Tuesday 19th June

Review - Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Fear and Courage

Reviewed by Tony Ryan. First published on Press.co.nz on 17th June 2018. 

Benjamin Northey Chief Conductor
Nikolay Khozyainov Piano

'Fear' is a prime element in Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho, although, out of context, this Short Suite for Strings, sounded 'nice', 'amusing' (the famous knife-slashing violins) and 'quirky' rather than expressing anything truly scary.

The movement titles also strike an amusing chord; in the vein of Franck's Prelude, Aria and Finale or Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, this suite from Psycho is Prelude, Murder and Finale.

Despite a revival of interest in Herrmann's film scores, these extracts seemed thin on content, although played with ample commitment from the CSO strings, making them a pleasant enough opening warmer on an appropriately foggy night.

'Courage' might well apply to any pianist prepared to take on Prokofiev's blisteringly virtuosic Third Piano Concerto. But this scintillating masterpiece held no fears for Nikolay Khozyainov. The ease and brilliance of his playing was evident from the start. From rapid passage work, to bravura risk-taking and lyrical expressiveness, Khozyainov won the audience from his first entry to the spectacularly flamboyant ending.

There were a few instances when the excitement of the moment had the soloist racing ahead of the orchestra, but far rather that than taming such exhilarating playing.

Conductor Benjamin Northey proved a flexible and responsive partner, keeping the orchestra alive to, and in character with, every twist and turn of Khozyainov's youthful spontaneity. He may not have the weightier touch that we expect in Prokofiev concertos, but clarity of texture and precision of articulation was all the more telling in Khozyainov's way with the piece. And the audience response said it all, with loud vocal approval and many on their feet.

As we left the venue, all the talk was of the phenomenal concerto performance because, despite a well-structured and disciplined performance of Shostakovich's great Fifth Symphony, it failed to ignite in the way it should. The strings lacked sufficient tonal depth to project the ferocity of Shostakovich's writing, and some of the solos, particularly from flute and horn, needed more firmness of phrasing and intonation.

Benjamin Northey himself seemed, at times, less than wholly committed to the unrelenting intensity of the score, so that the end result emerged as tasteful and restrained rather than fully conveying the context of fear and courage that inspired this colossal symphony.