What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Nordic Fire ushered in a new season with a diverse, stimulating programme just two days after the city's move to lockdown level 1.
Drawing on its own resources in terms of conductor and soloist, the orchestra took us on a glorious, quarantine-free trip to Scandinavia.
Assistant conductor-in residence Vincent Hardaker combined assurance with style in Sibelius' Finlandia, an overture to end all overtures, only occasionally too big and brassy for its own good.
The evening's centrepiece was the Southern Hemisphere premiere of a 2015 Timpani Concerto by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho.
Steven Logan, sartorially splendid in maroon velvet jacket, dazzled us on five gleaming drums. Mallets seemed to dance on the skins in the opening "Barcarola", and there was subtle poetry with ghostly glissandi in a short "Intermezzo".
Soloist, orchestra and conductor were intrepid voyagers through the jiving time signatures of a punchy Allegro ritmico.
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The orchestra responded well to Aho's evocative writing, from lyrical woodwind solos and atmospheric strings to Logan's sonically and visually exciting rhythmic tussles with Jennifer Raven and Eric Renick on tom-toms and djembe.
As an encore, Logan positively sparkled on a xylophone in a jazzy medley with strings on the side.
After interval, conductor Hardaker introduced the complexities of Magnus Lindberg's Gran Duo in a useful spoken introduction. Yet the score itself, brilliantly sculpted by the APO's woodwind and brass players, made an immediate and visceral connection: an endlessly fascinating play of colours, textures and densities.
Last in the evening's line-up was Grieg's Holberg Suite, a charming Baroque pastiche from the composer of Peer Gynt. Andrew Beer incisively directed the strings, all standing apart from cellos, from a shimmering Prelude to nervy Rigaudon.
Earlier in the evening, CEO Barbara Glaser had alerted us to long-standing orchestral members, Mark Bennett and Nicola Baker, playing their last concert tonight. The bonus for us was principal horn Baker offering her own farewell with some rollicking and shapely Mozart.