Concert Review: NZSO at Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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Witi Ihimaera has written some resonant rhetoric. Photo / Liz March
Witi Ihimaera has written some resonant rhetoric. Photo / Liz March

Rugby World Cup fever hit the town hall on Saturday afternoon, drawing a substantial house for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's celebratory Odes to Joy, the orchestra's contribution to the Real New Zealand 2011 Festival.

Celebrations opened with Kaitiaki, a Gareth Farr commission in which he set the words of Witi Ihimaera.

Taking the theme of guardianship, Ihimaera has written some resonant rhetoric. His words embraced sonorous te reo and acknowledged the Schiller poem we would soon be hearing in Beethoven's Choral Symphony; yet they were vernacular enough to wield images of iwi being twined together with number eight wire.

Farr's music was not afraid to be big and bold, but a persistent opening idea, in the style of a television theme sting, did not last the distance for me. Nor did pounding four-square rhythms and moments of grandiloquence fuelled on harmonies from the Elmer Bernstein chord manual.

The combined Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and Auckland Choral were heartily confident; the four soloists variable.

Madeleine Pierard and Sarah Castle's lullaby duet was pretty, if trails of thirds still work their magic on you, yet Jonathan Lemalu's solo turn, against violins strummed ukulele-style, was bedevilled by bluster.

Simon O'Neill was the ultimate Antipodean heldentenor in his star-laden Look up! The twinkling heavenly firmament has inspired a number of classic arias in the past; Farr's theatrical nous and O'Neill's transcendent singing meant that the stars seemed to shimmer even in broad daylight.

After interval, Pietari Inkinen, conducting his first Choral Symphony with the orchestra, injected an urgency into Beethoven's first movement, forging a trail from hushed expectancy to staunch march.

The Scherzo danced, with no hint of the demonic; the Adagio, emphatically molto and cantabile, allowed the strings' espressivo melody to have a Mahlerian intensity.

The Finale was not without some liabilities, the worst being Lemalu's exceedingly slippery opening solo and variable ensemble and pitching from the women choristers.

However, O'Neill was positively frisky with his Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen while Pierard floated over an exquisite quartet, before Inkinen brought it all to a spectacular close.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Where: Auckland Town Hall

When: Saturday

- NZ Herald

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