In the time of the greats
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Saturday, 24 October
Mozart (born 1756), Haydn (1732) and Beethoven (1770) are three great way-markers in the path of classical music, although here – in the order presented in this concert – slightly out of sequence.
A distinctly shorter concert than the preceding Monumental, though by no means insubstantial, this one began with Mozart’s famous Symphony No. 40, the legacy of which lives on in the ringtones of countless Boomers. I loved the opening: crisp, well-articulated and thoughtful, it had something of a chamber-music feel and a brisk but not breakneck tempo.
In the second movement, by contrast, something was missing. The parts didn’t feel quite integrated, and the whole lacked the otherworldly gentleness it would ideally have possessed. All was well in the third movement, however, some lovely rising lines in the woodwinds competing for attention with the vigour and warmth of the strings. And the finale was like a splendid joyride, thrilling but not bombastic.
After the interval, Haydn’s Symphony No. 64, subtitled Tempora Mutantur, was gracious and well-balanced, expertly handled by conductor Hamish McKeich. But the real highlight of the second half was Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, a startlingly modern work that is both utterly compelling and at times, strangely difficult to listen to.
In McKeich’s masterful hands, the orchestra produced a performance of superb dynamic control, the playing warm and rounded even in the quietest passages. Throughout they created the sense of a series of interlocking worlds, each contained within the other like the Russian dolls we used to cherish as children. Like all the best playing, it seems like it could even suspend time.