What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart
Last September, Gillian Whitehead's new violin concerto seemed fated to be lost in lockdown, as the country's performance venues fell silent.
This major taonga, Tai timu, tai pari, lends its title, translated, to Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's memorable Ebb & Flow concert.
This composer has a singular ability to meld the physical and the spiritual. We set off with mysterious percussion, gull-like glissandi and urgent, whispering strings; a sonic landscape in which soloist Andrew Beer would undertake his many dauntless expeditions.
Whitehead's ebb and flow, as well as echoing the natural world, was also reflected in Beer's intricate and sometimes dramatic interchanges with the orchestra, subtly marshalled by conductor James Feddeck. Solo, in a propulsive cadenza, he was a fully validated virtuoso.
There are telling links with earlier scores by the 81-year-old composer; some furious orchestral outbursts might recall the seismic blasts of her 1989 Resurgences. Signature trails of wafting chords can sound ominous on brass, yet pastoral on strings.
Above all, Tai timu, tai pari is a superb evocation of our landscape, from an imaginative "rolling surf" effect on harp to the delicate tapping of stones in the closing pages — a bewitching sound first heard 20 years ago, when the APO premiered Whitehead's Alice.
Beer's encore was simple, soulful and significant — a Whitehead tribute to Helen Young, for many years the fearless force behind Radio New Zealand's Concert programme.
After interval, for just over an hour, Feddeck plunged us into the emotion-drenched world of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony.
In its massive first movement, the American underlined form where lesser batons might have surrendered to sprawl; and, allowing the brass to unfurl so magnificently in its exuberant finale was the stuff of goose bumps.
Throughout, one sensed this maestro's love and admiration for this music, well caught at the evening's end, when he plucked a flower from his bouquet and placed it respectfully on the work's printed score.