Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
‘Ebb & Flow’
James Feddeck (Conductor) Andrew Beer (Violin)
Dame Gillian Whitehead, Tai timu, tai pari (world premiere)
Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2.
Auckland Town Hall, June 10
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
The APO’s latest “Ebb and Flow” concert opened with a new commissioned work from Gillian Whitehead “Tai timu, tai pari”
The title translates as “low tide, high tide” and Whitehead notes that this reflects her observation from her studio window overlooking the Otago Peninsula, an area host to many seabird species including the yellow eyed penguin, red billed gull, white fronted tern, and sooty shearwater
“The tide ebbs and flows, light plays on the water, birds forage for food, rest on the water, whirl in flocks. But it’s not a soundscape – more than most of my pieces, it harks back to exploring an idea within the traditions and proportions of the classical era.”
Central to the work was soloist Andrew Beer, Concertmaster with the APO who along with his violin acted a commentator and observer throughout the work.
The music conveys much about the landscape, the changing light, the ebb and flow of the waters as well as the bird life. But, with the work having been written over the past two years of Covid there is also an underlying tension.
The opening moments of the work with its soft strings and gentle percussion along with soloist Andrew Beer created a radiant dawn with light shimmering on the waters and a host of twittering birdsong.
Beer’s urgent bowing and sharp plucking heralded birdsong but there were also times when his ferocious and often abrupt playing seems to take on the part of a human presence and an underlying darker tone.
All the instruments contributed to the impressionist depiction of the landscape the fauna and flora, the murmur of the sea, the scudding clouds and the sense of light. – the percussion instruments, the harp, brass and the woodwinds all creating descriptive sounds, revealing both the ingenuity of the instruments as well as the inventiveness of the composer.
While these sounds revealed much about the physical environment, they also provided a sense of the spiritual and emotional reactions we have to the environment.
With much of the work the orchestra created an enigmatic background into which Beer inserted himself. His relentless solo work was stunning, varying from the delicate to the to the dynamic, conveying ideas of hope, wonderment and despair.
“Tai timu, tai pari” with its brilliant evocation of personal and emotional responses to the landscape and nature is a welcome addition to contemporary New Zealand compositions and deserves to be played often.
The American conductor James Feddeck himself gave a splendid performance. At times he seemed to use his baton to sculpt the music out of the air and at other times it was a delicate drawing instrument employed with careful movements. He conveyed tempo and energy as he moved about the podium in precise dance-like steps and at times with his actions; crouching, turning and lunging he seemed like a man possessed.
The main work on the programme was Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2, a melodious triumph in which the composer confidently comes to grips with the symphonic form after his less than successful symphony No 1. Rachmaninov once said of the work that he composed it to give expression to his feelings; his melodies proclaim his feelings to have been not only dark and brooding, but also with a romantic warmth.
Just as there was an ebb and flow to Whiteheads work here too is an ebb and flow that is integral to the music such that it feels carefully planned, flowing in an organic fashion.
James Feddeck guided the orchestra expertly. From the film score drama of the second movement to the dynamic shifting moods of the third movement he was in perfect control. The strings had a burnished fullness, well matched by flamboyant woodwinds and brass.
He manged to express the psychological and emotional depths of the music, without the angst of Tchaikovsky or Mahler, featuring a lot more sweetness and joy.