Reviews, News and Commentary

Emma Pearson to sing Strauss’ Four last Songs with the NZSO

Emma Pearson

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

In Association with Ryman Healthcare


Wellington (October 9), Auckland (October 10)


Dunedin (October 13,  Christchurch (October 14)

Renowned soprano Emma Pearson is to tour with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, performing in Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch in October. singing Richard Strauss’ elegiac song cycle “Four Last Songs”.

The Australian-born singer, who made her professional operatic debut with New Zealand Opera, has performed in New Zealand on several occasions and this year she is to sing the title role in NZ Opera’s Semele.

Strauss’s Four Last Songs rank among the most haunting music ever written possibly a self-conscious farewell to existence, given expression by an idealised soprano voice. 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.

“As a young singer in Wiesbaden, Germany, I saw how this beautiful, deceptively hard piece,

functions as a rite of passage for soprani,” says Pearson.

“It requires a deep understanding of Strauss’ vision, and also life experience, to bring the necessary

gravitas and connection to the text, while still letting the voice soar as high as the great Elisabeth

Schumann’s would have done.

“Now in the 16 th year of my career, I have spent 10 of those years performing Strauss’ operas all over

the world, so I’m very grateful that NZSO is entrusting me to bring his music and the exquisite poetry

of Hermann Hesse and Josef von Eichendorff to life, with Maestro Hamish McKeich at the helm.”

Pearson’s extraordinary career has included principal artist at Germany’s prestigious Hessisches

Staatstheater Wiesbaden from 2005 to 2014, where she performed more than 30 roles for the

company. On her departure, the State of Hessen awarded Pearson the honorary title of

“Kammersängerin”. She is the youngest opera singer to have ever received the German honour for a

distinguished singer of classical music and opera.

Pearson regularly works with opera companies and orchestras in Australasia, Europe and America,

including the roles of the Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute), and Sophie in the Limelight Award-

winning production of Der Rosenkavalier for Opera Australia, as well as Beethoven Symphony No.

9 with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. For Southern Opera New Zealand, she has sung

Queen of the Night, and for New Zealand Opera, Susanna, opposite her husband, Wade Kernot, as

Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, Gilda in Rigoletto and Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte.

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. The poem also has a deeper emotional resonance which is really only revealed by the singer.

Strauss’ music and the tone of the singer give the work a richer, psychological dimension which probably relates to his feelings about Europe’s release from the horrors of World War II and is linked thematically to his symphonic work “Metamorphosen” which is something of a requiem for Germany’s destruction during the war.

In dusky vaults

I dreamt for a long time

of your trees and blue airs,

of your smell and songs of the birds.

Now you lie, finally accessible,

glittering, adorned,

flooded with light,

like a miracle in front of me.

You recognise me,

you lure me sweetly,

my limbs shiver

because of your blessed presence.

For the “Monumental” concert the major work symphonic work will be Tchaikovsky’s timeless Symphony No. 5. A work

which baffled audiences on its premiere, and since won a place in every concert-goer’s heart for its

colourful orchestration, emotional qualities, and brooding, soul-stirring melodies.

For the “Metamorphosis” concert, the NZSO will perform Beethoven’s revolutionary Symphony No. 3 Eroica,

which changed perceptions of what could be achieved with the symphony.




R STRAUSS Metamorphosen

R STRAUSS Four Last Songs

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5

WELLINGTON  Michael Fowler Centre, Friday 9 October  Concert will be online at

AUCKLAND  Town Hall, Saturday 10 October




R STRAUSS Metamorphosen

R STRAUSS Four Last Songs

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 Eroica

DUNEDIN  Town Hall, Tuesday 13 October

CHRISTCHURCH  Town Hall, Wednesday 14 October|

Reviews, News and Commentary

Georgie Hill and Hannah Valentine explore the natural and abstract realms

Georgie Hill, Spectral Signature – 4

Georgie Hill, Concave Iridescence

Hannah Valentine, Interference

Visions Gallery, Lorne St, Auckland

Until September 26

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In two shows at Visions Gallery Georgie Hill and Hannah Valentine explore means  of investigation and assessment in both the natural and abstract realms.

Georgie Hill’s set of watercolours “Concave Iridescence” bring together several aspects of exploration but central to them is the notion of chaos being controlled, of our desire to impose an order on what can seem to be random.

In a separate show of the artists small works there are examples of  experimenting with shapes and colours. These are shorthand painterly notes for possible larger works with a mixture of juxtaposition and contrasts of colour as well as elements of collage. They are investigations into colour field, graffiti, diagrams and the  emotional / spiritual impact of colour.

These works become the basis of her larger pieces where the underlying colour fields in many cases resemble man made or natural camouflage patterns which can be read as cosmological, ecological or topological. Over these colour fields the artist imposes elements which create something of a sense of order, turning the loose abstractions into something more defined. She uses what look like like contour lines or the isobars on a weather map as well as straight lines resembling the range poles used by surveyors. These geometric lines as in “Spectral Signature – 4” ($3300) provide, structure and order to the abstract landscape.

Hannah Valentine’s exhibition “Interference” is also concerned with notions of measurement being focussed on the natural environment with a set of bronze sculptures replicating Argo floats  (Argo #4  -$3200) which are robots that float at different depths in the sea collecting data about temperature and salinity which is sent to a satellite.

These found  or commodity sculptures which follow in the tradition of facsimiles produced by Jeff Koons and Michael Parekowhai are an acknowledgement of the interface between the natural world, scientific investigation and climate change.

She also has a number of smaller bronzes works which are based on sea life and the  measurement of the oceans characteristics. There are some small lumps of coral such as “As the Ocean Goes #4” ($600) and tendrils of seaweed “As the Ocean Goes #6” ($600) while “Eddy #4” ($600) is an abstract depiction of currents and “Steps #1” ($1500) a diagram of wave or sand patterns.

See images and catalogues at

Hannah Valentine, Eddy #4 and Argos #4
Reviews, News and Commentary

48 Nights on Hope St. Covid Tales and and Fables

Ravi Gurunathan in 48 Hours on Hope St (Photo Sacha Stejko)

48 Nights on Hope St

Auckland Theatre Company

ASB Auckland Waterfront Theatre

Until September 20

48 Nights on Hope St imagines five young people quarantined in a Hope Street apartment during lockdown and is loosely based on Bocaccio’s Decameron written six hundred years ago during the Great Plague.

For this production, the audience was socially distanced  on the stage  at the Auckland  Waterfront Theatre with the five actors presenting nine tales using half a dozen small stages scattered throughout the audience.

In the Decameron ten people move to the country to escape the plague and tell tales to each other. These tales cover a range of topics in various forms. Some are fables some are contemplations  some political. Almost all the stories were about love and lust, the important message being that the virtues and vices can overwhelm reason and common sense; it transforms people sometimes for good sometimes for evil.

The idea of a series of tales which explore the dynamics, fears and aspirations in this Covid environment was great but the realisation of the project was disappointing.

Some of the tales are only a slight reworking of the original as in the case of  Boccaccio’s Ciapelletto story which becomes the story of Mr Wee Hat. The original was an evisceration of the Catholic clergy, but this contemporary take doesn’t have the same savagery going for ribaldry instead. With many of the tales there was a lack of tension and no real sense of the stories coming out of the drama around us at the present time.

The Decameron was often banned partly because of the  obscene and erotic passages but also because of Bocaccios criticism of the church, its management and its practices. This aspect of questioning the powers and responsibilities of the authorities is not really addressed in 48 Hours so while the pieces are entertaining enough they are ultimately unsatisfying. Too much of the time we were faced with actors rather than story tellers. They were more stand-up comedians with succinct one-liners than raconteurs creating relevant tales.

Much of the time the actors relied on thespianic enthusiasm in their delivery which undercut their message and weakened  the performances. The one stand out performer was Ravi Gurunathan with his measured delivery and sensitive take on racism

Reviews, News and Commentary

Mervyn Williams new exhibition of paintings and sculptures

Mervyn Williams, Gold Ascendant

Late Harvest, Mervyn Williams

Paintings and Sculptures Since 2014

Artis Gallery

Until October 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Mervyn Williams’s latest exhibition is a bit of a retrospective as well as an exhibition of new work. The paintings in the show are from the period 2014 to 2018 along with a new group of sculptures which span the period 2011 till the present.

His paintings often had something of a mechanistic element, the surfaces of the work so impeccable and precise they appeared to have been produced by a commercial printing process.

In many of these paintings there is an interest in figure-ground movement, using contrasting colours that produce illusionistic three-dimensional space and visual effects on the eye such that they seem to vibrate  and oscillate.

Mervyn Williams, Mayday

Some of the paintings in the exhibition seem to owe much to the work of Bridget Riley such as Mayday  while others are clever inventions of Williams such as Whiplash – Red ($18,000) with its cinematic-like creation of depth. There are also some of his impressive works from the 1990’s such as the glorious Gold Ascendant ($30,000) along with some early wooden construction such as Navigator (18,000) which show an interest in the patterning of wood grain, the use of the found object and construction techniques.

Mervyn Williamsd, Pinchgut

The most interesting part of the exhibition are the sculptures that he has been working on for the last decade. They all look like sculptures for the mechanical age with many of them appearing to have been made using lathes, employing metal fabrication techniques  and laser welding. However as with his paintings the techniques he uses are not apparent or revealed.

While these sculptures are all abstract forms, they subtly reference a range of influences or connections – art historical, natural and man-made. Several of the shapes the artist employs are like mechanical components such as vehicle cam shafts, air conditioning tubing, turbines and ship’s air vents. In all these cases he has taken utilitarian or found objects and transformed them into intriguing and complex creations.

Hot Shot ($7500), a painted fibreboard work looks like a set of discarded sewer pipes joined together while metal coated fibreboard work Sandman seemingly made from metal tubing seems to be modelled on natural forms such as elongated, segmented fingers and thumb and Pinchgut ($10,000) seems to be modelled on a tree truck with its limbs hacked off.

The ghost of Brancusi can be seen in several of the stacked pieces while Diadem ($8000) could be a nod to Christo and the maquette, Seraphim ($4000) one to Naum Gabo.

There are the occasional example of the paintings and sculptures connecting with the knobs on Interloper ($10,500) like the illusionistic buttons in the painting White Out ($26,000).

One of the constants throughout the works both paintings and sculptures is the emphasis on a geometry and structures, both obvious and hidden, an underlying order which the artist brings to his ideas and creations.

Mervyn Williams, Sandman
Reviews, News and Commentary

Roger Mortimer’s medieval colonisation of New Zealand

Roger Mortimer, Onepoto

Roger Mortimer


Foenander Gallery, Mt Eden

Until September 25

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In the middle of last century the poet A R D Fairburn wrote about New Zealand ‘There is no golden mist, no Merlins in our woods”. This was an acknowledgement that the myths and narratives of Europe had no  place in the New Zealand. At that time we had created a new set of notions about the country which was a mixture of Maori and Pakeha concepts about of the natural world and an almost common history.

There were taniwha throughout the land and the ghosts of the departed seen in the graveyards which dotted the countryside along with monuments to the past. It was thought that Europe had no place here.

Roger Mortimer has changed that. In the series of paintings he has produced over the last few years he has transposed and integrated something of a parallel history of mankind and religion creating a new fantastic history where nineteenth century New Zealand has been colonised by medieval Europe.

In his latest exhibition “Houhora” he uses cartographic maps of New Zealand which look  as though they are from another time. He has populated these maps with images and narratives derived  from the Bible and Dante’s Inferno / Divine Comedy. The figures are in the style of medieval artists and the artists of the Trecento with several of the scenes worthy of the creations of Hieronymus Bosch.

He has produced something of a parallel universe which sees numerous spirits inhabiting the land, precursors or ancestors of taniwha with the paintings that acknowledge  settlements mainly in the upper part of the North Island such as  Te Awanga, Onepoto and Ahipara

He also includes large mandala like compass indicators which owe as much to traditional nautical design as to Maori kowhaiwhai. The painting also contain random numbers indicating depth or distance and in Ahipara (($14,000) a line of marks indicate the course of an old sailing ship.

The works are filled with individuals and angels or spirits which look as though they have come from art works of the Trecento, simple figures engaged in enigmatic or puzzling activities as in Onepoto ($11,000) where men are involved in a Herculean task transporting large rocks or  Te Awanga ($14,000) where a woman cuts down a bleeding sapling and a man fishes for a monster. In Ahipara ($14,000) the two figures gliding heavenward looks as though they could have come from a Chagall painting.

Most of the paintings have setting in Northland but Kirirua ($14,000) is set around an island on the Southland coast. The work is populated with a mixture of figures including a classical soldier, a centaur, a griffin along with a couple of brutal deaths observed by angles. Omapere ($14,000) includes a Bosch-like scene of a centaur threatening  a group of lost souls.

The most impressive work in the show is the large tapestry Houhora ($26,000), which is appropriate inclusion as some of the most impressive art works of the medieval period are tapestries which were filled with  ancient tales and figures.

The paintings are all watercolours, the figures and vegetation carefully described along with washes of colours as well as  gold for highlight. This use of the gold is reminiscent of the way in which medieval scribes used gold to adorn sacred books. It is also a nod to Fairburn’s “golden mists”

The mixture of Christian iconography, mythical creatures, angels and demons seems appropriate and relevant at this time of global unease over Covid 19. It parallels the insecurity which  affected the medieval view of life where the dangers of war, plague and famine were constant reminder of a dangerous and unsafe  world.

The imagined worlds of Mortimer’s art works conflate various aspects of New Zealand –  the mythic view of a country populated by medieval figures before the arrival of the Maori, the use of Maori place names along with the events activities of angels and demons.

Another reading of Mortimer’s works could be along the lines of Jungian psychology in which alchemical philosophy forms a natural continuity in the shift from religion to science and where the psychological aspects of metaphysical symbols can be seen as  counterweights to the literal truths of science.

Reviews, News and Commentary

New Neon and Sound installations at the Auckland Art Gallery

Nathan Coley “A Place Beyond Belief” and Susan Philpsz “War Damaged Instruments”

Auckland Art Gallery

Nathan Coley, A Place Beyond Belief

Susan Philipsz, War Damaged Instruments

Until November 29

The atrium of the Auckland Art Gallery is currently exhibiting two installation by international artists – Nathan Coley’s neon work displays the words “A Place Beyond Belief” mounted on a scaffolding frame while Susan Philipsz sound work “War Damaged Instruments” provides a striking soundscape

They both deal with political and social issues in a poetic and contemplative way and are both so ephemeral that they could be missed by the busy gallery goer as they sit lightly in the space.

War Damaged Instruments was originally developed to mark the centenary of World War I and makes use of music played on brass and wind instruments damaged in armed conflicts over the last 200 years.

The work uses the  sound of the bugle call, ‘The Last Post,’ as the base for the work.  The artist had musicians play the basic bugle notes on the various broken instruments with the sounds then assembled into a work which stutters and rasps  through a performance  in which the breath of the musicians is occasionally heard along with the sounds.

These instruments also bring back sounds of history with some of them linked to major battle. There is the bugle that sounded the charge of the Light Brigade at the 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War and one belonging to a 14-year-old drummer boy at the Battle of Waterloo There are others from the Boer War as well as World war I. assembled form museums in England and Germany.

The faint eerie sounds can be heard throughout the gallery, the sounds of a distant bugle calls which are strangely disconcerting. However sitting in the atrium listening closely the music as well as being melancholic is also uplifting providing a sense of survival and victory.

Auckland Art Gallery Director Kirsten Paisley says, ‘An important aspect of Philipsz’s work is the impact of location  upon her installations and the resonance this creates for those listening. Many New Zealanders are strongly connected to the ANZAC legacy, and will find this work offers a unique opportunity for reflection on the devastating impact of war.’

Scottish artist Nathan Coley heard the words “A Place Beyond Belief “spoken in a radio interview aired about the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington DC in which a woman  recalls an event on that day.

The words have now lost their original emotional power but take on new more relevant meanings and interpretations. Rather than being a simple statement the large neon work becomes an advertising hoarding, broadcasting an idea which can be moves between commercial, political, religious and personal.

