Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's pairing of Vladimir Ashkenazy and Viktoria Mullova will be one of 2019's concert highlights.
Ashkenazy has always been wary of Tchaikovskian excess and his carefully measured Romeo and Juliet overture allowed the composer's emotional intensity to speak for itself. There was no lack of drama, as the celebrated love theme increased in passion, complete with sobbing horn obbligato. The players held nothing back in the work's almost gladiatorial outbursts.
Many violinists invest the opening bars of the Sibelius concerto with certain sweetness but from the start, Viktoria Mullova delivered them lithe and lean in keeping with her finely gauged mix of primal and poetic to come.
One could sense Ashkenazy's hand in the relatively leisurely Adagio di molto, especially with the beautiful melding of solo violin and lyrical woodwind. The finale's inescapable trajectory took no prisoners, as Mullova delivered a star turn down to her last eerie harmonic.
We don't often hear solo Bach played with the rightness of touch that Mullova brought to her Adagio encore. Without the need to acknowledge an underlying dance rhythm, she laid out its florid lines and powerful chords as might a brilliant storyteller.
The English novelist JB Priestley admired Dvorak for writing music that was enchantingly melodic and exquisitely modulated with some fascinating little tricks for the woodwind.
Ashkenazy caught all this in the composer's D minor Symphony, with the woodwind in superlative form for the idyllic second movement. But all was not pastoral prettiness. The opening Allegro maestoso had its share of storms, boosted by Steven Logan's timpani and the scherzo, with its hypnotic rhythmic play, was a dancing delight.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - Ashkenazy and Mullova
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart