Reviews, News and Commentary

APO’s Fairytale concert transports audience to new realms

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Fairytale Romance

ICBC Great Classics

Auckland Town Hall

November 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The three works on  the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s  “Fairytale Romance” programme were examples of different styles of composition, from the carefully constructed. Mozart through the fanciful music of Mendelssohn to the expressive Brahms Serenade No1

Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 is one of the composer’s quintessential works written by the 17 year old composer with  its first movement used to great effect in the Milos  Forman’s film Amadeus.

The work is full of energy and inventiveness and there is a chiaroscuro of sound throughout, contrasts between light and dark which conductor Giordano Bellincampi exploited to the full. These contrasts also make one aware of the complex architecture which Mozart builds, structures which are then provided with rich embellishments.

Mendelssohn was also 17 when he composed the incidental music to  A Midsummers Night’s Dream , inspired by the Shakespeare play. In it he manages to completely capture the magic and frivolity of the ethereal world Shakespeare created. The piece seems to be the ideal music to be used for the Midsummers Night’s Dream ballet originally devised by  George Balanchine.

The orchestra depicted the fairies flitting  through the woods, the heavy rhythms of the Mechanicals  and the braying of Bottom along with the delicate themes portraying the lovers.

The Brahms Serenade No 1 also creates images but for this work Bellincampi was no longer waving a fairy wand, using the orchestra to  create a fantasy world. His baton became a brush using Brahms’ music to paint emotional moods and expressive landscapes rooted in the everyday. The contracts in the music  were those of the landscape – scudding clouds, changing  light  and colours

The lovely, descriptive  music was accompanied by Bellincampi’s graceful conducting and his dance-like movements on the podium

Future APO Concerts

Poetry and Passion

November 12

Leonie Holmes, For just a little moment…(world premiere)
Schumann, Piano Concerto
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No.4

NZ-based German pianist Michael Endres joins the APO playing  Schumann’s Piano Concerto replacing Ingrid Fliter.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Looking for the ghost of Robin Hyde

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

“Shining Land, Looking for Robin Hyde” by Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima

Massey University Press

RRP $45

Publication Date: November 12th

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The cover illustration for ”Shining Land” by Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima’s new book about Robin Hyde is rather puzzling. A group of trees in park doesn’t suggest much about the author, even the subtitle, “Looking for Robin Hyde” which could be some literary version of Where’s Wally? doesn’t help much either.

Its only when you get halfway through the book that one discovers that the view is of the Birch Grove in the grounds of the Queen Mary Hospital at Hamner Springs that it makes any sense. This is a place where the young Robin Hyde was treated after a mental breakdown and the grove could have  been a place where she contemplated her life and possibly began some of her poetry

Robin Hyde had a life full of promise and adventure but  she existed on the margins of society and sanity most of her life. Physically she was hampered by a damaged leg and she was crippled in her relationship with men which resulted in pregnancies and illegitimate children. Her journalistic career was as chaotic as her personal life but she managed to publish numerous books and volumes of poetry in New Zealand and Britain.

In “Shining Land” Morris and Sameshima explore the life of Hyde both through an examination of her work as well as road trips which take the two of them on  journeys to the various places where Hyde lived, worked and rested – Whanganui, Hamner, Wellington, Auckland, Whangaroa, D’Urville Island and Rotorua

Morris details Hyde’s life, drawing together her own assessment of the author along with quotes from the authors works and letters as well as other writers’ assessments of her. Paralleling the text Sameshima provides photographs of  the locations she lived – a view from the window of her flat overlooking the Whanganui River and her room at the old Auckland Mental Hospital (Oakley).

The book is an almost poetic meander through Hyde’s life, filled with digressions (footnotes to the text and photographs offer another level of discovery) and reflections. Many of Sameshima’s photographs have a washed-out colour giving them a look of aged images[JD1]  from the 1930’s. They are all devoid of human figures and the few objects in them heighten a sense of bleakness and loneliness.

The book is also something of  a contemplation on writing and Morris  manages to explore the psyche of pre World War II New Zealand with its ghosts of World war I and the changing lives of New Zealanders, particularly women.

“Shining Land” beautifully marries text, design and photography capturing the life and the impulses of one of our great female authors with clarity and insights.

“Shining Land” is the second in the series of works described as picture books for adults under the general editorship of Llyod Jones. The first of these was High Wire  written by Jones and illustrated by Euan Macleod,


Reviews, News and Commentary

Installation at ACAG reflects on the Australian bush fires and other world crises

Reviewed by John Dasly-Peoples

Alicia Frankovich: AQI2020

Auckland Art Gallery

Until November 8, 11.30am–3.30pm daily

Late night performance. Friday 6 November  from 5-9pm

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Alicia Frankovich’s work AQI2020 at the Auckland Art Gallery is a three dimensional installation /performance referencing the bush fires  which raged on Australia’s east Coast last summer. The artist uses imagery, personal stories and news media accounts to create this tableau about the disaster. In particular, she uses an image showing a group of people trapped in thick orange smoke on a  beach.

Frankovich says of the work  ‘The title, AQI2020, refers to the Air Quality Index, a scale to measure air pollution and associated risks. AQI2020 stems from my first-hand experience of sustained, severe smoke levels that infiltrated my Canberra apartment where I was living and rose to alarming levels, with one notable occasion over New Year’s Eve 2020. The region was surrounded by smoke – from the Orroral Valley and Currowan fires – which lingered for more than 60 days. Over the evening of 31 December 2019 and into 1 January 2020, the Air Quality Index in Canberra peaked at levels 26 times those deemed hazardous.’

The work consists of a large a large, transparent orange box that echoes the  orange smoke-filled sky. Inside, half a dozen performers engage in surviving, a  hostile environment with just a few clothes, backpacks, a torch a  small boat and their water bottles.

Moving about the space sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with purpose,  sometimes as if in a dance they: engage with each other, supporting  and comforting. At other times they seem to ignore each other.  They also try to communicate with the outside world with one performer holding up an article about the fires to the wall, inviting the audience to read it.

While this tableau takes its inspiration from the bush fires it can be read as a metaphor for many of the issues plaguing contemporary society. These individuals can be seen as being in  cells, camps or  hostile environment which imprison them physically, socially and emotionally, they  are individuals  at the mercy of outside forces imposed by Man or Nature.

Many of the performers hold up their arms in helplessness, surrender or supplication. They could be refugees, demonstrators or people caught up in the fog of war. We become aware of issues around oppressive regimes, the refugee crisis,  climate change, the lack of water resources, the lack of human interaction and  kindness

Reviews, News and Commentary

NZ Opera’s stunning interpretation of Handel’s Semele

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Emma Pearson as Semele. Photo: Garry Brandon.

“Semele” by George Frideric Handel

New Zealand Opera

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell

Until November 6

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

God arrived at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell this week in the form of Jupiter who disrupted  the wedding ceremony of Semele the  daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes, to Athamas.  Then he had some of his biker friends spirit Seleme to his heavenly realm so he can pursue his  adulterous affair with her. But this  coupling is only part of a larger love dilemma as we learn that Ino, Semele’s sister, is in love with Athamas and Jupiter’s wife Juno of course is incensed by the affair  and is determined to destroy the woman who has displaced her

Back in her palace, Semele is not entirely happy, realising  she is only a mortal and Juno (disguised as Ino) persuades her to ask Jupiter if she can become immortal.

Jupiter tries to dissuade Semele from this request but she insists and when appears in his godly form she is consumed by his power and dies, Ino returns to the world of mortals, marries Athamas and they live happily ever after and by some trick of the gods Semele’s ashes are transformed into Bacchus.

The story of Semele comes originally from Ovid’s Metamorphoses but Handel used a libretto which was written by William Congreve and combines  elements of Restoration drama, opera, and oratorio, managing to bring together  mythology, Christian iconography and hints at contemporary political events and ideas.

Even in the period of the Enlightenment there were still the problem of  mixing of the classes, at the upper levels of society, arranged marriages were more important than romantically based ones. These are notions have come down to the present as we saw with the marriage of Diana and Charles. There are also universal themes interwoven through the work – the desire for success and immortality, looking for love and seeking revenge. So the opera is something of a morality play while prying into the lives of the rich and famous.

At close to three hours this is a testing work for orchestra  and singers, but they all rose to the challenges and succeeded with a spectacular performance which was entertaining and enchanting. The New Zealand  Baroque Opera Orchestra  under Peter  Walls gave an energetic performance giving Handel’s music with its many Messiah-like tunes a very sympathetic reading.

Parts of the work are a bit tedious but the first act and most of the last act are filled with action and some lush, emotional singing.