The words which originally had a deeply personal reaction to tragedy are expanded to work on multiple levels including amplifying the poignancy of the Susan Philipsz sound work with the words and music  seemingly interlinked. Then there is the whole notion of the art gallery as a place which exposes the viewer to new ideas and experiences as well as refencing the individuals experience of their whole living environment.

One of the “damaged instrument” used in “War Damaged Instruments”
Reviews, News and Commentary

New website for buying New Zealand art books and limited edition artworks

Dick Frizzell, Me According to Art History. David Shrigley, (Unitited) Cat. Gretchen Albrecht, Collages 1988 – 1989. Karl Maugham, Pulse.

ArtNow, which is run by the same people who, since 2016, have directed the Auckland Art Fair and this year’s Virtual Art Fair, was launched eighteen months ago offering an  online listing site for art exhibitions and events across Aotearoa.

It has  now launched two new online sections showcasing art books and limited editioned art works available to purchase from participating galleries.  This online listing of Art Books and Editions offers an ideal and easy way to engage with art especially at a time when many are confined by the Covid 19 crisis.

For new and established collectors the  online Editions pages will be a useful resource to see what is available at affordable prices. These artworks are limited editions  by well-known artists alongside early-career artists, with prices ranging from $20 – $5,000. Galleries include Two Rooms, Jhana Millers Gallery, Page Galleries and {Suite} Gallery.

ArtNow’s Art Books site brings together books about New Zealand art and artists in one place – offering easy online access to independently published art book’s such as Ray Ching’s “Aesop’s Outback Fabless” and forthcoming titles such as Dick Frizzell’s “Me, According to the History of Art” to be published in November. There are also several catalogues produced by New Zealand  public galleries (the Adam Art Gallery, Govett-Brewster and Te Uru) that are not stocked in most book shops.

The ArtNow.NZ site enabes visitors who wish to make a purchase to be directed to the gallery’s site to place their order. “Art should be a part of everyday life – something we live with, look at and enjoy all the time” says ArtNow founders Stephanie Post and Hayley White, “and art books and limited-edition art works offer the ultimate accessible entry point.” “The ArtNow.NZ website was founded for the purpose of offering the public easy online access to outstanding art exhibitions and events in New Zealand so the decision to include and amalgamate the books and editioned works available at more than thirty galleries was a natural extension.”

Editions and Art Books  available at

Reviews, News and Commentary

Black Lover returns to the stage

Cameron Rhodes (Garfield Todd) and Simbarashe Matshe (Steady)

Black Lover by  Stanley Makuwe

Auckland Theatre Company

ASB Waterfront Theatre

September 3 – 13

As part their Back on the Boards series of plays the Auckland Theatre Company will remount the highly acclaimed play Black Lover by Stanley Makuwe, the premiere season of which sold out  during the 2020 Auckland Arts Festival but was cut short by the global pandemic.

This is my review of Black Lover at the time.

The colonial history of Africa has many parallels to that of New Zealand in relation to land, governance and human rights and a new play, Black Lover by  Stanley Makuwe highlights these aspects and the tragic history of Zimbabwe and the way it evolved. Central to the country’s history and to the play is  New Zealander  Sir Garfield Todd.

He was born in Invercargill, emigrated to Southern Rhodesia in 1934 as a  missionary and ran a Mission school where one of his pupils was Robert Mugabe.

He was a member of  the colonial parliament and became  Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia in 1953 but because of his liberal views was forced out of parliament .

Out of power, he became increasingly critical of white minority rule and was an outspoken opponent of Ian Smith’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom. Todd applied for an exit visa to lead a teach-in at the University of Edinburgh  on the inequities of white rule. The Rhodesian government banned his emigration, placing him under house arrest.

It is at this point that Black Lovers imagines an encounter between Todd (Cameron Rhodes) with his black family cook, Steady (Simbarashe Matshe).

At one point Todd reads from the speech which he was to deliver about the plight of the black population in Rhodesia, a speech his daughter, Judith would be delivering shortly in Edinburgh. This is one of the few polemical speeches in the play although there is some intense dialogues between the two men including an enraged outburst by Steady about white oppression and savagery.

Much of the time the inequalities between white and black are expressed in simple, personal exchanges and events. There is Steady’s discomfort at being asked to drink tea and eat cake with Todd as an equal, an event which more amusing than political.

The play also touches on the ingrained subservient nature of the relationship between white and black. Even between between Todd and his servant there is an uneasiness to their relationship and the idea of a black having access to cake is seen by Steady as a violation of the codes of apartheid.

Their conversations also touch on the role of women, religion, God and repentance with  Steady stating that he knows that the church is  “The black man’s death trap”.,

Cameron Rhodes captures the character of Todd brilliantly, a man weary and worried, concerned for others rather than himself, wanting Steady to be an equal but never able to bridge the gap.

Matshe as Steady is able to convey the internal conflicts between submitting to the apartheid state and aspiring to a better life and self-determination.

Stanley Makuwe provides  conversations  ranging from the simple to the raw and emotional  in which the political and the personal are threaded together creating a play which is sensitive  and revealing  of human relationships as well as the dangers of social and political inequality.

The play opens with the mingled sounds of classical music playing on the radio and the sounds of Africa in the air alluding to the mix of the two cultures of European and African.   But for much of the play it is the sounds of gunfire and explosions which enclose and threaten the two  men.

At just over an hour this is a superbly crafted play, rich and concise in its dialogues, ideas and emotional engagement. It is a play which allows us to reflect on a history which we have known and observed, at  distance but now resonates with contemporary  relevance.

Back on the Boards also features a new work, 48 Nights on Hope Street, a direct and exciting response to this time from a diverse company of young writers, actors and musicians. ATC will also remount of the award winning Still Life With Chickens by D.F. Mamea, which is tour de force of a work garnering rave reviews both here and Australia.  

Reviews, News and Commentary

Simon O’Neills magnificent performance with the NZSO


Podium Series Spirit

August 7

Auckland Town Hall

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

One positive result of Covid 19 is that the New Zealand tenor, Simon O’Neill was marooned in this country instead of performing at international venues. As a result one of the world’s great tenors  was able to perform with the NZSO singing work by Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss.

The concert in the Auckland Town Hall was the first of the orchestras restarted concert series in Auckland coming on the back of the orchestra havingpreviously gained the bizarre honour of being the first orchestrain the world to give a concert without Covid 19 restrictions.

The orchestra opened the concert with a fitting celebratory work , the Berlioz “Le Corsaire” overture, a roller coaster of a work full of colour and drama with Hamish McKeich driving the orchestra on with enthusiasm and flair.

O’Neill sang Mahler’s  “Songs of a Wayfarer” and a set of Strauss songs, two of which were  the earliest he wrote and a group of four he had written for his wife on their wedding day.

He sang with superb clarity, ensuring that every word and musical phrase was considered. He displayed an understanding of the narrative of each of the poems and rendered them with an emotion richness.

His body language and acting, subtle hand movements and awareness of the orchestra combined to make this a magnificent performance

He provided an operatic intensity in his command of the stage displaying absolute control and establishing himself as a character  rather than a singer. At times he was singing directly to the audience at other times to an unseen companion and frequently he would be become introverted  as through in a state of reverie.

The Mahler songs are not merely the musings of a wanderer reflecting on his physical and emotional loneliness they are also an expression of the young composer grappling with his personal life and his feeling of being outside society.

Singing “Dei zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz” (The two blue eyes of my love)  O’ Neills pleading voice of the weeping, despondent Man Alone  soared above the wasteland of despair created by the orchestra was tender and moving while in “Ich hab’ ein gluhend Messer” (I have a gleaming knife)  his voice took on a frantic tone as he crouched, his body buffeted  as though overwhelmed by the coming dark storm of the growling orchestra.

In singing the Strauss songs which were all similar in tone and  O’Neill gave a superb almost Wagnerian performance. The lively ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’was  full of youthful intensity, expressive of love and infatuation. While with “Ruhe meine Seele” (Rest thee my Soul) he eloquently captured the singers “troubled spirit” as he competed with the occasionally engulfing orchestra.

The major work on the programme was Prokofiev’s Symphony No 5 composed during summer of 1944 as the tide of war was turning and Soviets were pushing back the Nazis from their borders.

