Review: NSO Russian Revolutionaries


Russian Revolutionaries

Nelson Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by Nigel E. Weeks

Saturday November 30 2019 7.30 p.m.


The Nelson Symphony Orchestra finished the year’s concerts with a very ambitious programme of wonderful Russian masterpieces by Sergei Rachmaninov and Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky. This is music that challenges the technical ability of any professional orchestra. The NSO has expanded its ranks to include several very talented local young players in every section. They brought an energy and balance to the performance.

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 in C Minor was the first item. Internationally acclaimed pianist, Matteo Napoli, first performed this concerto with the Nelson Symphony Orchestra in 1996 under the baton of Uwe Grodd. Napoli is now living in Auckland.

He played the concerto with a maturity of dramatic feeling. The music started slowly and deliberately with characteristic surges of emotion. The orchestra matched Napoli’s expression – woodwind solos full of melancholy, cellos alternating legato bowing with sudden fortzandos and pizzicato precision, the brass staunch and sonorous, the violins and violas making rhythmic crescendos confidently and expressively, the French horns full of mournful resignation. All overwhelmingly emotional.

The third movement, Allegro scherzando, began with the viola section introducing the melody. This was taken over by the piano, rising and falling in tumultuous crescendos, romantic to the end.

The audience was ecstatic, Napoli took a bow, with hand on heart, and was persuaded to play an encore of Spanish music.

Then came Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5 in E Minor Op 64. It was written near the end of his tragic life. His music is loved for its unforgettable folk melodies and the sweet playfulness of his ballet music It was more satisfying to be able to see the conductor on stage without the piano.

Nigel E. Weeks’ energy and emphatic body language held the orchestra. He encouraged the woodwind soloists to project their soulful melodies. The string players knew when to be mournful, to be strident, to listen to the formidable rhythmic volume of the brass, and the precision of talented 14 year old, Ned Rainey on timpani.

The finale -Andante maestoso – was first exciting, then resigned. A huge ominous drum roll gave the brass the authority to blast forth in a dramatic mood of inevitability? death? defeat? fury? from which there was no turning back. It was despair in E Minor, played with huge conviction, before breaking into a heroic finish Bows worked frenetically, trombone flashed forward, horns filled the auditorium until the last drum roll by young Ned.

This was a concert to be remembered forever, and a milestone in the history on the Nelson Symphony Orchestra. A tribute to all fifty musicians, young and old.

NSO’s programme for 2020 has already been published and the public are invited to subscribe to next year’s concerts at NCMA in Nile Street.

Reviewer: Margot Hannigan

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