Donald Runnicles, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Opera House, October 23
The Song Company, Nineteen to the Dozen
Utzon Room, Opera House, October 22
Soprano Erin Wall began the first of Strauss’s Four Last Songs, Fruhling (spring), with a tone of quiet darkness opening out effortlessly as the line soars on the bed of late Romantic harmony the 84-year-old Strauss still cultivated in 1948 while the rest of musical Europe had switched on to the avant garde. Wall’s voice has a full sound of bony strength and rounded power, warm and involving – all held together with remarkable seamless control, moving from high to low, from thrilling projection to quiet whisper with flexibility and ravishing tone.
Strauss was near death when he wrote of spring but in the springtime of his life 60 years earlier he had written of Death and Transfiguration. Conductor Donald Runnicles and the SSO had started the program with a weighty performance of the tone poem of that name and, discovering that death becomes them, continued after interval with Faure’s Requiem, joined by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs at their finest, Wall, and baritone Samuel Dundas. With warm intimate orchestration dominated by violas and organ, Runnicles emphasised the serene truth of quiet beauty in this work, never reaching for drama or anything meretricious. The choir was excellently balanced and subtly modulated. Unforgettable.