After some years of opening its new season on the light side — bringing in the Modern Maori Quartet as guests in 2017 and patching together a Music from the Movies concert last year — the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra returned to core repertoire for its Classical Journey.
Roaming from Rossini and Haydn to Prokofiev and Brahms, the evening was very much built around a big-hearted performance of Haydn's final London Symphony.
Despite conductor Hamish McKeich emphasizing this composer's sense of humour in his spoken introduction, it was the compelling earthiness of the work that impressed, especially in its bucolic finale.
McKeich talked about the evening's underlying Haydn connection after the orchestra had caught the wit and sparkle of Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers overture, to the last hurtling crescendo and cymbal crash.
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The Italian composer was an ardent admirer of Haydn. Why not, instead of presenting a collection of syndicated programme notes for each work by various pens, have just one writer contribute an essay doing justice to a thoughtfully curated selection of music?
Once one had accepted that Prokofiev's 1917 Classical Symphony was going to be the most recent music on the menu tonight, there was considerable pleasure in hearing McKeich marshal his forces, culminating in a runaway finale that would have set powdered wigs askew in just a few quavers.
The evening ended with Brahms' Variations on a theme by Haydn. It may be staple fare for many, but only the terminally hard-hearted could resist the sinuous grace of its siciliano variation or thrill to the grander than grand passcagalia that signed off the evening.
Yet, had an opportunity been missed? Haydn's influence is still with us today, in times when we are much in need of his grounded humanism. Could this influence not have been expressed with a contemporary offering, possibly from a New Zealand composer?
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - Classical Journey
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart