Review: Auckland Chamber Orchestra at Town Hall Concert Chamber

By William Dart

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John Psathas has had his big moments on Auckland concert stages over the past decade and Sunday's The Man from Olympus, the latest in the Auckland Chamber Orchestra's series of Composer Portraits, stands alongside them.

With the composer himself offering commentaries on his music and vivid, committed performances, success was guaranteed. The opening was as piquant as it was paradoxical, setting off with an encore, the short Fragment that is a tail to Psathas' View from Olympus concerto. Pianist Read Gainsford and vibes man Tim Borton toned its Satiean conversation with urbanity.

Four Ancient Greek Songs pitched the idiosyncratic vocals of Iain Tetley and Yvette Audain against seven players with Psathas arrangements that caught the tang of the exotic.

It is always a delight to hear Island Songs in its original scoring for clarinet, cello and piano, and the composer introduced Peter Scholes, Katherine Austin and James Tennant as holding the world speed record with this piece.

There were thrills aplenty when Scholes' piercing clarinet led the final dance like a frenzied Zorba, as well as quieter joys when the second movement gradually bloomed from Tennant's guitar-like pizzicato chords.

After interval, an orchestrated Abhisheka made a stronger Ligeti connection than the string quartet original. Subtle interplay between soloists and the fuller group meant that solos spiralled out even more effectively, although the climax seemed more metrically governed than I remember it 10 years ago.

A crowded stage for the 2003 piano concerto Three Psalms made for kinetic excitement but a slightly muddied sound, even if conductor Scholes ensured there were no falters on Psathas' musical road-of-no-return. Read Gainsford delivered finger-numbing virtuosity and delicately chiselled precision while Shane Currey, Tim Borton and Jennifer Raven jammed with him from the percussion ranks.

This work grows in stature with every hearing. I value the Coplandesque clearings in the dark forest of its first movement, the intense, clustering strings in the second and the unexpected tints of the third.

- NZ Herald

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