The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra deserves a marketing award for the Pianomania concert.

This Reader's Digest-style parade of popular piano concertos, mostly in munch-sized bites, filled the Auckland Town Hall, which was heartening after too many empty seats at the NZSO's recent Berg and Berlioz performances.

The audience even laughed at the scripted jokes when various players read out connecting commentaries between musical extracts. I found it distracting to watch Freddy Kempf swivelling around from keyboard to conducting duties but I suspect that, for some, this was part of the thrill as they marvelled at the English pianist's skill at always landing back on the right notes.

There were inevitable sacrifices with both balance and finesse and, in the last count, the uber-romantic Adagio from Rachmaninov's C minor concerto wrenches hearts more effectively when emotions are polarised between piano and podium.


The fleet-fingered Kempf dazzled us with a Mendelssohn Presto, in between over-hearty orchestral blasts, and a beefed-up Handel organ concerto would have had an icy reception from any Back-to-Baroque purist.

I also objected to Chopin being described by one speaker as showing more poetic insight than his contemporaries; especially when this grave mistruth was followed by the composer's rather ordinary Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante.

After the frustration of four truncated concertos, leaving one longing to hear each movement in proper context, we ended with Gershwin's complete 1924 Rhapsody in Blue, a high-spirited finale, but hardly the ultimate statement on the piano concerto,

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Pianomania
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart