New Year’s Eve came early to Perth Concert Hall with a smorgasbord of Strauss from The Vienna Pops Orchestra under Mark Coughlan’s baton and a bombe surprise of song.
Mezzo-soprano Ashlyn Tymms promised and delivered a range of style and register, announced with a stentorian fanfare for Augustin Lara’s Granada, Spanish pizzazz ushering in a commanding presence and voice soaring effortlessly through the range, lusciously expressive and glittering with grace notes over extravagantly extended phrasing; a radiant generosity echoed in brass bravura.
Contrast that with Saint-Saens’ Mon Coeur, from the opera Samson and Delilah; swelling emotion and eloquent melody paired with the waif-like figure of WA Ballet demi-soloist Claire Voss shaping a counterpoint en pointe, echoed in Ashley Smith’s clarinet and returning to Tymms in a sequence of pin-drop moments.
Latin flourish and a voice well suited to French lyrics herald a treat in store when Tymms channels Carmen for Perth Festival in February.
She tag-teamed with rising star baritone Devon Lake, whose solo You Raise Me Up (Lovland-Graham) brought a hometown holler for the 19-year-old WAAPA student, demonstrating a fuller tone, range and expression from the same gig last year, holding his own over full orchestra with brass at full bore.
Tymms followed with Ellington classic It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got Swing), a voice nuanced with blue notes in the introduction, swinging across the beat and skatting up the octave and down; coaxing and teasing the audience.
The singers combined for Foster-Bayer Saga’s The Prayer, with viola shadowing Tymms in the intro — a natural fit in timbre and pitch. Tymms then swapped phrases with Lake in a duet more than the sum of its parts; seemingly popping one of the many balloons suspended overhead in the triumphant conclusion.
Smith also took centre stage for a mystical rendition of Nature Boy (Ahbez, arr. Turley), mournful horn setting the tone for a velvety clarinet lead mirrored in flute then oboe, meditative and mesmeric in its minimalism.
A whisp of sound explored the heights of the hall before breaking into an elaborate cadenza over bass pedal notes, like bird song in a cavernous cathedral — mimicked by more than one child at this matinee performance.
Smith also led in a robust reading of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with a low trill and blues-inflected glissando, throwing to Brent Grapes on wha-wha trumpet and Coughlan at the keyboard.
Concertmaster Paul Wright shared the baton with Coughlan here, unleashing the jaunty theme in full orchestra, picked up in robust trombones. A virtuoso piano cadenza led in the slower section, lush in strings, wind and brass, before closing on the finale with gravity and swing.
The purely orchestral numbers were all Strauss, from the ironically titled Without a Care: Fast Polka — in a week when on-off restrictions had put the gig in doubt — to an animated rendition of the Tritsch-Tratsch (Chit-Chat) Polka, culminating in the Blue Danube waltz.
The ethereal opening in horns over shimmering strings — perhaps the best known invitation to dance — erupted into the waltz, lilting and uplifting, languid and limpid; a prayer, perhaps for a smoother ride in 2022.
And no Viennese fest would be complete without a rollicking encore of the Radetsky March to rock out the night.