Set in the cabaret ambience of the Spiegeltent, which usually hosts Auckland Arts Festival's lighter fare, Clarion was a splendid showcase for the visionary music of Eve de Castro-Robinson.
For decades, we have enjoyed her work in our concert halls but lately she has been radically re-assessing the medium and mode through which she channels her art. Fittingly, the evening opened with a bold karanga as soprano Mere Boynton sang from Tennyson's "Ring out, wild bells", his words of warning and cleansing soaring over a waft of tolling chimes.
Flautist Luca Manghi and bassoonist Ben Hoadley suavely reminded of the dauntless sonic adventuring of de Castro-Robinson's fourth Chaos of Delight, followed by two items from her prize-winning CD, The Gristle of Knuckles.
The ferocity of Ashley Brown's Stumbling Trains never fails to take the breath away, and here there was visual proof of its searing passion in the flailing hairs of the cellist's bow.
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Boynton transformed hau, for vocalist and crystal glass, into a prayer, its dramatic evocation of Māori gods preparing us for revelations to come.
Clarion is very much the product of de Castro-Robinson's ongoing political activism. It is a plea for our struggling planet, conveyed in a remarkably taut and at times terrifying trumpet concerto, featuring Auckland Chamber Orchestra under the stalwart Peter Scholes.
Soloist Bede Williams, who premiered this piece in Scotland last month, moved smoothly between orchestral and piccolo trumpets, dealing out gossamer pianissimo one moment and grungier tones in a brilliant cadenza, punctuated with heartrending cries.
In a dark-toned Lament, the sound of wind-blown through the conch shell of his putatara made a chilling blend with murky bass clarinet and ethereal strings.
De Castro-Robinson has laid out, with considerable dramatic acumen, a pitched battle for the threatened globe that nurtures us. Yet, even if menacing cascades of sound and the jolt of brutal waltz-time hint at imminent desolation, perhaps the exquisite closing bars, based on a familiar hymn, offer hope.
What: Auckland Arts Festival - Clarion
Reviewer: William Dart