Reviews, News and Commentary

An inspired performance by Geneva Lewis with the APO

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Geneva Lewis Image Adrian Malloch

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

New Worlds

Conductor Giordano Bellincampi
Violin Geneva Lewis

Korngold Overture to a Drama
Barber Violin Concerto
Dvořák Symphony No.9 ‘From the New World’

Auckland Town Hall

February 23

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra opened the year with its first major concert “New Worlds” playing three works including Dvořák’s Symphony No.9 ‘From the New World’ which  the major work on the programme. The highlight of the evening though was  the performance of the young violist, Geneva Lewis playing Barber’s Violin Concerto.

In her sea-foam  gown she looked like a Greek caryatid and that classical bearing  emphasised the classical heart of the work. Her brilliant cadences, silky tones and careful phrasing were apparent from the start, as she connected with the orchestra.

There was an elegance to her playing as she floated above the sounds of the orchestra and then she would briefly become part of the orchestra, all the time making the listener aware of the developing musical line and the evolving magic of the work.

Throughout she displayed a total commitment to the music. At times she appeared to be in a trance as though captured by the music and then she would become animated, ferociously attacking the violin while at other times it was as though she were interrogating the music. When not playing she was  attentive to and became engrossed in the sounds of the orchestra, as though taking inspiration from their playing.

Erich Korngold s “Overture to a Drama” which opened the programme   is not actually an overture to a specific drama but it can be seen as an introduction to his drama “Die Tote Stadt” (The Dead City)  which the orchestra will be playing later in the year for the Trusts Community Opera in Concert.

The overture was written by the composer when he was only 14, ten years before the opera and contains much of the emotional drama to be found in that major work which was subsequently banned along with his other music by Nazi Germany.

Korngold was a serious composer but it was his music for many of the great Hollywood films where he made his mark and the overture shows that, demonstrating his ability to create a sense of action and excitement. Waves of sound open the work with a its slightly menacing  theme and the composer adds a mix of the  lively and lyrical throughout the piece. He manages to create all the components of what the nameless drama might contain, creating  visually and emotionally  rich passages.

In the final section of the work, the brooding main theme lurks beneath the light-hearted Viennese dance tunes, and conductor Bellincampi ensured the orchestra captured that tension brilliantly.

Giordano Bellincampi

In 1893 the New York Evening Post wrote of Dvorak Symphony No.9 at its premiere in New York that “Anyone who heard it could not deny that it is the greatest symphonic work ever composed in this country.”

The work can be seen as the first great orchestral work composed in and about America even if it was from a European perspective. The symphony is  a diary of Dvorak’s time in America  a journey of musical, emotional and spiritual  discovery.

There is some dispute over how much Dvorak based his major theme on the  negro spiritual “Goin Home” or  a piece by  written by the  black composer Harry T. Burleigh  who studied  with Dvorak when he was in America.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, it sounds as though he was inspired by what he encountered in America. Whether or not he heard the indigenous music  saw the Great Plains or the amazing flora and fauna, they are all there in the symphony.

From the very opening, the work sounds as though it is an encounter with a new physical and musical landscapes, and a new way of seeing and expressing. It is these notions about a new way of seeing and hearing which Bellincampi stressed as he spurred the orchestra on when creating the musical imagery of towering mountains, wide vistas and massive industry to then fade to tranquil, idyllic scenes.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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