Symphonic Dances - Reviewed by Dawn Brook | Regional News Connecting Wellington

Symphonic Dances

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 26th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

The highlight of this concert for me was Three Psalms by New Zealand composer John Psathas. It is a work for solo piano, strings, harp, and percussion, originally commissioned by Michael Houstoun, the soloist at this performance, for his 50th birthday. This concert marked his final concerto appearance before he retires later this year.

This was no lyrical adieu from Houstoun. In the first movement, the piano effects were as percussive and rhythmic as the wide range of instruments played by three amazing percussionists, with the piano and percussion often doubling or echoing each other in tone and rhythm. The second movement painted a haunting and desolate picture of the effects of war and disaster, the composer’s response to photos of such events by James Nachtwey. The third movement, inspired by Prokofiev’s third piano concerto, was lively, colourful, fast and furious, and dramatic by contrast. Full marks to Mark Taddei for holding this rhythmically challenging movement together. Bravo to Michael Houstoun. The piano never stops in this concerto. What a work and style to finish with!

Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances book-ended Psathas’ work. Having one work for strings only, one for strings with piano and percussion, and one for a very full orchestra of strings, 11 brass instruments, six percussionists, and 13 woodwind, made for a great audience experience.

The Serenade for Strings was delicious. It was possible to enjoy the different lyrical qualities of the double basses, cellos, violas, and violins separately. The performance was warm and sweet, sweeping and gorgeous, but precise and disciplined.

Symphonic Dances provided an exciting soundscape with the return of the brass and woodwind. There was a lovely section in the first movement that featured the woodwind particularly, while the brass provided regular dramatic interjections. It was great to hear the whole orchestra in full cry again.

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