Reviews, News and Commentary

Christian Li and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Christian Li and the MSO Image Laura Manariti

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Mendelssohn and Brahms

Conductor,  Sir Andrew Davis

Violin Soloist, Christian Li

Hamer Hall, Arts Centre , Melbourne

December 3

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Earlier this year the young Chinese violinist Christian Li played works by Saint Saen’s and Ravel with the Auckland Philharmonia. The then fourteen year old giving an impressive performance. I noted at the time that it was as though this fourteen year old  had been taken over by a violinist ten years older and that his every movement and expression seemed to be channelling the  emotional energy and technical brilliance  of a mature  musician.

In that concert he performed technically challenging but rather short pieces which showed his ability to produce sounds which were truly capricious with sudden changes of mood and style which resulted in an electrifying performance.

Last week the now fifteen year old appeared with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis playing a much more substantial work, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Mendelssohn had spent nearly ten years writing the concerto adhering to the classical style of Beethoven while combining much of  the romantic ethos which leads on to the music of Brahms. In several ways he broke with tradition such as having the violin make an instant introduction to the work . Then there is no break between the first and second movements, with a bassoon note held between the two sections and the work also calls on the soloist to function as an accompanist to the orchestra for extended periods.

Li  opened the turbulent first movement with a  relentless vigour  responding urgently to the orchestra and conductor . At times his playing was raw, almost visceral revealing the passionate aspect of the work  while at other times he exposed the delicate and sensual elements of the music with his playing being little more than a whisper.

He seemed very much in control tackling the work with lively self-confidence, even the passages which Mendelssohn must have written to technically challenge the performer were effortlessly disposed of.

The dynamic energy he put into the playing  showed that he not only had an understanding of the technical aspects of the works  but also an appreciation of the works emotional impact.

In the second movement with its more restful mood there were passages where he was dominated by the orchestra as though sinking under the weight of the music but this changed when he erupted like a blossoming flower with an exuberant intensity

In the third movement in which many of the motifs of the first movement were restated he displayed  a playful jousting  engagement with the orchestra in a very physical manner.

Throughout he managed to conjure up some graceful unforced tones with crisp articulation heightening the romantic sweep of the music, discovering its emotional depths

The opening work on the programme was  Carl Vine’s “MicroSymphony” which in twelve minutes creates a compact abstraction of a symphonic work allowing each of the sections of the orchestra to demonstrate their strengths.

It opened with a percussion onslaught followed by waves of gentle strings along interspersed brass and woodwinds. The overall impression was of some giant mechanical machine, at times roaring at other times purring, slowly evolving and resolving -a metaphor for the creative process and the evolution of a creative work.

The major work on the programme was Brahms’s Symphony No 4. Like all the composers works there is a strong personal element. to the work and one is conscious of the composer using the music to reflect on his physical and emotional journey through life. The tensions and contrasts of the music  reflect the composers intellectual and musical refinement of the work, as well as his attempts to express the delights as well as the tragedies of life in a sort of pre-Mahler emotional and psychological landscape.

Sir Andrew Davis realised the  depth of the work, ensuring that each of the complex musical sections flowed seamlessly into the other.  Thereas the impassioned intensity of the opening movement through the earthy sounds of the  pizzicato strings  sounds in the second movement  and on to the final movement which takes one of Bach’s Cantatas as a starting point turning it into a  pursuit of darkness and drama. These all combined to create a momentous journey and we followed the composer; drifting, buffeted, cheered and saddened by event and encounter. Even though the composer had more than a decade to live the symphony seems like a contemplation of his own mortality.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra 2023

Next year’s MSO programme offers other appearances of Christian Li including playing the Sibelius Violon Concerto

The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon rattle will be performing May 5 & 6 with works by John Adams, Debussy and Ravel along with Mahler’s Symphony No 7.

Among the big symphonies on offer will be Mahler’s Symphony No 5, Dvorak Symphonies No 5  6, Beethoven’s Symphony No 8

There are also  Violin concertos by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Beethoven on the programme.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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