Classical review: NZSO, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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NZSO provide intriguing musical textures and dramatic touches under baton of Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare.

Alisa Weilerstein.
Alisa Weilerstein.

Schumann's Manfred Overture needs persuasive advocacy. On Friday it was a thrilling launch for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Wounded Hearts concert, under Rafael Payare.

Like the Byronic hero that the composer portrays, this music does wander somewhat.

On this occasion, however, the lithe young Venezuelan conductor kept it firmly on track, creating drama through impressively sonorous playing, with rushing violins flaring up in storm-tossed crescendos.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein has lived with Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante for almost two decades, having learned it at the age of 14. A triumphant performance on Friday night must have seemed predictable.

This 1952 score reveals the composer's inner turmoils, veering from a testily forthright style, almost to the point of aggression, to a curiously stoic brand of lyricism, both caught to perfection by the American cellist.

Not at all fazed by the virtuoso demands of the first movement, Weilerstein made an effortless flourish of the second, with massive pizzicato chords bordering on the percussive and even more poignant melodies.

There is less severity in Prokofiev's Finale along with glimpses of the man who wrote Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet.

Dialogues abound, which soloist and orchestra enjoyed, ending spectacularly in pages that hint at the minimalist shimmer of Philip Glass and John Adams later in the century.

Weilerstein's encore was Bach's D major Bourree, the poise of its opening in contrast with the delicate pathos when the mood turns to minor.

Mahler's First Symphony is suffused with a vitality of spirit that had veteran conductor Bruno Walter hail it as a youthful work of genius.

Early on, underlined by his endless athletic body language, Payare wove intriguing musical textures. Themes did not always have their expected precedence while dramatic touches included an eerie stillness that erupted into timpani thunder.

The dance of the second movement set off raw and rustic, but its trio had just the right leavening of Viennese gemutlichkeit.

The final movement began with what Mahler described as a cry from the wounded heart, as Payare caught the many degrees of light and shade leading to the resilient major key victory.

Music review
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Friday

- NZ Herald

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