New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Lazarev, with Alexander Melnikov (piano).
Music by Rachmaninov, Schumann and Shostakovich
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, May 17
Reviewed by John Button
It was only after this concert that I realised that the title of the programme, Russian Fire, didn't refer to the works played but rather to the conductor, Alexander Lazarev.
None of the works was fiery exactly, and one was not even Russian, but Lazarev with his exuberant personality, his take-no-prisoners conducting style and his sense of theatre after each work, were all "Russian fire".
The early Rachmaninov piece, Caprice Bohemien, gives little hint of his later mastery of the orchestra, being full of exuberant ideas going nowhere, and even with the ardent advocacy of Lazarev and some fine playing it made little impression.
The Schumann A Minor Piano Concerto is a lovable work; not really typical of the finest Schumann but with an abundance of poetry. It is hard to bring off, and the approach of masterly pianist Alexander Melnikov was to highlight dynamics and to indulge the poetic moments. It was highly individual and effective playing but, as his brief Prokofiev encore showed, this concert would have made more sense with a Russian concerto – a Nicholas Medtner concerto, for example.
Shostakovich's final symphony – No 15 – was composed in hospital in 1971, and its valedictory air, and many quotes from both his own works and the likes of Rossini and Wagner, have been a point of discussion ever since. Intriguingly scored, it is a dark work, for all the "toy shop" allusions of the first movement and its skittish allegretto. There are clearly moments of regret and anger in the long second movement, and a fascinating use of "clip-clop" percussion to quietly end the work. The work is no stranger to Wellington – John Hopkins conducted it here as early as 1975 – but Lazarev gave us a vision, delivered with superb playing from the orchestra, that was electrifying. Not even his extended hijinx with individual players at the work's end could hide the quality. It made a fitting farewell for long-time viola player Peter van Drimmelen.
- The Dominion Post