Concert review: NZSO, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

Soprano Sarah Macliver's rendition of Gorecki's work was inspired.
Soprano Sarah Macliver's rendition of Gorecki's work was inspired.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's We Remember deserved a much larger audience than it received.

With a byline of "Music, mateship and memories", the NZSO presented three gripping works from the last century to mark the centenary of World War I.

Jack Body's Little Elegies is an immensely powerful statement, using a commission to celebrate 25 years of New Zealand television to pen a searing lament for the countless Cambodians slaughtered by the Pol Pot regime.

The starkness of musical gesture adds sinew and muscle to the emotional thrust, and conductor Hamish McKeich searched out its many contrasts and ironies.

The violins sustained their lofty, airborne song despite passing percussive explosions; later, in one of the piece's most effective meetings of East and West, orchestral passion was tempered by the dispassionate chimes of Indonesian gongs.

Peter Sculthorpe's Memento Mori is familiar repertoire - the NZSO recorded it on its 2004 Naxos CD of the Australian's music.

Here, Sculthorpe considers the cultural demise of the Rapa Nui on Easter Island as a warning to be heeded today.

McKeich ensured that this was the spiritual journey intended. With the NZSO strings at their compelling best, the ominous Dies Irae theme found dramatic release in a melody as intense as any Mahlerian apotheosis.

Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is quite possibly the victim of its own success, after its million-selling CD broke records in the UK pop charts.

One could dismiss Gorecki's slow-moving, harmonically conservative work as something akin to Vaughan Williams on lithium but, in the context of this concert, it exuded a certain aura. We were lured into the implacable arch of its first movement and, such was its spell that we might have imagined organ and ghostly voices coming down to us.

In fact, the only "extra" in this dark-hued score, apart from some strikingly rough-hewn piano, was soprano Sara Macliver. Her inspired account of Gorecki's often primal settings, ranging from a 15th century hymn to a prayer on a concentration camp wall, gave this work the heart and focus it needs.

Classical review

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

- NZ Herald

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