Tuesday 25th September

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Brothers in Arms - review

First published on Press.co.nz on 23rd September 2018

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Brothers in Arms
22nd September 2018, Air Force Museum of NZ
Benjamin Northey Chief Conductor
Andrew Haveron Violin
Jenny Wollerman Soprano

Reviewed by Tony Ryan

Year after year, to my eternal bewilderment, RNZ Concert listeners vote Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending as their favourite musical work, making me wonder if its peaceful complacency somehow provides an antidote (or justifies an apathy?) for the turmoil and brutality of our 21st century world.

Even so, what an impact a live performance of such hushed wonder as we heard from violinist Andrew Haveron and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) can make.

Haveron's restrained and hypnotic expressiveness was matched by the most refined and eloquent playing that I ever remember hearing from this orchestra. Wind solos were simply magical and conductor Benjamin Northey brought a flexibility of phrasing that allowed the soloist's lark to soar freely.

In the context of a concert comprising three works from around 1920 that were, in their different ways, reactions to the war-torn upheaval of Europe, and played here among the killing machines of the Wigram Airforce Museum, 'The Lark' seemed to take on a special poignancy, where peace and tranquillity are just a nostalgic memory.

Opening this concert, Ravel's 'Le Tombeau de Couperin' could hardly project a more different reaction to his wartime experience. Its sense of renewed life and hope are conveyed through a lightness and clarity of texture that, again, brought buoyant and stylish playing from the orchestra, with such vitality and sparkle that the following contrast with Vaughan Williams' aching wistfulness and longing was all the more telling.

The major work on the programme, also by Vaughan Williams, was his glorious 'Symphony No. 3 – Pastoral' which, although rarely played, hit its mark with considerable impact in the hands of Northey and the CSO at the top of their game.

Again, the orchestra communicated both the drama and atmosphere of the work, particularly in the numerous solos, especially from Martin Riseley (violin), Serenity Thurlow (viola), Anthony Ferner (flute) and Alice Yang (horn). And the mesmeric, disembodied and expressively phrased trumpet solo from Thomas Eves, played from a distant part of the venue and somehow communicating the tangible reality of the composer's wartime experience, deserves particular mention.

Jenny Wollerman's equally atmospheric vocal contribution added another special ingredient to the performance, but it was the whole orchestra who deserved the flowers at the end of the evening, and Andrew Haveron's 'Lark Ascending' will remain a very special memory.