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NZSO review: Janine Jansen just perfect

Review by Max Rashbrooke
There are times when, as a reviewer, you realise from the first notes of someone’s playing that you’re in for a spellbinding performance. So it was with Janine Jansen and the Sibelius violin concerto. Those opening notes were the subtlest, loneliest cry, gentle yet heard with total clarity, I suspect, by everyone in the hall. At other times she managed the most complex passages not with ease, exactly, but with total assurance; moments of torment in the music were handled with enormous power but never any harshness.

Jansen’s playing had intelligence, clarity of expression, wonderful technique and extraordinary musicianship – everything, in short, that you could possibly hope for. I haven’t been impressed by every classical superstar who has visited these shores, but I was tonight. I can think of a handful of other extraordinary performances I’ve been lucky to witness: Stephen Hough playing Rachmaninov, Alfred Brendel’s last London concert, even Lynn Harrell with the NZSO many years ago. This was right up there.

While Jansen was onstage, I’m pretty confident the orchestra was playing as well, but to be honest it was hard to focus on anything except that violin. Fortunately for the NZSO they had other chances to be the centre of attention, for instance in Wagner’s delightful Siegfried Idyll. There we heard rising woodwind lines like a sunrise, melodies melding seamlessly into each other, layers of sound rolling over and over, and in general a perfect capturing of the piece’s mood, a quiet, reflective, only occasionally rhapsodic joy.

Before that, Brahms’s Symphony No 3 received an equally good treatment, with maestro Edo de Waart’s deep musical intelligence on full display. It was an utterly coherent – even holistic – performance, right from the first movement, which featured some beautiful warm tones from the horns, and a delicate balance between luscious and pastoral sounds.

The second movement was charm itself, in what you might almost call an old world style, with the woodwinds to the fore. In the third movement I enjoyed de Waart’s ability to balance and bring out the best of the overlaid horn and string parts, and there were some lovely and delicate cello lines to appreciate, although the woodwinds’ sound could have been a touch gentler. It all finished with the fourth movement taking us right back to the beginning and superb playing all round. What a night: it’s hard to think of an NZSO concert I’ve enjoyed more, at least in recent years.

See also: A Musical Axis – Brahms, Mahler, & Sibelius by Howard Davis

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