Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
The major work on the Auckland Philharmonia’ s “Enduring Spirit” programme was Carl Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, “The Inextinguishable”. Composed in the first two years of the Great War it is a multi-layered work which sees the composer addressing several concerns.
In part the work is a reaction to the war which Nielsen as a neutral Dane was observing rather than participating in. But at the time the composer said that the symphony was to “express what we understand by the spirit of life or manifestations of life, that is: everything that moves, that wants to live”.
The work is a broad, poetic canvas in which he endeavours to create an image of individuals and nations in turbulent times.
So, the symphony reflects on various aspects of war and conflict through music, the belligerence, the drama and the cacophony of battle, the destruction of the landscape and people along with the heroism, lyricism and nationalism associated with war.
The layout of the orchestra emphasised the notion of conflict with sets of kettle drums on either side of the other players, as though drawn up along battle lines. The orchestra engaged in a series of musical actions – battles, skirmishes, attacks and counter attacks.
The work’s explosive opening is followed by alternating vigorous and lyrical passages, wild swings of mood and direction which evoked an energy and momentum.
Conductor Giordano Bellincampi emphasised the changing stresses of the symphony, the lyricism of the woodwinds, the drama of the strings and the violence displayed by the double timpani displays, particularly in the finale of the work.
Whether the music manages to express “the spirit of life or manifestations of life” is debatable but all the conflict imagery of the music could well be what the composer felt about life and his own personality.
Before interval we were treated to a stunning performance of Shostakovich’s Second Violin Concerto played by Natalia Lomeiko.
Where Nielsen’s work was a response to the upheaval of the Great War many of the works of Shostakovich were a reaction to the conflicting demands of his desire for new approaches to composition and the demands of the Soviet State which judged his work according to political rather than musical criteria. Much of his music reflects this tension.
His Second Violin Concerto is restrained with the violinist expressing an underlying emotional angst. Lomeiko expressed this pain from the very the opening with anguished playing which was set against the sombre tones of the orchestra.
Throughout the piece she played with an insistent determination, battling the aggressive orchestra. At times violinist and orchestra seemed in concert as they thundered along on a vigorous journey while at other times she seemed marooned in a brooding landscape. Her frenetic playing was electrifying in the first movement while in the second movement with her achingly sorrowful playing she seemed to inhabit a dreamscape, playing at the edge of despair and collapse, generating a palpable tension.
The competing forces of violin and orchestra underscored the struggle in Shostakovich’s creations which see the individual set against society, a figure in isolation, a figure full of determination and a figure striving for individuality. Lomeiko and her violin became a personification and symbol of that struggle.
The first work on programme was Zoltan Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta”, a set of dances with a mix of nostalgia, reminiscence and celebration drawing on Hungarian folk dance melodies. These works were full of liveliness and lyricism along with some splendid woodwind contributions all of it kept in time by the supreme dance master Giordano Bellincampi.