Superb NZSO concert featuring works by Mozart and Mahler

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Mozart, Concerto for Two Pianos
Mahler, Symphony No 5
Auckland Town Hall

Many of the great composers produce musical works which have strong personal connections, an autobiographical link which can give the work an added interest. The latest NZSO concert showed that aspect in both the Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos and Mahler’s Symphony No 5.

Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos was composed as a work to be played by the composer and his sister Nannerl. It was presumably intended to show off the respective skills of the brother and sister. The Chinese American sister duo of Christine and Michelle Naughton certainly managed to follow in their footsteps with an inspired display. The composition highlights Mozart as the great showman and the sisters played the work with a mixture of technical wizardry and playfulness.

A lot of the time the women mirrored each other in their playing technique and their gestures, at other times there was more of a tennis match between the pair as they batted melodies between each other. They were well supported by the orchestra though at times they seemed to delight in trying to overpower the orchestra with some bravura playing.

One of the impressive things about Mahler’s music is that the man looms out of the music. He is present at these performances, with the conductor becoming his alter ego and we are presented with the man and his struggle to express himself through his music in a way few other composers manage to do.

Mahler had a relationship with Sigmund Freud both as a client as well as friend and in Symphony No 5 much of the time the music appears to be attempts to understand his inner psychological states.

While it is an autobiographical work exploring the composer’s personality, there are parallel themes as he depicts narratives, landscapes and explores emotions.

The measure of a great performance is the way in which that is realized by the conductor and the orchestra. Edo de Waart and the NZSO certainly achieved it with an intelligent and emotional performance.

Mahler’s symphonies have so much drama and invention and contrasts that it would probably easy for them to be conducted without too much control. Mr De Waart, however, was quite clear in controlling the orchestra so subtle nuances were made evident and individual instruments were allowed to shine. Even the long silences he allowed between the movements became part of the music, allowing the audience to reflect on each of the previous movements.

De Waart managed to give the opening funereal march a sense of desolation as well as allowing it to have a romantic reflective mood. In the second movement he handled the nightmarish reckless drama as it morphed into quiet reverie, bringing out nuances and subtleties that seemed to explore the tragedy and triumphs of human and personal history and he allowed the interweaving of the solo violin, the brass and the strings to give the work an intense melancholy.

The final two movements, which included the famous adagio for strings which is considered to be something of a love letter to his future wife Alma Schindler, were delivered perfectly filled with an aching sense of loss and love, culminating in a brilliantly controlled finale.

Future NZSO concerts

Berlioz, Debussy & Ravel
Salina Fisher, Tupaia (world premiere)
Berlioz, Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
Debussy, La mer
Ravel, Boléro
Hamilton April 19, Auckland April 20, Wellington April 21

Bernstein at 100
A programme that will include music and songs from On the Town, Peter Pan, On the Waterfront, Candide and West Side Story.
Wellington May 11, Auckland May 18

The Four Seasons
Vivaldi, The Four Seasons, Op. 8 Nos. 1-4
Berlioz, Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9
Respighi, Pines of Rome
Wellington May 12, Auckland May 19