Italian Holiday - NZSO play Berlioz’ Travels in Italy
By Max Rashbrooke
The NZSO welcomed back music director emeritus James Judd for a concert of Italian-themed music, and a real treat it was. Under his guidance the orchestra produced a strong, rich sound, especially in the opening movement of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, the menacing lines of the double basses being a notable feature.
Soloist Antoine Tamestit was also a wonderful performer. Normally I’d have found some of his mannerisms – especially his wandering around the orchestra in between playing – a little irritating, but they felt perfectly judged for a piece all about the joy and variety of travel. Tamestit displayed exceptional variety, summoning up both rich, burnished sounds but also a real edginess.
The second movement of the Berlioz was also good, though with the odd lapse in timing from the horns, and could perhaps have been a fraction slower to bring out the solemnity of the pilgrims’ march. The third movement was lively, noble and charming, with a hushed sense of awe, a fitting prelude to the driving energy and clamour of the last movement. As if Tamestit hadn’t delighted us enough, he then played a complex, technically demanding Paul Hindemith piece as an encore.
After the interval, Elgar’s In the South (Alassio) was a triumph, Judd reminding us of the musical sympathy he obviously feels for his countryman. The interplay between the woodwinds and the strings was a particular delight, and the playing overall was highly evocative; in the quieter times one could imagine the themes dying away amidst Italian ruins, or subsiding into sunshine.
There was no let-up in the quality, as the concert finished with Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, based on the tale, from Dante’s Inferno, of the adulterous Francesca and Paolo. The impact of the whirling strings and crashing brass, interspersed with moments of almost unbearable sadness from the woodwinds, was something not to be forgotten.