NZSO Revives Berlioz, Literally

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Wed, 2017-10-18 22:15

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra kept a secret from us in the lead-up to Friday night's concert at the Michael Fowler Center. They did not let it be known that one of the featured composers, Hector Berlioz, would be returning from the dead to conduct the programme—comprising his own Harold in Italy, Edward Elgar's In the South, and Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, all subsumed by the title "Travels in Italy." They tried to pass Berlioz off as "James Judd." But those of us familiar with the description of Hector by a contemporary were not fooled: "the high forehead, precipitously overhanging the deep-set eyes; the great, curving hawk nose; the thin, finely-cut lips; ... the enormous shock of light brown hair, against the fantastic wealth of which the barber could do nothing—whoever had seen this head would never forget it." Ha! Though the hair be greyed now, after 150 years, we knew.

Harold C. Schonberg called Berlioz "one of the first of the choreographic conductors. But no matter how much he gyrated, his beat remained clear, and his interpretations must have been lucid, logical and proportioned." Yes, this was old Hector, all right. But why had this coup not been trumpeted, as loudly as anything we heard from the formidable brass that night? Discreet inquiries by your humble correspondent revealed that M. Berlioz felt that his music alone was sufficient to frighten the horses, without the commotion knowledge of his resurrection would induce.

Actually, not just horses but all sentient beings would have been alternately frightened, charmed, enchanted and electrified by Friday's programme and performance. Violist Antoine Tamestit was magnetic as he roamed around the orchestra as the wandering "Childe Harold"; the Elgar was rendered in as majestic a manner as Sir Edward could have hoped for; and the Tchaikovsky ... well, the torments of Francesca forever ricocheting off rocks in the second tier of Hell as punishment for her illicit affair with her husband's brother could not have been more vividly conveyed. This was precision and passion brought together in playing of the highest order, volubly acclaimed by a spellbound audience.

The concert has yet to play in Christchurch (Wednesday, October 11) and Auckland (Friday, October 13). Be sure not to miss it—it's an unforgettable adrenalin-pumper.

And tell Hector he's been outed.