Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by: Eduardo Strausser
Michael Fowler Centre, 11th May 2023
Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans
Cento by Ross Harris is a very clever exercise in musical collage. Taking quotes from other composers’ works, Harris has skillfully overlaid and overlapped familiar and unfamiliar phrases into something new and exciting to listen to. Just when ears and brain had tuned into a recognisable moment, the orchestra was already on to the next. An appetiser for the ears, Cento prepared the audience well for what came next.
What followed was truly wonderful. Paul Lewis played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major impeccably. Musicians surely feel the same adrenaline high as athletes, and from the opening virtuosic runs, we knew Lewis was fully immersed in the music, relaxed and joyous, well past flow state and at peak performance. The audience absorbed and reflected the energy. The feeling was of being part of a unique and special combination of time, place, and people. Lewis is a magical pianist, giving us a performance of something very familiar but making it entirely original.
His performance was immaculate, always enough and never too much. The overall performance was delivered with a genius lightness of touch. Strausser ensured the whole was far greater than the sum of its parts; the orchestra met the piano on exactly the right level, always enough, never too much.
Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major is a series of complex and varying styles. The orchestra, led by the skillful and nimble Strausser, tackled the contradictory piece with their usual high levels of skill and musicianship. The trombones relished their unusual moment to shine in the first movement’s opening fanfares. The violins also deserve a special mention for their incredible, lightning-fast fingers in the second movement. The third movement was sensitively played, a welcome relief from the agitation of the opening movements. Although Schumann said the work reminded him of a dark time, the magnificent timpani solo brought joy to the finale.