Electrifying Firebird from the NZSO

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
The Audi Concerts; The Firebird
Auckland Town Hall
April 18


The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on Saturday gave one of its inspirational performances, featuring one of the great 20th-century ballet scores and an impressive 19th-century song cycle.

Stravinsky’s music for the The Firebird straddles the classical and modernist traditions in ballet and music and, like many of the great ballet scores, has a life of its own when performed as a concert work.

The Russian fable of good and evil combines realism with magic, and this is reflected in the music with brilliantly evocative sounds, from the whispering and growls of the opening to the finale with its cacophony of sound. 

The music is continually evolving, providing description of characters, events and landscapes.

Allied to this was the way which various sections of the orchestra played their sequences.

It gave the appearance of the orchestra becoming a fluid, flexing entity magically transformed into something of a ballet itself.

Conductor Inkinen appeared to carefully assembling the music, sometimes nonchalantly, sometimes sensitively and delicately, and at other times aggressively.

This added to the drama and inventiveness of the work.

The other major work on the programme was Gustav Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, the song cycle inspired by an unhappy love affair.

The songs are simple expressions of love, despair and reflections on nature.

The music expresses a range of emotions, with the percussion strings, woodwinds and brass creating distinctive sounds reflecting these.

American mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke's astounding voice was captivating, providing the right level to convey the emotions of the words.

She moved seamlessly from the light and effervescent to the achingly nostalgic and fateful wretchedness.

She was able to combine sadness mixed with a sense of hope, the idealism of youth with the reflection of age.

Ms Cooke appeared totally in control of her presentation, never straining against the music or overwhelmed by it.

Her bearing on stage also contributed much to her performance, with her posture and occasional arm and hand movements adding to the delivery.

The first work on the programme was Lilburn’s Symphony No 3, sounding as fresh and vibrant as it was when first performed 50 years ago.

The luscious tonal landscapes which are flecked through the stabbing sounds is a fine example of the composer escaping from the confines of traditional music with forays into modernism.

Next NZSO concert:

For The Fallen
Mendelssohn, Hebrides Overture
Elgar, Cello Concerto
Schumann, Symphony No 4

Wellington, May 4
Napier, May 9
Hamilton, May 11
Auckland, May 12