Best Classical Album, NZ Music Awards, 2007
Concertos (extended pieces for orchestra and featured soloists) are the ultimate performance workout, and the John Psathas’ concertos are no exception. View From Olympus draws American sax superstar Joshua Redman, Portuguese percussion virtuoso Pedro Carneiro, and New Zealand's most revered pianist Michael Houstoun, together with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, to deliver utterly inspired and uplifting performances.
Music this engaging will reward repeated listening.
CD/DVD release. DVD features a 'making of' documentary with interviews and performances.
"In classical music terms, this is THE LORD OF THE RINGS."
"The same small'n'savvy Auckland company who gave us the Wellington composer's Rhythm Spike album now have the NZSO play some of the man's big scores... expertly propelled by the biggest band in the land under Marc Taddei, the delirium is such that even Lance Philips' drumkit cadenza seems an oasis of measured calm... The recording does every shift of mood and sound the fullest justice."
"The saxophone playing on this is just absolutely sublime. And of course the NZSO... I'm just stunned... beautiful production from Rattle Records..."
RAT-D015 (September, 2007)
This project was made with the support of Victoria University, New School of Music and Creative New Zealand
OMNIFENIX Saxophone Concerto (15:03)
Ian Dando on View From Olympus
Audiences can’t get enough of him. The standing ovation, whistles and stamping that greeted his New Zealand launch of this title work last year at Christchurch was typical. John Psathas’s style mix is Greek folklore, minimalism, free jazz and frenetic percussion rhythms. These have all the visceral rhythmic energy and immediacy to fire an audience on first encounter, yet still retain a totally modern 21st-century sound.
He sees these three concertos as “my coming of age as a composer; my strongest works”. Psathas lets his free-jazz influence loose on the brilliant improvisatory power of American soloist Joshua Redman in the saxophone concerto Omniflex. The first movement is the finest writing on this CD.
It hangs together better as a concerto than View from Olympus – a double concerto for piano, percussion and orchestra, which has too many cooks spoiling the broth. Its obvious Greek flavour makes it a wonderfully infectious listen. But sound from the NZSO and a large bank of instruments played by Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro in duet with solo pianist Michael Houstoun is too diverse. It fogs detail. Thickening does not always strengthen. It often weakens music.
Psathas tailored the Three Psalms piano concerto specially for Houstoun’s rhythmic playing that “goes beyond that of the pure classical pianist”. It would need to. Psathas loves loud music. The opening four minutes belts hell out of the drums. Houstoun must add earmuffs to his stage kit. A wonderfully vital work for all that. The NZSO under Marc Taddei with soloists do Psathas proud with these ebullient performances.
Don’t panic when you see that the sleeve booklet is long on pics and short on info. With Psathas, conductor and soloists talking so communicatively about the works on the fine DVD, who needs written notes? This landmark issue sticks its neck out and takes imaginative risks. It will deservedly sell like hot cakes.
THE LISTENER, November 2006
Review by Bruce Morley and Yvette Audain
Our composer du jour has really done it this time. Psathas is a composer who seems to have listened to everyone from Ketelbey to Keith Jarrett, and is totally confident of his ability to create a new orchestral music. The compositions here are diverse, unclassifiable and fragmented, yet utterly organic. Engaged by the kinetic drive of Psathas' rhythms, classical listeners have taken to the results with enthusiasm. This album has been at the top of the classical charts for some weeks (an achievement indeed, given that there are times where the music is undeniably jazz-fusion) and warrants an even wider audience. There's an unsung hero here too, Wellington drummer Lance Philip, whose playing on the opening Omnifenix (including a solo that sets the excitement benchmark for the whole album) shows he belongs right up there with Psathas' featured guest artists. They include American jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, Portugese percussionist Pedro Carneiro (featured on the three-movement title track), and NZ pianist Michael Houstoun who contributes a Satie-like encore to View From Olympus and some real keyboard muscle elsewhere. Superbly played by the NZSO under Marc Taddei and, despite its complexity, recorded with perfect clarity by Graham Kennedy and Steve Garden. The package also includes a very good 'making of' DVD.