New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's astute pairing of Stravinsky and Rachmaninov made one realise how fortunate these musicians are to have Edo de Waart as music director.

While the repertoire of the Dutch conductor's Masterworks series can err on the conservative side, the sumptuous romanticism of Rachmaninov was preceded by the tangy aperitif of less familiar Stravinsky.

It was disconcerting to have Stravinsky's 1921 Symphonies of Wind Instruments performed with the players in their customary orchestral placement, behind a forest of music stands and empty chairs, but the music burst forth as if they had been on the edge of the stage.

De Waart's generous tempos lent weight to shifting sonorities, allowed for niceties of balance and ensuring dramatic contrast between solemn chorales and fiery outbursts. The same virtues held for Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, his first substantial work after moving to the US in the early 1940s.


De Waart caught a dance-like vitality here, with a score that plays hide and seek with tonality and deals out mesmerising repetitions. It seemed no accident that there were uncanny premonitions of American composers to come, from Leonard Bernstein to John Adams.

The programme booklet stressed that we were getting the complete and uncut Rachmaninov Second Symphony and, with a good hour to luxuriate in the Russian composer's hyper-emotional saga, one surrendered almost immediately when magnificent strings wooed us with irresistible voluptuousness.

The scherzo was galvanic, so much so that the sound of bow on string was as vivid as a brushstroke on canvas. A lovely, lingering Adagio even silenced a group of clappers who had determinedly applauded every movement so far and a well-primed finale provided a spine-tingling close to the evening.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart