Music review: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

By William Dart

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Eckehard Stier brought elegant and incisive playing from the orchestra.
Photo / Supplied
Eckehard Stier brought elegant and incisive playing from the orchestra. Photo / Supplied

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Thursday

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra has always given winter concertgoers some of its most innovative programming.

And it was heartening that American to the Core, the second of the APO's Splendour series, drew a sizeable audience.

Leonard Bernstein's Candide overture was a real sparkler. Music director Eckehard Stier hurled himself into its high-toned frolics, jaunty one moment and elegant the next, with incisive playing from all.

The sheer ambition and courage of Gershwin's 1925 Piano Concerto inevitably thwart the academic censures of those who would see it as a cultural interloper.

Tonight, with the supple stylings of soloist Ragna Schirmer and beautifully nuanced orchestral contributions, the piece was revealed in all its freshness.

Together, the German pianist and conductor gave us the frisson of a perky first movement theme that could have slipped out of a Broadway overture; later on, violins and violas strummed like banjos in a Nocturne-like slow movement, following Brent Grapes' moody trumpet solo.

After interval, complementing the New Zealand premiere of John Corigliano's Symphony no 1, a selection of Aids memorial quilts formed a powerful backdrop behind the orchestra.

We are less accustomed than we should be to political and social commentary appearing in the concert hall. Corigliano's Symphony delivers just that, right from the confrontational blast of its opening pages, with clanging anvil, animalistic fanfares and shuddering dissonance.

It was visceral, exciting stuff, conveying a deep anger that, even today, has not lost its justification.

In the second movement, the conductor, an ardent Mahlerian, deftly took the musicians through the wild lurches of a crazed Tarantella, moments of unbridled vulgarity catching the unpredictable tragedy of dementia.

Corigliano does not shout at us for 40 minutes. Reflective moments included an elegiac Albeniz Tango, wistfully played by pianist Sarah Watkins, threading through the orchestra, stripped of its sensuality.

By the third movement Chaconne, with the cellos of Eliah Sakakushov-von Bismark and David Garner in poignant duet, time might almost have stood still. The hushed beauty of it echoed Czech novelist Milan Kundera's observation that the degree of slowness is indeed directly proportionate to the intensity of memory.

- NZ Herald

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