I should start off with a confession and a gripe – I hate most ‘modern’ classical music. Programme notes and commentaries by the composer describing all sorts of influences and pictures seemingly have no bearing on the noise and unstructured dissonance that inevitably results. Some ‘modern’ music is, however, delightful. Take the theme from ‘The Simpsons’ (and indeed, other music by the exceptional Danny Elfman). So, when looking at the programme for last Friday’s NZSO performance and seeing ‘A Motorbike Odyssey’ by Jan Sandstrom, my first reaction was to cringe. I must confess to rushing to judgment all too quickly.
You got the sense that Christian Lindberg wanted to ensure that the audience got into the sprit of the performance – how many times do you get performers appearing in their racing leathers ? ‘Odyssey’ is a challenging and diverse work – not for the faint-hearted this. Who knew that the trombone, in the right hands, could sound just like a high-performance motorcycle (complete with Doppler effect). If that wasn’t enough, the third movement requires the soloist to mimic a didgeridoo and I can’t imagine what technique you need to do that. Ably supported by the NZSO, particularly its trio of ‘motorcycle’ trombones, Lindberg gave a performance of polish, amusement, theatrics – this was easily the most compelling performance of any work I have and heard in a long time. It made the Leopold Mozart concerto performed immediately before this work completely redundant. The encore, an arrangement of ‘My Funny Valentine’ was also exquisite.
So, expectations would have been high for the second half of the concert where Hannu Lintu led the NZSO in Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. The NZSO last performed this work under Matthias Bamert and gave an excellent account of it. Not this time, sadly. Parts, such as the third movement, seemed rushed and ironically others, particularly in the last movement, seemed a bit too slow. Yes, the work is full of contrasts but the wonderful thing about the 8th is the subtleties expressed in what appear to be simple melodies, particularly for the string sections.
But I may have been overly distracted by Lintu’s conducting technique which is interesting – a showman through and through, he has the ‘puppet on a string’ characteristics of Furtwangeler and the passion and energy of Leonard Bernstein. But while you can understand and feel the passion Lenny expressed in his performances, all the gurning, sweeping hand and arm flourishes and so on from Lintu don’t seem to coax anything magical or extra from the orchestra. However, the NZSO seem to cope well with such over the top theatrics and I think Berlioz would have approved of such for the Roman Carnival Overture which began this concert – not so Dvorak, I suspect with his logical and ordered mind.
But the night belonged to Christian Lindberg – a star performer who we hope to see again in the near future.