Piano concerto is tour de force for soloist and orchestra

When I reviewed the previous concert given by the Lakeland Sinfonia I gave the gist of overheard remarks of many at the concert: ‘That was the best playing I’ve heard from this orchestra’. Happily, the quality of performance at its most recent concert confirmed those opinions. Under the direction of New Zealander, Michael Joel and led by Steven Wilkie, one of the country’s leading violinists, the Sinfonia presented a programme that was well-suited to their strengths.

It opened with a likeable piece, Diversions for Strings, by his compatriot, Douglas Lilburn. All five movements are skilfully scored and present technical challenges that were convincingly surmounted – the occasional very high, exposed 1st violin writing, the spirited, jaunty rhythmic periods and the rich, sonorous tonal depth during the slow, meditative passages.

A show piece, Saint-Saëns’ 2nd Piano Concerto, raised our blood pressures considerably! Here is a tour de force for soloist and orchestra alike; both rose to the occasion thrillingly. The demands upon the soloist are considerable and in the world-renowned Pascal Rogé we were blessed in having the ideal executant. In the many impassioned, virtuosic moments he revealed exciting, glittering passage work, thunderous power and romantic fervour. During the quieter periods, poise, delicacy, charm and sublime musicianship shone through. Meanwhile, the Sinfonia
consistently mirrored his every mood with excellent playing from all sections. Rogé’s encore, Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1, was the perfect foil to the Concerto.

The performance of Fauré’s Pavane was characterised by a delightful sensitivity, well-balanced ensemble work, shapely phrasing and alluring playing from the woodwinds and horns.

Michael Joel – undemonstrative, with minimum of gesture, calmness of demeanour, yet possessing all the basic requirements – oversaw a reading of Beethoven’s 1st Symphony that featured close attention to Beethoven’s myriad of dynamic, phrasing, rhythmic and balance details. The fast movements were delivered with panache and fluency of
interaction between the Sinfonia’s sections, while the slow movement was beautifully shaped with all sections blending seamlessly. An excellent finale to a fine concert.

Brian Paynes