Work of great intensity reflects city's fight against adversity
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra concert, 11 August 2011
Reviewer: David Sell
The Press, 13 August 2011
'The scale and intensity of the 900-day siege of Leningrad from June 1941 was the inspiration for Shostakovich's great seventh symphony, and for the title of this concert. Perhaps there was an affinity with the human spirit breaking through adversity that brought a capacity audience and a standing ovation, rarely seen in this city. It was also recognition of the brilliance of Vasily Petrenko in guiding the orchestra through an hour and 10 minutes of emotionally intense music.
It is said that when Petrenko learned that he was to perform in a section of a curtained-off stadium, his response was that "we will have to play loud". And they did, when the score required it. We were able to forget the sense of remoteness of the venue, and experience the hugeness of the music.
I was interested to hear how Petrenko handled the notorious long ostinato section in the first movement. Often labelled banal, it was anything but that. The orchestra held attention and guided the section through to a powerful emotional impact that was real.
In retrospect, Rachmaninov's Fourth Piano Concerto sounded, in comparison, delicate and refined. At the time, though, it was far from that. Michael Houstoun gave his accustomed direct and meticulous account of it, bringing out the romantic, melodic warmth and luscious full harmonies that characterise the composer's style.
I especially enjoyed the second movement with the interplay between soloist and orchestra of the three notes on which the movement is based. The Fourth concerto may in its time have failed to enjoy the popularity of the second and third, but played as it was by Houstoun and the NZSO, it certainly has a place in modern concert repertoire.
This, the NZSO's contribution to the Christchurch Arts Festival, told us much about what music means in the life of our community.'