Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall
Hamish McKeich Conductor
Stephen De Pledge Piano
Ravel La Valse
Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major
Anna Clyne Masquerade
Stravinsky Petrushka (1947 version)
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
In 1961 Igor Stravinsky conducted “The Firebird” to packed town halls in Wellington and Auckland and next month, sixty years later, the work will again be performed in the same venues. Leading up to that performance the NZSO this month has performed his ballet music for “Petrushka” in the two cities.
“Petrushka” was written in 1911, a year after “The Firebird” and two years before his “Rite of Spring” (which the orchestra will perform in July), the three works heralding a new modernist approach to ballet compositions.
The ballet tells of three puppets – a dashing Moor, a petite ballerina, and a straw doll named Petrushka. Both the males are in love with the dancers, they fight over her and Petrushka dies but then comes back as his ghost.
Stravinsky created a number of colourful folk based melodies which are used to depict the three main characters along with the Magician, various dancers and assorted revellers.
The orchestra under Hamish McKeich’s precise direction shifted from theme to theme as Stravinsky piles remarkable tunes on top of each other conveying a rich mixture of movement, event and emotion. The music perfectly conveyed the flamboyance and exoticism of the fairground attractions with colourful percussion especially prominent.
Amongst all this we were treated to several instrumental solos such as the Magician’s flute cadenza played by Bridget Douglas. The Moor’s music was given a tartness by the trumpet and the Ballerina’s elegance conveyed by the bassoon.
McKeich ensured that the chaos of the fair was kept alive with the sweeping strings creating images of dancing and debauched figures as well as a bumbling bear conjured up by the tuba.
The first part of the programme featured two works by Ravel. His delightful La Valse transported the audience to a surreal ballroom in another realm where South American rhythms were interwoven and juxtaposed with Viennese waltzes.
The orchestra managed the quirky transitions between the whimsical, the grotesque, and the extravagant , between the delicate and the cacophonic.
Stephen de Pledge took to the stage to play Ravels Pian Concerto which has a magical combination of the exotic and traditional with the orchestra sometimes sounding like an American big band.
De Pledge was comfortable, playing with lightness of touch notably in the long solo in the adagio. He delighted in the changing dynamic of the various motifs with incisive skill seeming to find subtle detail throughout the work. In the final, more energetic presto he and orchestra were more in tune with the carnival theme of the concert playing with a great enthusiasm with de Pledge becoming part of the percussion section.
Also on the programme was five-minute work by British composer Anna Clyne. Her “Masquerade” slotted well into the programme with a piece which featured waves of energy as the orchestra recreated the spirit of a masquerade, the eighteenth-century British carnival.
The piece made use of the entire orchestra including several new percussion instruments creating a dense tapestry of sound with threads of melody darting through the orchestra.
Future Stravinsky concerts
Wellington April 8
Tauranga April 10
Napier April 17
Rite of Spring
Auckland July 3
Wellington July 10
Auckland April 24