What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart
Following last month's spectacular Petrushka, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra continued its Stravinsky celebrations on Saturday night with a substantial main course of his complete The Firebird, as well as a particularly tasty entree.
The punchy 12 minutes of Juliet Palmer's Buzzard was a mind-jangling stir-up of The Firebird and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, possibly done, the New Zealander admits, with some intent to slightly damage and disfigure.
Both Russian composers survive her viscerally exciting workover, even if ghostly strains of the older ballet were overshadowed by so much brilliant post-Stravinskian clash and crash.
Not only was this thoughtful programming but it was also a blistering orchestral showcase under the deft baton of Hamish McKeich.
The roar of Buzzard then gave way to the 18th-century serenity of Mozart, with Diedre Irons as soloist in his most lyrical A major piano concerto K 488.
From the start, a smaller string section threw Mozart's expressive wind writing into beautiful relief, immaculately phrased by McKeich.
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As a pianist, Diedre Irons has always exuded quiet and absolute authority and tonight she was a peerless Mozartian. Early on, one felt her lingering ever so slightly over the first movement's chromatic sighs — hints of an exquisitely moulded Adagio to come, marred, alas, by intrusive cellphone counterpoint.
Hearing Stravinsky's The Firebird complete made one realise how much extraordinary music fell on the cutting room floor to make the ballet's more familiar orchestral suite.
Saturday night's programme notes credited Jonathan McPhee's "orchestration", but proferred no further information on his role than that; and one certainly would have welcomed a listing of the various movements so a narrative might be set up between familiar dances.
It was thrilling to meet again the malevolent beasts of the evil Kastchei as well as heroic Prince Ivan, all brought magnificently to life. And how many, one wonders, were surprised by the fierce drama that rises up between the gentlest of lullabies and an appropriately triumphant finale?