Spectacular NZSO concert with violinist Janine Jansen in the Tchaikovsky

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Blendulf with Janine Jansen (violin)

Liadov: The Enchanted Lake
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major
Prokofiev: Symphony No.5 in B flat Major

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday 28 March 7:30 pm

Liadov’s atmospheric painting The Enchanted Lake was a great choice to open an evening of wonderful music, rich with the delights of that fantastic orchestration which marks the pens of the Russian greats in an abundance matched by no other race. There was the opening mystery of the dark, rumbling bass entry, the dreamy lilting melodies that floated in and out from the woodwind, and the clear crystal notes from the harp falling like raindrops into the shimmering, surging waters of the strings. The orchestra crafted this work with wonderful artistry, culminating in dying phrases that simply evaporated into the hanging silence of the auditorium.  Superb.

Janine Jansen is an on-stage tour de force in every way. She proved a spectacular “soloist” but not because she attempted to grab the limelight; rather she shaped the score in a completely mutual conversation with the orchestral players, and whenever her part paused briefly you felt she couldn’t wait for the chance to engage again in the privilege of making music together. She captured the contrasting moods of the opening Allegro moderato to telling effect, and delivered the spiccato episode with masterful grace and clarity. You could have heard a pin drop in the central cadenza. The following flute re-entry was very special, as was the later bassoon countermelody to the solo line. She pulled off the coda at breakneck speed yet somehow with complete clarity – clearly she was excited to be playing this work, and she conveyed her delight without reservation.

The central Canzonetta: Andante opens with a wistful pianissimo phrase which comes and goes throughout, and Jansen presented each appearance with the freshness of first discovery. She and the orchestra wove in this movement a tapestry of wonderful melodic exchanges and a mood of gracious calm. This made all the more dramatic the catapult of sound that launches the Allegro vivacissimo finale. It was taken at incredible speed, yet again with total clarity in each rondo appearance. The stamp of Cossack boots thundered out, interspersed with beautifully languid playing from the woodwind in the contrasting melodic episodes. The whole concerto was performed with consummate musicianship, and the runaway freight train of the closing coda brought a stampede of audience appreciation – amply rewarded with an exquisite encore, an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher.

What could possibly follow this riveting Tchaikovsky? A Prokofiev reading that was positively mind blowing.  Blendulf made the most of the huge percussion, brass and string bodies right from the sweeping grandeur of the opening to the last dramatic chords of the finale. The massive demands of this score were embraced by the players with total commitment, huge passion, and the exemplary musicianship and technical mastery that mark all their work. Yet somehow they found an even higher notch than usual in this Prokofiev, emerging at the end with a clear glow of fulfilment on faces that should, by rights, have been etched with exhaustion after such a programme.

Daniel Blendulf’s conducting style was a pleasure to observe. His was an entirely unassuming manner, directing the orchestra with complete economy of gesture. He obviously recognised that no more was needed, given the wonderful resources and musicianship of the NZSO players, and their exemplary ensemble skills. They were the stars of the evening no less than the spectacular soloist, and he rightly called each section to its feet, giving the audience ample opportunity to express their appreciation for an amazing night’s music making. Bravo!


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