Strav vs Rach: Hell vs Heaven!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Wed, 2018-08-29 23:21

Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments; Symphony in Three Movements
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Edo do Waart, conductor, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, August 24, 2018

In my review of the NZSO's recent Beethoven/Brahms concert, I noted:

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.

After lavishing justified praise on our national band's performance, I concluded:


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.

Well, said Friday has been and gone, and said contest duly occurred. Stravinsky made up the first half, Rachmaninoff the second. The first half could be called Hell, the second, Heaven. Heaven won.

Of his Symphonies of Wind Instruments Stravinsky himself wrote in his autobiography: "It lacks all those elements that infallibly appeal to the ordinary listener, or to which he is accustomed. It is futile to look in it for passionate impulse or dynamic brilliance. ... The music is not meant to 'please' an audience nor to arouse its passions. Nevertheless I had hoped that it would appeal to some of those persons in whom a purely musical receptivity outweighed the desire to satisfy their sentimental cravings."

Alas, I am one those irredeemable deplorables with an unquenchable desire to have my sentimental cravings satisfied and my passions aroused. There must be many like me, since the audience for this monstrosity was much smaller than for the cravings-satisfying, passions-rousing Beethoven/Brahms.

Igor, the arch-enemy of Romanticism, noting that audiences generally did not approve of the direction in which he'd gone, observed: "What moves and delights me leaves them indifferent, and what still continues to interest them holds no further attraction for me."

'Nuff said!

Conductor de Waart, in his programme notes, wrote of the Rachmaninov Second Symphony: "It is a haunting and deeply moving work and one that will stay with you long after tonight."

'Nuff said again! Except to add that it had been with me for decades before that night, yet the swirling divinity of the Adagio, starring Patrick Barry on clarinet, was never more irresistible. And the explosion of rapture on Beauden Barrett's face the next night as he scored his fourth try of the match reminded me of nothing so much as the outbreak of ecstasy that greeted the arch-Romantic Rach's signature "yum-ta-ta-tum" conclusion.

Heaven wins again in the orchestra's upcoming Classical Hits tour beginning in Gisborne on September 6. With Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet in the mix, how could it not?!