Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Finlandia may be a celebration of Finland but it has been used to celebrate many events and landscapes including films such as Die Hard 2 and was briefly the national anthem of Biafra.
It was fitting that it was the opening work for the APO’s Nordic Fire, their first concert of the year. It was the heralding of a new era just as Finlandia heralded the new nation.
It is a rousing monumental work and in the hands of conductor Vincent Hardaker the drama of the music unfolded in a precisely controlled manner without bombast. The spring-like section had an eloquence and tenderness, contrasting with the intensity of much of the music.
The nationalism which inspired Finlandia was also at the core of the major work on the programme, Grieg’s Holberg Suite which celebrated the bicentenary of the late eighteenth-century Norwegian writer Ludwig Holberg. Greig composed the work for string orchestra (originally for keyboard) in the style of Holberg’s musical contemporaries, the Baroque composers Bach and Handel as well as the Norwegian Johan Berlin .
As with many baroque ensembles the players all stood and rather than responding to a conductor the players took their directions from lead violinists, notably Andrew Beer.
The players formed a tight U shape which gave a greater sense of intimacy and the group seemed to be functioning more as an integrated unit.
While the music had its grounding in a classical framework there were traces of folk music which gave the work a special quality. The various movement had changing emotionally, rich sounds from the joyous and elegant to the nostalgic and melancholic. In the final dancelike movement several of the players seemed to be inspired by the local hall dance atmosphere and ready to dance themselves.
Between the two nineteenth century works the orchestra played two contemporary Finnish works. The first by Kalevi Aho was his Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra featuring Stephen Logan the APO’s Principal Timpanist as soloist. Seated at the front of the stage behind his five drums wearing his red velvet jacket he looked like. and was received by the audience as a rock star.
Aho’s work continued the dramatic music of Sibelius with the timpani playing the major role. Initially Logan’s drumming was relatively simple, dancing above the shimmering strings of the orchestra. As the work progressed so did the intensity of the drumming along with changes in the orchestra as various instruments accompanied the soloist, weaving a dense landscape of sound as a background. At times he became a frenetic rock band drummer while at other time he took a more measured approach as though carefully selecting his choice of drum.
It was revealing and instructive to see a timpanist up close and focussed on his instruments. The various sized drums, their tuning, the different drumsticks as well as his use of his hands all contributed to the sonic textures as he explored the full potential of his instruments.
While the work seemed initially to grow out of Finlandia with its changing landscape of sound the work also explored novel sounds including jazz and South American rhythms.
While Logan and the drums were the main focus of the performance, he was occasionally backed up by two other percussionists playing a range of instruments including snare drums, gongs and big bass drum.
The other Finnish piece on the programme was Magnus Lindberg’s Gran Duo for Woodwinds and Brass where the earthy brass instruments and the more dynamic woodwinds produced buffeting waves of sounds which created contrasts as well as well as synergies. The suggestion by Vincent Hardaker that the work might be seen as having the same impact as The Rite of Spring which premiered 100 years ago was possibly overoptimistic and premature.
An additional highlight to the evening was Nicola Baker, The Principal Horn Player performing a Mozart Horn Concerto as her farewell to the audience after many years of playing with the orchestra.
March 8 Shoulder to Shoulder
The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra celebrates International Women’s Day with a selection of women composers in Shoulder to Shoulder. Three New Zealand composers, Ruby Solly, Dorothy Ker and Rachael Morgan will feature alongside several other international composers including Germaine Tailleferre the only female member of Les Six, the early nineteenth century group of avant-garde musicians.