Review: Orchestra Wellington revels in Ravel, Quartet playing 'superb'

Orchestra Wellington  and conductor Marc Taddei rose to the challenge of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe.
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Orchestra Wellington and conductor Marc Taddei rose to the challenge of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe.

Orchestra Wellington conducted by Marc Taddei with Stephen de Pledge (piano), Orpheus Choir, Music by Schumann and Ravel, Michael Fowler Centre, August 5; Takacs Quartet (Edward Dubsinberre, Karoly Schranz, Geraldine Walther, Andras Fejer), Music by Haydn, Ritchie, Webern and Dvorak, Michael Fowler Centre August 4.

Orchestra Wellington's latest outing was an important concert. It was, I'm fairly certain, the first time that Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe has been performed in its entirety in New Zealand, and it was not done by our finest orchestra, the NZSO, but by a local orchestra with much more limited resources.

Given that this glittering score is one of the most opulent scores in the whole orchestral repertoire the challenges were clearly formidable. But under Marc Taddei's baton most of Ravels' demands were met. Yes, in an ideal world there would have been more strings but those on stage played their collective hearts out; it was only in the most expansive of Ravel's heady climaxes that one missed a body of string sound.

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But the playing from the impressive brass and percussion sections was stunningly sure, and the wind section, apart from an occasional lack of projection, were also impressively stylish.

The Orpheus Choir, with their many wordless moments were a major contributor to the unique sound the audience experienced. An amazing achievement, yet there was not a RNZ Concert microphone in sight! This was a major artistic oversight.

The first half was not as impressive. Ravel's orchestration of part of Schumann's piano work Carnaval is not especially interesting, and the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor received a performance that was a touch disappointing.

I am a great admirer of the playing of Stephen de Pledge but here I felt his playing was lacking in style. The essential Schumann sound was missing with much clumsy playing. I suspect that this concerto has not quite bedded into his repertoire. But this evening belonged to that extraordinary Daphnis and Chloe.

Meanwhile, The Takacs Quartet has visited New Zealand several times before and, as they are one of the finest chamber groups around, it goes without saying that it was as predictable as night following day that the playing would be absolutely superb.

Nothing changes; the polish, the uncanny sense of style, that clarity of inner parts, it was all there – just as it had been on all their previous visits. The programme was book-ended by quartets from the heart of the string quartet repertoire – Haydn's String Quartet No. 64 in D Major from 1797 opened the concert and Dvorak's String Quartet No. 14 in A flat Major from 1896 finished the evening, and both were played as well as one could wish.

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But it was the other two works that provided the greatest interest. Anthony Ritchies' Whakatipua is a short, beautifully shaded, from dawn to dusk, picture of Queenstown. Composed over 20 years ago it reveals that, even then, Ritchie was a master of colour and economy.

Most intriguing of all, though, was a rare hearing of Langsamer Satz by Anton Webern. Composed when he was 22 years old, this "slow movement" shows the young composer under the influence of Gustav Mahler.

Beautifully put together, this is no trifle from a composer who became the most uncompromising of Schoenberg's disciples, but rather a lovely, skilful, piece from the end of German Romanticism. 

 - Stuff

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