Review: MSO – Beethoven 5, Hamer Hall

Raphael Solarsh

A famous performance of classical music’s most famous composition.
Review: MSO – Beethoven 5, Hamer Hall

Karina Canellakis conductor. 

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony needs no introduction. It’s four opening notes seem to have made their way, by osmosis, into the brains of the most unacquainted novices. So how is it that such a familiar piece of music is still capable of eliciting such fervent excitement? With familiar notes comes the opportunity to make the subtleties of interpretation an artform in itself, a task that conductor Karina Canellakis tackled with relish and vigour.

While the 5th may be the main event, it would be remiss not to tackle it as part of the cunningly assembled program in which it sat so beautifully. Dvorak’s The Noon Witch made for titillating start with humour and lashes of drama that hinted knowingly at what was to come. There was perhaps even an emphatic flourish or two that allusions to the 5th itself. It was starting point that knew its place, but determined not be overlooked or have its artifice go unnoticed.

Mayu Kishima’s Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 threatened to upstage its more famous follower. Kishima’s understated authority and powerful playing style are tailor made for Shostakovich’s chaotic and emotive compositions. They demand a certain single-mindedness and self-assurance from soloists who must thread the looser forms and sonic palates of the Russian maestro. Modernist influences permeate a kind of musical expressionism that mixes stark colour with unrestrained emotion. With the orchestra swirling around her like a tempest, Kishima refused to budge and her total command of tempo was as thrilling as it was moving.

That prominence of tempo that initially seemed to be the stamp of Kishima alone, acquired a second set of finger prints in hindsight, once the unaccompanied orchestra has dispensed with the first movement of The 5th in record time. A simple, yet riveting choice by Canellakis of an allegro hinted at more than casual hand in Kishima’s approach. This left Canellakis with the time and slightly wrongfooted audience needed, to attack the post-duh-duh-duh-dum movements with renewed energy and vitality. One can’t but be impressed with her ability to put her mark on every aspect of the performance with her driving sense of tempo. This is not to characterise it, as a one-speed freight train. Her remarkable skill lies in her ability to change tack at speed, be it to bring in a crescendo or sudden pause without the change feeling jarring in any way.

An outstanding performance, unafraid to take risks and brilliant from start to finish.

5 stars ★★★★★

Beethoven 5
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Karina Canellakis – Conductor
Mayu Kishima – Violin    

17 November 2018
Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall  

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Raphael Solarsh is writer from Melbourne whose work has appeared in The Guardian, on Writer’s Bloc and in a collection of short stories entitled Outliers: Stories of Searching. When not seeing shows, he writes fiction and blogs at raphaelsolarsh.com and tweets @RS_IndiLit.