Monday, June 17, 2019


Composer Michael Dooley - photo Peter Hislop
Michael Dooley’s Piano Concerto No.1 received a triumphant premiere performance at yesterday’s concert at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.

Played by the National Capital Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Weiss, with piano soloist Andrew Rumsey, the work came across as a serious piece for the symphonic and concerto repertoire and deserves to be placed as something that can and should be performed again and again. 

The opening of the first movement contained melodies and rhythms of almost a folk music idiom, not unlike some of the folk song suites by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Eric Coates.

Pianist Andrew Rumsey - photo Peter Hislop
The other influence I hear in Dooley’s composing style, at least for this work and particularly in the piano part, is that of Michel Legrand. The program notes also mentioned influences from Camille Saint-Saëns and one could hear glimpses of this in the piano scoring, particularly influenced by the introduction to his Piano Concerto No. 2, which pays homage to both Sebastian Bach and Scarlatti.

Rumsey played the piano solo part with authority, accuracy and confidence. There was an extended cadenza section towards the end of the first movement in which he played with lyric beauty.

Both the orchestra and the soloist have now set their own bench-mark on how this work can be played. There are no other performances to compare it to. It stands alone and waiting to be interpreted by others. I feel more could be made of the piano solo part, not in the writing, but in the playing. Rumsey and others could explore this to a much greater extent, in terms of passion, dynamics, poise, rubato and drama.

Michael Dooley has arrived at a composing style that he can call his own. It doesn’t copy anything or anyone, or draw from any one particular influence. 

The other work on the program was the Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninov.

Astonishingly, this work was only catapulted into the standard symphonic repertoire and public arena as late as 1973, with the release of Andre Previn’s ground-breaking recording for EMI with the London Symphony Orchestra. This recording established the practice more than any other that the work should be played absolutely complete, without the disfiguring cuts that even Rachmaninov himself had sanctioned.

I see from my records, that I reviewed a performance of this symphony in 1996 for Muse Arts Monthly, given by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas Braithwaite. There was a great deal of pre-publicity at the time about CSO tackling such a monumental work. They did it brilliantly and were nominated for a Canberra Critics Circle Award at the time. You can read my review of that concert here.

National Capital Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Weiss did a fine job in their performance. 

The young Rachmaninov
Whilst there were a few blemishes here and there, the over-arching state of the playing was excellent, full of dynamics, drama and intensity. In the slow movement, some of the lush Rachmaninov Romantic sound for which his orchestral scoring is famous came through, however I felt more could have been done with this movement to enhance the beauty of the writing and the lushness of the sound, particularly from the strings.

The infamous tricky entry of the second and fourth movements were handled extremely well by the orchestra and their conductor. Many world famous conductors have commented on the difficulty of getting these introductory passages actually started without major mishaps. The work was clearly very well rehearsed. The French Horns in particular were a stand-out for me. In addition, the percussion section added great weight and substance to the many crescendo points in the work.

Weiss’ conducting was authoritative, commanding and precise. He had clearly prepared his vision of how the performance should be heard with great detail and confidence.

This concert was the best I’ve heard from this orchestra and they are to be congratulated on presenting both a brand new work of substance and quality and a monumental symphonic piece of difficulty with great success.