It had the makings of every orchestra's worst nightmare: a concert without a conductor, just 48 hours before a performance.
To complicate matters, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Pathetique programme included the New Zealand premiere of the iconic 1992 Violin Concerto by Gyorgy Ligeti, one of the Titans of 20th century music.
There must have been sighs of relief when salvation was found locally in Hamish McKeich, who has always conducted well above his weight when it comes to the contemporary. The evening set off with a sampling of McKeich's finesse, a beautifully contoured Gayane Adagio by Khachaturian, showcasing orchestral strings and harp.
The music of Gyorgy Ligeti is a world unto itself, firmly rooted in his Hungarian soil in terms of that country's folk music, yet reaching for new sonic galaxies with his highly explorative and colouristic palette.
Soloist Andrew Beer, taking on this world in Ligeti's concerto, was an intrepid voyager. Indeed, the violinist's own cadenza, described as a collage of clips from the score, summarised the composer's larger journey in perfect miniature.
This concerto thrives on tension and dissonance, from the stabs of violin and marimba over swirling strings to strange snatches of dance, such as Beer's wild pizzicato chords jiving against a cool chorale of recorders. Ligeti deals in extreme dynamics too, carefully gauged by conductor and soloist with Beer relishing every moment of lyricism as license to soar.
Following this strenuous half-hour workout, Beer and the string players generously took us to South America for a captivating Piazzolla encore. After interval, it was the Tchaikovsky symphony, which gave the concert its name, that was less satisfactory.
While the APO's level of professionalism always assures us of solid playing credentials, here there was not enough attention paid to crucial balancing. Too often, passages in which our ears needed to be directed to one or maybe two particular melodic strands, did not wrench the heart as they should have.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
What: Pathetique - Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart