Reviews, News and Commentary

NZSO’s Timeless performance of the great composers

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Hamish McKeich

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra


Auckland Town Hall

October 23

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s latest concert, “Timeless” was an opportunity to hear significant compositions from three major composers  but it also provided an insight into the ways that music changed in a short period. The three works on the programme spanned less than fifty years from Haydn’s Symphony No 64 1773 and  Mozart’s Symphony No 40 of 1788 to Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue of  1826.

Over that time the nature of music changed  dramatically. The architecture of the music composition changed as did the emotional power which flowed from their compositions.

Haydn’s Symphony No 64 came from the period when the composer was experimenting with the form and while there is drama in the work the movement are generally constructed  around single themes or motives with a  formal  classical structure. There is a strong sense of balance and orderliness along with wit and clever juxtapositions which is profoundly satisfying. Conductor  Hamish McKeich  was able to emphasise these aspects as well as  guide the orchestra through the dynamic changes of the first movement  and the restrained,  at times mournful second movement.

By comparison Mozart’s Symphony No 40 is intense, highly coloured, and unconventional, notable for the number and variety of themes which build through the work. His writing was also more flamboyant  as he dissected, reworked and elaborated on his themes. The success of the work also owes much to Mozart’s interest in opera and the work is filled with melodies which  seem to be taken from or designed for the opera voice.

From the opening voluptuous  sequence to the final movement which prefigures Beethoven and point the way towards 19th century romanticism the orchestra gave a dazzling and coherent performance.

While Mozart created a sense of emotions, partly through the urgency of the “voice” In his Grosse Fugue Beethoven plumbs an emotional depth which reveals a personal angst  which is both disturbing and enriching.

One of the greatest achievements of Mozart and Beethoven was the development of their compositions into a distinct, sophisticated and almost dramatic art form. The Grosse Fugue It is a work which  is uncompromising and enigmatic, with arts of it sounding like twentieth century music , no wonder that  Igor Stravinsky said that the Grosse Fugue was absolutely contemporary and would stay contemporary forever.

McKeich ensured that the complex orchestration, the overlapping of themes, the abrupt changes in tempo and texture, the almost dissonant passages, the sequences which seemed like collapses  were, at all times controlled

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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