Concert review: Symphony Series 5, ASO

Pianist Konstantin Shamray shines in an exceptional performance of the hallowed ‘Rach 3.'

You know you’ve experienced an exceptionally good performance when the Adelaide audience takes to its feet for a spontaneous standing ovation. Ás a regular concert-goer, I know this doesn’t happen all the time. 

Symphony Series 5: Dreams and Passions was a fulsome package with a couple of the greats and an intelligent new piece, all presented by an orchestra that was clearly performing with verve under the lead of a popular conductor. But the real focus of the ovation was pianist Konstantin Shamray and his impressive playing of Rachmaninov’s towering Piano Concerto No. 3

This is a master work in all regards and is rightly regarded as one for the skilled and the brave. Indeed, it is regarded by many as the most difficult piano concerto ever written. It is not only technically challenging, with great leaps along the keyboard and intensely complicated fingering; it is also musically complex and has something of an aura surrounding its performance. 

The ‘Rach 3’ demands sensitivity and insight as well as power and stamina from the soloist. From the gentlest touch where the pianist seems to be caressing the keys, to the raging passages that belong solely to the piano, this is a mesmerising piece.

That Shamray is a ‘local boy’, currently Lecturer in Piano at the Elder Conservatorium, fills the audience with a parochial pride. And to see him play this daunting work with such insouciant command is really very impressive. That’s not to negate the fine work from the orchestra and conductor Johannes Fritzch, staying with the piano at all times as it took the lead throughout, and who together made this a thrilling performance.

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And this was just one element in an excellent concert program. The Orchestral Suite from Hansel and Gretel was a delight with its haunting strains of folk tunes and fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel, composed in 1893 by the original Engelbert Humperdinck (from whom the 1960s crooner of Release Me fame took his stage name) is to this day a popular opera. Johannes Fritzch is a very experienced operatic conductor and there was a clear synergy here between conductor and orchestra. The wonderful Witch’s Waltz, celebrating the death of the witch and the return to life of all the bewitched gingerbread children, was played with a delightfully joyous dramatism.  

The concert opened with the Australian premiere performance of Magnetite, an intelligent and engaging piece by British composer Emily Howard. This was commissioned for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The work is steeped in beliefs about the healing and magical properties of the mineral magnetite. These mystical elements offered an empathetic segue into the magical world of Hansel and Gretel and the wicked witch. 

And so to that standing ovation which was rewarded with a brief Rachmaninov Prelude for encore before we all went home happy in the knowledge that we had just shared a very special musical experience.

Symphony Series 5 – Dreams and Passions
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Adelaide Town Hall
Conductor Johannes Fritzch
Soloist Konstantin Shamray

Symphony Series 5 – Dreams and Passions was performed on 7-8 October 2021

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.