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May 23, 2011 | by  | in Music |
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New Zealand Symphony Orchestra – Enchanted Islands, 13 May 2011

Hamish McKeich: Conductor, Stephen de Pledge: Piano, Kirsten Morrell: Soprano, Tama Waipapa: Baritone

Enchanted Islands, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s annual contemporary New Zealand classical music concert, opened with a blast of brilliance from the brass section of the NZSO with ‘Fanfare for the Southern Cross’ by composer Ross Harris. This was only one of the four (almost five) world premieres from six New Zealand composers, making this a programme of almost entirely new New Zealand works showcasing a variety of styles from the very classical ‘Four Canzonas’ by Douglas Lilburn to the cutting edge avant-garde of Lyall Cresswell’s ‘Concerto for Piano and Orchestra’ with a bit of everything in between.

A thread of Shakespeare-themed works ran throughout the concert linking three of the six works together; Anthony Ritchie’s ‘A Shakespeare Overture’, Lilburn’s ‘Four Canzonas’ and of course Gareth Farr’s ‘Sonnets’. Ritchie’s work was, like the Lilburn, from another era. Not surprising as it was written during Ritchie’s student years some thirty years ago. Full of interesting tonal lines and orchestral colour it would not be out of place as a film score. The ‘Four Canzonas’ by Lilburn, written as incidental music for Ngaio Marsh’s Shakespearean productions, were a thoughtful and serene prelude to the Cresswell’s concerto and featured the string section. Farr set nine of Shakespeare’s love sonnets in his work by the same name. ‘Sonnets’ had a fantastic sense of dramaturgy but it was obvious due to the lack of projection that Goldenhorse singer, Kirsten Morrell, is perhaps better suited to the pop stage than the classical stage. Although baritone, Tama Waipapa did a fantastic job and kept the work afloat.

However it was Cresswell’s new work for kiwi piano-virtuoso Stephen de Pledge that was without doubt the highlight of the concert with the dazzling orchestral harmonies and textures that Cresswell is celebrated for. The momentum was incredible and provided drive throughout the whole work. Even during the lyrical moments from the piano, a sense of momentum was beautifully achieved. This piece is extraordinarily challenging but together with the talent of de Pledge, McKeich and of course the orchestra, this was an unmissable opportunity to hear a live modern-day masterpiece. The final work was Gravitas by young composer Chris Gendall. This work, commissioned by McKeich and the NZSO, focused on two notes gravitating around the orchestra exploring different colours and textures. This was an interesting if not a bit puzzling a listen.

All in all it was an enjoyable concert with an audience that not only almost filled the Town Hall but also had a large contingent of young people. It was fantastic to see so many people turning up to support a concert of New Zealand works by New Zealand composers played by New Zealand performers.

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