Review: Spirit of Anzac, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

By William Dart

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New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Photo / NZPA
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Photo / NZPA

It was distressing to see so many empty seats at the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Spirit of Anzac concert. Was this because it was scheduled on the eve of a long weekend, or are concertgoers suffering from a surfeit of World War I commemorations?

In terms of presentation, too, did less than an hour's actual music really need a distracting interval?

The concert's byline "Voices from the Field" made poetic connections. Alas, a blandly forgettable Elegy by Australian Frederick Septimus Kelly (1881-1916), however warmly delivered by the strings under Hamish McKeich, would surely not have made the muster, were it not a tribute to the poet Rupert Brooke.

George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad is made of sterner stuff; full orchestra and conductor caught the shifting moods in a score that reveals the passions underneath its pastoral veneer.

At this point, the lights went up. Yet, an extra work could well have been accommodated - perhaps Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, to inject some Gallic astringency?

After interval, there was the much-appreciated chance to revisit Ross Harris' splendid Symphony No, 2, premiered 10 years ago by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

This score ventures into that musical no-man's-land between song-cycle and symphony and is remarkably successful, thanks to Harris' scrupulous structuring and Vincent O'Sullivan's words, communicating the tragedy of millions in the story of one young woman losing her soldier lover.

The composer's spirited eclecticism has never worked better; from the edgy, paranoia-inducing marches of the first movement to the reflective, fanfare-like tune of the second.

Soprano Madeleine Pierard has lived with this music for a decade and she revealed total ownership. She knows every emotional nook and cranny, and explores them with a voice that blooms, sighs and offers dispassionate commentary.

What a shame this fine performance was not experienced by more.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Where: Auckland Town Hall

When: Friday

- NZ Herald

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