Dream Fragments

, the second of Auckland Chamber Orchestra's 2018 Composer Portrait concerts, offered memorable insights into the musical world of John Elmsly.

The focus was on the Auckland composer's work for smaller forces, ranging across four decades and comprising chamber ensembles, electroacoustic compositions and songs.
Charismatic mezzo Claire Scholes, with a top notch trio of clarinets, fearlessly chartered the sometimes wild emotional swings of Dream Fragments, moving from ethereal whispers and gospel fervour to, at one point, a dramatic shriek.

This highly explorative 1980 sound world was effectively offset by the formal elegance of three recent songs, including two settings of Katherine Mansfield; a testing challenge for soprano Morag Atchison, who delivered them with aplomb, accompanied with impeccable clarity by pianist Sarah Watkins.


On the electronic side, Microtungwhorl, which pitted Kevin Kim's tenor recorder against computer-generated sonics, needed a more assertive instrumental timbre to engage with its swirling sound clouds. Before it, the few minutes of Coast were a burst of energy, inspired by the environment of the South Island's west coast.

Two substantial ensemble pieces revealed Elmsly's unrivalled craft in this area.
A Passacaglia floated aloft, its linear beauties climaxing in duets between Miranda Adams' violin and the clarinet of Peter Scholes, who was one of the players in the piece's 1984 premiere.

After interval, the insistent textures of Ascend revealed Elmsly, 20 years on, responding to Stockhausen, ghostly woodwind breaths and eerie string harmonics balancing Eddie Giffney's arresting accordion sonorities.

The concert closed with what I suspect is a sentimental favourite of the composer. A short Lullaby, originally written for youngsters, was a testament to Elmsly's enthusiasm for extending his music to the widest possible audience. Arranged here for tonight's full and variegated band, conducted by Peter Scholes, it was the perfect envoi.

What: Auckland Chamber Orchestra, Composer Portraits: John Elmsly
Where: Raye Freedman Arts Centre
Reviewed by: William Dart