Mozart & Mahler: Naughtons sparkle their way into Chch audience's affections

M and M was on the programme, but the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Christchurch concert was no sugary bon-bon.

This was a meeting of two disparate musical heavyweights. The decision to present Mozart's blithe spirited Concerto for Two Pianos, alongside Gustav Mahler's intellectually complex Fifth Symphony appeared to be a gamble. However, under the sure and steady guidance of conductor, Edo de Waart, the gamble paid off handsomely in an absorbing game of two halves.

Mozart kicked off with a work where the orchestra takes a back seat to allow the pianos to engage directly with each other. Mozart also composed a work that requires the lightest and deftest of touches and the American soloists (and twin sisters), Christina and Michelle Naughton, obliged with a performance, which sparkled its way into the audience's affections. It oozed charm, personality and a certain unobtrusive American pizzazz. What was especially enjoyable was that each soloist let their individual personalities to emerge, rather than merely play as a robotic unit of one. It quickly became obvious that both sisters were perfectly attune with each other's technique especially in the final movement's cadenza, which becomes a balance between complete control and effortless technique. The Naughtons made it seem so easy – and so utterly enjoyable.

Mahler's Fifth is one of those symphonic works best known for a single movement. The gently melancholic Adagietto with its intoxicating mood of wilting world-weariness became required listening especially for many Baby Boomers after it was used in Visconti's 1971 film Death in Venice.  Nevertheless, it is only part of an absorbing 20th century work still capable of directly addressing the human emotions of love, grief, scepticism and disillusionment.

The NZSO's interpretation of this monumental composition did not yield an inch, even when confronted by a densely orchestrated score. Throughout this dense 70-minute mesh of sound, the orchestra never flagged, every section playing with vigour, confidence and passion, especially the brass and percussion.

 A musical evening to remember. The only fault lay in the truly numbing impact of the plastic seats in the Horncastle Auditorium.

May the Christchurch Town Hall return to us soon.

By Christopher Moore