Peter Scholes marked another fruitful year for the Auckland Chamber Orchestra with a concert focused very much around the string players of his group.
It was good to be reminded of the non-planetary Holst, through the Englishman's Brook Green Suite. Written for the girls' school where the composer once taught, this is music with an immediacy that was effectively conveyed in performance.
Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony Opus 110a proved more problematic, although its brooding introductory Largo augured well. Despite some of the city's most experienced players being on board, there were moments of asperity that even the propulsive rhythmic drive could not disguise.
By the end of the evening, Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was marred by some extremely exposed intonation issues. Intentions may have been noble, but the promise of a coolly delivered Andante tranquillo was not fulfilled. Admittedly, Bartok's staggered entries for instruments in 2s and 3s leave no margin for error.
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Yet the opportunity to hear this work in such an intimate setting was to be relished. The orchestra was not up there on a remote stage, but we were able to look down on it, just metres away.
The eerie, flickering night music of the central movement still brought frissons and shivers, especially with the combined sheen of harp, piano and celesta washing over tremolo strings.
The highpoint of the evening was a new Bassoon Concerto by Alex Taylor, written for and admirably played by Ben Hoadley. Using more or less the same soundworld as Bartok (apart from piano and celesta), Taylor coupled his usual attention to tight and cohesive form with a new emotional range and openness.
Three slow movements contributed to this, including the third, titled Trudge - ironically so, considering Hoadley's heart-melting expressivity, set against a dark, minimal palette.
If the strings were not quite up to the demands of this movement's middle section, then Hoadley more than compensated with a brilliant cadenza before the mood switched to that of bristling scherzo.
What: Auckland Chamber Orchestra
Where: Raye Freedman Arts Centre