23 Apr 2018

Review: NZSO Berlioz, Debussy & Ravel

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 23 April 2018

The programme opened with a world premiere by a young New Zealand composer, Salina Fisher, Tupaia, the first of four NZSO commissioned works for the 250th commemorations of Cook’s voyage on the Endeavour.

Composer Salina Fisher

Composer Salina Fisher Photo: Supplied

Her piece is subtle and lovely, inspired by a map by Tahitian navigator Tupaia and by traditional Polynesian navigation using the sea, swells, currents, wind and stars.

The players have a lot of freedom and the effect is similar to the movement of the ocean and the stars – arrhythmic with no discernible beat.

It begins in dark and ghostly depths, bass drum and low strings and rises organically into the (star)light, ending high in the range using piccolo, flute, violins and metal percussion.

Next came three French works, first Berlioz’s song-cycle Les Nuits d’Été, (Summer Nights), sung by American mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke.

Her voice is wonderful - a big sound and effortless singing, showing great artistry.

Cooke achieved the intimacy these songs require with marvellous, flexible singing and varied vocal colour and de Waart and the NZSO accompanied her with great sensitivity.

Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea) began the second half.

Conductor Edo de Waart revealed both the big canvas of this masterpiece and the individual lines that Debussy paints upon it.

Debussy, like Fisher, was influenced by the movement of the ocean and while not abandoning rhythmic direction, he reduced tonal direction through using whole-tone scales and modes.

Thus far the programme, with its theme of journeys, was thoughtfully curated, so Ravel’s Bolero was a somewhat jarring note in conclusion.

It was an excellent performance, with committed, colourful and impeccable playing.

But through its simplistic and almost bombastic appeal, Bolero threatened to obliterate the subtle beauties that preceded it.