Degenerate, Denounced, Outraged

is a great and provocative title for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's adventurous mid-year series, but Thursday's first instalment brought up some curious issues.

A facetious stand-up routine by Kevin Keys, working through a supposed 1938 Beginner's Guide to Degenerate Music, did not compensate for the lack of an introductory essay in the programme booklet, clarifying the concept behind the three concerts. There is a vast gap between having your music vilified by an insensitive critic and dying in a concentration camp because of what you write.

A rather jolly Stravinsky Scherzo, originally penned for Paul Whiteman's jazz band, was a lively opener. Conductor Johannes Fritzsch kept the oom-pahs in line during its very Russian accordion polkas, and drew ethereal loveliness from a smaller group of musicians in a Trio that seemed suspended in an enchanted Siberian fairyland.


Doubtlessly, Schoenberg's Violin Concerto was the reason for too many empty seats but, if you weren't in the town hall, or listening to the RNZ Concert relay, then you missed one of the highlights of the concert year.

This 1936 score received the Viennese affection that it needs from soloist Michael Barenboim. Playing from memory - a feat in itself - he brought out the Brahmsian yearning, especially in the Andante grazioso yet, in virtuoso outbursts, fearlessly spun his quivering filigree through orchestral textures.

Barenboim worked well with the APO, especially in the accompanied recitatives, and the orchestra responded with remarkable assurance to the Schoenberg challenge. Balancing of lines and intensities was well achieved, unlocking such unusual colours as the gentle burr of flutter-tonguing.

After interval, Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony - passionately performed - was an uninspired half-hour of stodgy note-spinning, from sing-song scherzo to a lyrically predictable Andante. There was none of the brio and buoyancy of the composer's earlier works such as the Hebrides Overture and the Italian Symphony.

Perhaps the orchestra realized this, ending the evening with an unexpected encore revealing the gossamer delights of a classic Mendelssohn scherzo, from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Thursday