James Ledger World Première

Horn Concerto [World Première]
Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner)
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Darryl Poulsen (horn)

University of Western Australia Orchestra
Tze Law Chan

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 6 May, 2006
Venue: Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia, Perth

Mostly comprising students from the University of Western Australia (a few additional members being graduates and staff members, as well as students from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts), the UWA Orchestra yet again proved its mettle in coming to grips with both new works and mainstream repertoire by turning out fine performances of James Ledger’s Horn Concerto and Brahms’s First Symphony. That the Mozart was not shown the same courtesy is to be regretted – yet even here there were moments when everything came together.

Australian composer James Ledger wrote his Horn Concerto for his former teacher Darryl Poulsen’s 50th birthday. Poulsen in currently director of Brass Studies at UWA; he is also principal horn with the Sydney-based Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (reflecting his interest in historically informed performance).

Ledger’s Horn Concerto is cast in three movements (the second flowing into the third): ‘Pre’, ‘Inter’ and ‘Post’. After an initial flourish announcing the three-note motif that runs throughout the entire work, the first movement moves inexorably towards a massive climax while the soloist works out the often angular, sometimes pleading nature of the melodic material; by contrast, the second movement materialises like a spectral landscape as orchestra members negotiate the improvisatory aspects of the writing. The work then bursts into life again with the bustling rondo of the third movement, the lively conversations among soloist and sections interrupted by rhythmic interjections in a continuous tussle before an abrupt, rather subdued ending.

Poulsen’s playing was never less than eloquent, his fluent technique negotiating every hurdle with ease while leaving the large audience in no doubt as to Ledger’s compositional talents; both orchestra and conductor were equally convincing, despite the occasional lapses in ensemble.

Lapses in ensemble were unfortunately more frequent in the performance of Mozart’s Symphony No.35, which was also bedevilled by some intonation problems here and there. That being said, the outer movements did feature some light, incisive playing from the strings, even despite a lack of clear phrasal delineation. Perhaps under-rehearsal is to blame, but one was left with the feeling that there was little enthusiasm for this work.

Not so for Brahms’s First, which received a very fine performance indeed. From the forthright opening, the tempo of the first movement seemed just right; there was real fervency here, Tze Law Chan having perhaps rallied the troops during intermission. The atmosphere of the second movement was well captured, while the sheer joy and magic of the third shone through unhampered. The mighty finale, with its ‘big’ tune, was equally successful, the sense of mystery in the introduction re-emerging with new-found confidence in the wonderful return of the chorale before the final, emphatic chords.

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