Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall
Debussy’s Prelude a L’après-midi d’un faune (“The Afternoon of a Faun”) is based loosely on the poem by he Stéphane Mallarmé which describes the sensual experiences of a faun waking up from his afternoon sleep and reflecting on his encounters with several nymphs in a dreamlike monologue.
Their delicate flesh-tint so clear,
It hovers yet upon the air
heavy with foliage of sleep
Its images like these opening lines that Debussy put to music and the APO captured this dreamy quality with the opening notes played by flautist Melanie Lancon, the orchestra Principal Flute. Along with the languid sensual tones of the work there were other harsher aspects as in the lines;
The secret terrors of the flesh
Like quivering lightning
This idyll which is full of contrasts and ambiguities, has passages of melancholy and regret which can be heard in the woodwinds but underlying the work is an impetus which carries the work along with a dance-like lushness.
The second work on the programme was the world premiere of Canadian Gary Kulesha’s ”Oboe Concerto” a piece that blends avant-garde techniques with traditional forms and references. It was played by Principal Oboist Bede Hanley who gave a thrilling performance
The work in some ways seemed an extension of the Debussy Prelude with a description of an individual immersed in a landscape and ambience but a place with moreshadows.
Much of the time the orchestral sounds were dramatic and slightly menacing, creating a brooding sound with a combination of Big Band sound and the aggressiveness of Benjamin Britten’s operas. Bede Handley’s oboe danced through the orchestra his playing effortlessly ranging over the playful, lyrical and soulful, at times providing intense shards of light and extraordinary riffs. In his long faultless solo he managed to span the full range of the instrument, both musically and emotionally.
Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony was the final symphony written in an attempt to win the Stalin Prize of 1952 and repair his reputation with the authorities. It sounds as though in the attempt to write something which would appeal to the judges, he fell back on some of his previous compositions so the symphony has echoes and themes from works such as his Romeo and Juliet ballet.
From the first movement it sounds like an evolving narrative, a nostalgic look back to better times in the composer’s life, the past tinged with sadness. In the second movement the lively dance rhythms were responded to by conductor Bellincampi dancing around on the podium.
There are moments of tenderness, passages of playfulness as well as of contemplation. There were times of lightness and others reaching a fever pitch and in the final movement the various groups instruments seemed engaged in a competition as they passed the musical themes between them.
Bede Hanley had given a lively encore after his performance which is usual but at the conclusion of the Prokofiev Maestro Bellincampi provided an encore from the audience who played the march from the composer’s opera, For the Love of Three Oranges.