I remember a time when to include a contemporary item in a Christchurch Symphony Orchestra concert was to guarantee a poor performance and a small audience. This has all changed with skilful programming and strong artistic leadership.
Saturday's concert was yet another triumph for the CSO, not merely appreciated, but actively enjoyed. The only misjudgment was with the opening item, Bach's sixth Brandenburg Concerto. It is difficult enough to present as a chamber piece, authentic as that may have been. But to do so in a large venue with modern instruments is to ensure a minimal result from the hard work of a handful of stringed players, minus violins.
The rest of the concert was great. I'm not sure of the significance of the "Love and Loss" caption but that hardly mattered once the large orchestra was on stage.
The Russian Alfred Schnittke was uncompromising in his demands on both soloists and orchestra in his Concerto Grosso No 2. Mark Menzies and Ashley Brown lived up to the promises of their Christchurch student days, and played the solo parts as one would expect from the internationally acclaimed artists that they now are. The fourth movement was magical in its gentle constraint, while the second and third allowed the soloists little respite from Scnittke's constant technical demands.
Under the firm direction of Tom Woods the orchestra negotiated the often complex score with concentration and commitment.
It wasn't so long ago that Stravinsky's Petrouchka was considered fearfully dissonant and unapproachable. It is now firmly in the standard repertoire, and the CSO played it with the confidence it deserves. Their performance on Saturday transported the unlikely setting of historical aircraft to a Russian fairground with its puppetry in a rich Russian folk tradition.
Love and Loss. Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, with soloists Mark Menzies, violin and Ashley Brown, cello. Conducted by Tom Woods. Wigram Air Force Museum, Saturday night, 14 June.
- The Press