Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall
The NZSO’s Monumental concert opened with Strauss’ ”Metamorphosen” which he had written as World War II was coming to its tragic conclusion. It is something of a requiemdedicated to what the composer saw as the destruction of the cultural life of Germany that had been so much art of his life and heritage. While he may have been lamented the devastation of the cultural buildings and institutions the music also touches on personal feelings of grief, loss and despair.
The texts for Spring, September, and When I Go to Sleep are settings of poems by the Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse. At Sunset is by Jose Eichendorff.
The work is scored for ten violins, five violas, five cellos and three double basses with all the violin and viola layers stood as though honouring the death of German culture. At times it sounded as though each of the instruments was playing independently, each in their own orbit of sound but then they merged in groups with overlapping themes and textures, sometimes sonorous at other times close to chaos. Throughout there was an intensity and poignancy.
As the sounds of the instruments morphed from light to dark and then to light again so too it seemed the composer grappled with notions of life and death. While the work may be a requiem there are also hints of a resurrection and there are ethereal touches of the transcendence of Wagner.
Also on the programme was Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” sung by Emma Pearson. The work, composed after World war II is linked thematically to “Metamorphosen” but has more of a psychological dimension which probably relates to the composers feelings about Europe’s release from the horrors of World War as well as being meditation on the beautiful moments that life can offer and a self-conscious farewell to existence,.
The various poems at first glance seem to be straightforward with Hesse’s Fruhling a description of the arrival of Spring where the poet describes the natural world emerging out of Winter but he poem has deeper emotional resonances which are revealed by the singer.
Singing “Fruhling” Pearson’s voice was taut with emotion. At times her voice was overwhelmed by the orchestra as though responding to her wretchedness but then her voice would rise above the tumult of the orchestra.
With “September “there was soul searching to her voice but it was the orchestra, notably at the end of the song which provides the drama. With “And When I go to Sleep “she displayed a joyous entreating voice and with “At Sunset” her face and posture seemed to indicate a state of wonderment tinged with sadness.
Throughout she captured the emotional nuances of the songs, sympathetically using her hand movements to emphasis her feeling. At times she appeared quite enigmatic and at others she conveyed a sense of rapture as though in a trance.
The major work on the programme was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5 which saw conductor Hamish McKeich and the NZSO at their finest. The work is full sensuous melodies, intense emotions and dramatic climaxes which make it one of the composers more invigorating works.
McKeich was like a master craftsman, assembling, ordering and refining as he guided the orchestra in building musical images, of landscapes, seasons and events creating a world of sensation and emotions.
From the anguish of the first movement through the graceful mid-section on to the final tumultuous fourth movement the orchestra provided a rich and satisfying performance.
While the orchestra was expertly conducted and the players superbly coordinated there were some stand-out performances by the bassoons, flutes, clarinets and French horns.
Future NZSO Concerts
Podium Series – Timeless
Napier October 21, Taupo October 22, Tauranga October 23, Auckland October 24 and Wellington October 25
Hamish McKeich Conductor
WA Mozart, Symphony No. 40
Haydn, Symphony No. 64 Tempora Mutantur
Beethoven, orch. Weingartner Grosse Fuge