Salina Fisher and Jerome Kavanagh Poutama’s Papatūānuku was the glowing centrepiece of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s In the Elements concert.
Yet, how eloquently Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis prepared us for the brilliance ahead.
Conductor Vincent Hardaker balanced resonance and delicacy in the APO strings for a 1910 score that recontextualised a Tudor tunefor contemporary English audiences.
Papatūānuku treads a parallel path, sensitively combining centuries-old taonga puoro with a modern symphony orchestra. In a pre-concert talk, soloist Kavanagh Poutama sampled sounds and talked of the importance of nurturing and mothering, represented in the new work’s title.
In performance, he laid out 19 instruments with an inexorable logic that would be reflected in the effortless flow of the music to come.
This charismatic musician, traditionally costumed, cast his ancient sounds against instruments designed for Mozart and Beethoven with poetry and impishness. One marvelled at the hushed beauty he coaxed from various flutes; and smiled when a virtuosic outburst on a bird-calling instrument brought forth cascades of orchestral twitterings.
Throughout, Fisher’s extraordinary sense of colour and texture ingeniously reconciled two cultural entities, from Kavanagh Poutama’s pounamu flute dancing around a stream of piano notes to a more robust backdrop for trumpeting pūtātara. There was even a moment of significant song, with a message for those beyond the night’s walls — “Protect our Mother, protect all mothers.”
After the interval, Hardaker thrilled us with the various meteorological elements of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes. “Moonlight” was exquisitely laid out and the raging “Storm” might have had some fearing for the security of the roof above us.
Sibelius’ final single-movement symphony benefited from a conductor simpatico to its idiosyncratic cragginess, and happy to admit an occasional lilt of waltz into its runaway scherzo.
The Finnish composer’s final roar of C major was that of a man who insisted that music should catch the joy of life, and not make one think of academic dissertations. I suspect he would have been very happy indeed in the company of the night’s other composers.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall