WA Symphony Orchestra
Perth Concert Hall
REVIEW NEVILLE COHN
Johannes Brahms, that autumnal drear and high priest of gloom, is famous for his preoccupation with dying, death and graves - and these feature prominently in his Four Serious Songs completed shortly before his own death.
Usually, they are presented as Brahms intended them to be: by solo voice to piano accompaniment. On Friday, though, we listened to bass baritone Daniel Sumegi singing to orchestral accompaniment arranged by Detlev Glanert, who also provided his own introduction, linking preludes and a postlude.
Sumegi was at his persuasive best in Brahms' setting of O Death, how Bitter it is from Ecclesiastes, its profoundly moving mood evoked by a voice that effortlessly rode the crest of the accompanying orchestral wave. This was singing of significance, its impact enhanced by the skill of conductor Olari Elts.
Before the songs, Elts presided over the Australian premiere of his fellow-Estonian Erkki-Sven Tuur's De Profundis. This was fascinating fare, music brimming with intriguing ideas.
After interval, Stravinsky's Petrushka flashed into glittering life. One of the 20th century's most dazzling scores, it was presented by an orchestra which seemed to relish coming to grips with its challenges.
It was a memorable journey into the composer's matchless and utterly idiosyncratic sound world. Laurels in particular to Adam Mikulicz on bassoon and Graeme Gilling who tackled the forbiddingly tricky piano part with splendid clarity and nimbleness of finger.