Classical review: Exquisite 300 years in Vienna

By William Dart

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Christine Brewer.
Christine Brewer.

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Songs from Vienna on Thursday night gave a fascinating vision of musical life in the Austrian capital over three centuries - yet another example of the APO's insightful programming.

American soprano Christine Brewer was the diva assoluta of the occasion, singing Beethoven and Joseph Marx, but British conductor Leo Hussain also deserved full maestro status for the Mozart and Mahler that framed the evening.

Mozart's Jupiter Symphony was infectiously jovial. Its opening Allegro vivace dashed past us with grace, litheness and playful flourishes.

Within a few bars, exquisitely nuanced phrasing revealed a true Mozartian at work. Even with a nagging thinness to violin tone, tutti passages had the engagement and thrust of an operatic ensemble - a world that Hussain revisited in the masterly weave of the great Finale.

Mozart's Andante was the epitome of clarity, and in the no-nonsense Minuet and Trio, the APO woodwinds were at their piquant best.

Later, the orchestra would take its leave with the Adagio from Mahler's ill-fated Tenth Symphony. Hearing this piece without the reconstructed four movements that usually follow it, lent a poignancy to the performance.

Hussain's journey through the first few pages, from Andante to Adagio, set the mood for 20 minutes of sometimes searing emotional volatility.

Auckland does not often experience a singer with the sheer vocal power of Christine Brewer. Her beautifully turned phrases of conciliatory recitative in Beethoven's Ah! Perfido led to the effortlessly long-spun lines of the aria, with full operatic firing power being called on for a thrilling conclusion.

The songs of Joseph Marx inhabit the same romantic twilight as those of Richard Strauss, but are more disarmingly direct. We were privileged to experience six of these sung by Brewer, with an assurance that must have inspired the orchestra to respond with some of the most memorable playing of the evening.

- NZ Herald

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