Concert Hall, June 22


Joseph Tawadros gave an equally jokey and insightful musicological lesson when he and his percussionist brother, James, rejoined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra following the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony in G minor (K183). After his oud and James’s req (small tambourine) duetted on a brief excerpt, Tawadros observed that, with the harmonies removed, the melodic and rhythmic material was not so very different to Arabic music.

Tawadros astutely chose the Mozart to complete a program otherwise consisting of his own compositions, highlighting the differences and overlaps between the harmony-rich western classical tradition (this being a work in which the 17-year-old Mozart extensively used unison passages), and the linear (melody and rhythm) approach that finds such potent expression in Indian and Arabic music.

Joseph Tawadros. Photos: Daniela Testa.

The centrepiece was Tawadros’s 2017 Concerto for Oud and Orchestra (the SSO under the lively direction of Benjamin Northey), in which orchestrator Jessica Wells allowed Tawadros’s gift for striking melodies to glisten, often fattening the sinuous lines with unisons rather than weighting them with harmony. A work of high drama and contrast, it was, in terms of both composition and execution, a massive step forward on Tawadros’s earlier attempts at orchestral settings for oud. This is an instrument of lace-like delicacy, so the work, like pre-forte keyboard concertos, had to offer ample solo space, even though the oud and req (which could arguably share the concerto’s title) were expertly amplified.

Amid Tawadros’s discernible influences is a reverence for Vivaldi, yet the work is no mere baroque throwback. Its gripping orchestral introduction beckoned Tawadros’s dark opening statement on the bottom string of his extended-range seven-course oud. Later the rampant emotional colour of quarter tones in his improvising suggested the orchestration could have more fully explored the string section’s capacity to generate quarter tones, itself. A stark oboe melody established the slow movement, the oud’s theme subsequently echoed by the strings, while the last movement contained a startling cadenza of diverging and converging patterns between the oud’s bass and treble strings, before granite-like blocks of orchestral punctuation signalled a thrilling finale.

Among the shorter pieces Point of Departure (arranged by Tawadros and Richard Tognetti) had luxuriant strings framing the concert’s most moving improvisation, the oud’s notes dripping like tears into a wishing well. Less successful was the solo Constellation, a minor Tawadros composition lacking a little finesse in its performance.