Emma Pearson as Semele was outstanding bringing power and sensitivity to the part both with her acting and  voice which at various  times  conveyed sensuality, passion and wretchedness. She used her nimble soprano voice wonderfully, especially singing the beautiful Oh Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?”.  Many of her arias were greatly enhanced by embellishments and a brilliant coloratura.

Sarah Castle both as the slightly wicked Juno and the solicitous Ino sang some of Handel’s great arias with precision and vibrancy.

Amitai Pati as Jupiter used his deep rich voice  great effect, capturing the nobility, obsession and ardour of his character.

Paul Whelan gave solid performances as Cadmus and Somnus while Stephen Diaz as Athamas gave a spirited take  on the part.

It was a brave production especially choosing to have it in Holy Trinity which doesn’t have the best of acoustics or good sight lines, However, the production team and directors, Thomas de Mallet Burgess and Jacqueline Coats pulled of a triumph  creating a stunning interpretation of one of the great Handel operas.

Semele Photo: Garry Brandon.
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

Reviews, News and Commentary

APO’s “Reflections” concert filled with nostalgia and joy

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra


Auckland Town Hall

October 22

Debussy’s Prelude a L’après-midi d’un faune (“The Afternoon of a Faun”) is based loosely on the poem by he Stéphane  Mallarmé which describes the sensual experiences of a faun waking up from his afternoon sleep and reflecting on  his encounters with several nymphs in a dreamlike monologue.

Their delicate flesh-tint so clear,

It hovers yet upon the air

heavy with foliage of sleep

Its images like these opening lines that Debussy put to music and the APO captured this dreamy quality with the opening notes played by flautist Melanie Lancon, the orchestra Principal Flute. Along with the languid sensual tones of the work there were other harsher aspects as in the lines;

The secret terrors of the flesh

Like quivering lightning

This idyll which is full of contrasts and ambiguities, has passages of  melancholy and regret which can be heard in the woodwinds but underlying the work is an impetus which carries the work along with a dance-like lushness.

The second work on the programme was the world premiere of Canadian Gary Kulesha’s ”Oboe Concerto” a piece that blends avant-garde techniques with traditional forms and references. It was played by Principal Oboist Bede Hanley who gave a thrilling performance

The work in some ways seemed an extension of the Debussy Prelude with a description of an individual immersed in a landscape and ambience but a place with moreshadows.

Much of the time the orchestral sounds were dramatic and slightly menacing, creating a brooding sound with a combination of Big Band sound and the aggressiveness of Benjamin Britten’s operas.  Bede Handley’s oboe danced through the orchestra his playing effortlessly ranging over the  playful, lyrical and soulful,  at times providing intense shards of light and extraordinary riffs. In his long faultless solo he managed to span the full range of the instrument, both musically and emotionally.

Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony was the final symphony written in an attempt to win the Stalin Prize of 1952 and repair his reputation with the authorities. It sounds as though in the attempt to write something which would appeal to the judges, he fell back on some of his previous compositions so the symphony has echoes and themes from works such as his Romeo and Juliet ballet.

From the first movement it sounds like an evolving narrative, a nostalgic look back to better times in the composer’s life, the past tinged with sadness. In the second movement the lively dance rhythms were responded to by conductor Bellincampi  dancing around on the podium.

There are moments of tenderness, passages of playfulness as well as of contemplation. There were times of lightness and others reaching a fever pitch and in the final movement the various groups instruments seemed engaged in a competition as they passed the musical themes between them.

Bede Hanley had given a lively encore after his performance which is usual but at the conclusion of the Prokofiev Maestro Bellincampi provided an encore from the audience who played the march from the composer’s opera, For the Love of Three Oranges.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Boutique Chamber Music Festival in Mt Eden

Mt Eden Chamber Music Festival
Mt Eden Village Centre
October 30 – November 1

Eden Arts has announced the concert line-up for this year’s Mt Eden Chamber Music Festival. The Festival in the heart of Mt Eden Village has become one of Auckland’s must-see cultural events and has had audiences thrilled with the concept, programming and quality of performances. Now in its fifth year, the event features some of the country’s major chamber music performers with three programmes over the weekend. The concerts take place over the weekend of the 30th October, starting on Friday evening though to the final Sunday afternoon concert.

Artistic Director Simeon Broom (violin), who founded the Festival in 2016 in collaboration with the Eden Arts Trust, is joined by Auckland musicians James Bush (cello) and David Samuel (viola) on Friday evening for a trio performance of J.S Bach’s famous Goldberg Variations.

