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Paul Daniels Conducts

Heather Leviston

ANAM: A memorable concert featuring the talents of soprano Siobhàn Stagg and the Australian National Academy of Music orchestra and musicians.
Paul Daniels Conducts
At the end of the first item on this program, conductor Paul Daniel turned to the audience and asked how you could follow such “completely exquisite” singing. Like Shéhérazade, soprano Siobhàn Stagg had woven a spell so enthralling that the audience was convinced that anything more would have to be an anticlimax.

Stagg’s distinctive voice and radiant presence were beautifully suited to Ravel’s aesthetic. She rode the undulations of the Debussy-inspired music with vocal security; pitch, length of phrase and nuance of colour were all at the service of her total engagement with the subtleties of the text. In addition to revelling in the catalogue of riches to be savoured in the exotic lands of Asia, she conveyed an innocent wonder and relish at the darker features. As Siobhan Stagg left the stage in a swish of sea-blue skirt, the audience showed its appreciation of a very special performance by a singer who is on the brink of an international career.

What followed may have been less striking, but the augmented ANAM orchestra continued to give persuasive readings with Debussy’s La Mer and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The whole program was chosen for musical connection, thematic coherence (the sea and story-telling) and as an opportunity to showcase the talents of the ANAM musicians. At times it was difficult to believe that they were students rather than experienced professionals. Notable was the clarity of Jessica Jiang’s flute solo of the second song of Shéhérazade, ‘La flûte enchantée’.

Since the teaching of brass has become a part of the ANAM program this year, Paul Daniel introduced La Mer by interviewing Callum G’Froerer, who explained some of the differences between the trumpet and the cornet. The success of this additional program was particularly evident in some fine trumpet work on the part of Josh Rogan in La Mer as well as Rachel Shaw’s horn playing in the ‘Final Hymn’ of the Stravinsky.

After the Debussy, a second mini-interview was conducted between Daniels and a first year ANAM student, Madeleine Jevons, who was asked to explain what it was like to play pieces as demanding as the Stravinsky. It was another reminder of the level of accomplishment of these students, particularly when considering the contribution of Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba. His leadership as concertmaster was impressively assured and included some fine solo work throughout the program.

Although the orchestra set up in the South Melbourne Town Hall meant that the string section was less well projected than other sections, a satisfying dynamic range was provided. It also enabled listeners to hear some of the details of orchestration that are sometimes lost within the wash of sound generated by the full complement of strings of professional orchestras in large halls. There were so many fine moments from members of the wind, brass, harp and percussion sections that they cannot all be given the comment that they deserve.

Suffice to say, Australia is well served by this institution. It was heartening to see that the enthusiasm of these young players was matched by a reciprocal enthusiasm from a capacity audience. Under the expert guidance of Paul Daniels, Siobhan Stagg and these talented musicians had provided a memorable experience.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5

Paul Daniel Conducts
Siobhàn Stagg – soprano
Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra and Musicians

RAVEL Shéhérazade
DEBUSSY La mer
STRAVINSKY The Firebird - Suite

South Melbourne Town Hall
August 3

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Heather Leviston is a Melbourne-based reviewer.

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