A Sea Symphony

International Series One – Saturday 18 April 2015, 7:30 pm, Dunedin Town Hall

Nicholas Braithwaite, Conductor; Modi Deng, Piano; Anna Leese, Soprano; Marcin Bronikowski, Baritone; Auckland Choral; City Choir Dunedin

Programme:
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 1
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 1 – A Sea Symphony

Review:

There were fireworks and passion aplenty as an impressive array of musical forces came together for the Southern Sinfonia’s concert, A Sea Symphony, at Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday night.

The emotional evening began with heartfelt tributes to long-serving Sinfonia concertmaster Sydney Manowitz, who was performing for the last time in the role. The magnificent concert that followed was a fitting accolade to a highly respected and humble musician, concluding with a standing ovation from Sinfonia players, choir and audience.

Saturday’s concert featured two major works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – Rachmaninov’s spectacular Piano Concert No. 1 and Vaughan Williams’ monumental A Sea Symphony.

It was fitting that the fiery, youthful concerto, first written when Rachmaninov was just 17 and later revised, should be performed by the equally youthful Dunedin pianist Modi Deng (18).

The Sinfonia, under the baton of experienced conductor Nicholas Braithwaite, provided staunch support as Deng tackled the concerto’s astonishingly complex, angular notation and wicked cross rhythms with style, grace and power. It was exciting to see this incredible young musician show such mastery so early in her career.

In the second half, the stage was packed with a giant array of musical forces as 160 singers from City Choir Dunedin and Auckland Choral Society, and soloists Anna Leese (soprano) and Marcin Bronikowski (baritone) joined the orchestra for Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony.

As a member of City Choir Dunedin, it was a rare treat for me to sit in the audience and experience the impact of the choir in full voice ‘ and what an impact it was. The combined choirs were accurate in timing and tone, while giving the work the dynamic range and passion it deserved.

The soloists added power and skill to the work, bringing lovely touches to the quieter moments and soaring in the work’s climactic passages.

The Southern Sinfonia played its part in bringing this impressive work to life, providing solid support while adding its own fireworks to the mix. Bravo!

Reviewed by Brenda Harwood for The Star, 23 April 2015.