Live review: Andrew Davis gala (Melbourne Symphony & Bryn Terfel)

Sir Andrew Davis

By Tom Ford

Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, April 26.

It must have been wholly satisfying for Melbourne Symphony Orchestra stakeholders to see Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel lead their new chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis onto the stage at Hamer Hall. At the same time last year, the MSO was treading water, yet to confirm a new conductor nor resume residency at Arts Centre Melbourne. That Sir Andrew Davis’ two debut performances sold out weeks in advance (no doubt aided by Terfel’s appearance) suggests the Melbourne public are hungry for indivisibility from the city’s premier orchestra.

As it was, they were presented with the most mouth-watering of beginnings. Terfel is the 21st century’s Wotan – commanding, bold and with a ferocious presence on stage – so involved in the role, he struggled to curtail his body movement. At times drowned by the orchestra, his tone and delivery were succulent. His diction was clear and beautiful. The sweet silence that should have followed the Magic Fire Music was ruined by abrupt applause from an over-zealous audience, unable to restrain their appreciation.

Joining Terfel in the second half for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was local, Sally-Anne Russell, with internationals Tracy Cantin and John Irvin. This was the Orchestra’s first real opportunity to demonstrate its tenacity under Davis. A safe opening movement was followed by a slightly more energetic second, a movement that warrants a bit more zest. The third was a gem, Davis highlighting every subtlety in the score, allowing the strings to flow as they should. The fourth had all its usual bravado and Terfel’s entry was a sound to behold. The chorus were wonderful, collectively outshining the soloists. The standing ovation that immediately greeted the performers was peculiar: was it for the performance or the work, as is often the case with Beethoven’s final symphony? On this occasion, Melburnians had every right to laud Davis in what was a most encouraging beginning.