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Concert Reviews

Orchestra's first outing an ambitious show-stopper that thrilled the Nelson faithful

REVIEW: Nelson concert lovers were privileged to attend the first concert of the year by the Nelson Symphony Orchestra, on Saturday evening at the NCMA.

Conducted by the hugely capable Nigel Wekes, the orchestra presented an ambitious  programme of Dvorak masterpieces. Slavonic Dance No 1 Op 46Cello Concerto Op 104, soloist Rolf Gjelsten, and Symphony No 9, Op 95 'From the New World.'

These much loved and well known, monumental works reflect all the characteristics of music from the Romantic period ... full orchestration, beautiful melodies, dramatic dynamics and emotional narrative.

Dvorak's brilliant orchestration exploits all sections of the orchestra and tonight every section, including the percussion, responded to the demands of the works and conductor, with confidence and accuracy.

Accolades must go to the woodwind section. The precise and rhythmic interpretation and the beautiful timbres contrasted and blended, were very well achieved and added substantially to the rich textures of the works.

And again when playing with the soloist Rolf Gjelsten they sympathetically and lyrically interacted but never over shadowed. (I would have loved to have been able to see the flutes and French horn).

The String Section was also impressive and reliable with the competent choir of cellos and bases underpinning the harmonies and melodies especially in the 'New World'

The Brass section displayed real virtuosity and added such colour to the orchestral sound but unfortunately in our acoustically perfect auditorium they were just too loud and often prevented a satisfactory solo/tutti balance being achieved.

It was lovely to hear soloist Rolf Gjelsten of the New Zealand String Quartet playing the Cello Concerto. This Concerto must be one of the ultimate goals, along with the 6 Bach cello suites, for any virtuoso cellist's repertoire.

Rolf performed this work with deep commitment and technical security. He demonstrated the musicality of a life long career of professional music making and his interpretation of the gorgeous themes and dramatic episodes conveyed all the yearning Dvorak felt for his homeland when resident in USA.

After the final notes of the third movement the audience leapt to their feet and gave Rolf a well-deserved ovation, acknowledging his mastery of this demanding work.

The orchestra accompanied with impressive dexterity and attention to dynamics and rhythmic accuracy but at times was overpowering and we missed some of Rolf's virtuostic sections.

I am not sure that the repositioning of the cellos to centre stage and the 2nd violins to stage left worked acoustically or visually.

The cellos seemed very squashed into a rather confined space and the front-on view was odd. The partnership required between the cellos and double basses and the violins must surely be enhanced when placed adjacently.

Perhaps a full programme of Dvorak with such massive orchestral forces required, is debatable from the audiences' and musicians' point of view and a smaller ensemble item might have been more appropriate.

However, as Selwyn Light, Chair of the Orchestra, suggested, "all we had to do was to sit back in our lovely comfortable seats and enjoy the ride" and we certainly did!

Congratulations NSO. Nelson is so fortunate to have you.

We look forward to your next concert Carmina Burana by Carl Off at Nelson College on May 19, 2.00pm.