WA Symphony Orchestra presents Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with Shuan Hern Lee and Peter Moore

David CusworthThe West Australian
WA Symphony Orchestra plays Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto with soloist Shuan Hern Lee and conductor Peter Moore at Perth Concert Hall.
Camera IconWA Symphony Orchestra plays Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto with soloist Shuan Hern Lee and conductor Peter Moore at Perth Concert Hall.

Composed in a city under siege two centuries ago, Beethoven’s Emperor piano concerto resonates with a world beset by pandemic.

And in Shuan Hern Lee, Perth has a rising star to channel the Romantic master’s defiance of adversity.

With WA Symphony Orchestra and conductor Peter Moore at Perth Concert Hall, Lee unleashed the pathos and passion of the Napoleonic era, florid runs and trills punctuated by plangent orchestral chords in the opening exposition.

Grandiloquent phrases and majestic brass chords invoked a long run into mesmeric meditation in the solo; Lee’s tone limpid and fluid, ebbing and flowing like the fortunes of war.

Shuan Hern Lee.
Camera IconShuan Hern Lee. Credit: Tom McKenzie

Pomp in the tutti passages was offset by rumination in piano, dynamics aligned in a subtle dialogue between artist and orchestra; intimate and grave, as if a soothing touch could also be the hand of fate.

Beethoven had gone within a decade from a firm fan of Bonaparte to a victim of his European hegemony; cowering in his brother’s basement while French artillery rained down on Vienna, capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The experience may have taken the last of his hearing, but left an imprint in his heritage that echoes today.

Lush chords and melody led into the Adagio second movement, a theme much copied in years since.

Lee’s entry was a pin-drop moment, warm and expressive; formality banished, humanity in focus, besieged and resilient.

In a few years, Lee has grown from prodigy to mature talent, with a quiet demeanour at the keyboard that all-but disarmed the orchestra.

Soft lyricism in the more contemplative moments was complemented by woodwind highlights and string harmonies as the melody — There’s a Place for Us (West Side Story) — gently wept.

Then the ensemble subsided to minor mode, and a magical moment arrived.

From one then two notes ascending — something like a spring snow melt — then bubbling gently as a mountain spring, Lee caressed a rhythm that suddenly burst into life in the Rondo finale, a torrent echoed in full orchestra.

It’s a figure that resembles nothing so much as the broken pattern of an artillery barrage or volley fire, beaten by Beethoven from swords into ploughshares.

Lee rode the tiger with a comprehensive range of dynamic, rhythmic and expressive control, exploiting every twist and turn, war and peace in the palms of his hands.

Now the piano, the artist, dominated the dialogue, Moore holding the line between the two.

At the death, piano fell away to the sound of timpani, then snapped back to unleash the final explosion in solo and band.

After such fireworks, Chopin’s Prelude in F# major as encore calmed the farm on a memorable night, WASO’s last classical concert of the COVID year.

Peter Moore.
Camera IconPeter Moore. Credit: Jon Green

After the interval, Brahms’ Symphony No.4 exploited a a bigger ensemble and gave voice to leaders in brass, horn and woodwind.

An ocean of possibilities emerged, with hints of a future beyond the Romantic era, full of modernistic edge.

Funereal French horns opened the Andante second movement, ushering in a processional theme punctuated by pizzicato strings.

By contrast the Allegro giocoso third movement was almost bucolic, with rich bowing and woodwind in the melody, Moore maintaining momentum through changing dynamics and tempi; dramatic in reading.

Drama flowed into the finale, giving voice to a sonorous brass choir, supplemented by woodwind over shimmering strings, returning to drama in the conclusion.

Fitting for a season’s end, each section had its own ovation, testament to perseverance through a crisis.

WAS repeats The Emperor program today at 5pm.

WASO’s last outing for the year is the Christmas Spectacular at the RAC Arena on December 12, with a 2pm matinee and 7.30pm evening show.

Details at www.waso.com.au.

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