Classical review: APO's historical snapshot catches hope and faith of a soul-testing time

By William Dart

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Photo / Adrian Malloch
Photo / Adrian Malloch

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Splendour series has taken a slightly different approach from previous years.

Instead of focusing on a particular composer or country, this year's concerts aim, in the words of CEO Barbara Glaser, at putting masterpieces into an illuminating historical context.

Masterpiece is a term too easily bandied about, but Thursday's offerings, written during World War II, certainly were major pieces by 20th century masters.

Polish conductor Michal Dworzynski took an almost pastoral care guiding 23 string players through Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen.

How effortlessly this glorious music emanated from a deep, resonant mesh of cellos and basses, Dworzynski attending to every detail, from the slightest dynamic swell to the rhythmic motifs and semiquaver flurries that carry such an emotional charge.

We do not hear enough Hindemith in our concert halls, and the German's Cello Concerto was the revelation of the evening.

Carrying us away on the briskest of offbeats, an invigorated full orchestra provided a brilliantly propulsive backdrop for soloist Johannes Moser.

The German-Canadian cellist was riveting, extraordinarily finessed in cadenza work and signing off phrases with a theatrical sweep of the bow.

Beseechingly lyrical in the slow movement, Moser was also an avid accomplice alongside the orchestra when it came to delivering the sardonic march of the Finale in just the right brazen colours.

Moser's encore was a Bach Sarabande, understated and thoughtful, with deliciously artful ornamentation.

After interval, we were powerless to resist the all-engulfing sweep of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony.

Dworzynski did not allow its mighty first movement to lag, meaning that sighing phrases were edgier, and mysterious dances seemed to be lurking in theshadows.

An edge-of-the-seat, obsessive Scherzo prepared us for the eventual explosive Finale.

In between, Dworzynski allowed Prokofiev's ironic, angular lines to become more tender in the Adagio.

Soaring violins over a magical shift from F to E majors seemed to catch the hope and faith that kept spirits aloft during the soul-testing wartime years.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Where: Auckland Town Hall

When: Thursday

- NZ Herald

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