Concert review: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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Conductor Garry Walker explained all with a nice line in Scottish wit.
Conductor Garry Walker explained all with a nice line in Scottish wit.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
Where: Auckland Town Hall.

For a moment, it seemed that the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra was starting its Enigma Variations concert with an encore.

As it turned out, the opening string quartet, exquisitely rendered by spotlit section principals, was the music that inspired Benjamin Britten's Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge.

Conductor Garry Walker entered and explained all with a nice line in Scottish wit before leading all the strings through an energetic exploration of the Britten.

Even if the composer's sometimes stark and exposed string writing tested the first violins, meticulous articulation and phrasing sustained the performance right through to a tenaciously argued Fugue.

Each variation was allotted its individual character, as drawn by a 23-year old composer brimming over with the sheer exhilaration of a seemingly limitless imagination.

And, as any audience member would agree, nothing can replace the pleasure, in the Aria Italiana, of seeing violins and violas strumming away like a Neapolitan mandolin orchestra.

In Walker's hands, the opening Allegro aperto of Mozart's A major Violin Concerto, had the brio of an overture to an imaginary opera buffa.

Soloist Barnabas Kelemen brought a crowd-pleasing showmanship to a concerto that does not always encourage such an approach. The Hungarian even added a touch of the gypsy to Mozart's more rollicking moments.

By the Finale, the Turkish marches that give the concerto its nickname could not have been more infectious had they been delivered by a carnival street band.

Two generous encores contrasted a spitfire Paganini Caprice and a soulful Bach Sarabande.

After the interval, Walker consolidated last year's memorable Elgar First with a stirring Enigma Variations.

Again detail was all, apparent from the first few phrases of the work; and Walker was not afraid to investigate the full emotional scope of a score groundbreaking in its time.

As we progressed through Elgar's "portraits", there was a new, manic thrill in the bustling busyness of the Fourth Variation.

The celebrated Nimrod was the expansive song that it should be, followed with the endearing and delicate flutter of Dorabella.

- NZ Herald

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