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Sensationally STILL

Alexa Still and the NGC Wellington Sinfonia,
reviewed by HOWARD SMITH


With successive tours of New Zealand's lower North Island the NGC Wellington Sinfonia appears to achieve a growing level of orchestral distinction. Under principal guest conductor Chicago-born James Sedares it has reached truly Olympian heights and so it proved at the ensemble's four 'Sensationally STILL' August concerts.

Though the work is rarely heard in concert Zoltan Kodály's engaging Dances of Galánta (1933) still enjoy greater popularity than his Dances of Marosszek or The Peacock Variations. From the outset this inspired programming choice enabled each section of the orchestra to display its dynamic range and sheer versatility. Conductor Sedares paid special attention to Kodaly's precisely-accentuated, syncopated Hungarian folk rhythms, idiomatic rubato, and vivid orchestral colours. The result? A feather in the Sinfonia's cap, enthusiastically received.

Anthony Ritchie's 'Flute Concerto' makes formidable technical demands on the soloist yet it's dedicatee, New Zealand-born flautist Alexa Still, tackled the score with consummate ease. This beautifully crafted work is, for the greater part, somewhat skittish though its final upbeat movement has an added measure of gravitas. Ritchie's concerto certainly deserves to be heard more often; it is undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser and admirably tailored to showcase Ms Still's heart-stopping tone and astonishing dexterity.

After the interval the soloist had changed from her strapless, formfitting glittering blue to a classical, double-tiered dress in subdued pastels. And the audience were treated to a jewel in the concert's crown; Mozart's Flute Concerto in D, K314. One rarely hears a performance of this calibre; so buoyant, magically phrased and meltingly expressive. It would have been equally at home in London, New York, Paris or Vienna.

The NGC Wellington Sinfonia. Photo © Jan Nauta
The NGC Wellington Sinfonia. Photo © Jan Nauta

That seventeen-year-old Bizet produced inspired textbook orchestrations is abundantly clear in his only symphony -- in C major; even more its generous quotient of glowing melody points the way to later outstanding operas, notably Carmen and Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers). Nonetheless, to mention this work in the same breath as Mendelssohn's E flat Octet (also produced at the age of seventeen), as the Sinfonia's programme note writer did, is outright nonsense. That aside, the Sinfonia invested Bizet's diverting teenage score with undiminished attention; richly nourished ensemble, and panache to spare -- no wonder this programme was greeted by such appreciative audiences throughout the tour.

Copyright © 27 August 2005 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


Alexa Still and the NGC Wellington Sinfonia performed this programme at the Great Lake Centre, Taupo, New Zealand, on Saturday 6 August 2005, at the Royal Wanganui Opera House, Wanganui (Sunday 7 August), at Masterton Town Hall (Friday 12 August) and at Wellington Town Hall (Saturday 13 August 2005). Howard Smith's review is based on the Masterton performance.





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