The NZSO was back in town with its first national tour. Headlined as “Echoes of Home” it program of Pruden, Dvorak and Rachmaninoff was an attractive package of music. The Town Hall was certainly pretty full this evening.
The evening’s soloist and draw card was German cellist Daniel Mueller-Schott. He came with impeccable credentials – winner of the 1992 Tchaikovsky Youth Competition at only 15, a student of Rostropovich, Stephen Isserlis and Heinrich Schiff. Currently the proud custodian of a wonderful 1727 Goffriller cello (which he is apparently in the process of buying) he’s certainly in demand with his recent travels taking him to Japan, Turkey, France and here. Next week he’ll be in Brazil before another stop in Spain and back to Germany. Oh, the life of a wandering musician ! A nice teaser piece in the Dominion Post by Tom Cardy who was lucky enough to attend rehearsals only served to heighten expectations. The Dvorak concerto is Mueller-Schott’s signature work. Did he deliver as he should ?
Most certainly – it was a polished and beautiful performance. Mueller-Schott plays with precision, passion and rock-solid intonation all of which were evident in the opening and final movements. But the true stand out was the second movement Adagio which was captivating in every respect. I can safely say it was one of the best performances of the work I have heard. The NZSO, under its Music Director Pietari Inkinen, provided carefully nuanced and well-balanced support. Mueller-Schott’s encore, the Declamato from Benjamin Britten’s Cello Suite No. 2 was equally as good as the concerto. The audience and the orchestra obviously agreed and the applause was sustained and well-deserved.
Earlier in the first half, the NZSO strings ably demonstrated their prowess in Larry Pruden’s Soliloquy for Strings. As noted both in the programme notes and the pre-concert talk, a Kiwi work that deserves more regular performance.
The textbooks describe Rachmaninoff’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ as a three-movement orchestral suite. They were certainly conceived as three fantastic dances to represent noon, twilight and midnight and at one point Rachmaninoff talked to the choreographer Michel Fokine about making a ballet from the music. The ‘echoes from home’ are found in quotations dotted throughout the work from his various works – in the first movement, there is a brief excerpt from his First Symphony, in the last there are quotations from his “Vespers” which itself takes music from Russian liturgical chants and other music. Rachmaninoff probably also knew it was his last work – he called it his ‘last spark’.
But for some reason, the performance lacked spark – it seemed a bit heavy from the get-go. Inkinen wanted, and indeed got, precision from the orchestra. There was no lack of quality playing, especially from the strings. But for the most part, it seemed overly restrained and a little too literal. The second movement waltz, for example, lacked a dance-like swish. You would not have known it was marked andante con moto. If you tried to transfer it to the stage, the twirls and spins would all be exactly even with no movement for a little more and a little less. Only at the very end did the orchestra show what it could have done when the reins were loosened and the full colours allowed to show through. It made it all the more frustrating.
Regardless, the star of the evening was certainly Daniel Mueller-Schott. May he return to New Zealand soon.