For ANAM’s opening concert of the year Stanley Dodds, newly-appointed principal conductor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, led the cohort in a programme of meteorological proportions. George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad is a bombastic early-twentieth-century romp. Written after the Second Boer War, the work’s folk-inflected romanticism has become familiar to concert-goers throughout these two years of commemorations of the First World War. The piece is a reminder that the language of grief changes and that composers are constantly inventing new ways of expressing the extremely complex emotions associated with trauma, loss and mourning.
A case in point being Wilfred Lehmann’s Symphonic Requiem for the Child Victims of War from 1994. The score has been revived by ANAM’s librarian Philip Lambert, who heroically typeset the piece over fourteen months. Where Butterworth’s war is one of misplaced heroism, Lehmann uses the post-World War Two trope of senseless mechanisation. Menacing strings descend upon scratched cymbals and motoric snare drums. An alienating cluster of woodwinds combine with an eerie bowed vibraphone. Lehmann paints this terrifying environment so that we empathise all the more with the Symphonic Requiem‘s instrumental “protagonists”: a violin, a mandolin and a glockenspiel. The solo violin appears first, its lament accompanied by a sombre, marching orchestra. The mandolin and glockenspiel enter, playing a sort of hide and seek punctuated by cheeky portamenti. As the background becomes more chaotic, the voices are separated. The mandolin and violin “run” away among blasts from the timpani. This is a piece for current wars as much as past ones. It is about refugee children and those who don’t get to be refugees because they die before they can escape. Shane Chen performs the solo violin part masterfully, executing an extremely virtuosic cadenza before rejoining the plodding orchestral march. Everybody plays the violin’s lament from the beginning, but the violin has the last word with a bit of a jig.
After the vibrant characterisations of Lehmann’s Symphonic Requiem, it was difficult to settle in to Carl Nielsen’s “The Inextinguishable.” A bloated opening orchestral statement thankfully gives way to a mysterious and compelling cello solo (all the more compelling because of the lightning from the storm brewing outside the hall). Another bouncing, bolshy orchestral episode gives way to a thin, tense moment in the strings. Once more, the weather helped, with the storm buffeting the building from all sides. This was the perfect environment in which to hear the Symphony’s central wind octet—with extra-musical wind.
Students of Australian National Academy of Music
Shane Chen, violin
Conducted by Stanley Dodds
George Butterworth, A Shropshire Lad; Wilfred Lehmann, Symphonic Requiem for the Child Victims of War; Carl Nielsen, Symphony No. 4, “The Inextinguishable.”
Partial Durations is a Matthew Lorenzon/RealTime joint project.