Beethoven & Brahms—The Best!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Wed, 2018-08-22 02:44

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart, with Augustin Hadelich (violin). Music by Beethoven and Brahms. Michael Fowler Centre 18 August.

The sonata, the concerto and the symphony are among the greatest achievements of mankind. They reached their apogee in the nineteenth century. They have been under assault since the early part of the twentieth, when Stravinsky and others launched a war on melody and beauty. Thus it was cosmically edifying to note that the audience for this concert on Saturday night, featuring Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Brahms's Symphony No. 2, was the biggest this year, and included many youngsters of secondary school age whose peers have, criminally, been denied exposure to such musical giants on the grounds that they are Dead White Males.

Both works were stellarly performed. Conductor de Waart wrote in the programme notes that violinists might "play the concerto heavy and dramatic or light and spirited." Augustin Hadelich defintely tended toward the latter, to the point where one seasoned concert-goer complained to me of lack of heft in the performance. I couldn't have disagreed more. Hadelich lived every note from the top of his magnificent head to the tips of his toes, and articulated it with a rare mix of elegance, clarity and passion. It didn't matter that he might not be the loudest violinist ever; he was certainly among the most beautiful, both to listen to and to look at.

There is no need to ecstasise similarly over the Brahms 2. It was simply sublime, another triumph for a world-class orchestra that is on a roll. The broader point is how reassuring it is that there are still such pockets of grandeur to which one can repair in an age of nihilism. Earlier I had been rendered apocalyptic when at my regular pre-concert restaurant—hitherto a hold-out against conversation-killing headbanging caterwauling (the ultimate consummation of the likes of Stravinsky)—conversation had been killed by headbanging caterwauling. The contrast could not have been starker.

This coming Friday in Wellington, Saturday in Auckland, the NZSO will be pitting the stench of Stravinsky against the rapture of Rachmaninoff. It will be worth enduring the former for the sake of the latter, to be able to feel that maybe the apocalypse has been deferred.