Music Alive

Saturday, 25 April 2015
Spirit of Anzac

NZSO spirit of AnzacIt’s not that long since New Zealand and Australia played together... Surprisingly enough, cricket did happen at Gallipoli, most famously as a decoy while forces quietly quit the peninsula.

No sporting spectacles here – but a moving show of musical strength and solidarity for our lost, not forgotten, soldiers – who’d probably have smiled at the cricket analogy. For them, two jointly hosted, trans-Tasman concerts, broadcast close together, a bit like two semi-finals...

Michael Williams and James Ledger are the stand-out names here. Both commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, respectively, to compose works on either side of the Tasman for these two Anzac Centenary memorial concerts.

Letters from the Front by Hamilton-born Michael Williams is based on correspondence from his own great grandfather Arthur Major who was killed in the 3rd battle of Passendale in 1917. Williams found Arthur’s expressions of simple love from a father to his children deeply moving and they form the basis of the narration. His family still has the wallet, complete with cherished family photo, carried by Arthur in the trenches and shot right through by the bullet that killed him. Authorities were so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of dead, Williams believes, that they didn’t even clean off the blood and skin before returning it. The poignancy of family stories like this are what make musical tributes such as Williams’ a must-hear experience.

War Music for choir and orchestra by Perth-based James Ledger uses text by Paul Kelly. These two new works are offset by two familiar, uplifting pieces, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Madeleine Pierard (sop), George Henare (narrator), New Zealand Youth Choir, New Zealand SO/Benjamin Northey

COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common Man; M WILLIAMS: Symphony No 1, Letters from the Front; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; LEDGER: War Music

Recorded in the Michael Fowler Centre by Radio New Zealand Concert and in the Sydney Opera House by the ABC

Coming Up on Music Alive

8:00 pm Thursday 30 April: Sarah Chang

Sarah ChangStill buzzing from Janine Jansen? It’s also superstar Sarah Chang’s first visit to New Zealand. This time we have the Auckland Philharmonia to thank for bringing us another celebrity violinist. Though Jansen and the Tchaikovsky will be a hard act to follow.

American-born Sarah Chang is playing the Dvořák violin concerto which she’s had a long and, we hope, fruitful relationship with, if one early review is to be taken seriously. Back in 2004, a Seen and Heard International critic was scathing about her BBC Proms performance of it with an orchestra from the composer’s homeland, the Czech Philharmonic. “Sarah Chang played with great energy and attack. Unfortunately, Dvořák did not survive this brutal assault and neither did Chang's bow... all three movements were played in the same heavy-handed manner with Chang grotesquely savaging her 1717 Guarneri del Gesù...” The reviewer’s own assault goes on at some length, as he throws up words like “turgid,” “brash” and “ignorant,” before reaching the conclusion: “pretty red dress, shame about the concerto.”

Luckily, we have a counterbalance in the form of reputable classical review mainstay, Gramophone magazine. Chang’s recording of the same concerto, made about the same time, with a different orchestra and conductor, is deemed to be “an outstanding account” and a “warm, powerful reading.” Go figure! She’s more than ten years older than both these reviews now – so it will be interesting to hear what she does with it. Especially with yet another conductor and orchestra.

In charge of the Aucklanders tonight, on a return visit from Poland, is the Krakow Philharmonic’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Director, Michał Dworzyński.

He’ll no doubt bring some Eastern European flair to the Dvořák, which is preceded by a rustic favourite from the same country, Smetana’s overture to The Bartered Bride. We’ll also hear Bizet’s irresistible music from Carmen (yes, a few listeners take exception, we know!) and Ravel’s equally compelling Boléro (ditto!)

Sarah Chang (vln), Auckland Philharmonia/Michal Dworzynski

SMETANA: The Bartered Bride, Overture; DVORÁK: Violin Concerto in A minor Op 53; BIZET: Carmen Suites; RAVEL: Boléro (RNZ)

Recorded in the Auckland Town Hall by Radio New Zealand