Symphony No. 1 review
Anzac symphony is powerful without a hint of triteness
Last updated 11:23, April 23 2015 0
Maarten Holl/Fairfax NZ
Composer Michael Williams’ Symphony No.1 ‘Letters from the Front’ was a cleverly constructed three movement work.
Spirit of Anzac
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey with Madeleine Pierard (soprano), George Henare (narrator), New Zealand Youth Choir.
Music by Copland, Williams, Ledger and Vaughan Williams.
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, April 22
Reviewed by John Button.
This is the third time the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has marked the importance of Anzac Day with a concert and, thankfully, on the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli, a sizeable audience was in attendance. And they were very well rewarded, as this concert was centred on two new works – one New Zealand, one Australian – of real quality and power.
Michael Williams’ Symphony No.1 ‘Letters from the Front’ is a cleverly constructed three movement work that interweaves spoken texts from letters by Williams’ great-grandfather with sung texts. Musically the work is tonal but without a single hint of triteness; beautifully scored, very powerful with a cumulative impact that made a deep impression.
Those who have experienced Williams’ Juniper Passion (Atoll ACD 243) would not have been surprised by the strength and immediacy of Williams’ invention, and would have been delighted by the playing of the NZSO, the singing of Madeleine Pierard and the beautifully nuanced narration of George Henare.
Australian composer James Ledger’s War Games was similarly impressive. Opening with soft percussion – bass drum, tapped brass mouthpieces – this work builds to a ferocious climax before settling back for brief moment of reflection. The second part, much sparer, has the texts of a poem by Paul Kelly sung by a choir of young singers. Stunningly written, and exquisitely sung, this ‘epilogue’ made an indelible impression.
These two superb works were bookended by Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, each perfectly appropriate to the occasion.