Asher Fisch specialises in German Romantic repertoire so there were high expectations when the WA Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor stepped up for a program of Wagner, Schumann and Strauss.
This is the maestro’s third year with the orchestra and on Saturday night (19/3/16) his confidence in his band and the distinctly Germanic orchestral sound reflected years of percolation. The woodwind were tucked within a lush string sound with a weighty low brass presence and there was a sense of musicians playing from within the centre of the sound rather than over exerting. As a result the opening chorale in Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture theme was warmly tender and the finale had a contained grandeur.
This blended glow together with Fisch’s trademark clarity of musical ideas gave Schumann’s Symphony No 2 the transparency of Mozart and the warmth of Brahms. It’s easy to lose momentum in Schumann’s sometimes boggy phrasing which may explain Fisch’s fast tempos. The Adagio was more an andante and the Scherzo sprinted along with impressive technical finesse from the string players. Fisch conducted the rarely heard symphony without a score (as he did the entire program) and brought a classical restraint ‑ almost politeness - to the symphony’s musical subtext of despair moving to redemption.
It is more difficult to be polite with Strauss’ colourful tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra. The opening rumbling low note and blazing trumpet call are now iconic (thanks to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey) and the rest of the work is laden with contrasts, from shimmering harp and chimes to dark fugal writing. New concertmaster Laurence Jackson’s lilting violin solo was a gem, setting the orchestra up for a dance of whirling abandon. The dramatic finish featured exposed high woodwind chords (mostly in tune!) against a low plucked response from the double basses. A fitting conclusion to a program built around light and dark, despair and hope.
This review copyright The West Australian 2016.