Here are the Top 30 favourite classical music pieces as voted for by RNZ Concert listeners in Settling The Score 2023, and what people love about them.
Settling The Score 2023 is a big year for New Zealand composers. It might be the first time we've seen four local compositions in the top thirty, it is certainly the first time homegrown works have taken first and second place.
1. O Magnum Mysterium by Chris ARTLEY [NZ]
Burnside High School Senior Chorale, Conductor Susan Densem, Accompanist Lixin Zhang at The Big Sing 2015.
The magic of Christmas and the incarnation of Jesus are beautifully blended in the music of this choral piece, which Artley composed for the Nelson Summer School Choir 2013. Chris Artley is a multi award-winning composer with competition successes in Canada, USA, Japan, Czech Republic, Germany, England, Spain and New Zealand. Find out more about Chris Artley on the SOUNZ website.
People who chose this piece for Settling The Score, which included a bunch of votes from Whanganui Collegiate, said things like:
"Absolutely beautiful. We sing it in the New Zealand Secondary Students Choir and I feel honoured everytime we perform it. It’s one of those pieces which seem to make everyone in the audience shiver and maybe even cry." - Sonni, Auckland
"Beautiful choral writing with a wonderful text. Chris Artley brings the birth of Christ alive in this beautiful setting. I can picture the animals in the stable and the miraculous birth. The build up of the 8 part texture with the blooming crescendos reflects the majesty of the birth." - Sue from Christchurch.
Samar of Auckland says: "Brilliant song with great structure and harmonies. I had the privilege of singing this with the New Zealand Secondary Students Choir and it was amazing."
"A marvellously rich, warm and expansive piece that conveys the wonder of the Nativity scene very well indeed. The overlapping of harmonies, expressive detail in dynamics, and the fluidity of the music are beautifully written. Beautifully performed too! Bravo, Chris Artley!" - Iain, Whanganui
"I have had the privilege of performing and/or conducting a number of Chris’ wonderful compositions and all my choirs have just loved singing his pieces. O Magnum is one of his finest - beautifully crafted, immediately appealing to performer and listener alike and so accessible. That he is one of our “living treasures” is even more special!" - Gina from Clevedon.
2. Hansel and Gretel, Ballet by Claire COWAN [NZ]
This 2019 Royal New Zealand Ballet commissioned Claire Cowan to write the score for Hansel and Gretel in 2019, she became the first woman in NZ to compose a full-length ballet, and one of only a handful of women worldwide to do so. Her brilliant score won the hearts of nearly 30,000 ballet fans, who flocked to sold out theatres around the country over the five week tour.
Claire Cowan is a composer and performer based in Auckland whose career in music encompasses concert, screen and theatre. Claire is an experienced orchestrator and symphonic writer, having worked with many of New Zealand’s leading orchestras, theatre companies, television productions, dance companies, and classical/pop crossovers, as well as her own performance project The Blackbird Ensemble. Find out more about Claire Cowan on the SOUNZ website
Voters said of Hansel and Gretel:
"Fresh and exciting score. Touches the heart and leaves me smiling. Witty and full of surprises, complements the ballet superbly.' - Joyce
"I fell in love with the music for the RNZB's version of Hansel and Gretel when I went to watch it in Chch. A few months later and we were in lockdown, During that time the RNZB offered a video recording of the ballet online. I didn't watch it for the dancing, I watched it in order to hear the music over and over.' - Anon
"Beautiful piece, emotionally inspiring, creative in its use of multiple musical formats, young and vibrant composer, NZ-based, clearly going places internationally."– Anne, Hawke's Bay
"Great New composition from a fabulous Young composer: Cowans music is founded on classical traditions, but she also brings in a contemporary espirit and flair." - Oystein from Oslo, Norway.
"Throughout the ballet, the score cleverly lifts the audience into the fantasy on stage. Listening to the music alone, I realised it lifted me into another place. Quite magical." - Doug in Nelson
- A second Claire Cowan piece Ultra Violet is at number 20 in this countdown.
3. The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace (Including the Benedictus) by Karl JENKINS
Last year's #1 claims the third spot this year. This piece by Welshman Karl Jenkins dates from 2000. Commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum it is essentially an anti-war work, drawing on the text of the Latin mass as well as texts from other religions.
People who chose The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace said:
"I remember hearing [the Benedictus] played at a concert at Wellington Cathedral of St Paul in memory of those killed and injured in the Christchurch mosque attacks. It was a stunningly beautiful cello solo, and it will forever be linked in my mind to that moment." - Lucy from Wellington
"Gosh - where do you start with is work. It’s overwhelming in its majesty and pathos, particularly the Benedictus. I can listen to it over and over again without tiring of it. The work is so special." - Jan, Waipawa, Central Hawkes Bay
"It is meaningful for all of us now in a world divided by inequity and war when it need not be." - Jonathan W Dunedin
"Hauntingly beautiful. And so relevant today." - Philippa, Wellington
"I have sung this and it encompasses old and new in a very moving way. I especially love the exortation to Grant us Peace at the end." - Kathy form Cashmere
4. The Lark Ascending by VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
Infamous as the STS winner, the Lark Ascends to #4, and remains loved by many:
"I feel the freedom of the lark, higher and higher singing to celebrate the space she has to be free. The music is delicate but strong like a bird, it soars with finesse and the notes echo the birds song." - Susannah from Shannon
"I have always loved this piece. The build up is so beautiful, the liquid sound so evocative of the lark soaring, dipping and diving in a clear blue sky. It lifts my spirit effortlessly." - Marquita, Orewa
"Such a relaxing piece. It conveys movement, tranquillity and the image, of flight. If requires considerable skill to perform." - Jane, from Christchurch
"For its deceptive simplicity, it’s haunting replication of the lark’s song AND flight, and its expansion of a beautiful literary device into an even more beautiful musical form." - Chris, Pelorus Sound
"It is the most beautiful piece of music. When turning the volume up you can hear the undercurrent from the strings which is also very beautiful." - Phyllis from New Plymouth
5. RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor Op 18
"This piece reminds me of driving from Dunedin to Queenstown; especially as you drive up and up until you see a vast vista of splendour. Quiet and moving; passionate and driving; full of lush and full of beauty." - Patrick, Wellington
"An amazing contest between piano and the orchestra with some sublime melodies." - Richard from Christchurch.
"I have always loved piano and orchestra, and this is the first piano concerto I got to know and love." It contains several beautiful melodies. - Dale MacLeod, Geraldine
"The mammoth of piano music writing. This concerto is always fresh and perhaps some of the most heartwarming harmonies ever written." – Adrian
"Tempestuous, energetic, all the emotions you could have bound up in this brilliant, moving piece of music." - Sue from Miramar, Wellington
"The concerto is so virtuosic, its romantic melodies are incredibly captivating, and the piece carries such emotional depth and intensity." - Joerg from Dunedin
6. BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No 5 in Eb Op 73, Emperor
"I use the adagio from the Emperor concerto as my alarm as it is a lovely gentle way to be awoken, however if I am not in a super hurry, I am often tempted to listen to the whole piece rather than getting out of bed!" - Anna from Auckland
"As a school boy I attended piano training for six year but was never a good pianist I would have been so pleased and proud to have had the ability to play in this wonderful Concerto.. For me it was the pinnacle of Beethoven's piano works." - Cliff from South Otago
"When I hear this music tears stream unbidden down my face. It is five years since my beloved husband died, my heart aches with sadness during the second movement. And still... Beethoven manages to persuade me to continue listening, to keep on going to the end, when the mood lightens." - Marie-Therese from Christchurch
"The Emperor has always made my heart soar.I love the way each movement merges especially building into the rondo. Maybe I love it because of its association with some pleasurable and poignant moments in my life. It is and always will be a stunner to me." - Jan, Waipawa
7. ALLEGRI: Miserere mei, Deus
"The first time I heard this was three years ago and the glorious top notes made the hair on my neck stand up. Beyond beautiful and every time I hear it I stop breathing." - Ken from Christchurch
"Beauty of unaccompanied singing. I’ve visited the Sistine Chapel, and when I hear the music it reminds me of the chapel it was composed for." - Rogan, Auckland
"Have been fortunate enough to have sung this in a Cathedral choir and it is an extraordinary experience to create this glorious sound with others as it accentuates the beautiful text." - Clare, Upper Hutt
"Beautiful, serene music that raises the spirit. If there is music in heaven this must surely be the sound!" - Mark from Hamilton
8. ELGAR: Enigma Variations (including Nimrod & Lux Aeterna)
"A great composition by one of England's great composers. It is so evocative of Nimrod the mighty hunter in the Bible. It appeals to my inner self so tangibly." - Anthony From Howick
"Lovely tuba part. Meaningful and challenging. The transition into nimrod is spine tingling." - Kerry
"Nimrod was played at my sons wedding by a small orchestra as his bride walked down the aisle" - Peter from Nelson
"Elgar is my heritage epitomizing the scientific and social improvements the Victorians brought to the world." - Neil from the romantic Wairarapa
9. ELGAR: Cello Concerto in E minor Op 85
"Composed after WW1 plus with the every increasing industrialisation of England, it has a wistfulness for a past forever lost. It is stunningly beautiful in its phrasing that melts my heart every time I hear it." – Christine, Christchurch
"The cello is my favourite instrument, and Elgar conjures up melancholy and humanity is this work, and combines it with a sense of human yearning for something that is always just beyond our reach. I could listen to it every day and always find something new in it." - Lucy from Wellington
"After scratching at the strings on a cello in the school orchestra, Jacqueline Du Pre's 'definitive' interpretation of the Elgar Concerto was an amazing example of how beautifully the instrument could be played and it became an instant favourite." - Stephen from Kerikeri
"A great piece to mow the lawn to." - Marcus from Christchurch
10. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
"Stunning as a recording, seeing the NZSO play it at last year’s concert for Ukraine took it to a new level." - Stephen from Lower Hutt
"A beautiful and powerful piece of music that I feel all the way down to my toes." - Liz from Christchurch
"It is an extraordinary piece of music. I think of his friends, who were so moved by its first performance at Gloucester Cathedral in 1910 that they walked for hours in the darkness." – Anon
"The first LP I bought. Impressed my boyfriend and led to a happy 44 year marriage." - Jo from Miramar
11. Requiem by Victoria KELLY [NZ]
Commissioned by the Auckland Arts Festival, Victoria Kelly's brand new Requiem was recently awarded the SOUNZ Contemporary Silver Scroll for best New Zealand composition for 2023. Now RNZ Concert listeners have lifted her piece into the Top 30 without it being on the voting list.
Voters who gave Kelly's Requiem as their free choice say:
"I feel that Kelly, O'Neill and Hunt have just nailed the numinous quality of the story. Kelly's composition is so brave and true, O'Neill's falsetto so interesting and otherworldly, and Hunt, well, he is always his stand-out self." - Christine in the Waitakeres
"A powerful new piece by a New Zealand composer that both encapsulates personal experience and marks our era." - Jojo from Tāmaki Makaurau
"The most beautiful, original and moving piece of music I have heard all year." – Vicky, Wellington
"I heard the preview tracks with Simon O'Neill and Anika Moa and was blown away by the vulnerability of the artists and the beauty and emotion of the music. It's been especially poignant to listen to this in the wake of my own father's death." – Clarissa
"Simon O’Neill singing falsetto is just exquisitely moving, lyrics profound and music so evocative." - Anne from Wellington.
12. BEETHOVEN: Symphony No 9 in D minor Op 125, Choral (Ode to Joy)
"An eruption of total joy which captures me every time. If this piece is playing when I'm driving, I've been known to stop the car to listen. My passenger grandchildren have been given a mini lecture about "Mr Beethoven" and encouraged to sit still and listen with me." - Marie-Therese from Christchurch
"To have this in one’s ears is akin to touching glory." - Ashley from Matata
"I adore this piece, as the music is so rich and full of JOY. A perfect antidote for troubled times. It signals HOPE for now and the future." - Georgia, Auckland
13. RODRIGO: Concierto de Aranjuez
"I will never forget the first time that I heard this being played on RNZ Concert as I was driving home from work aged in my 20s. Even when I reached my destination, I had to stay in the car and listen to it through to the end. The guitar is such an emotive and under-utilised instrument in the orchestral world!" - Helen from Dunedin
"A garden of delights that moves and lifts the heart." - Dana from Whanganui
"As a teenager, I listened to this while on the desert road with friends. We had stopped the car and listened. It was a dark starry night, and the stars were magnificent. I was always remember this time and place when I hear this music." - Sue from Miramar
14. STRAUSS, RICHARD: Four Last Songs
"I like the last song because for me it describes an old person remembering their development as a passionate human, their spirit (the flute) celebrating their midlife triumphs and the at the end eager to be free of the body as it passes out of this mortal life." - Robert from Blenheim
"These songs are exquisitely beautiful- almost unbelievably so! When I hear them I feel moved to tears for the joy and beauty!" – Leith, Christchurch
15. PART, Arvo: Spiegel im Spiegel
"There is so much space in this piece. It is so cleverly simple, that I can be with every note. It evokes peace and calm within me." - Christine in the Waitakeres
"Reflective and serene; I find deep peace and comfort in bathing in this meditative creation." - Karina, from Marton
"It's sad and I love sad music. I want it to be played at my funeral and there won't be a dry eye in the house!" - Bridget W