Monday 26th March

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Pathétique - Review

Photo: Jeffery Wen

Reviewed by Christopher Moore
First published on

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra with Tony Chen Lin (piano)
Charles Luney Auditorium, March 24

This was Tony Chen Lin's big night, but the lanky Chinese-New Zealander showed few signs of nerves as he walked on stage at Christchurch's Charles Luney Auditorium on Saturday.

This was a return home for Lin, who won the Christchurch Junior Concerto at the age of 14, before graduating from the University of Canterbury with string of accolades and moving to Europe to complete his classical music studies.

Now he was back to make his professional debut with the CSO. Greeting him was conductor Benjamin Northey, a full house and one of the most demanding piano concertos in the repertoire – Maurice Ravel's dazzling Piano Concerto in G major.

Unfazed, Lin conquered this seductive Gallic siren in a fastidious, yet full-blooded performance, marked by total control and diamond-hard precision. It was also a partnership made in musical heaven, as the CSO and Lin together tackled Ravel's slightly louche jazz inspired moods with exceptional clarity and control. Lin played the wistful slow movement with such sensual intensity that you could almost sense an audience holding its collective breath, perhaps hoping that this moment of bewitching musical magic would never end. Of course it did, followed by the concerto's infectiously rumbustious final movement, followed by rapturous applause and Chen Lin's pristine interpretation of Bach as an encore.

The evening had begun with New Zealand composer Leonie Holmes' Ancient Rhythms, with its equally complex mesh of rhythms and textures. It's an absorbing piece and the CSO tackled it with aplomb, taking the music's rapid-fire shifts in its stride to deliver an absorbing performance and reinforcing its reputation for delivering contemporary New Zealand music with intelligence and confidence.

The concert ended with Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony (Pathetique). This is a big-boned composition, which demands an equally robust orchestral sound. Tchaikovsky's lush emotions can easily become the stuff of a B-grade film score, but the CSO entered this emotional hothouse with resounding bravura and power, especially in the swaggering third movement, before finally sending the work trudging into a melancholy Russian night in a deeply felt interpretation of the adagio lamentoso.

Emoting has never sounded as good as this.