Review: Christchurch Symphony Orchestra’s Pathétique


Radio New Zealand
Masterworks: Pathetique
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra with Tony Chen Lin (piano)
Charles Luney Auditorium

Ravel – Piano Concerto in G (1929-1931)

But, even so, the highlight of this concert was Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto.

The soloist was former Christchurch pianist Tony Chen Lin who, we were told, was making his professional concerto debut with this performance. And what a performance!

This is, technically, a very difficult work, but every colourful nuance and detail was fully projected by the soloist with masterful variety of light and shade and an almost chamber music feel in the way he worked with the orchestra; and the orchestra here were equal stars in the way they brought Ravel’s colourful magic to life.

For much of the piece, I’m aware of watching and listening to the orchestra just as much as the pianist and so many special details were just so brilliantly done. There are just so many solo contributions from the orchestra, but I specially have to mention the CSO’s long-time ‘crack’ percussion section, who also, incidentally, shone in the Leonie Holmes piece.

But Helen Webby’s harp solos were simply wonderfully done and David McGregor’s Eb Clarinet contributions, together with Matthew Lee’s Piccolo and Thomas Eves’ Trumpet stood out over myriad superb wind solos.

And, again, Benjamin Northey was alert to every moment of this exceptionally colourful work, not at all upstaged by the brilliant playing of Tony Chen Lin.

I saw this pianist in a Piano Duet concert last year with Jun Bouterey-Ishido, in which they gave us absolutely astonishing performances of Ravel’s La Valse and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. And that same mercurial virtuosity of both technique and expressive touch was exceptionally evident in the Ravel Piano Concerto as well.

I’d have to say that I’ve rarely seen a Christchurch Symphony audience quite so genuinely and vociferously enthusiastic as they were on Saturday night. That brought an encore of the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita No. 5which was truly exquisite in its understated eloquence, so beautifully-phrased with the strands of Bach’s contrapuntal texture almost seeming independent in their heart-felt expression.

Actually, that highlights a very slight mannerism in Tony Chen Lin’s playing which was also noticeable in the long solo opening of the second movement of the Ravel; and that’s an only-just-perceptible tendency to play the left-hand ahead of the right hand.

In the Bach it served to clarify the contrapuntal strands, but in the Ravel it was ever-so-slightly distracting. But I’m nit-picking in a performance that was exceptional by any standards... Link