Review: Beethoven and Beyond

DAVID SELL
Last updated 09:49 26/05/2014

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The series as a whole offered a worthwhile perspective of musical innovation.

Like any innovation, it was sometimes successful and sometimes not. Each of the three concerts consisted of a symphony and concerto by Beethoven, together with something modern and unfamiliar.

By way of introduction, Tom Woods reminded us that Beethoven's music was once modern and unfamiliar, and received with the same range of audience tolerance - or not - as we react to something new today.

I would add that not all of Beethoven was great, either, as I was reminded on hearing his Eighth Symphony, that it is an uneven work, and that this in itself warrants renewed contemplation.

Perhaps unfamiliarity had something to do with it, because in contrast there was no doubt that the Fifth Piano Concerto is a work of consistent strength. Henry Wong Doe gave it a firm and honest performance, although his flamboyance often became intrusive rather than expressive.

The new piece in this concert was Signature, by the Finnish composer Sampo Haapamki. It opened the question of whether there is an intrinsic virtue in virtuosity. I struggled in vain to find musical sense beyond the many outmoded devices that the composer asked of his performers. There were nice sounds and nasty sounds, instruments playing at the extremes of their registers, making funny sounds, and interacting with each other in unexpected ways.

Signatures sounded and looked as though it was difficult to play. And the programme note told us so. But neither the programme note nor the performance itself revealed anything much of musical interest.

Had the emperor merely put on some new clothes?

Having said this, however, I strongly commend the CSO for programming music of this kind that extends the skills of its players and takes risks of critical opprobrium.

Beethoven and Beyond, presented by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, with piano soloist, Henry Wong Doe, conducted by Tom Woods. The third concert of three, Saturday night, May 24, in the Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret's College.

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- The Press

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