Live Review

Symphony Fantastic: Love, Lust and Madness

Queensland Symphony Orchestra - Symphony Fantastic: Love, Lust and Madness

QPAC Concert Hall

May 18th, 2024


There is a certain sense of surreality in watching an orchestra just before a performance. All the musicians are in place, chattering amongst themselves, periodically checking and tuning their instruments, which clash and compete with each other in a glorious cacophony of unbridled and unrehearsed noise. It provides a stark contrast to the perfectly timed performance that is but a few short minutes away, a peek behind the curtain and a reminder that the many armed beast that is the Queensland Symphony Orchestra is in fact made up of a host of individual instrumentalists.


Symphony Fantastic is a compilation of three individual pieces, conducted by Umberto Clerici and performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra ,with the inclusion of Hungarian violinist József Lendvay. Comprising Camille Saint-Saëns’ (1835-1921) Danse Macabre, Op 40 Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) Tzigane, Rapsodie De Concert and Hector Berlioz’s (1803-1869) Symphonie Fantastique: Épisode De La Vie U'un Artiste … En Cinq Parties, Symphony Fantastic is a dazzling and immersive experience made all the more magical through its performance within the visually and acoustically stunning QPAC Concert Hall.


Themes of love, lust, death and madness are the order of the day. Danse Macabre - literally, The Dance Of Death - is an eerily playful symphonic poem, written as an imaginary soundtrack to an allegorical ball held each Halloween, when death comes out to play. Tzigane portrays all the unbridled joy and passion of traditional Gypsy music and features a particularly memorable performance from József Lendvay, whose playing style spans the broad plain between classical and experimental. Lastly, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, the author’s one-sided love letter to his future wife, Harriet Smithson, is a masterpiece of obsession that culminates in the protagonist’s descent into madness and attempted suicide.


Running for just short of two-hours, with a brief interval, Symphony Fantastic is a treat for the senses. It is easy to get lost in the music, to close your eyes and allow yourself to be swept up in the mystery and imagination of the pieces themselves. Alternatively, one can be distracted by the individual performers, enraptured by the virtuosity and intensity of their performance.


Particular praise, however, must be reserved for József Lendvay’s majestic performances in Danse Macabre and Tzigane and the final two movements of Symphonie Fantastique; March Au Supplice and Sange D’une Suit Du Sabbat. These final performances contained all the bombast and explosive power of the entire symphony as they combined to produce a musical sturm und drang; providing the afternoon with a dramatic and compelling finale. 


One small critique was the use of an actor to introduce each individual piece of music, outlining its title and author alongside a brief description. This provided much needed contextual information that may not have been common knowledge to casual attendees, but the use of accents, wigs and costumes, in place of a simple introduction, seemed to detract from the elegance of the proceedings.


Symphony performances are an immersive experience. Instruments ebb and flow as they interact with each other and vie for the listener’s attention, before swallowing them up and surrounding them with music. Each of the pieces that comprise Symphony Fantastic have traversed generations, continents and cultures to entertain audiences for well over a century; a testament to the genius of their composers, as creators of art that can withstand the test of time. Credit is also due to the performers themselves, for these conduits from the modern era breathe new life into the bones of old compositions, fleshing them out, raising them up and allowing them to continue to dazzle and delight.



Review: Nick Stephan

Imagery: Donna Kramer (QSO Marketing Team)


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