Music review: NZSO, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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Percussionist Currie shines in NZ Symphony Orchestra's Bold Worlds - a shame there wasn't a bigger crowd.

Colin Currie was energetic and highly accurate.
Colin Currie was energetic and highly accurate.

Did the title, Bold Worlds, keep too many away from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Saturday concert? A pity if so because this thrilling voyage around the Baltic deserved a full house.

Arvo Part's Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten had conductor Osmo Vanska almost persuading us that time itself had been frozen.

Even the distraction of Colin Currie's percussion instruments lined up between audience and players did not dampen the cumulative power of lapping strings and inexorable bell.

Currie is always a welcome soloist here, especially with a work premiered in Europe just last year.

Sieidi is a shrewdly signposted percussion concerto by the Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, drawing on the Sami rituals of the Scandinavian north. Its 36 event-filled minutes have Currie journeying across stage and back, starting with a duel between his hand-held dejembe and two orchestral bass drums, marking its farthest point with the ethereal sheen of bowed cymbal.

The presentation was electrifying; Currie displayed the physicality and precision one associates with Wimbledon, with marimba mallets replacing tennis racquet. He skilfully laced the marimba's liquid tones around Aho's exotic woodwind melodies and took to a tam tam with the ferocity of a manic sculptor.

Aho's gestural style is effective. One could hear crucial thematic ideas connecting string passages, even if a sinuous evocation of the spirit of Ravel's Bolero was more endearing than pounding orchestral rhythms, too familiar from the school of Bernstein and Schifrin.

Yet Aho is a supreme sonic architect, investing this score with a visual and spatial potential that inspired all tonight's musicians.

After interval, the Nordic stoicism of Nielsen's Fifth Symphony seemed, more than ever, the natural link between the worlds of Mahler and Shostakovich. Vanska was an energy force. With a repertoire of gestures ranging from high fives to crouching swoops, be brought a blazing intensity to this rugged music.

Nielsen can unsettle, with roving tonalities, mercurial mood changes and this symphony's wildcat snare drum cadenza, delivered with flair by Leonard Sakofsky. So much so that perhaps this 1921 score seemed the most contemporary offering of the evening.

Music review

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Saturday.

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- NZ Herald

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