Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Michael Fowler Centre, 10th Mar 2023
Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is bringing itself up to date as carefully and subtly as a national institution can. In the last month we have enjoyed the glorious and joyful return of Te Matatini and Polyfest, both taking the stage after suffering the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic on our performing arts. In this post-pandemic renaissance, the NZSO is working to extend its reach to new audiences. Director Vesa-Matti Leppänen gave us an informative, humorous introduction to each half in which he outlined the programme and introduced us to the music we would hear. Full programme notes are now only in digital form, the audience referring to a simple run sheet for guidance on the night.
A scaled-back chamber orchestra, not sitting but standing, opened with a bright, lively start from the strings and Haydn’s short Overture to L’Infedelta delusa. This was followed by Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for orchestra and a woodwind quartet. Lost for almost a century, the sinfonia was not played in Mozart’s lifetime but the NZSO soloists did a tremendous job on the night, well balanced and articulate.
The outstanding part of the programme was Antonio Salieri’s 26 Variations on La Folia di Spagna. 26 variations present opportunity for an impressive range of musical styles, forms, instrumental combinations, and solo performances. Leppänen had set the scene for us to be able to listen for the differences, enriching the experience for a very receptive audience. The musicians rose to the challenge as well as ever and some outstanding playing matched the complexity of the composition.
Hummel’s Eight Variations and Coda on O du Lieber Augustin is based on a familiar children’s song and the audience was encouraged to join in and hum the theme. The concert ended on a lighter, simpler note but it was Salieri’s sophisticated and extraordinary variations I will seek out for future listening.