The Saturday evening concert will be a song recital, with a young singer already hugely popular in the world of opera and song in New Zealand and abroad, Amelia Berry. She is joined on piano by Rosemary Barnes, who has been a leading figure in vocal collaboration for many years. Their programme features a variety of song repertoire, from the emotionally laden Proses Lyriques by Debussy to Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

On Sunday afternoon there will be a performance by the internationally acclaimed New Zealand String Quartet. Their dynamic and compelling performances have been at the forefront of chamber music in this country for over 30 years. Honouring the 250th  anniversary of his birth, their first work is one of the great early quartets by Beethoven, Op.18 No.6.

They follow this with Smetana’s 2nd String Quartet. The hour-long  concerts take place in the beautiful historic church of the Mt Eden Village Centre, which has proved to be an ideal acoustic and setting for audiences to enjoy and fully experience the intimacy of the performances.

There is a discount for the full 3-concert series and it is recommended you book early due to the limited seating. The Eden Arts Trust has supported the arts in the wider Mt Eden area for over 30 years. For more information visit For ticket bookings, email

Friday, October 30, 6.30pm

J S Bach, Goldberg Variations

Simeon Broom (violin), David Samuel (viola), James Bush (cello)

Saturday, October 31, 6.30pm
Barber, Debussy, Rodrigo, Strauss

Amelia Berry (soprano) and Rosemary Barnes (piano)

Sunday November 1, 3pm
Smetena String Quartet No 2

NZ String Quartet

For ticket bookings, email

Reviews, News and Commentary

InterFusions: passionate and intelligent playing by the NZ Trio

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

NZ Trio, InterFusions

Auckland Concert Chamber

October 18

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

It is hard to imagine the shock, surprise or elation of audiences in the past confronted by new music. We know of the riot which happened  on the first night of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring  and  the bafflement on encountering John Cage’s 4”33” of silence. But there have been other moments during the classical periods with composers, shocking audiences with music which we now see as mainstream. Several of the works of Beethoven  shocked audiences but led to major shifts of perception with his innovative symphonies and chamber works.

NZ Trio in their latest concert “Interfusions” recreated one of those moments playing Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C Minor, a work which his teacher Joseph Haydn had advised against publishing. Compared with the traditional trios of Haydn and Mozart this broke with the traditional model, changing the nature of the form for ever.

With this work he  added a movement to the normal three movement form  and gave the strings, notably the cello, a  more independent role.

The work opened in an ominous  mood which changed after few bars with a more hopeful second theme. Throughout the work the instruments each had an opportunity for a virtuoso display and the various  motifs  were passed between the instruments building tension and moods swing from they were able to create emotion al moods from the soothing through to the feverish and enigmatic. The tumultuous to the carefree. There was little of the nuanced style of a Haydn trio with more drama and emotional, qualities that the three players interpreted with vigour.

While cellist Ashley Brown played much of the time with  a precise  earnestness he occasionally lapsed into a more languorous style and violinist Amalia Hall played with a breath-taking savagery.

Pianist  Somi Kim  who provided the solid base for the more flamboyant strings  had some passages where she displayed dexterous skills with some delightful trills.

Also on the programme was  Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor, one of the great examples of modern of piano trios. Finished at the outbreak of World War I there are premonitions of the coming war the harsh, often discordant music in the latter part of the work.

It is a work of enormous strength and the four movements are elaborately constructed with musical themes drawn from a variety of sources -Basque folk music Malaysian and nineteenth century classical.

It  is technically demanding of the players with each  of the instrument requiring virtuoso displays. All three gave it a passionate and thoroughly convincing performance, creating emotional moods from the soothing through to the feverish and enigmatic. At times the players gave it a rich orchestral sound  as they played multiple, overlapping themes and Somi Kim’s initial playing which was whimsical and dreamy then flowed into some  harsh, but never uncontrolled sounds.

There were three shorter works on the programme as well – Christos Hatzis’ Constantinople: Old Photographs, Dinuk Wijeratne’s Love Triangle and Salina Fisher’s Kintsugi

Hatzis’ work which draws on his Greek heritage is filled with music which touches on remembering and romancing deriving   its sounds from gospel, Sufi and mediaeval chants, along with Greek folksong. The work opened with Somi Kim playing an achingly lovely passage, filled with longing which gradually morphed, along with the other instruments into a Piazzolla style with many tango rhythms  such that the work could more aptly be titled “Buenos Aires”.

