Heavenly Hell

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2017-08-28 03:58

Blessed are those times when the achievements of humanity's finest make one feel that all is right with the universe; that no harm can possibly come to one in a world where such feats are possible. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's performance of Hector Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust at the Michael Fowler Centre on Friday night was one such occasion. All involved acquitted themselves superlatively. Berlioz once said that "to render my works properly requires a combination of extreme precision and irresistible verve, a regulated vehemence, a dreamy tenderness, and an almost morbid melancholy." This rendering would surely have made won plaudits from Berlioz himself as tumultuous as those from Friday's audience.

It seems almost a sin to single out individuals when the excellence was so concerted, especially from the superb Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus Wellington—but it would be remiss not to acknowledge the lush, melting mezzo of Alisa Kolosova as Marguerite, showcased especially splendidly in D'Amor l'Ardente Flamme; the light lyric beauty and flawless technical command of Andrew Staples as Faust (whose singing should surely have earned him a pardon from Hell even though he sold his soul); and the to-die-for rich basso of Eric Owens as Mephistopheles, who sounded the way one imagines James Earl Jones would sound were he a singer (the actor Jones having one of the all-time-great speaking voices). James Clayton, fresh from his triumph as the Toreador in Carmen, performed his cameo with aplomb. Vehemence-regulator Edo de Waart brought his deft, assured touch to the podium as usual, and other kudos must go to Michael Vinten, director of the Chorus who were—at the risk of being cliched as well as repetitive—simply stunning.

While the brass were frighteningly effective in summoning up the horrors of Hell with what Berlioz would have called "savage orgiastic outbursts," we were left overall at the end of the two-hour-twenty-minute performance with a heavenly sense of "the serious and powerful tones of sublime musical poetry" to which he aspired. A triumph.

Next month, Freddy Kempf is back. His Pianomania programme with the Orchestra kicks off in Napier on Thursday September 14 and ends in Wellington on Saturday September 23. Freddy will be playing excerpts from some of the greatest piano works of all time, including what is affectionately known as "Rach 2." Of Freddy's performances of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto in England earlier this year, one reviewer said:

Freddy Kempf’s delivery of this famous concerto was flawless, moving, and attentive to Rachmaninov’s sensitivity to texture and the all-important interplay of soloist and orchestra. (John Gilroy, Cambridge News)

And another:

Any chance should be taken to hear London-born Freddy Kempf, a phenomenal artist incapable of playing a routine phrase, on his relatively rare visits to his native city. Kempf is a pianist in a million. At first you may wonder if the bucking and circling around the keyboard is absolutely necessary. But it produces the sound: the deep staccatos which highlight only the right notes, the incredible definition of Rachmaninov's inner filigree which emerges all the clearer for a refusal to use the sustaining pedal to blur the sound. And in this performance of the inevitable Second Piano Concerto, Kempf's watchfulness of old master Yuri Simonov and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra led to miracles of co-ordination you never get when soloists are lost in their own world. When the piano's role is to accompany, Kempf keeps it down and checks the melodists above him; when it's to the fore, his colossal but perfect weight simply stuns. (David Nice, The Arts Desk)

This will be another time when all seems right with the universe.


When music is this good...

Olivia's picture

it certainly does feel that all is well with the world - decent again. Smiling

Can't wait to see Freddy again next week - just to hear him play the Rach 2 will be worth the price of admission. The rest of the repertoire sounds wonderful too - almost all Romantic. Will be heavenly heaven!

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