Sunday 11th November

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Review (The Press)

Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Pictures at an Exhibition
Jayson Gillham (piano), with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, conductor Ben Northey.
Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Wigram, November 10. 

First published on on 11th November 2018

Built around the central concept of Mussorgsky's iconic series of symphonic tableaux, this sold out concert marked the end of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra's time at Wigram, one of the venues that has stood in admirably for the Town Hall since the earthquakes.

And what a way to celebrate, with the orchestra in top form, a first-class Kiwi work to open and a brilliant young soloist delivering an impassioned performance of one of the best-loved works in the repertoire.

Jayson Gillham had his work cut out for him. Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto is extremely demanding, emotionally and technically, with the soloist involved most of the time. With feats of musical derring-do that just keep on coming, the stamina required to fully realise this concerto is immense, but it also has to have an air of composure and serenity about it. Gillham certainly achieved both of these extremes, powering through the big chords and ripping through the arpeggios but finding a truly serene space in the slow movement.

Even the accompanying Christchurch Symphony Orchestra appeared astounded by the performance of pianist Jayson Gillham on Saturday night.

Even then, the solo part is a moto perpetuo, never resting but weaving amongst the orchestral textures. The clarinet solo was particularly well done here. The balance in the first few minutes of the first movement saw the piano obscured somewhat, but that soon righted itself as Gillham asserted himself. The horn solo was inch-perfect. Gillham let loose the fireworks in the finale with expansive, broad playing and his focus never let up.

Throughout the performance I was hearing fragments I hadn't picked up before, Gillham really digging down into the detail with an attack that was pristinely clean. Just to rub it in, having taken on one of the toughest pieces out there and knocked it out of the park, Gillham returned to the stage to play Rachmaninov's transcription of Bach's Violin Partita in E major. The expressions on the orchestra players' faces said it all – unabashed admiration and incredulity at the audacity of this gifted young pianist.

Lyell Cresswell's Dancing on a Volcano provided an arresting opening but, in reality, could have had even more edge and bite than it did, sounding a tad polite. The cello quartet did well in establishing the calm before the storm and the understated humour came through in the wind and percussion.

Finally, a big call out to the brass section in Pictures at an Exhibition – they really were front-and-centre in this work and they shone, especially Thomas Eves and Karl Margevka, who both fully deserved their acknowledgement by Ben Northey at the end as the final applause rang out.