Virtuoso piano performance admired by all

Sara Lee plays the piano with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Sara Lee plays the piano with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin Town Hall, Saturday, September 10.

A near-capacity audience was dazzled by a stellar performance of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini Op 4 at the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday.

The demands of this spectacular work were met with quicksilver fingering and astonishing depth of interpretation.

Sara Lee’s ability to highlight the theme as it weaves between the hands throughout the variations was dumbfounding. In this pastiche, quotes from Berlioz's Symphonique Fantastique, for example, were clearly audible. Lee has won some truly spectacular awards and the audience were only to happy to show their deep appreciation.

It was also wonderful to see the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra equal the challenge set by the velocity of Lee’s performance.

After prolonged applause Lee gave an equally sparkling encore, which, introduced succinctly, was probably a transcription of a Johann Strauss Viennese waltz with multiple Liszt-ian improvisations. Another demanding and equally glitzy virtuosic performance!

The evening opened after God Save the King.

Lilburn’s Drysdale Overture is a naturally uplifting work with characteristically truncated climaxes to melodic lines redolent of our landscape’s grandeur. Written while Lilburn was studying with Vaughan Williams, its nostalgia was been a winner since the 1940s Centennial Celebrations. The DSO’s loving performance under Kenneth Young’s inspired direction is all the more fitting now.

Vaughan Williams’ A London Symphony (1912) weaves folk melodies into bold orchestral statements. London emerges from the Thames fog and is swept clean by dissonant storms before acquiescing into dusk. Big Ben’s chime completes its patriotism. Dense with allusion, the work occasionally loses its way. However the orchestra gave it their best, highlighting the ‘‘Scherzo (Nocturne)’’ in which London comes out to dance in the pale moonlight. Noteworthy solo performances were given by Tessa Petersen (leader) and harp and violist Ben Pinkey.

A cleverly designed programme showcased the pre-world wars era and highlighted our orchestra’s rising prestige.