Review: CSO's New Beginnings

Last updated 12:21 24/02/2014

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The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra's first concert for 2014 was a powerful one indeed. Introduced by Gareth Farr's short fanfare, Te Puna o Waiwhetu, it went on to present two significant major works that left an impression of Farr's fanfare as noisy and trite.

Young British violinist Chloe Hanslip then came on to present a stunning account of the Sibelius Concerto. The opening of this work is magical at any time, with the soloist to the fore against the background of the barely audible orchestral strings. With a technique that appeared to be built in rather than acquired, Hanslip lived inside the music, even when she wasn't playing, feeling through the orchestra and projecting out to the audience. The orchestra responded accordingly under the firm direction of Tom Woods.

But more was to come after the interval, with the first performance of Anthony Ritchie's Fourth Symphony.

Written for the CSO, it is a big work and a big concept. Its poignancy in terms of its theme and the day of its first performance could not be missed. Skilfully structured in one movement of 14 sections, it is based on the 14 sculptures by Llew Summers for the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, and the meditative reflections on those sculptures by Bernadette Hall.

I found it a most moving work, its expressive climax being Station 12, with its references to the opening chorus of Bach's St John Passion. The intensity of Ritchie's own feeling on the destruction of his own town is unmistakable.

But its strength goes well beyond the circumstance, and needs no programme to reveal its power in pure music.

The performance of Jenny Wollerman was a revelation to me. The soloist's role in Ritchie's Symphony is important, and Wollerman sang with sufficient drama to make the point, while emphasising the dignity that the work deserved.

I have often been impressed with the programming of new music by the CSO, and the musicians' ready ability to play it. Their playing of the Ritchie Symphony confirmed it.

New Beginnings. Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, with Chloe Hanslip, violin soloist and Jenny Wollerman, soprano, conducted by Tom Woods. Wigram Air Force Museum, Saturday, February 22.

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