Launching a new season with the first of its Great Classics concerts, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra presented a rousing if mostly familiar selection of Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, under the banner Colours of Russia.
Speaking from the stage, chief executive Barbara Glaser was quick to bring up the recent struggles of our country's only classical music radio network. Her "very extra special welcome to our audience all around New Zealand", received a spontaneous roar of approval from the hall.
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While the opportunity to set off a new year with a local composer was missed, Shostakovich's Festive Overture was an agreeable diversion, exuding all the fun of the circus, without any of the composer's ironic subtexts. Giordano Bellincampi fashioned a trim romp out of it with spectacularly sonorous brass, sparkling woodwind, soaring violins and tasty percussive seasoning.
It is difficult to resist the visceral appeal of that hardiest of warhorses, Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, especially when it proved a brilliant showcase for Romanian soloist Alexandra Dariescu.
Tchaikovsky's massive opening chords presented no problems at all and, elsewhere, Dariescu dispensed glitter with a gleam worthy of Prokofiev. Yet, together with Bellincampi, she was ever alert to the dramatic potential of musical dialogues, and her central Andantino semplice was a spellbinding nocturne.
If we were denied a Kiwi starter, then Dariescu remembered her own homeland with a vivacious encore of a Romanian Dance by Tudor Ciortea.
After interval, Bellincampi created a gallery of incisive portraits in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, from the eerie Gnomus, to the hushed mysteries of the old castle, cast around the soulful saxophone of Michael Jamieson. The conductor and musicians were particularly responsive to Ravel's subtle re-scorings in the punctuating promenades.
In the finale, it was as if the pealing bells that represent the great gateway to the city of Kiev were also celebrating a bumper year ahead for the APO.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra – Colours of Russia
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart