Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by: Gemma New
Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Jul 2021
Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans
A fascinating programme opened with Chopin, followed by a frenetic and emotionally expressive performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the latter accompanied by an intriguing video display.
Michael Houstoun was a very popular choice to play Chopin and possibly the reason for an almost sold-out show. Houstoun charged straight into the first of eight dances, knocking out a crowd-pleasing, rapid, and somewhat heavy-handed polonaise. By and large this was a solid performance. Each dance had a distinct style and character, but it was almost as if Houstoun knew his solo piano could never compete on equal footing with Stravinsky’s most notorious but incredible contribution to 20th century music.
The Chopin dances were an extraordinary contrast to The Rite of Spring but a direct reference to Les Sylphides, Chopin’s ballet music, which preceded the premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet in 1913. The nod to events of 100 years ago was brought right up to date in the video imagery, a remarkable and sophisticated concept using the pre-recorded movement of a dancer to generate graphic patterns that were further manipulated in real time by the audio feed from the orchestra. Finding ourselves seated next to the grandparents of the video artist, we took a keen interest in the display. Delainy Kennedy’s grandparents were rightly very proud of his work.
A diminutive figure on the rostrum, New’s dynamic, precise but expansive direction kept the orchestra tight through the complex time changes and difficult rhythms. It would be interesting to see the video images her performance might generate.
As always, the musicianship and the superb playing of the NZSO were exceptional. The bassoon solo that opened the piece was impeccable, nothing at all like the ‘strangled oboe’ the audience thought they were hearing in 1913. As well as my new-found love for Stravinsky I am loving the work of the viola section who excelled on the night.