Wednesday 30th May

Review - Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Sin City, Golden City

First published on on 30th May. Reviewed by Tony Ryan

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Sin City, Golden City
Conductor Gemma New
Piano Michael Houstoun 

I hope the Christchurch Symphony won't completely abandon the Charles Luney Auditorium when the Town Hall is back on stream, because Saturday night's venue was ideal for this imaginative programme.

The concert opened with a positively sizzling performance of Peter Maxwell Davies' Mavis in Las Vegas. The Christchurch Symphony players are always fully at home with jazz-inflected elements and, while Mavis isn't quite as populist in style as, say, certain works by Bernstein or Copland, it's even more inventive in its variety of instrumental effects and contrasting moods.

Myriad atmospheric effects from the busy percussion section included such rarities as flexatone and slide whistle adding to the extraordinarily colourful invention of the piece, although it's a pity we didn't get a real banjo instead of a keyboard substitute; the visual aspect alone would have been worth it.

Pianist Michael Houstoun then joined the orchestra for Lyell Cresswell's Piano Concerto No.2, premiered in Auckland last October. The work starts promisingly with real rhythmic vigour. However, that promise soon disintegrates into introverted dissections of the Bach chorales on which the work is based. One could be forgiven for forgetting, in much of the first movement, that this is actually a concerto, so sparse is the soloist's contribution.

The second movement featured the piano primarily as part of the orchestral texture in a similar way to Stravinsky's use of the piano in parts of Petrushka. And too often I found my attention wandering until recaptured by some of the more dynamic sections of the work. Houstoun's playing certainly demonstrated complete mastery of Cresswell's stylistic manner but, even after repeated listening to the recording of last year's Auckland performance, I still find little artistic nourishment in this concerto.

Mozart's Prague Symphony brought us back to terra firma, and what a performance. Gemma New's fluid, almost extravagant conducting style belied a performance of classical precision, vitality and drama. Every section of the orchestra contributed exceptionally dynamic and stylistic playing, and the wind soloists fully deserved their individual acknowledgements during the audience's enthusiastic reception.