Pictures at an Exhibition
Presented by: Orchestra Wellington
Conducted by: Marc Taddei
Michael Fowler Centre, 2nd Aug 2019
Reviewed by: Dawn Brook
Marc Taddei is a master programmer who links known and lesser known works in interesting ways. Two works in this concert, Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, were originally written for piano. Both were inspired by paintings. Relevant paintings were shown on a screen behind the orchestra. A third work, Assemblage, involved a robot on stage painting. The fourth work, Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto, stood outside the programme theme.
To be frank, I thought the concert would have been better without the pictures and the robot, letting the music speak for itself.
Pictures at an Exhibition is a much-loved work. Mussorgsky tried to depict the essence of 10 paintings by a friend. The music evokes the amusing chirping of chickens, women squabbling at a market, a lumbering ox cart, children playing, a grotesque character, deathly catacombs, and a monumental piece of architecture. The whole is stitched together by a theme depicting Mussorgsky promenading between pictures, sometimes playfully, sometimes solemnly, sometimes thoughtfully. It is very engaging music, especially the promenade variations. It was played with confidence and energy.
L’Isle Joyeuse was quintessential Debussy, evoking mood and landscape with characteristic use of shimmering strings and woodwind. The painting it evokes depicts pairs of lovers sailing to the Island of Love. The orchestra captured a great sense of chattering, laughing fun in an idyllic setting.
Assemblage, a collaboration between artist Simon Ingram and composer Alex Taylor, involved a robot very slowly creating a geometric, pink artwork while the music included a representation of the workings of the machine among more conventional melodic elements. I would enjoy hearing the music again.
Lev Sivkov was the cellist for the Samuel Barber work. Now in Switzerland, but originally from Russia, this young musician created a beautiful, strong, warm, and intense tone throughout, even when Barber demanded extraordinary technique. This work is not well-known but was well worth presenting.