Parts of the work became quite frenzied which then turned into slow languid passages before returning to more passionate tangos where Hall and Brown engaged in a ferocious  bowing competition. Throughout there was a sense of photographic images being examined some blurred, some ripped, some black and white, some filled with colour as well as ancient sepia toned ones

Playing the Wijeratne’s work derived from the melodies of the Middle East and the rhythms of classical Indian music the trio produced some plaintive Middle eastern sounds with  Ashley Brown making his cello sound like an oud

The trio also played a  new commission from Salina Fisher. The innovative  work Kintsugi, relates to the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery and dusting the new work with gold. The music focussed on the gaps and fragments highlighting the fragility of the process as the piece was slowly assembled. While the violin and cello seemed to describe the colours, textures and contours of the bowl or vase the  the piano picked out the seams of the material bonding the broken shards and the shimmering gold.

While describing the physical changes in the pottery the work with its  delicate, brittle sounds acted as a metaphor for the ability of humans to mend broken bodies and minds.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Jane Ussher photographs examine the natural world

Rebiewed by John Daly-Peoples

Nature – Stilled,

Jane Ussher

Te Papa Press

RRP $70

Visiting the natural history section of the museum is always a rewarding experience, seeing what constitutes the ecosystem we live in. Strolling around the collections reveals some remarkable treasures although we often overlook the smaller, less interesting things. Why spend time looking at bits of coral or lichen covered rocks when there is something more spectacular around the  corner – an elephant or whale skeleton

But these lesser examples of the inhabitants of the ecosystem have been given a bit of a new life thanks to a new book of photographs  by award-winning photographer Jane Ussher. Recently she  spent several weeks in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa’s natural history collection storage areas shooting hundreds of images

The book “Nature – Stilled” consists of  157 images of the insect, fish, mollusc and botanical specimens that represent  Te Papa’s vast and scientifically important collections.

Accompanying the images are texts by the museums curators and collections managers giving concise and unique insights into the fascinating characteristics of each of them.

The book also has information about the museum itself and its development, so we learn it now has a collection of 11,600 skins of New Zealand birds ranging across 290 species and while we know about the demise of the huia population, the South Island piopio became extinct even before the huia.

With many items in the collection it is only by pausing and examining the creatures that we gain an understanding of the design, structures and colourings of them. Ussher’s photographs make one stop and observe in a way that is not possible viewing things in a glass case under poor light conditions.

The photographs of birds are the most interesting with images of many species including huia, yellowhammer, albatross and kākāpō. Ussher has included images of huia and kakapo which are life-size so their plumage can be seen in great detail.

There are  a range of moths both indigenous and foreign including the Puriri moth which we normally only see at night as a brown insect. Seen in the light its natural  yellow colouring and intricate wing patterns make it a much more interesting  example.

The range of butterflies provides examples of Natures glorious colours and designs as well as the insects ; crickets, grasshoppers and locusts we don’t normally pay all that much attention to. But their colouring design and structure are fascinating. and there is also a slightly surreal collection of fleas found in Utah, evidence of the dedication of a true collector.

One set of photographs is of x-rays of fish which provide eerie images of their skeletal structure and one image of a couple of dozen snapper juveniles looks like a shoal of swimming fish.

As well as the “living” creatures there are examples of shells, mosses, and lichens including an unexciting a group of lichens on shards of rock which were collected in the 1950’s from Antarctica. Another items which would normally attract little attention is an ordinary pressed shield fern. The note to this item reveals that it one of the actual ferns collected by Joseph Banks during Cooks first voyage.

Quite incidentally the original wrapping containing a lichen specimen is a copy of a newspaper from 1886  which provides snippets of information from 150 years ago – mention of Sir Randolph Churchill, the Egyptian Question and the partition of Zululand. These and other notes give a context to the museums place in the scientific and cultural changes which have happened since its establishment.

All the photographs are exquisite and they are laid out on the pages in a  sympathetic way with the designer, Arch MacDonnell making the book into a treasure trove of new delights being revealed as each page is turned. The contrast of colours, designs and shapes is like looking through an art catalogue and the book is an art object in itself.

Many of the Ussher’s images of the collection whether they are of local or international creatures seem foreign, as though we have entered an exotic world where the familiar seems novel and exotic.

Papilio blumei (Peacock swallotail)
Reviews, News and Commentary

The NZSO’s Monumental concert of Strauss and Tchaikovsky

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Emma Pearson

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra


Auckland Town Hall

October 10

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