Monday 24th June

From delicate nuance to stirring finale at CSO's Organic concert (Concert review, The Press)

First published on on 24th June, 2019

Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Organic. 
Conductor Hamish McKeich, with Moye Chen (piano) and Jeremy Woodside (organ). Christchurch Town Hall, 22 June. 

The title "organic" neatly packaged the show with the obvious ingredient of the Rieger organ but contrasting with a sumptuous depiction of a Wellington rainstorm. Sandwiched between the two was a remarkable performance by an accomplished young pianist that was both brilliant and absorbing but also curiously completing the concept of "organic" as I'll explain later.

When a concert features a major new work, especially when it is by a New Zealander, you have to lead with that. Rainphase has already been performed by the NZSO and, having received its debut performance in the US, is programmed for further performances over there later this year by several major orchestras. This intriguing score has put Christchurch composer Salina Fisher firmly on the map with its light evocative textures, adroit depictions of wind and rain and a carefully orchestrated tapestry that told this very Wellington story. Hamish McKeich ensured that every detail and delicate nuance made sense.

Moye Chen became an almost instant favourite with the audience, with expressive playing that made Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no.4 really sing. Chen's agile and silky-smooth touch was elegant and beautifully articulate, his facial expressions and mannerisms also conveying his intent. He really captured the spirit of the piece, with an impeccable technique that made the involved scalic work look so easy, when the reverse is true.

OK, this concerto isn't the composer's best work and its flaws are obvious but what it does do is redefine the relationship between the piano and the orchestra, at times becoming more of an added colour. Chen totally conveyed this, relishing the rhapsodic opening of the second movement but also dancing delicately around the various wind solos in the first. In the orchestra I enjoyed the prominence of the cor anglais in the first movement and the power of the horns in the slow movement.

In Saint-Saens' Symphony No.3 ("Organ Symphony") I love the way you get glimpses of the big tune throughout but how, once you've heard it, you are forever waiting for the massive organ chord that heralds the stirring finale. Jeremy Woodside did an excellent job on the organ, making the most of this impressive moment but also bringing an all-enveloping warmth to the subtler first entry. Here you realise that the boundaries of the orchestra have suddenly expanded exponentially into a quite different sphere. The violins also featured prominently and sounded great as did the piano, again adding that extra dash of colour.