Prokofiev was sheltered from the worst of the war at a country dacha for composers at a former aristocratic estate. Here he contemplated the war at a distant, imagining a new world after the conflict.

This is reflected in the music where there are contrasts between bright spring-like passages and sounds of turmoil, where little dance sequences meet oppressively tense passages.

The innovative music is threaded through with themes from his other work such as the ballet Romeo and Juliet and his film music for Ivan the Terrible.

For the composer it is a work where political and social ideology find common ground with his personal vision. Hamish McKeich and the orchestra managed to convey the devastation and joy of the work along with visions of battlefields and peaceful landscapes with a thoughtful, energetic performance.

Future NZSO Concerts

Brahms orch. Parlow Hungarian Dance No. 5 & 6
Stravinsky Danses Concertantes
Maria Grenfell Clockwerk
Mozart Idomeneo Ballet Music 

Wellington August 28, Auckland September 4

Robin Toan “Tū-mata-uenga “God of War, Spirit of Man”
Elgar  “Cello Concerto” (Andrew Joyce Cello)
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 Pathétique

Wellington August 29. Dunedin September 1. Christchurch September  2, Auckland September. 5

These concerts will be conducted by New Zealander Gemma New who will be conducting NZSO concerts in August and September. She is currently Music Director of the Hamilton (Canada) Philharmonic Orchestra, Resident Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Hailed as “a rising star in the musical firmament” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), New was awarded Solti Foundation Career Assistance Awards in 2017 and 2019.

New has conducted numerous orchestras including the Atlanta Symphony, Toronto Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, and back home to New Zealand with the Auckland Philharmonia, Christchurch Symphony and Opus Orchestra.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Morgen. Songs for Cello and Piano

Morgen, Songs for Cello and Piano

Andrew Joyce (cello)

Rae de Lisle (piano)

Atoll Records

RRP $30.00

With their new recording “Morgen” pianist Rae de Lisle and cellist Andrew Joyce have created a splendid arrangement of twenty-two songs by a range of composers for cello and piano. The selected works are well-chosen, and all take on their new instrumental cloaks superbly.

The cello’s range has often been noted as similar to the range of the human voice with the lowest cello note at the bottom range of a basso profundo and high notes that match that of a diva coloratura.

De Lisle and Joyce manage the transformations wonderfully, able to have the pieces sound so close to that of the human voice that often one can feel one is listening to a singer rather than an instrument.

The works include songs by Brahms, Dvorak, Schumann and Strauss as well as arias by Catalani and Korngold. They all deal with love, mainly that between a man and a woman but some are more atmospheric and there is a lullaby by Brahms.

Throughout these works it is the cello that takes on the melodic line of the singer expressing the emotional richness of the work displaying both the angelic and tragic. De Lisle’s piano provides a solid foundation as well as adding depth.

They pieces range from the sweet “Minneleid” by Brahms through the ecstatic “A Chloris” by Reynaldo Hahn to Catalan’s more tragic “Edden? Ne andro Iontana”.

The opening group of Brahms songs are a mix of the melancholic and lyrical, full of sweet sadness. As with many collections of such songs they are individually very moving, collectively they lose their power, so it is best to listen to them one at a time.

Cellist and pianist carefully shaped each song, balancing their sounds so carefully at times they seem to be more in harmony than a singer and pianist might be. This creates a great sense of intimacy and emotion.

Throughout the pieces one senses de Lisle and Joyce understanding the links between the vocal / melodic line and the accompaniment. The piano plays an important role in providing the tensions and contrasts necessary to fully appreciate the subtleties of several of the pieces such as Dvorak’s soulful “Lasst mich allein”.

Korngold’s “Marietta’s Lied”, from his opera Die tote Stadt is the most contemporary of the works premiering in 1920. The opera’s theme of the loss of a loved one was particularly relevant to a Europe which had suffered widespread loss during World War I, but the work can now be interpreted in terms of sexual obsessions and disillusioned sacrifice. This poignancy was revealed by the perceptive playing of the duo.

In three of the pieces including Strauss’ “Morgen”, Joyce and de Lisle and joined by Joyce’s daughter Julia playing the viola which adds a subtle layer to the pieces

The programme notes accompanying the CD provide a fine narrative linking the works to their original songs.