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The APO’s scintillating Magnificent Mendelssohn concert

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Photo: Adrian Malloch

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Magnificent Mendelssohn

Auckland Town Hall

February 17th

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The APO’s opening concert for the year, “Magnificent Mendelssohn” was a strange event. One hundred people scattered through the circle of the Auckland Town Hall above an empty auditorium. There was not the usual hectic crowd and buzz  of an opening night but one of the main topics of conversation was the about the luck of having acquired seats in the ballot for the concert.

Along with the masked audience, members of the orchestra were all masked except for the brass and woodwind players along with conductor Giordano Bellincampi

The opening work was Niels Gade’s “Echoes of Ossian” based on the mythic poems of the Scots poet  James Macpherson or more likely the large painting  “The Dream of Ossian” by Ingres, where poet Ossian dreams of warriors, and maidens.

The triumphal sounds of the music, the surging brass and strings conveyed a sense of a new dawn which was  appropriate for the occasion as the orchestra entered its new challenging times.

Gade had a connection with the next work on the programme, Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto” having conducted the first performance of the work in 1845 replacing an ill Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn had spent nearly ten years writing the concerto adhering to the classical style of Beethoven while containing much of  the romantic ethos which leads on to the music of Brahms.  In several ways he  broke with tradition such as having the violin make an instant introduction to the work . Then there is no break between the first and second movements, with a bassoon note held between the two and the work also calls on the soloist to function as an accompanist to the orchestra for extended periods.

Monique Lapins Photo: Adrian Malloch

Soloist Monique Lapins who is the Second Violinist for the NZ String Quartet opened the turbulent first movement with a  relentless vigour, grappling with the music  as though she were in competition with the orchestra. At times her playing was raw, almost feral while at other times  she exposed the delicate and sensual elements of the music.

While very much in control there were times when she struggled with the music, as though it  was going to overwhelm her but she tackled the work with lively self-confidence, even the passages which Mendelssohn must have written to  technically challenge any performer.

The dynamic energy she put into the playing was echoed in her general deportment, her body contorted and writhing as though immersed in an internal struggle.

In the second movement with its more restful mood there were passages where she was dominated by the orchestra as though sinking under the weight of the music  but this changed when she erupted like a blossoming flower with a exuberant intensity.

In the third movement in which many of the motifs of the first movement were restated she responded in an almost playful way engaging with the music in a very physical manner even appearing to do a surprised jig.

Throughout she managed to conjures up some graceful unforced tones with crisp articulation heightening the romantic  sweep of the music, discovering emotional depths in the music

The major work on the programme was Dvorak’s “Symphony No 8” which is like the soundscape to a Czech epic tale. Like other composers of the period this is nationalist music like Sibelius “Finlandia”. We encounter nature,  landscape, events and dancing, it is the music of adventures, heroics, and larger than life figures,

The music is focused on the landscape and ethos of the country with Dvorak presenting changing moods and unfolding spectacle. He moves from the playful to the picaresque, from the dramatic to the contemplative. There is wit and there is angst.

The third movement is full of shimmering, sounds  created a spring-like impressions full of joy followed by passages of dark foreboding. The fourth movement opens with a big bold march tune which erupts into a sequence of Czech dance tunes such as the polka, Dvorak turning these simple melodies into clever musical  inventions.

Conductor Bellincampi guided the orchestra through the lively four movements with a familiar flair and the musicians responding to their first big outing with one of their scintillating performances.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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