Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
The APO’s “Tall Tales” concerts opened with Zoltan Kodaly’s “Háry Janos Suite, an impressionist tale of the quixotic, Hungarian folk hero.
The Empress Marie Louise, wife of Napoleon, falls in love with Háry and takes him to Vienna. France declares a war on Austria in which Háry single-handedly defeats the armies of Napoleon but he realizes he can find happiness only with his village sweetheart, Orzse, so he dismisses the Empress.
The work is a dream about the personal search for glory but also a search for nationalist pride. It is these qualities which Kodaly tries to express in the work. At the centre of this musical search is the cimbalom, a Hungarian musical instrument played by soloist Jeno Lisztes
There are sequences of drifting landscape and militaristic display with lots of animated Hungarian melodies and atmospheric passages.
There were sequences of sorrowful strings, blasting trombones and lots of clashing cymbals as well as some jazz like interventions. Along with brass and timpani was the cimbalom which sounds like a mixture of the harp and the xylophone with conductor Gilbert Varga seemingly carried away by some of the dance sequences.
Jeno Lisztes then performed one of his own solo improvised works with a dazzling display of music and some remarkable technical skill. The cimbalom is played with two sticks but Lisztes’ speed and agility meant that it sounded as through there were at least two players creating an avalanche of intertwined sounds and themes. Several of his variations were based on Hungarian themes but one could also detect a clever riff on pokarekare ana.
The major work on the programme was John Adams’ Scheherazade 2
A lot of John Adams major compositions have strong political and social purpose such as “Nixon in China” and “The Death of Klinghoffer”. His “Scheherazade 2” is no different. The work is about the violence that women suffer, even at the hands of the people who should care for them.
In the mythical stories of the Arabian nights Scheherazade tells her murderous husband a new tantalizing tale each night for 1001 nights, thus sparing her life a day at a time. Adams saw that this account of brutality had resonances with the present day.
The four movements work has no explicit narrative but each part has a description with enigmatic titles. Some of these – “Tale of the Wise Young Woman – Pursuit by the True Believers” and “Scheherazade and the Men with Beards” gives a sense of the oppressive nature of the sultans’ court while “A Long Desire” and “Escape, Flight, Sanctuary” speak more of her personal reactions.
With the orchestra providing a lush sensual backdrop to the stories violinist Clara-Jumi Kang or rather her violin became the embodiment of Scheherazade in an electrifying performance. Her violin along with Lisztes cimbalom displayed a strident voice which conveyed the emotional aspects of the storytelling as well as a feeling of adventure.
In many ways this was mini opera with Kang’s voices expressing the qualities of the heroine, moving from the harsh to the lyrical. She conveyed through her playing various dreamstates, sadness, coquettishness, and sensuality, morphing from quiet introspection to rage.
In the final movement “Escape, Flight, Sanctuary,” Kang enveloped by brass and wind instruments expressed a fierceness and vulnerability with some frenzied bowing,
Next Town Hall concert
Conductor Gilbert Varga
Harp Ingrid Bauer
Saint-Saëns Le rouet d’Omphale
Debussy Danses sacrée et profane
Tailleferre Concertino for Harp and OrchestraMilhaud Le boeuf sur le toit
Satie (orch. Debussy) Two Gymnopédies
Ravel La valse