NZSO pulls out the stops in rousing show

Conductor Alexander Shelley. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Conductor Alexander Shelley. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
NZSO Fantastic Voyages, Dunedin Town Hall, Sunday, October 16

The audience was entranced by the NZSO’s excellent performance of Fantastic Voyages, under the baton of Alexander Shelley and with guest mezzo-soprano Anna Pierard.

Philip Glass is renowned for his hypnotic style inspired directly by Indian motifs and repetitions with imperceptibly evolving rhythmic patterns. He is also renowned for challenging the listeners’ concentration. It can all be a bit of the same, with occasional flutters in volume or forces. Glass’ latest use in the 12th Symphony of organ and subdued timpany remains powerful. The long wait for the soloist to make her vocal entry is a fore-warning of the overall length of the work. The work is, however, in danger of being the "overstuffed lumpy couch" as the San Francisco Classical Voice journalist critic found it in 2019. It bears Glass’ signature creativity which proved to be tried and true material for the highly appreciative Dunedin audience.

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Pierard’s voice is of course as agile as ever, giving good lilt to the inflections. However, until a rare moment in which the composition gave her some space, the voice was largely inaudible. Though this is a problem for the genre, David Bowie’s insight and allusions were lost to the rafters. The orchestra was also up to the task with concentration to equal the many oscillations. The work pulls out all the stops for a careering rollercoaster final statement.

The highlight of the afternoon had to be organist Joseph Nolan’s performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. His rendition of the demonic opening bars was sufficient to raise the hackles. His improvisational sections were intricately woven and effervescent. He shows commendable awareness of the audience behind him.

Ultimately, Norma gained an excellent opportunity to display her many moods, her overarching power balanced dramatically by the strength of her delicacy.