Monday 29th July

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Spirit of Adventure - Review

Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd. First published on on 28th July, 2019.

Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Spirit of Adventure
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra with Lev Sivkov (cello), Chief conductor Benjamin Northey. Douglas Lilburn Auditorium, Town Hall, 27 July. Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd.

It is a rare thing indeed to hear a New Zealand symphony and good on the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra for commissioning Gareth Farr to write this work celebrating the centenary of Sir Edmund Hillary's birth.

Roar of A Thousand Tigers was made even more special by having its composer in the house to take the considerable applause from an audience it had clearly wowed. The large battery of percussion one would normally associate with Farr's work was well used, as was his love of strident, arresting brass, but I detected a more conservative approach with language more akin to a Hollywood movie score.

Was I disappointed? Well, yes, I was rather and that pains me to say as I admire Farr and his work enormously but, at times, it felt formulaic, with vital structural elements missing. It just didn't gel for me but there were some lovely sounds along the way and unusual blends of instruments to create engaging textures in ways only Farr can.

Aside from my reservations about the piece, the orchestra did a fantastic job presenting it to the world. The percussionists were on show, naturally, and stole it, especially Mark La Roche on timpani. Clarinettist David McGregor handled his considerable solo work very well, and there were also sound cameos by solo cello, piccolo and cor anglais.

This was a night cellist Lev Sivkov will remember for probably the wrong reason, for in all my years performing and reviewing I have never seen a soloist break a bow.

Slipping out of his hand as he switched from bowing to pizzicato, I think it snapped as it hit the edge of the podium but I can't be sure. As conductor Ben Northey said, "It was going so well!" and it was.

Applying the rule that it is 5 per cent what happens and 95 per cent how you deal with it, Sivkov recovered his composure and picked up where he left off after retrieving another bow from backstage. To do this in the midst of an emotionally charged work like the Elgar Concerto is hard, but Sivkov got right back into the headspace and settled back to deliver a performance that had depth and feeling.

The Adagio is one of Elgar's most soul-searching and beautiful creations and Sivkov proved he was certainly the man for the job. In the final movement Sivkov blended intensity with playful virtuosity, building to a powerful conclusion.

Neatly topping-and-tailing with the Farr, Lilburn's evergreen Aotearoa Overture opened the concert. As fresh as ever with iconic woodwind chords heralding what came to be the defining voice for a generation of New Zealand composition, this was a clean, unfussy performance by the orchestra.