Review: Guest pianist shines as conductor lifts DSO

A near-capacity house was thunderous in its applause for an evening with pianist Jian Liu and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simon Over.

Under his convivial and generous baton, the DSO is exhilaratingly committed, energetic and lifted into the realms of excellence.

Guest pianist Jian Liu presented Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 2 in a way not heard in Dunedin since Demidenko's well-loved rendition. While comparisons are not really relevant and Liu's interpretation was no less loved by the audience, this was a gentler, more thoughtful and perhaps less Russian interpretation, which highlights the one down side. Liu treated Rachmaninoff's piano part as an equal member of the orchestra. While this is inherent in the composition, the audience was deaf to Liu's clearly virtuosic technique, frustratingly, all too often apparent only by the blur of fingers on keys. Passages merely highlighted by the orchestral part were stunning for their silvered clarity and nuance. The orchestra's woodwind and brass solo sections were performed brilliantly.

The evening opened with an adrenaline-boosting sprint through Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture. It ended with Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony. Tchaikovsky's ominous clarion calls are counterbalanced by Romantic anguish and serenity, which Rachmaninoff would voice with more urgent vigour. Tchaikovsky's work is monumental. Its emotional diversity is heard as seamlessly strung together. While the intimate pizzicato conversation between all sections in the Scherzo was outstanding, all movements of this long work showed the orchestra in excellent form. Passages of great sentiment and, conversely, of great outrage, made equally palpable impact.

This cohesive programme of romantic works from a 50-year period of Russian history was well conceived. It encourages a glimpse of music within its social and historical context, pivotal to furthering inter-cultural understanding. A great note on which to end the 2018 season.

 - Marian Poole

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