Review: Scheherazade sparkles … but Lalo?
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Friday, June 17
Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke
It’s a curiosity of artistic discourse that Orientalism is viewed with suspicion in many disciplines, but not in classical music. A European painter or fashion designer appropriating imagery from, say, China, might be taken to task, but no-one thinks twice about a work like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, inspired by the composer’s desire to capture “oriental music in its natural state”.
Mind you, I think it would be hard to imagine someone taking offence at music that is so far from condescending. It has no clichéd imitations of the sound of muezzins or an Eastern ‘street scene’.
Rather, its thematic source is the 1001 nights and the Sultana’s famous tales of adventure; it paints pictures of sailing on high seas, of princes and princesses.
The NZSO turned in a truly wonderful performance of this piece, under the energetic and passionate – but still controlled – guidance of guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Everything was in balance, the crashing brass phrases given equal weight to the light arabesques of the solitary violin, and the power and energy of the sea-borne movements matched by the calm of the later passages. The shading and colour were magnificent; by the end I felt carried away, much as the composer probably intended, head full of visions of desert sand and ships under sail.
The opening piece of the concert, Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, was also a delight, alternately lush and dancing. More disappointing for me, however, was the second piece, Lalo’s Cello Concerto,
played by visiting young star Johannes Moser. To my ears it’s a strange piece, spotted through with lovely moments and colours but not hanging together as a whole. The last movement, for instance, starts by promising something angular and Gypsy-ish (a sound that Moser brought out very well), but never delivers on that promise.
Despite the NZSO’s best efforts, the piece often felt disconnected and unconvincing. And Moser’s playing in the opening passages was a little too much all-of- one-tone; some more variety and gentleness would have been appreciated. That he has great talent was obvious from his solo encore, the sarabande from one of Bach’s cello suites, which was played with great sensitivity and delicacy, but it didn’t feel as if we’d got to hear the best of his ability.