Wellington has been well served by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra this year. After its six appearances at the International Arts Festival, the official NZSO season opened last month with the Wellington-only premiere of Gareth Farr's Piano Concerto. The rest of the country has not been so blessed.

Friday's season launch, Visions of Happiness, came up with conservative romantic fare, heralded by somewhat off-kilter marketing.

A poster of a glamorous young man and woman in passionate embrace seemed rather to miss the point for a programme dominated by Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.

In the town hall, however, curmudgeonly criticisms were dashed aside by the first phrase of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll.


The NZSO strings are a formidable force, and Pietari Inkinen nuanced every line and texture. One was enveloped by lush sonorities, spellbound by Wagner's intricate thematic weave.

Mikhail Ovrutsky, a soloist in the orchestra's Wellington-only Brahmsissimo series in 2011, made his Auckland debut with Korngold's 1947 Violin Concerto.

This is a curiosity, old-fashioned for its time and thriftily stitched together out of themes from the composer's classic film scores.

It may be schmaltzy for severe tastes, but only the irredeemably cold of heart could resist its first movement's exhilarating sweep. Inkinen caught this well, highlighting whatever dissonances might be lurking in the background to throw some spikes into the velvet.

Ovrutsky was an agile and musicianly player. He clearly enjoyed the runaway romp of Korngold's Finale but too often a more lustrous tone would have given this luscious music the glow it needs. An encore, with orchestra, of Massenet's Meditation, was well-chosen, but I suspect that some hearts in the audience did not melt as they might have.

After interval, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony was dispensed with a professionalism that somehow failed to engage with the dark soul of this score.

Sinuous melodies did not always evoke the depths of Tchaikovsky's emotional despair. The pizzicato scherzo seemed sedate compared with the conflagration that it can be.

The Finale did however pull us into its relentless drive, a thrill that would have been welcomed at times in the first movement.


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