Experiencing Stephen Hough's magisterial Brahms Second Piano Concerto brought back a conversation in which the Englishman talked of the power that came from the work's sense of emotional containment.
There were certainly almost flagrant emotions unleashed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at its compelling best, spurred on by conductor Gustavo Gimeno, igniting fires amidst the very Viennese weltschmerz.
Hough is a singular pianist, who can move from cool to fiery within a beat. His response to the opening horn was immaculately poised; later, inspired by Andrew Joyce's eloquent cello solo, he spun Nocturne-like enchantment. Yet he didn't hold back in the rhapsodic furies of the first movement and led the orchestra into an almost flirtatious gypsy dance in the Finale. As an encore, we heard Hough's own transcription of Dvorak's Songs My Mother Taught Me, its salon-like prettiness a wry complement to the sterner beauties of Brahms.
Gareth Farr's From the Depths Sound the Great Sea Gongs Part 1 was wisely rescheduled to after interval.
This 1996 orchestral conflagration comes with its young composer talking of millions of hands drumming as one. On Saturday, five percussionists enjoyed more than one opportunity to take on that challenge. Gimeno, himself a percussionist, caught the unabated zest of this music from the late 1990s and, with it, the energy and optimism of the then burgeoning local music scene.
We do not hear Shostakovich's First Symphony as much as his later ones, and it was good to be reminded of the bold courage of a youthful composer.
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall