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August 10, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

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Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is a musical narrative, a ‘tone-poem’, based on the symbolist prose of the same name by Stéphane Mallarme. It was Debussy’s attempt to differentiate a modern style away from traditional, emphatic german romanticism. The opening exposition is a typical quasi-tonal theme from the flute, an explicit display of individual sonority. Without delay, the instrumentation is expanded alongside a washing harp glissando of cliché. In fact, the opening is almost identical to Ravel’s Introduction et Allegro. The remaining sections, however, show little development. The absence of Debussy’s other planned movements have left the piece open ended and highlight the instability of the unbound rhythms. Although beautifully played, the piece was not a strong beginning to the programme and the deconstruction of melodic unity breaking ties within the orchestra. The music was inevitably not accepted with great acclaim after its inception. But it has been praised with time and even described by Pierre Boulez as the ‘awaking of modern music’. However, the impressionist movement has not lived on. The music has about the same consistency as the slop of overcooked fish. With all my respects for Debussy and his music; Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is sickly sweet, unimpressive and just so french.

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is a work of new revelation for the composer. After a three year phase of depression, the hypnotist Dr. Nikolai Dahl helped him gain the confidence to write a new concerto. The most striking characteristics were not just of Rachmaninov’s incredibly broad grasp of the keyboard but his natural ease of melodic extension, subtle dissonance and corporate orchestration. Alexander Melnikov played the piece with jaw-clenching force, one of the finest russian pianist of his generation. The deep underpinning of the piano was at one point let to ring under an open pedal, resonating a single solution of infinite possibility.

A project kept in the only place untouchable, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 was only a thought until the death of Stalin in 1953. It is inadvertently disguised under a tonal structure of psychological duress. But implicitly, it is a recapitulation of his music, of survival and of self-assertion. The piece features the the universal theme of Shostakovich himself, Dmitri SCHostakovich or D-E -C-B . The opening movement expresses the same ‘grey’ melodic structure as the Andante tranquillo from Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and Contrapunctus XIV from J.S. Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuga. And despite its themes and context, it is structurally concrete arch, and perhaps the finest orchestral movement he ever penned. What follows is an allegro fortissimo of anger, whether it be of Stalin or towards Stalin, it nevertheless characterises him. The rhythmic perpetuity demanded of the string section was an incredible display of collective virtuosity and musical impression. The appearance of the DSCH theme comes during the third movement, and is a painful introspection. It is repeated over and over in a mad labyrinth of self-contemplation only to be lulled by the call of the horn. In desperate frustration the theme finally breaks out a fortissimo, accompanied by it’s relative major key. It is a highly personal work; it empitomises his music, his life and his determination. The performance was conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, and incredibly, entirely from memory. The orchestra was omnipotent from the firsts notes to the cadence, something constantly heard of the NZSO.

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
August 1, Michael Fowler Centre
Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth
Piano: Alexander Melnikov
Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 2
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 10

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