New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke
Wednesday, July 8
It was good to be back. It might only have been a good concert, rather than a great one. But boy was it good to be back in the Michael Fowler Centre, back listening to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, back attending in-person shows. Not that the NZSO’s streamed performances during lockdown weren’t impressive. But nothing beats being in the room.
First up on Wednesday night was Beethoven’s Emperor piano concerto, with Deirdre Irons as the soloist. Irons’s performance had technical mastery, but also conveyed a sense that she had to concentrate so hard on the technical elements that the interpretation was lacking. The opening was too percussive, and the high, bell-like passages didn’t have the necessary magical feeling. The Emperor needs to sound otherworldly, and this was a very worldly performance.
The interplay between soloist and orchestra could also have been better: in at least one of the rhythmically more demanding passages, the two were clearly not in sync. There were some lovely textures, though, especially in the first movement exposition.
The second-half performance of the Pastoral Symphony was significantly stronger. At times I would have liked greater clarity or a more muscular sense of rhythm. But overall it was beautifully judged, the opening movement full of languor and the murmurings of summer, the later movements featuring thrilling and exciting passages of brass and low strings.
And even if things didn’t quite hit the mark, the applause throughout was warm and generous, a reminder perhaps of just how loved is our national orchestra. It’s going to be a difficult, improvised year for them, as with the country more generally, but they are being welcomed back with open arms – and joined hands.