With musical, facial and physical expression, accordionist James Crabb guided WA Symphony Orchestra through Astor Piazzolla’s Aconcagua concerto in a near-faultless rendition for a Latin Fiesta at Perth Concert Hall on Friday night.
And the effect was more than the sum of its parts, Crabb building the same close rapport with the audience that he clearly had with a tight ensemble of strings, harp, piano and percussion.
One gesture to start, and the orchestra read Crabb’s intent in music and attitude, blending gently in homage to Piazzolla’s tango nuevo style.
Another gesture marked a break to a ruminative cadenza that spoke of late nights in smokey cafes, with perhaps a hint of rain; soft like the sparse drops outside.
More stormy fare was to come but the concerto was a study in empathy, the orchestra closer to Crabb than his shadow through meditative flurries in flexible tempi; dramatic flourishes with the bow in lockstep.
Mysterious organ-like chords opened the second, Moderato, movement, Piazzolla’s Baroque influence showing through.
A minimal rise in pressure swelled the theme, then subsided into a song-like refrain, Riley Skevington’s violin and Yi-Yun Loei’s harp drifting in on a breeze, refined and restrained, before Rod McGrath’s cello joined the sombre dance.
There was a flavour of film score throughout the night, heard here in Alex Timcke’s steady timpani beat, and in fleeting harp; each summoned by the slightest glance.
Drama erupted across the ensemble for the Presto finale, Crabb modelling the mood at every turn.
One phrase called for a collective foot-stamp, executed with parade-ground precision. Crabb rose to the occasion, standing just that once, then subsided to contemplation, Graeme Gilling joining playfully on piano.
Call and response with timpani reset the mood for grandiose dance measures building to a rousing climax.
When he spoke, Crabb’s Scottish accent was a dramatic contrast to the Latin theme, introducing a Shetland folk tune as encore. A single drone summoned a lyrical melody, almost a lament, crystalline harmonies supporting a simple line, swelling to full voice then fading back to a single tone.
The other force of nature on Friday was conductor Jessica Gethin, who leapt to the podium to launch the night with Alberto Ginastera’s Estancia: four dances in the Argentine gaucho tradition.
A sudden attack across full orchestra was restrained in dynamics but rhythmically intense, strings sustaining as brass and woodwind threw in jagged chords and melodies, horns joining timpani in fanfares picked up in trumpet for a booming conclusion to The Farm Workers.
Andrew Nicholson’s flute paired with piano for a dreamy Wheat Dance, horns swooning over the top like a breeze through corn, violin bows mimicking the motion as Skevington rose in silky solo; Gethin languid in shaping the sound.
A panoramic vision opened up in The Cattle Men, with horn, percussion and bravura brass highlights.
Driving rhythm then powered the Malambo finale, named for a machismo gaucho dance.
Gethin set the pace for the night with tight control in precise gestures through to the fiery conclusion, hitting the back wall of a hall at last relieved of capacity constraints.
After the interval the focus moved north to Mexico, with the mariachi-inspired music of Arturo Marquez and the Legend of Miliano, a paean to revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata; with a cinematic sweep in the opening Prayer, and ghostly harmonics in the Funeral March of the Ciccadas.
Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite was even more programmatic, a dawn chorus of timpani, violin harmonics and Allan Meyer’s scintillating clarinet rising across full orchestra to encompass the majesty of nature in Sunrise. Cloudburst, the finale, tracked the same arc from serenity to melodrama, combining movie-like techniques in wind machine and thunder sheet with Romantic and jazz idiom to great effect.
Back to Mexico and Silvestre Revueltas’ Sensemaya drew on jungle drums to tell a tale of ritual death, Cameron Brook’s tuba solo echoed in Brent Grapes’ trumpet over bassoon and percussion accompaniment as strings danced attendance – a balance reminiscent of Ravel’s Bolero, with one idea building a complex soundscape.
Finally, Jose Moncayo’s Huapango proved almost onomatopoeic; a jaunty rhythm echoing the percussive title to rock out the night.