We Will Remember Them

International Series One – Saturday 29 March 2014, 8:00 pm, Dunedin Town Hall

Jessica Cottis, Conductor; Kristian Chong, Piano

Programme:
Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 3 – A Pastoral Symphony

Review:

With the centenary of World War 1 in mind, the Southern Sinfonia offered its first concert for the year, “We Will Remember Them”.

Featuring works written in response to the experience of war by Frenchman Maurice Ravel and Englishman Ralph Vaughan Williams, Saturday’s concert at Dunedin Town Hall was by turns martial, contemplative and achingly melancholic.

Conducted by the delightfully demonstrative Jessica Cottis, the concert began with Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin – a suite comprising a prelude and three dances, each dedicated to a personal friend killed in the war.

The sinfonia made the most of its talented woodwind section in this light, graceful work, especially Nick Cornish (oboe), Luca Manghi (flute) and Stephen Cranefield (clarinet). The strings were superb in support.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was written for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War 1 and its performance by Australian pianist Kristian Chong was fascinating and thrilling.

Ravel’s closely woven melodies between piano and orchestra were effectively realised by Chong and the Sinfonia, the woodwind section taking a leading role once again.

The stunning climax was the virtuosic piano cadenza, played with verve, sensitivity and great skill by Chong, his right arm seemingly forgotten at his side.

For an encore, Chong presented Rachmaninov’s melancholic Prelude No. 10 (Opus 23) “The Return”.

Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No 3, A Pastoral Symphony is a subtly beautiful elegy for the dead of World War 1.

Its spine-chilling final movement opened and closed with a basso rumble, overlaid with a haunting, wordless soprano melody floated from “the gods” by Rebecca Ryan.

In its first 2014 concert, the Southern Sinfonia has highlighted the power of music as a means of reflecting the impact of war on the human psyche.

Reviewed by Brenda Harwood for the Otago Daily Times, 31 March 2014.