Town and Country – NZSO

NZSO Town and Country - Manukau, Vodafone Events Centre, Auckland, 10 June  2021

In Takapuna, the NZSO with conductor Holly Mathieson brought a brilliant selection of pieces about ‘Town and Country’. Conductor Holly Mathieson talked a bit to the audience after the performance opened with a beautiful performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. In introducing Malcolm Arnolds’ English Dances Set II, Op 33, she described the music as part of the ‘composer cowpat brigade’ (cue a lot of laughing!), due to the music being of a slightly imagined, rose-tinted glasses type of place that never really existed, but exists in the minds of a lot of people of a time gone by. It’s very well described, it’s the sort of music that’s very evocative of something we’ve all been conditioned to imagine exists, but probably never did.

For me the real star of the night was the third piece, Tangazo- Variations on Buenos Aires by Piazzolla. It began with the cello and double bass, this gorgeously dark and mysterious opening, then the rest of the strings join in this melancholy, it gets under your skin this amazing feeling, it becomes sweeter, more hopeful but keeps going back to the darkness, the mystery, which suddenly morphs into this stunning tango piece, completely different but fits perfectly, with horn and wind solos it’s a feast for the whole orchestra, I loved it.

Manuel de Falla’s Suite No.1 from The Three-Cornered Hat followed, composed for a ballet. The story of the ballet (and the music) focuses on three characters, the miller, the wife of the miller, and the magistrate, who is old and covets the miller’s wife which leads to some humorous consequences. Each character has very different music attributed to them; the magistrates’ theme for instance is represented by a bassoon which sounds fantastic.

James Bond composer John Barry was also responsible for many more incredible films, including Out of Africa, for which he won one of his many Oscars for music. The Out of Africa theme, whilst only four minutes is an exquisite piece, with some beautiful timpani and just incredibly evocative.

The final piece of the night was three of the musical elements from On the Town by Leonard Bernstein about sailors arriving in New York in 1944 on shore leave. The first piece is about dreaming of sweeping a woman off her feet, it’s very jazzy and upbeat, brilliant brass here. The second was a pas de deux piece, much more subdued than the first piece, still with that jazzy element but more sweet and tender, which is a nice contrast for the final piece which is all about the hustle and bustle of Times Square, very upbeat and full of gorgeous brass.

The NZSO under Holly Mathieson put on a very assured and indeed fun performance with a real smorgasbord of incredible music. By taking the show out across the country to all these different towns shows a real commitment by the NZSO to cover all of New Zealand with its music, a really admirable sentiment, long may it continue!

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