Reviews, News and Commentary

NZSO opens its Stravinsky ballet music season with a lively Petrushka.

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Stephen de Pledge

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra


Auckland Town Hall

March 27

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

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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