John Keene directed The Orchestra Collective through plenty of surprises in a heroic reading of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony on Sunday, after just three hours of rehearsal for Perth’s first Symphony in a Day concert.
From the first brash chords, the group had an energy noticeable in last year’s rendition of the composer’s Seventh Symphony and continued here in the surging, swirling melody of the opening statement.
An 18:18 split between professionals and students included many WA Symphony Orchestra players as section leaders, giving strong cohesion throughout.
Strings were especially well schooled for such a brief preparation, bowing in lock step to concertmaster Akiko Miyazawa’s lead.
In woodwinds, WASO principal flute Andrew Nicholson set the usual strong example, matched at every turn by standout oboist Thomas Hutchinson.
Across the back, horns, clarinet, bassoon and trumpet showed similar resolve while Amanda Dean’s timpani bolstered dynamics in the many crescendos.
Keene morphed from ebullient to sombre for the second movement, the fatalistic opening in strings deftly answered by Hutchinson and Esther Lee on oboes, timpani giving just the right air of awe and respect to a piece laden with portent.
Beethoven is thought to have dedicated the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, before reneging when the French ruler crowned himself emperor. When Bonaparte died years later, Beethoven boasted he had already written the funeral march in this stanza.
Oboe led again with delicacy and power, backed by clarinets Alex Millier and Alex Wallace.
There was more delicacy in the switch to major key in woodwind and strings, and drama in the backrow reply.
Miyazawa steered decisively back to minor key, summoning a sonorous horn solo from Milly McAuliffe and stentorian reply from trumpets Jenna Smith and Zachary Ogden.
Bassoons Hugh Ponnuthurai and Bailey Ireland waxed mellow in response.
At the last, the tease of the cadence was a pin-drop moment.
Oboe led again into the third, scherzo movement, Nicholson chiming in over a slight drift among strings amid a rhythmically complex passage.
Horn fanfares were true and sustained through successive entries, McAuliffe and Jacob Penchel bolstered by WASO’s Francesco Lo Surdo.
In full ensemble, jagged chords and constant energy were spurred on by driving timpani.
Energy and humour flowed through to the finale, in the vigorous opening and on-offbeat duet of strings and woodwind.
Strings took the lead with brass and woodwind punctuation, Nicholson’s solo stirring a frenzy calmed by balmy oboe and horns.
Keene’s opening commentary had promised something for every player, and it was delivered in the climax; timpani ringing the rafters at the close.
Strings were hard to tell apart for their sheer cohesion, while the horn trio, and Hutchinson and Nicholson were singled out — the latter sharing the ovation with side-kick Dominique Rees.
And the final surprise: Hutchinson, holidaying in Perth, is the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra associate principal and an international soloist.
The Orchestra Collective, a development project to bring professionals and students together, will take the stage next in November with Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony.