REVIEW: NZSO “Russian Fire” – Auckland Town Hall, 24 May 2014


If the point of a music review is simply to tell the reader whether or not someone enjoyed the concert, then, yes, I enjoyed Saturday’s NZSO concert at the Auckland Town Hall immensely. And that is probably the end of it.

The problem with that, in my opinion, is that you are then likely to start asking a whole lot of other questions. Why did you like it ? What were they playing ? Was it all good ? Et cetera, et cetera.

Subtitled “Russian Fire”, Rachmaninoff’s “Caprice Bohemien” and Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony were the evening’s highlights against Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Alexander Melnikov as soloist.

The Caprice is an early work of Rachmaninoff’s and it shows. Full of gypsy colour and musical motifs, it is not as refined as his much later works but shows what understanding of orchestration he had even in his early twenties. The NZSO gave an electrifyingly energetic performance, actively cajoled by dynamic Russian conductor Alexander Lazarev. If this was anything to go by, then this would be an excellent concert indeed.

Alexander Melnikov is a pianist with a wide-ranging repetoire. Comfortable with period instruments as well as the grand works, he delivered a sensitive rendition of Schumann’s piano concerto. Compared to another concert earlier in the month, the orchestral accompaniment from conductor and orchestra was sympathetic and respectful to the soloist. No fire perhaps, but restrained elegance instead and this was warmly received by the Auckland audience.

And so to the second half. Shostakovich’s Fifteenth (and last) symphony is a slightly mysterious work. Some say that the first movement depicts a toy shop with the toys coming alive. Others hypothesise that the circular nature of the symphony depicts the composer’s own life. Shostakovich himself wouldn’t say either way. But he certainly indulged in some musical jokes by quoting Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, a snippet from Wagner’s “Die Walkure” and Shostakovich’s own works as well. In a letter to a friend, he insisted that he could not not (deliberate double negative) include them.

To me, this performance was as memorable as the NZSO’s performance of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony a few years ago. Maestro Lazarev is as fascinating to watch on the podium as the music is fascinating to listen to. With a conductor constantly in motion with meticulous attention to detail, the orchestra reciprocated with a performance that was dynamically balanced, full of colour and absolutely captivating. Excellent solos from concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppanen, principal cellist Andrew Joyce, principal flautist Bridget Douglas and a expanded percussion section added to the quality of the performance.

The very full Town Hall audience gave their thumbs up as did Maestro Lazarev. It was a hard choice to make between going to this concert and Dame Kiri’s recital at the Aotea Centre but I think this concert wins by a nose.

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About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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