WA Symphony Orchestra and its staff made an impressive recovery. Assistant conductor Christopher Dragon stepped into the breach until Jahja Ling – scheduled to conduct the orchestra at the end of the month – flew in from America early on Wednesday morning. The Chinese/Indonesian conductor (music director of the San Diego Symphony) had only one full day of rehearsal before performances began.
Fortunately sitting to Ling’s left was Paul Wright, on trial for the position of concertmaster and bringing an intense musicality that could potentially have as great an impact on the orchestra as the much-anticipated Fisch. On Friday night Wright gave fire to the violin section and stability to the orchestra.
The emancipated string playing was immediately obvious in Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro. The solo quartet (Wright, Zak Rowntree, Paul McMillan and Rod McGrath) played well but the real showcase was the radiant accompanying strings, particularly the resonant foundation of cello and bass sections.
Wind and brass claimed the attention in Strauss’ symphonic poem Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. David Evans led the horns in a commanding delivery of Strauss’ iconic horn writing and the woodwind sounded sweetly pliant and shrilly belligerent in turn as they depicted Till Eulenspiegel’s pranks.
Ling conducted with composure, driving momentum forward and engaging playfully with Strauss’ humour. For Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony he strode sternly into a darker soundworld, delineating layers and stirring up climaxes. Ling dissolved any lingering disappointment as (conducting without the score) he spanned the breadth and depth of what Tchaikovsky described as ‘the ceaseless alternation of bitter reality with evanescent visions and dreams of happiness’. The second movement mellowed to allow for Leanne Glover’s melancholic oboe solo and Ling’s rhythmic propulsion together with some steely brass playing resulted in a blazing finale. This concert shone the spotlight on an orchestra and conductor working under pressure and they came up trumps.