Concert Review: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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John Psathas. Photo / Supplied
John Psathas. Photo / Supplied

The purple ink may well have been pouring through John Psathas' pen when he wrote the programme notes for his The New Zeibekiko.

And his self-described "intoxicating journey through 2500 years of Hellenic musical history" lived up to its goals for an almost capacity Town Hall audience at Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Friday premiere.

Intrepidly conducted by Hamish McKeich, there was no denying the almost seductive physicality of this music, especially in episodes that evoked a celebratory night in the taverna, with the retsina in full flow.

Set on our way by the plangent tones of Manos Achalinotopoulos' clarino, the big band Bacchic dropped us right in the fray, even if, trapped between riffing brass and five pounding percussionists, the hard-working strings seemed to be playing to themselves.

If, in the later Doxastiko, dogged rhythms behind endlessly hypnotising clarino unfurlings became a little wearing, the APO players would soon break out in a hyper-energetic revisiting of Tarantismo, driven to new and even more exultant heights by McKeich.

Quieter moments, apart from an Aeolian Song that teetered dangerously close to being clarino by moonlight, offered some of the evening's most stimulating music.

A Pythian Ode intrigued with clever shifts of tempo over the gentlest of string clusters; the ancient Tecmessa's Lament drew exotic colours from marimba, muted trombones and sul ponticello bass.

As well as picking up a lute-like oud in the shortish Kartsigar, Petros Kourtis proved a positive dynamo on a series of percussion instruments, playing alongside a quartet of local colleagues . Not one to keep a catchy rhythm to himself, Kourtis sent the audience out at interval with warm hands and thighs, having cajoled them into something of a Grecian clappathon.

Another crowd-wooing touch was the appearance of a dancer, Anthony Neonakis, adding his own Zorba touch to the infectious Aivaliotiko. Inevitably this was be one of three generous encores.

All in all, particularly in terms of audience response and enjoyment, The New Zeibekiko was a project of which both orchestra and composer can be proud.

THE LOWDOWN

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

Where: Auckland Town Hall.

When: Friday.

- NZ Herald

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