The final Maestro concert for 2023, Micro-Masterpieces, was a magnificent 150 year-long journey through the Classical era. It was also the last of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s themed Classical programs devised by its Chief Conductor, Umberto Clerici.
Each masterpiece had been carefully selected as an homage to Mozart’s unique compositional art, beginning with the ‘Italian Mozart’, Rossini, who refused to adapt to the 19th-century era of Romanticism, clinging instead to the outdated Classical style.
His explosive Overture to The Barber of Seville is always an audience favourite, and opened the concert with an exciting bang. Rossini actually took the overture from his previous opera, Aureliano in Palmira, and it has had an indelible influence on pop culture, with countless tributes and parodies from Looney Tunes’ Bugs Bunny to Seinfeld. It even featured in The Simpsons.
The effervescent and lively music from the Opera buffa perfectly matched the bubbly eccentricity of Turin-born Clerici. After a dog-like shake, he energetically launched the QSO with a nod, a leap and flailing arms. Throughout the overture, he leapt and bounded, miming the pizzicato with waggling fingers, then crouching and pouncing as he launched each section into call-and-response mode.
Clerici’s balletic physical interpretation of the score was mirrored musically by the orchestra. The crashing crescendo conclusion caused by a leap from Clerici, was a spectacular start to the evening.
The measured majesty of Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 contrasted greatly with the comedic Barber of Seville. That it was written towards the end of his life while enduring a deep depression is evident in the capricious nature of the work. Despite being in E-flat major, there is a tonal darkness in the Adagio, as the strings gloomily march onwards with the strident pacing of the timpani broken by poetic woodwind interludes.
The Menuetto waltzed brightly with lovely echoes between the clarinet of Brian Catchlove and Alison Mitchell’s flute. As the only symphony of Mozart not featuring the oboe, the clarinet is given an unusual refreshing prominence. You could almost hear the Oomp-pah-pah of a Bavarian beer band. The Allegro kicked up its heels to finish with a flourish from both the orchestra and Clerici, resulting in waves of raucous cheering from the audience.
The 19-year-old Franz Schubert idolised Mozart, styling his Fifth Symphony in B-flat to his Classical style and mimicking his symphonic rhythms. It was a bright but long and monotonous tribute, though lacking the flare of Mozart and his own later harmonic innovations. Despite the skill of the musicians, some of the audience were flagging on the occasion and the multiple false endings in the final movement, the Allegro vivace, did not help. Clerici eventually ended the symphony like a rock star, thrusting his arm in the air as if wielding a sword ready for battle.
Clerici re-invigorated the audience by announcing the programme for the QSO’s 2024 season and thanking an enthralled audience for their ongoing support of the QSO, exclaiming “Without you here, it’s just a rehearsal!”
Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony No. 1 closed the concert with neo-classical flair. Again, it was inspired by Mozart’s music, which Prokofiev admired deeply. Composed while on holiday at a country farm, Prokofiev described it as “a playful and anachronistic little symphony,”. It’s also one of the shortest symphonies composed, running at only 15 minutes and full of “Prokofievish dissonances,” his trademarked style.
The first movement, Allegro con brio, entertained with whirling strings and harmonic twists, ending spectacularly with all bows pointed high in the air as if saluting the audience. Clerici jogged at his podium throughout the Finale: Molto vivace to the finishing post with the orchestral pace clipping along wild-west style until coming to an abrupt end welcomed by enormous applause and foot-stamping.
It was a fabulous end to the QSO’s final Maestro concert of 2023. Fortunately, it is not the end of their performances for the year. QSO musicians are preparing to perform in Opera Australia’s much-awaited Ring Cycle and Aida, and The Queensland Ballet’s pre-Christmas Nutcracker.