Concert review: APO concert a showcase for conductor's artistry

By William Dart

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Paul McCreesh's handling of works by Mozart, Elgar and Biber was enthralling.
Paul McCreesh's handling of works by Mozart, Elgar and Biber was enthralling.

Mozart's short Adagio and Fugue in C minor, dating from the same summer of 1788 as his last three symphonies, provided a piquant launch for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Thursday concert.

It could have been hand-picked to showcase the artistry of conductor Paul McCreesh.

An immaculately phrased and nuanced Adagio led to a fugue that had shape, purpose and direction - in lesser hands, it might well have descended into a tangle of chromaticism.

Mozart's G major Violin Concerto was the delight we expected. McCreesh set a level of freshness and bonhomie in the orchestral introduction that never departed. Working with German soloist Benjamin Schmid there was always a sense of camaraderie and adventure.

The high point was a briskly paced Adagio, one of Mozart's loveliest slow movements, its languid melodic arches suspended over orchestral billows with dulcet flutes replacing the spirited oboes of the outer movements.

Schmid impressed, too, with his own cadenzas, some of which also infiltrated into a stunning encore of a Passacaglia by Biber.

After interval, McCreesh offered some valuable insights on the Elgar Second Symphony we were about to hear.

He made the connection with Shelley's Rarely, rarely, comest thou, Spirit of Delight, revealed the Italian inspiration for its unbridled scherzo and let us in on Elgar's licence to the percussion section to feel free to drown out the rest of the orchestra at one point.

Most of all, he stressed, this was a work of great passion which did not falter once over the next 56 minutes.

The opening movement worked from a great shout of E flat major, through surging violins and whooping brass to an alluring waft of quicksilver harmonies.

McCreesh had mentioned Mahler in conversation to me last week and that night, the stirring Larghetto made this connection palpable.

This was a performance that kept what seemed like a full house spellbound.

While I usually freeze at those who lash out with "Bravo" in the dying reverberations of a final chord, I felt sympathy for a lone, vociferous cry of "Amazing, isn't it?" after the first movement. All four movements were equally deserving of such praise.

- NZ Herald

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