Reviews, News and Commentary

New APO conductor explores “City of Dreams”

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Shiyeon Sung

City of Dreams

Auckland Philharmonia

Conductor, Shiyeon Sung

Auckland Town Hall

April 20

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The APO’s latest concert “City of Dreams” was significant for  a number of reasons, notably that this was the first appearance  of Shiyeon Sung who is now the Principal Guest conductor with the orchestra. This appointment  Along with that of Gemma New, as the Principal Conductor of the NZSO makes New Zealand a leader in promoting female conductors.

Shiyeon Sung made her first appearance with the orchestra just on a year ago when she conducted the first concert in the Auckland Town Hall for an audience  of two hundred as we were coming out of Covid 19 restrictions.

The “City of Dreams” concert opened with Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture” which was originally written for a play by the Austrian dramatist Heinrich von Collin’s and follows much the same plot line as Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” where the titular hero has to choose between an attack on the Roman Empire and acceding to his mother’s plea to desist and seek peace.

These two aspects are represented by two musical ideas which are at heart of the work and Sung ensured that the contrasts between percussive onslaughts and agitated strings served to highlight the conflicted drama of the work.

The intensity of the work was emphasised by the dramatic flourishes of Sung’s conducting as she shaped the music with elegant hand gestures and at other times seemed to exude an electrical force directed at the orchestra.

Following the Beethoven, the seventeen-year-old Korean cellist Jaemin Han  performed  Haydn’s Cello Concerto No1. It’s a work which allows the soloist to display their technical ability, an understanding of the music’s complexity along with exposing the works emotional  core.

Jaemin Han

Han’s performance was one that would be expected of a musician many years older. He played with an assurance and intensity which was riveting and much of the time he appeared to in a sort of reverie searching for inspiration.

The contrast between the gentle flow of the orchestra reading of the Baroque music and the cellist’s fervent playing was a true highlight. At time Han attacked his cello with an intense ferocity while at other time he was thoughtful, engrossed in the detail  of the music with a whispered contemplation.

Haydn has never sounded so modern with Han displaying not only a technical mastery but finding a sensuousness and an ecstatic energy in the music.

After interval and an outstanding Bach cello piece by Han the orchestra offered two twentieth century works.

The first was the short ”Dance in the Old Style by Erich Korngold which foreshadows the composers “Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City) which the APO will perform in July.

The work written by the composer when he was in his early twenties reveals much of the lyricism which was to be found twenty years later when he was a composer for Hollywood films.

His graceful inventive approach combining aspects of early minuets, late nineteenth century romanticism with traces of modernism was thoughtfully delivered by the orchestra.

The final piece on the program was a symphonic version of Paul Hindemith’s opera “Mathis der Maler”.

The work was an exploration of the clash between artists’ responsibility to their art and to the social and political issues of their time, which he based on the life of the 16th-century painter Matthias Grünewald, the  religious wars of the 16th century  and  the creation of Grunewald’s masterpiece, The Isenheim Altarpiece.

The Isenheim Altarpiece

Like the altarpiece the work is, musically epic with a sense of narrative  and full of  energy. In the first movement the edgy horns and the lyrical strings created a tautness which was also seen in the conducting of Sung with her crisp hand directions and sharp finger pointing reinforcing the drama.

The brass which was heavily used throughout the work ranged from the burnished to the silky and  Sung  blended the various orchestral sections together to get perfect balance of sounds

After the dynamic opening movement the short second movement had an otherworldly or visionary sense. This was followed by the lengthy final movement with its denser darker sounds tinged with a savagery which seems relevant both to the time of Gruenwald and the Hindemith’s time in Nazi Germany when the work was written. Sung brilliantly negotiated the various mood and tempo changes, building tensions through to the  turbulent finale.

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By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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