The first concert of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Bayleys Great Classics series, under Polish maestro Michal Dworzynski, was sold out by the middle of last week.
Doubtlessly star soloist Sarah Chang was a major attraction. However, when beguilingly familiar strains from Carmen floated from the stage during the pre-concert warm-up, one realised that popular works by Bizet and Ravel must have been a major contributing factor.
We could not have had a cheerier welcome than Smetana's rollicking overture to The Bartered Bride. Dworzynski caught the utter exhilaration of it all, forging a link between the curtain-raising blast of Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmila and the scurrying anticipation of Mozart's Figaro. Dvorak's Violin Concerto requires special TLC from its soloist to release its inner radiance. From the start, alas, Sarah Chang seemed to project impatience rather than impetuosity. By the Allegro's second theme, her intonation had become worryingly insecure, particularly with double-stopping, steeling us for a charm-free Adagio ma non troppo, despite elegantly contoured orchestral playing.
Last week, in an interview, the American violinist justified her obsession with haute couture as a desire for the audience to feast with eyes as well as ears. While a glittering Roberto Cavalli gown certainly delivered ritzy visual pleasure, what we heard was too often the equivalent of a rough and ready takeaway.
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After interval, two suites from Bizet's Carmen were irresistible, with Dworzynski and his musicians giving the composer's non-stop assembly line of hit tunes a concert hall upgrade. We were left to imagine the malevolent machinations of Carmen on her ill-fated fellow cast members, while the orchestra gave us their own vivid characterisations, setting off with Bede Hanley's coquettish oboe in the Aragonaise.
Katie Zagorski in the Intermezzo and concertmaster Andrew Beer in the Nocturne brought sweet-toned intimacy while the jazzy trumpeting of Christopher Smith wittily tapped the testosterone of the Toreador.
Ravel's Bolero wore its quarter-hour well, hypnotising us with its weave of sinuous fragments around Eric Renick's relentless snare drum until Dworzynski took us, as if on the final rush of a roller-coaster ride, to the work's closing conflagration.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday