Monday, April 20, 2015

Virtuosic piano, then sound and fury

A Sea Symphony
Saturday 18 April 2015
Dunedin Town Hall

City Choir Dunedin and Auckland Choral join the Southern Sinfonia in their production of Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony.

A near capacity audience was enthralled by the wash of sound produced by two large works by inexperienced composers in the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday.

Rachmaninov wrote his Piano Concerto No 1 in F sharp minor when he was just 17 (1890). Its earliest version shows all the the fiery exuberance, the self-indulgent display and confused revelry of adolescence, where melodic repose is merely snatched at.

Pianist Modi Deng's performance showed tremendous virtuosic power, quicksilver speed and as much elegance as can be wrought from the raw work. Her affinity with youthful works, first showcased in her 2010 performance of Chopin's Variations on Mozart's La ci darem la mano, written when Chopin was 19, was again deservedly acclaimed. We look forward to a similar display of her apparent but as yet underexposed expressive strengths.

The Southern Sinfonia was joined by the City Choir Dunedin and the Auckland Choral with guests soprano Anna Leese and baritone Marcin Bronikowski for Vaughan Williams' first symphony, A Sea Symphony (1910), under the direction of Nicholas Braithwaite.

A Sea Symphony washes the audience in sound and conjures images of moody seas.

Both soloists showed remarkable power in making themselves heard against the orchestral storms, thus revealing the work's strength and weakness.

Inevitably, Walt Whitman's fine words are lost in the melee. Though they are printed in the programme, what persists in the ear is the sibilant sounds.

Though performed with uniform dedication producing an enthusiastically received wall of sound, A Sea Symphony remains somewhat frustratingly all sound and fury.

The Southern Sinfonia farewells Stephen Christensen, president of the board, and concertmaster Sydney Manowitz.

The audience acknowledged Manowitz's distinguished and gracious career leadership of 20 years with a unanimous standing ovation, prolonged cheers and stamping feet.

Reviewed for the Otago Daily Times by Marian Poole, 20 April 2015.

Another view on Southern Sinfonia concert

It was a thrilling moment when a massed choir, representing both extremes of the compass of New Zealand, supported by Norma and the forces of the Southern Sinfonia, gave voice to the majestic Sea Symphony on Saturday night at the town hall. If the earth had vibrated at that moment we would not have felt it – such was the excitement of the waves, splashes and power of the sound sweeping over a rapt audience. Great was the contrast provided by the second movement with its delicate tone painting of gossamer-like transparency and the beautiful singing of the baritone soloist in On the Beach Alone at Night. The sea and its extensive moods were well limned throughout a work of much more than mere “sound and fury”. Clearly, not all members of the audience would be in accord with what the reviewer (ODT, 20.4.15) heard and reported about this concert.

As the programme notes made clear, Rachmaninov rewrote his first concerto, smoothing out the “confused revelry of adolescence”, reworking his material into more organic development. Modi Deng grasped this great concerto whole, demonstrating the power and speed that we expect in a performer of her exceptional ability. It was a beautiful and very moving performance. Ms Deng’s poise and wonderful sense of timing showed maturity beyond her years, creating a satisfying performance in all respects. Kudos to Modi Deng, Maestro Braithwaite et al.

John Van Buskirk
North Dunedin

Letter to the the Editor, Otago Daily Times, 21 April 2015.

Reviewed for The Star by Brenda Harwood, 23 April 2015.

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