An extra week together for WA Symphony Orchestra, principal conductor Asher Fisch and violin star Grace Clifford put icing on the cake for Power and Passion at Perth Concert Hall on Saturday.
The benefits of a three-week run — extended due to COVID curbs — showed in crisp and incisive playing, especially for Ernest Chausson’s Poeme; a lyrically expressive solo that brought out the best of Clifford’s technique and tone.
A self-effacing figure on stage, Clifford absorbed the opening chords in strings and horns, with lilting melodic lines in woodwind, then launched into a sonorous cadenza full of vibrato and pathos, stirring a syrupy response in strings.
Some soloists seem impassive during the tutti sections but Clifford was focused throughout, a double-stopping duet over the finger board languid and sure.
Judicious entries by the ensemble framed an increasingly agitated solo, gliding evocatively from low-register musing to sudden heights, always full-voiced and ever present.
There is no narrative to this tone poem, but there was no need: every nuanced phrase spoke to the heart, beautifully modulated in harp, then dramatic in the climax, buoyed by brass before a feather-light cadence, with harmonics and trills exquisitely judged.
The evening began with a true story in Wagner’s Meistersinger suite, opening in dark musing of the Act III prelude — cello richly mysterious — swelling through viola and violins, adding brass and horns in a deftly balanced palette.
A sudden break to the Dance of the Apprentices was scherzo-like in violins and tuned percussion with woodwind highlights; the bucolic mix atypical of Wagner yet assured under the baton of Fisch, a Wagner enthusiast on home turf.
Jenna Smith’s trumpet fanfare, slick and clear, summoned the well-known theme of the Act I Prelude; tuneful woodwind lines bolstered by majesty in brass and percussion delivering a bright, polished conclusion.
After the interval, Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony opened with stark chords reminiscent of Beethoven’s Eroica giving way to swirling melody; the whole expansively episodic as if a narrative — cinematic, even.
History records Shostakovich retreated from his radical trajectory in fear of a Stalinist purge, with this work either conformist or ironic, depending on perspective.
All elements had free rein, with drama giving way to a sonorous sweet spot in violins and harp over rhythmic lower strings then returning to drama in horns and trumpets before a sublimely pastoral duet in David Evans’ Horn and Andrew Nicholson’s flute ushered in a funereal cadence.
Low strings again led in the second stanza, a vigorous dance with woodwind flourishes lending a folkloric edge echoed faithfully in horns, and with wit and charm by associate concert master Riley Skevington’s violin, before passing around sections; rising to an energetic finish.
In the Largo third movement, inner calm infused harp arpeggios underpinning woodwind melody, meditative and melancholy; morphing to a feverish shimmer in strings with a sinewy oboe motif from Liz Chee evincing ethereal clarinet from Allan Meyer. Bassoonists Jane Kircher-Lindner and Adam Mikulicz with bass clarinettist Alexander Millier modulated rich prayerful tones; cooling to close in the music of the spheres.
Finally, drama returned in brass and timpani, summoning broad themes from the Romantic past; devolving to the mystery of earlier movements then erupting again in martial mode, darkly glowering in horns with menace in brass before warming to celebration — and just a hint of discord.
In parting, Fisch farewelled bass player Andrew Tait after 32 years service; half a lifetime celebrated by his colleagues with an all-bass version of the Beatles’ When I’m 64 — a velvety romp with lyrical quips and a heartfelt shoutout to finish.
Tait’s voice will linger in the instruments he has built for WASO, including principal Rod McGrath’s cello and several basses.