Fireworks and Fury

Fireworks and Fury
Southern Cross Soloists. Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Brisbane. 20 February 2022

In 2022, Queensland's Southern Cross Soloists (SXS) celebrate more than 25 years of creating music together, working with world-class soloists and commissioning more than 120 world premieres. They started the year with Fireworks and Fury, which saw the debut of one of their new pieces for their SXS Didgeridoo Commissioning Project, featuring guest soloist and didgeridoo Artist in Residence, Chris Williams, and a special performance by 2022 guest artist in residence, the acclaimed Russian-Australian concert pianist Konstantin Shamray.

Image: Chris Williams

The 90-minute programme opened with a sparkling piece for oboe 'Mea tormenta, properate' by Johann Adolf Hasse, featuring the group's Artistic Director, Tania Frazer, and her beautiful tones on the oboe. The instruments included the gorgeous harpsichord, always a treat to hear, played by Shamray.

Flying in at very short notice from his home turf of Hobart (he normally plays with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) to solo on cello, Jonathan Békés excelled in David Popper's 'Hungarian Rhapsody Op. 68' a brilliant Bohemian flavoured piece arranged by SXS composer in residence, John Rotar. 

Then followed the world premiere of Sean O’Boyle's ‘Beerwah: The Mother of the Glasshouse Mountains', for chamber ensemble and didgeridoo. The works commissioned for Chris Williams' didgeridoo are part of the SXS team's plans to accumulate a cache of original and uniquely Australian works for the Olympics in Brisbane in 2032. I love the didgeridoo solo or with any accompanying instrument. Williams is a master with a warm and inviting manner. He is capable of finding a range of astonishing sounds! And O'Boyle's piece is a great start: it certainly evokes the magnificent Sunshine Coast mountains and showcases what the instrument is capable of in the chamber music zone. I am really looking forward to the other offerings to come from this project.

James Wannan then treated us to two pieces featuring the viola: the first movement from Berlioz's 'Harold in Italy Op. 16' and Paganini's 'La Campanella from Concerto No. 2 in B Minor Op. 7' First he enlightened us to the intriguing connection between the two composers – Berlioz's piece being a rejected commission from the flamboyant virtuoso himself, a special request to showcase a new Stradivarius viola. We don't know the extent of Paganini's fury when he realised that Berlioz's piece was not going to give him the much-desired spotlight, but Wannan's performance in both pieces certainly provided the fireworks in this programme's title with his effusive and heartfelt style.

Image: James Wannan

The final piece was the epic 'Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26' by Prokofiev performed by guest artist in residence, Konstantin Shamray on the majestic Steinway. The highly accomplished Shamray gave a faultless performance, and I only wish that the piano had been positioned at the front of the stage to maximise viewing for the enthusiastic audience who filled the Concert Hall on a showery afternoon in the City.

SXS is a talented mix of intriguing musicians. The adept group includes Alan Smith on violin, Jonathan Henderson on flute, Natalia Edwards on French horn, Amelia Cherry on double bass, Dario Scalabrini on clarinet, and Helena Wang on violin. As COVID restrictions ease and touring commitments clear, they may also be joined by Nick Mooney on French horn and Ashley Smith on clarinet. It will be fascinating to see other soloists feature in the programmes yet to come later in the year: definitely a season to watch out for.

Find out about the SXS 2022 season:

Beth Keehn

Photographer: Darren Thomas

Subscribe to our E-Newsletter, buy our latest print edition or find a Performing Arts book at Book Nook.