Concert review: Pianomania a real crowd-pleaser

Freddy Kempf traced the history of the piano concerto from Handel to Gershwin in Pianomania.
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Freddy Kempf traced the history of the piano concerto from Handel to Gershwin in Pianomania.

Pianomania, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with Freddy Kempf (piano, conductor), Michael Fowler Centre, September 23.


Marketing has not always been a strong suit for the NZSO recently, but with Pianomania they hit the jackpot.

In this, the final of a seven city tour, the hall was fuller than it has been of late, and this apparently followed a string of full houses.

It was not a concert for purists, but it drew an enthusiastic response as pianist Freddy Kempf traced the history of the piano concerto from Handel to Gershwin.

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With members of the orchestra introducing each piece, and with Kempf conducting from the keyboard, this was a personalised concert and the audience loved it all. It didn't seem to matter that in only two pieces did we a hear a work in its entirety – and neither of those was, strictly speaking, a concerto.

Purists would have hated the arrangement from an organ concerto in the two movements of an early Handel work, and the slow movement from Mozart's Piano Concerto No.21 K467 sounded unbalanced away from its outer movements.

And the dull Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brilliante by Chopin has no orchestra in its first part and practically no orchestra in its second part. But none of this mattered for the audience.

The final movement from Mendelssohn's First Piano Concerto and the slow movement for Rachmaninov's ever popular Second Piano Concerto went down well and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was a rousing finale.

Kempf is no stranger to us, having been here in 2010, 2012 and 2015 and his conducting from the keyboard is more natural than it was with Beethoven in 2015. The orchestra played well, if not absolutely superbly, and the large audience left the hall well pleased.

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