Presented by: Orchestra Wellington
Conducted by: Marc Taddei
Michael Fowler Centre, 30th Nov 2019
Reviewed by: Dawn Brook
Ko Tō Manawa, Ko Tōku: Puritia. Your heart is my heart: Take Hold, composed by Rob Thorne and orchestrated by Thomas Goss, opened this concert. It featured three traditional Māori instruments, a conch shell, a double flute, and a nose flute played by Rob Thorne, plus electric guitar played by Tristan Dingemans (aka Kahu) and full orchestra. It was a full-on orchestral piece which fortunately left space for the subtle and gentle sounds of the taonga puoro, but managed to almost completely obscure the guitar.
This concert also featured Samuel Barber’s piano concerto, the third of his concerti to be played by Orchestra Wellington in 2019. It was a great vehicle for Michael Houstoun’s virtuosity. It was percussive with great clotted chords and fierce rhythms, strings of fast runs, trills, and glissandi. A more lyrical passage late in the first movement and the more reflective and elegiac beginning of the second movement were a welcome contrast to the rather strident drama of the work as a whole. Not the greatest work with which to appreciate Houstoun’s full capacities, perhaps.
Finally, there was that astounding and wonderful work, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8. Originally interpreted as depicting the Stalingrad battle, Shostakovich later implied that the symphony was composed in reaction to the devastation wrought by Stalin on Russian life. The work depicts the emotions of horror, fear, dazed disbelief, and despair in the face of chaos, destruction, and extermination. Thumping drums, screaming piccolo, crashing cymbals, and brass and violins at their upper range evoke the shattering world. Many individual players made brilliant contributions, notably the piccolo, flute, cor anglais, and bass clarinet, but it was the orchestra as a whole and the conductor who made this a very memorable performance. There is never a meaningless note in this composition and that is how it was played.
Orchestra Wellington’s 2019 season was called “EPIC!” and this final offering was certainly that.