Review of Dunedin Youth Orchestra

Russian Fire

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, 21 May 2014

The night belonged to Shostakovich’s Symphony no 15 under the direction of Alexander Lazarev: Shostakovich’s final testament to his tortuous life and its formative influences. It leads the listener from the naivete of Wagnerian heroism through to the insult that cultural and political totalitarianism imposes on the sentient individual. The work is forceful and uncompromising. It contains characteristic burlesque and brassy interludes juxtaposed by sweet balletic lines. As such it critiques the dominant influences on a pugilistic twentieth century while retaining the idealistic supremacy of innocence. The NZSO’s electric performance spared an elated audience none of the work’s impact including its brittle rawness, folkish gyres, jarring barbarity, peaks of frustration and anger to its ethereally peaceful and ultimately optimistic close. Each section of the Orchestra is to be acclaimed for an exceptional ground-breaking performance.

Though Rachmaninov’s Caprice Bohemien and Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor were stunningly well performed, their lasting impacts were overshadowed by the images Shostakovich creates. Rachmaniov’s idyllic pastoral seemed in retrospect blinkered despite Lazarev’s inspired leadership which drove the Orchestra from a somber dawning opening into a gamboling whirlpool. His gestural invitations to the audience to share his enthusiastic interpretation were successfully endearing and gave a foretaste of just what he would achieve with the Shostakovich.

Pianist Alexander Melnikov’s interpretation of the Schumann Concerto was similarly excellently performed. However, again the mannered abruptness of its mood changes, though highly representative of the Romantic era, become something of a emotional rollercoaster. Lazarev maintained a fine sense of the conversation between soloist and Orchestra and Melnikov’s virtuosity shone through.

This was a brilliant performance, but it was the Shostakovich which left the audience transcended in silence and unequivocally stimulated by their experience. As such the programming did neither Rachmaninov’s nor Schumann’s comparative simplicity any justice.


Marian Poole