Wednesday 22nd August

Review - Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Myths and Legends

First published on Press.co.nz on 19th August. 

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Myths & Legends. Ashley Brown (Cello) and Helen Webby (harp) with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, conductor Tom Woods. Charles Luney Auditorium, 18 August. Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd.

It was really nice to see the orchestra's chief conductor Emeritus Tom Woods back again taking the orchestra through its paces in a programme that provided plenty of new experiences alongside the more familiar.

Utilising smaller chamber forces for the first half, this was mainly where my curiosity lay with two very different solo performances in two utterly contrasting works.

CSO harpist Helen Webby opened proceedings with Debussy's Sacred and Profane Dances.

A work rarely heard in live performance, it provided an opportunity to highlight just the string section with playing that was subtle and refined.

The intimacy of the venue suited the Debussy perfectly and Webby's performance was excellent, perfectly focussed and balancing well with the strings. I loved the hymn-like quality in the first and the gossamer textures created by her deft fingerwork in the second.

From the moment the drum kit and electronic gear appeared on stage, Gulda's Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra had the audience's attention and Ashley Brown's performance was similarly spellbinding, relishing all the challenges that this musical magpie presented him.

Curious does not begin to describe this eclectic mix of disparate styles, but the weird thing was that somehow Gulda stitched them together in a strangely convincing way.

Brown was all over it and totally committed to the unashamedly romantic melodies and the extreme harmonics. He sailed through the raw jazz riffs and ländler waltzes, washing it all down with a bier kellar march to finish.

Brown's playing was both vigorous and rhapsodic, a real tour de force not only of all the musical styles inherent in the piece but also the instrument's expressive capabilities.

On the technical side of things, I was disappointed that I could barely hear the bass guitar, the acoustic guitar was completely inaudible and the microphone attached to Brown's cello seemed to neither amplify nor enhance. 

There was plenty to enjoy in the second half with the two suites from Grieg's Peer Gynt, standard fare but a pleasurable listen nonetheless. 

In the Hall of the Mountain King was exciting both times, sensibly used as an encore where Solveig's Song doesn't really end the second suite on a high. 

The Death of Åse showcased the strings once more and I liked the aggressiveness of the sudden outbursts in The Abduction of the Bride, the sinuous grace of Anitra's Dance and the piccolo duet in Arabian Dance.