Concert Review: Master of the Violin, Auckland Philharmonia

By William Dart

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Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Photo / File
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Photo / File

On paper, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Master of the Violin concert on Thursday might have seemed standard fare for the finale of its Great Classics series.

Yet, thanks to conductor Eduardo Portal, the music was as fresh as if the composers had delivered the scores a week ago. In Spain, Portal works a lot in the contemporary field, and perhaps Mendelssohn and Beethoven benefited from it.

Soloist Ning Feng ensured the concert's title was well deserved.

On his last visit, in 2010, the Chinese violinist drew unexpected poetry and substance from Glazunov; this time we had the more rewarding Beethoven.

Ning Feng's total mastery could be seen in the precision and sweep of his bow, and heard in the effortless tonal range, from sweet to sumptuous.

Throughout, he gave every note its due weight in what, with other players, might have been mere passagework.

For a few lines in a rapture-filled Larghetto, he created a magical quintet with clarinets and bassoons.

The violinist did not relax at encore time, with the Ernst transcription of Schubert's Erlking. Ingeniously conceived and not without some subtleties, the piece also has its circus-like aspects.

Indeed, there was a ripple of laughter during what is the most poignant moment in Schubert's original - curiously justified, when, after all the fireworks, the piece ends with a casual, throwaway phrase.

Before interval, with Mendelssohn's Ruy Blas overture, Portal threw aside any potential plod lurking in its stolid pages to thrill us with gutsy brass and volatile, rushing strings.

The conductor also made sure the composer's Italian Symphony was blithe and sunny throughout. It was full of telling detail, from Peter Facer's sprightly oboe coaxing us back for a first movement repeat to the effervescent zing of Mendelssohn's closing saltarello.

Just a week ago, the APO almost managed a full house for Bach's Mass in B minor; tonight also came tantalisingly close, with the extra bonus of a very visible younger contingent in the audience.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Where: Auckland Town Hall

- NZ Herald

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