A Bland Brahms, Vibrant Wagner ... and Sensational Sibelius

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Tue, 2017-11-14 01:43

Brahms's Third Symphony is his shortest and quietest. In the hands of Maestro Edo de Waart and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Fowler Centre on Friday night it was altogether too quiet in this reviewer's humble opinion. Maestro says the music is "internalised, and thoughtful," demanding "restraint." Maybe so, but that much?! Where was the Big Bang that starts things off? It wasn't just a lack of adequate dynamic variation that made this reading seem lack-lustre—it was ragged entries and releases and a sense of jadedness, as though the musicians were exhausted from their triumph with Rachmaninoff. The symphony sports two movements from which excerpts were nicked by Hollywood composer Nicholas Brodsky and turned into popular hits for tenor Mario Lanza: the clarinet melody at the beginning of the second movement yielded Boom Biddy Boom and the opening phrases of the third movement were turned into The Song Angels Sing. Who knows what Brahms would have thought of that, but a touch of Lanza's extrovert exuberance would not have gone amiss in this performance.

Everyone seemed to perk up a bit for Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, written for his wife Cosima, daughter of Franz Liszt, to mark her birthday and the birth of their son Siegfried. If it's true as Rossini said that Wagner "contains many fine moments but some terrible quarter-hours" then this piece belongs in the "fine moments" category. It was played with a lushness befitting its content, with Samuel Jacobs and Josh Phillips excelling thrillingly on horn.

All trace of disappointment with the Brahms was fully erased by an astonishing performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto by Janine Jansen. It was passion, it was precision, it was perfection. Janine's smokey cello-like quality in the second movement was as seductive as Anne Sophie Mutter's. Jansen delivered a similarly stellar Tchaikovsky with the NZSO two years ago; dare we hope for a return visit in 2019 for, say, the Brahms Violin Concerto? I imagine Friday's large audience, almost the entirety of whom were on their feet to cheer her Sibelius, would want something like that.