Journey Through the Cosmos - 9 November 2014

Review ·

NEVER mind that when he wrote his famous orchestral suite composer Gustav Holst was more interested in the astrology of the planets than he was in the astronomy.

Never mind that the work as a whole ends with an extended, vaguely discordant whimper once the big tune of Jupiter disappears halfway through.

And never mind that QSO’s bold, commercially successful venture into new realms of self-promoted concert blockbusters lasts an eternity and looks like a superior PowerPoint presentation.

Just as Voyager 1 started out with only 68 kilobytes of computing power back in the 1970s yet continues to deliver scientific wonders, let’s hope this initial, technologically underpowered concert based on space-themed music will eventually lead to the kind of sound and lighting spectacular now routine in classical crossover extravaganzas.

With thinking woman’s eye-candy and former boy-band member Brian Cox out the front rhapsodising about the solar system in his characteristic TV manner, this is two full-length events in one, a lecture on the planets and the probes exploring them, and a concert featuring Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli’s meandering Voyager Violin Concerto and Holst’s venerable old orchestral warhorse, The Planets.

Musically, both works come off well, with Johannes Fritzsch and the QSO in rare form, especially on The Planets, where the big orchestral roars of Mars and Sarah Wilson’s trumpet flourishes on top of the ensemble in Jupiter take the breath away.

Solo violinist Jack Liebeck’s sweet, unforced tone and laser-like intonation sound beautiful, too, in the Marianelli, mercifully so, given that he plays virtually nonstop throughout, weaving eerie arabesques around Bach’s Third Partita while the orchestra vamps away, any hopes of it carrying a musical argument of its own receding into interstellar space.

Physicist Cox is clever in working references to both the music and the space science into his engaging chats before the

Marianelli and between movements of the Holst. And the many audience members who have come to hear him more than the orchestra listen to both words and music with an attention so rapt that it puts normal concertgoers to shame.

At the moment, though, some big-screen space images operated by an onstage clicker, and a splash of red colour flooding the hall during Holst’s Mars, are pretty much the visual highlights.

As a spectacle, it could be so much more, but as a first step into the unknown it should be praised to the heavens.

The Australian newspaper review by Martin Buzacott, published on November 11, 2014.