Music review: Symphony Series 4 Embrace, Adelaide Town Hall

A sentimental musical journey and a world premiere.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s (ASO) Symphony Series 4 concert, styled Embrace, was indeed bracing – featuring three most vigorous and demanding works. And while there was little here to evoke the warm and cuddly feelings you may expect from the chosen nomenclature, the three pieces were all in some part about memories and belonging. 

The opening work, Dances of Galánta by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály, was given a fulsome playing by the ASO under guest conductor Elena Schwarz. This is admittedly a sentimental piece, a reminiscence of home, with unmistakable echoes of the campfire and travellers, of folk tunes and gypsy dances. The five pieces that comprise the suite range from gentle and graceful to bold and majestic, soaring to moments with the entire orchestra in full voice. There are especially beautiful moments for the clarinet, flute, oboe and piccolo. This robust work suited Schwarz’s disciplined style of conducting and together they gave an impressive performance.

Adelaide was then treated to the world premiere performances of a new composition, Dare to Declare: Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra by prolific contemporary composer Anne Cawrse, who is currently based in Adelaide. The work was commissioned by the ASO with special support from its generous benefactors in the Miriam Hyde Circle, named in honour of the Australian composer and pianist who lived and studied in Adelaide. 

Dare to Declare was written for the renowned Australian percussionist Claire Edwardes, whose talents go beyond the marimba to include the vibraphone, drums, waterphone (or ocean harp) and the Peruvian cajón. Edwardes has a remarkable feeling for the marimba – a large and rugged instrument – playing with four mallets and dominating the stage. The orchestral work gave the piece body and context, accompanying the marimba, but also offering continuity in the quiet moments between solos. 

The Concerto is written in a traditional three-movement format with each one celebrating an important “voice” in the Australian artistic landscape: poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal, artist Clarice Beckett and composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks. There was a wonderful synergy here between the composer, conductor and soloist. Cawrse was in the audience for this impressive performance and happily took a well-deserved bow with the players at its conclusion.

After interval the ASO launched into the delightful Symphony No. 9 in E Minor: From the New World by Bohemia’s greatest composer Antonín Dvořák. The ASO did indeed embrace this piece, basking in its big, bold and brassy persona, but still allowing its beauty and pathos to shine. Andrew Penrose went to town on the timpani and Peter Duggan was superb on the cor anglais for the famous solo.

Read: Exhibition review: Between Waves, ACCA

Despite the splendid playing from the ASO, I felt there was room for a little more sentiment and greater fluidity in the conducting and interpretation. Regardless of nuance, this is a much-loved piece and a clear favourite, evidenced by the ecstatic applause, foot stamping and cheering from the appreciative audience.

Symphony Series 4: Embrace
Adelaide Town Hall

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with conductor Elena Schwarz and soloist Claire Edwardes, marimba.

Symphony Series 4: Embrace was performed 7-8 July 2023.

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.