Giordano Bellincampi's first concert as Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's music director occasioned a welcoming speech from Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister, Maggie Barry, under the illusion she was introducing Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.
Astute social media marketing by the APO had the conductor on Facebook, describing this programme, with no concerto soloist, as focusing on the orchestra; curiously, only Mozart and Richard Strauss were mentioned, and not the evening's opener, Gyorgy Ligeti's Atmospheres, one of the great orchestral work-outs of all time. This 1961 score is a classic of sonic immersion, for players and audience. And immersed we were in the Hungarian composer's sometimes unsettling world of huge clustered chords, piercing woodwind cries, barking brass and the spellbinding waft of brushed piano strings. Bellincampi skilfully navigated this journey through sonic cloudscapes, sometimes the equivalent of mottled, mackerel skies, at others threatening and delivering thunder.
The Ligeti worked its magic on a well-filled town hall and so too, more predictably, did Mozart's celebrated G minor Symphony.
Here Bellincampi's expressive hands, occasionally seeming to mould sculptures in the air, didn't limit the spirit of the dance to the third movement minuet. It was there from the beginning, in the driving allegro, propelled by Mozart's piquant dissonances. The andante, with the APO woodwind in prime form, positively yearned in generous, responsive phrases. Strauss' Ein Heldenleben is a gargantuan 44-minute autobiography for vast orchestra, peppered with quotations from the composer's previous triumphs.
Bellincampi and his players did it and themselves proud, with no passion or colours left unexplored; the APO strings were particularly high-powered and concertmaster Andrew Beer deftly handled his demanding solo. Yet the sheer weight of players and sound, combined with the work's intricacy, made one realise why, at the turn of the century, Arnold Schoenberg would be looking for new solutions to the inflation of late romantic music. Ironically, satirising the critics at one point in Ein Heldenleben, with barbed woodwind writing, Strauss almost seems to be giving the younger composer a lead.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall