On paper, the programme for the last of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Remembering WWI concerts looked good; in performance, it soared to the superb.
The septet of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale reflects the financial restraints of 1918, unsettled times heard in its spiky, acerbic writing.
Conductor Eckehard Stier generated the buzz of musical theatre; the opening Soldier's March was an offbeat overture, drawing us in through those shivery moments in which the music seems to fall in and out of step.
The lopsided Marche Royale was predictably infectious but there were quieter joys, too: Andrew Beer's scurrying violin; the lonely open spaces of the Pastorale and the cool, clean harmonies of the Grand Choral.
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The APO could not have found a finer pianist than Avan Yu for Ravel's Concerto for the left hand, written a decade after World War I had ended. The build-up to the soloist's entrance was magical. A low, brooding darkness lit up as it rose through the orchestra, eventually giving way to a magnificent cadenza, brilliantly delivered by Yu.
Soloist, conductor and orchestra found a special accord. The Piu lento charmed us as idyllic chamber music, the final movement, with its skittering triads and streaks of glitter, left us spellbound.
Yu's encore, a tender Clair de Lune by Debussy, offered an oasis of calm before, after interval, we re-entered the conflict zone with Carl Nielsen's Fourth Symphony. Stier has given us memorable Mahler and Shostakovich and his Nielsen revealed his enviable ability to cut through the rough-hewn to its emotional core.
This is a challenging symphony, written by a composer in despair over a world that seemed to be disintegrating on the battlefields of Europe. Yet the force of life that gives the work its Inextinguishable title stood strong.
There were many rages roaring fiercely in the first movement, and a touching glimpse of life as it should be in a wistful Poco allegretto. The Finale, presided over by the sparring timpani of Vadim Simongauz and Shane Currey, registered as a musical and spiritual triumph.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart