Reviews, News and Commentary

A captivating Sleeping Beauty from the Royal New Zealand Ballet

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Kate Kadow as Princess Aurora

The Ryman Healthcare Season of The Sleeping Beauty

Royal New Zealand Ballet
Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland
Until November 6th
Then Bruce Mason Theatre, Takapuna November 11 & 12

Reviewed by John DalyPeoples

This week on the stage of the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Kate Kadow, in the role of Princess Aurora, appeared to inhabit a different world from the dancers around her. Her dazzling display combined supreme elegance, technical fluidity and emotional richness that was electrifying in its power and urgency. She showed that she was not just great classical dancer but a sparkling gem of pure movement.

The Sleeping Beauty ranks among the top dozen ballets. It has a simple story and superb choreography  but it also has social, political and psychological complexity, plus a density that makes it a rich dance work.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest production manages to combine all the elements of the fairy tale, pantomime and the tragic fable along with riveting theatre.

The work was originally performed before Tsarist Russian court audiences in 1898. What they saw on stage for most of the production was their own environment reflected back to them: a hierarchy of positions and roles all acted out within the confines of richly decorated interiors, with courtiers and noble people who knew their rank and position in a fantastically structured society.

For many of them, The Sleeping Beauty was something a cautionary tale about the ever present terror of political and social unrest.

It is the evil Carabosse with her attendants who make manifest this lurking terror, which imprisons the court for a hundred years. It seems remarkably prescient of Petipa (and Tchaikovsky) that 100 years after the first production in the 1990’s Russia would emerge from its period of political and social slumber.

There is also a strong psychological aspect to the work with the interplay between the forces of good and evil jousting for the mind of the young princess.

The ballet is filled with fabulous dance; elegant courtly dances, some almost abstract work by the Carabosse’s attendants, touches of rustic folk dance and ravishing displays of classical ballet.

Kate Kadow shines throughout and even managed the tricky Rose Adagio superbly. That sequence, seemingly invented by a demented choreographer, requires the dancer to balance on point while promenading with her four suitors.

It is as technically challenging as many of the great gymnastic routines and both cast and audience spent a few breath-stopping moments while she completed the movement.

From the second act on, when she dances with her Prince Désiré, her remarkable solo work was replaced with some incisive duos as she danced with Laurynas Vejalis.

Vejalis’ muscular dancing was enthralling and in his first minutes on stage brings an intense feeling of melancholy to his work. His power and tautness conveyed a strong sense of sexuality that is later liberated in his dancing with Kadow. Their “dream sequence” duo in which they dance barely touching is moving and poignant, the spaces between them pulsing with energy.

Vejalis has only been a soloist with the company since the beginning of the year but is already a talent to watch.

The six Fairies representing various attributes of the royal Princess all danced with lightness and effervescence, projecting the joy of the child’s birth while The Fairy Cavaliers who accompany them gave brilliant athletic performances representing the more physical qualities of courtly nobility.

The Lilac Fairy is the strong moral force in the ballet and Sara Garbowski provided an enveloping  protective warmth for the young princess as well as dancing with a steely determination when confronting Carabosse.

The minor roles of the four Prince suitors and Prince Désiré’s attendants provided brilliantly restrained performances.

Loughlin Prior in the role of Master of Ceromonies apperared ot have taken on the mantle of Sir Jon Trimmer with a elegant but slightly whimsical performance

During the Chapter Four Wedding sequence where everybody shows of their skills Leonora Voigtlander and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson in their cat masks added a whimsical humour to the dance, while Katherine Skelton (Princess Florine) and a superbly nimble Kihiro Kusukami (Bluebird)  provided a delightful reflection on loves constancy.

Kirby Selchow as Carabosse

Kirby Selchow gave an inspired interpretation of the wicked Carabosse in her tightly bodiced enormous black dress. Her ferocious dancing with dramatic flourishes  brought a sense of drama and dread to the work. Her attendants in their reptilian masks, provided a sense of malevolence and her attendant Morfran danced by Paul Mathews came into his own as one of the Aurora’s suitors

The highly coloured costumes, especially the pinks  verged on the garish but within the colour schemes of the nineteenth century Russian court were highly appropriate.

The sets provided a magnificent setting for the ballet, with the second act woodland scene and its dark forest interior providing a phantastic foil to the decorative splendour of the first and last court scenes.

Reviews, News and Commentary

How the railways helped create New Zealand

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Railways Studios: How a Government Design Studio Helped Build New Zealand

A definitive illustrated history of the graphic work of the railways studios.

By Peter Alsop, Neill Atkinson, Katherine Milburn and Richard Wolfe 

Te Papa Press

RRP : $70.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peopl;es

In 1920 New Zealand Railways established its own Railways Studios  with the aim of promoting the railways as well as New Zealand as a tourist destination. The Studios produced posters, pamphlets, maps and pictorial postage stamps promoting NZR’s services. They also undertook work for many other  government and business clients that advertised at stations, inside carriages and on trackside hoardings.

One hundred years on a new book “Railways Studios, the design studio of the New Zealand Railways” tells the remarkable story of the way in which a government department helped connect New Zealand physically and socially, producing advertising for a range of clients and dominating outdoor advertising.

The Studios worked closely with the Tourist Department, local authorities and chambers of commerce to publicise travel, accommodation and sightseeing packages. They turned out a series of bright, attractive posters highlighting the scenic and therapeutic charms of rail destinations such as the Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Rotorua, Napier, National Park and Timaru. They also promoted combined rail/motor tours to Lake Wanaka, Mount Cook and Fiordland. These images managed to create an image of the country as a magical wonderland of almost mythical  proportions and while  the glories of Mt Cook, Fiordland and Rotorua were promoted so to were the relative wonders of Timaru, Helensville and Te Aroha.

Early New Zealand advertising generally lacked the sophistication of American or European marketing. NZR posters in the 1920s usually mimicked the style and tone of British railway advertising. Most featured sun-drenched beaches and ‘bathing belles’, towering mountain peaks, lush forests or exotic Maori. But by the early 1930s the artists in the studios were producing more daring abstract designs that often featured a montage of images and bold colours and shapes.

The designs occasionally strayed into the areas of false advertising as can be seen in the cover image  of the book designed by Marcus King which features what might have been intended as an elaborate pah site but looks more like a European-style castle sitting above a New Zealand vista. The promotion of New Zealand also saw the Studios providing advertising at various expositions throughout New Zealand as well as  at world fairs such as the British Empire Exhibition in London in 1924.

The railway station and railway carriages  were ideal venues for mass communication and such intense advertising and promotion can still be seen in places like the London Tube stations and carriages.

Not only did the stations and carriages have advertising about the railways they also provided advertising material for range of consumer  products ranging from  food, paint and clothing through to  automobiles, petrol companies and airlines.

There is a chapter on  the Studios association  with the New Zealand Railways Magazine, a forerunner the Listener which was published between 1926 and 1940. Alongside railway news, the magazine promoted domestic tourism and  New Zealand verse, short fiction, humour, sports news, historical yarns, biographical sketches and book reviews. Among the many contributors  were James Cowan, Robin Hyde and Denis Glover.

Whatever the promotion – from rail travel and tourism to enlistment in the army, clothing and health promotion – the Studios played a role. Thousands of its designs influenced public attitudes, shaping how New Zealanders saw themselves.

As well  an insight into how the studios worked the book provides a time capsule of life in New Zealand and the importance of the railway network. There are numerous photographs of various stations around New Zealand from the impressive  main railway station in Wellington to the small station at Rakaia.

The book is lavishly illustrated with hundreds of images alongside the well-researched chapters which touch on the history of rail transport in New Zealand,  In covering the history of advertising the book also reveals the artists who worked for the Studios. A few of the names are familiar as artists in their own right such as  John Holmwood and Gordon Tovey but most have not been recognised and the book provides an opportunity to recognise their talents.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Ann Robinson and Terry Stringer exhibit new work

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Ann Robinson, Transit, Rim Bowl Series

Terry Stringer, Aspects

Ann Robinson, Lightwell

Artis Gallery

Until November 29

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Both Ann Robinson and Terry Stringer have art practices that stretch back 50 years to their time at art school. Over that time they have continued to produce innovation work and have been at the forefront of  the development of New Zealand glass art and sculpture.

Both artists draw inspiration from the natural world, Stringer with an emphasis on the human form while Robinson on biological and organic shapes.

Robinsons use of  natural forms incorporates the shapes of seed pods, leaf and fern forms into her cast glass pieces. There is a strong geometric base to most of her works with an interplay between rigid geometry and the abstracted forms of botanical shapes  and patterns.

There is also an emphasis on strong colours which derive from Nature, the yellow glow of the sun, the greens of the bush blues of the sky and sea and the reds of sunset and the volcanic earth. This ability to capture the essence of light and colour is a remarkable technical and aesthetic accomplishment

In the exhibition two works show the influence of natural forms with “Capense, Curved Vase ($26,000) and “Folium, Curved Vase” ($29,000) where ferns frond shapes are embossed on the dynamic flowering, organic form

There are two works which are much more geometric in form, the red “Geometric series “ vase ($35,000) and “Wedge between Earth and Sky” ($42,000). The geometric nature of the two works and the  square indentation in their middle  gives them the look of ceremonial objects. The technical masterly is most evident in “Wedge”  where the edges become almost slivers of glass.

Two works are in her distinctive flying saucer like bowl shape. The darkly  red “Transit” ($40,000) features what initially appears to be a drop of blood on the curved surface, but as the title suggests it is a link to  The Transit of Venus so the bowl itself becomes a model of the solar system  with the red lump as the orbiting planet. There is also a narrative element to the large bowl “Storm – “Scape, Landscape Series” ($28,000) with its striated surface featuring several seabirds.

Terry Stringer, Icon Head in Architecture

The Terry Stringer  bronze works continue his interest in the depiction of figures where there is a tension between the two dimensional and three-dimensional. As in most of his work there is  a playful challenging of the viewpoint of the viewer and the concepts of perspective. The viewer perception changes as they move around the works revealing and concealing aspects of the forms.

This interest in the intersection of sculptural form and architecture  is obvious in “Icon Head in Architecture” ($28,000) where two heads and hands are set within an architectural fragment. This work references figures in Greek pediments as well as Michelangelo’s “Slave” sculptures where figures struggle to emerge from blocks of marble.

In one work, ‘The Balcony Scene’ ($4000) which features Romeo and Juliet  the viewer is required. to upend the work so thar the lovers  hands entwine.  Entwined hand also feature in Remember Head ($35000) and “He Her Here There”($5500).

The artist also plays with  the visual puzzles of the  Italian Giuseppe Arcimboldo who created imaginative portrait heads made entirely of other objects such as fruits and vegetables. With his “Arcimboldo Mask ($4500) Stringer creates a slight optical illusion where leaves becomes eyes.

The largest of the works in the show is “Art, Truth and Beauty”  ($45,000) which features a large, almost primitive head, similar to some of Picasso’s portrait busts,  connected to a classical facade

Reviews, News and Commentary

Dick Frizzell’s entertaining and enlightening journey through the history of art.

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Me, According to the History of Art

Dick Frizzell

Massey University Press

RRP $65

Publication Date November 12

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Dick  Frizzell’s new book  “Me, According to the History of Art” is remarkable for several reasons. He has the audacity to write a history of world art and then he has the chutzpah to illustrate it himself. He doesn’t even write this history the way that art history is supposed to be written – there is no bibliography, no proper footnotes and his choice of artists and illustrations is more pick and mix than scholarly selection. This makes for an entertaining, clever and enlightening journey through the history of art.

What Frizzell has attempted to do is produce an art history which is entwined with his own development and learning as an artist. From early cave paintings through the great masters to the present day he tries to discover what has made him the artist he is today. That has meant trying to explain what he thinks about art and artists, how artists think about their work, the ideas behind them as well as their methods and techniques of paintings.

This is not a delicate, refined or esoteric encounter with Western Civilization. If there were rules about writing such a book Frizzell discarded them in favour of his personal whims.  As he notes in the books opening sentence “Art History is shit isn’t it? Part of the problem is the way it’s projected: an arcane world of lofty scholarship filtered through a dense web of mysterious medieval masters, workshops and grandiose attribution”.

This history in many ways reads like the famous art historian E H Gombrich’s first book “A Little History if The World” which was a cultural history written in a straightforward manner directed at children as much as adults. . Frizzell uses simple language to explain complex and often confused histories and ideas around the development of Western art.

Frizzell’s Giotto

He effortlessly wades through the history of art unencumbered by the standard approach, giving some artist more of a starring role than others, Leonardo and Michelangelo get a mention, but he is often more taken with artists like Giotto and Fuseli. This individualistic approach means having to think about artists and the whole direction of Western art in different ways.

Frizzell’s  journey is one of explanation  musing, discovery and the occasional epiphany. The reader/ viewer will also have some these discoveries. At one point the artist comes across Joseph Wright of Derby’s work ,an artist that I have always admired but Frizzell had never encountered before. But Wright doesn’t fit within his  narrative, so he is left as just a personal footnote. Then there is his visit to the Matisse Chapel in the South of France which I have always thought overrated where he says “I felt oddly flat, let down” He is quite capable of dismissing artists he thinks don’t come up to scratch..

But there are times when his excitement is palpable,  when his ideas seem to coalesce with another artist as though seeing the work for the first time. There are also times when he seems to revel in artists not unlike himself such as the idea of Manet ripping off Titian with his nude “Olympia” – all very Frizzell

As he developed this project he discovered that illustrating the book was going to be tricky financially as these days one has to pay for reproduction rights and copyright. Frizzell got over this problem by painting the125 works himself. So there are copies of Piero della Francesca, Rembrandt, Cezanne, Picasso, Frank Stella  and even a Colin McCahon

Frizzell’s Van Eyck

Some of these are brilliant forgeries, others were probably a bit daunting such as the wonderful Poussin “Assumption” and he admits that painting the tiny reflection of the artist in Jan van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding” was too much of a stretch for even him.

The book should be a standard text for all art history students, but its irreverence will probably see it listed as a footnote.

Frizzell has also put on an exhibition of work which has grown out of the project at Gow Langsford Gallery on until November 21. The consists of eighteen paintings, mainly of Gris and Picasso along with two McCahons.

Frizzell’s Picasso
Reviews, News and Commentary

APO’s Fairytale concert transports audience to new realms

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Fairytale Romance

ICBC Great Classics

Auckland Town Hall

November 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The three works on  the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s  “Fairytale Romance” programme were examples of different styles of composition, from the carefully constructed. Mozart through the fanciful music of Mendelssohn to the expressive Brahms Serenade No1

Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 is one of the composer’s quintessential works written by the 17 year old composer with  its first movement used to great effect in the Milos  Forman’s film Amadeus.

The work is full of energy and inventiveness and there is a chiaroscuro of sound throughout, contrasts between light and dark which conductor Giordano Bellincampi exploited to the full. These contrasts also make one aware of the complex architecture which Mozart builds, structures which are then provided with rich embellishments.

Mendelssohn was also 17 when he composed the incidental music to  A Midsummers Night’s Dream , inspired by the Shakespeare play. In it he manages to completely capture the magic and frivolity of the ethereal world Shakespeare created. The piece seems to be the ideal music to be used for the Midsummers Night’s Dream ballet originally devised by  George Balanchine.

The orchestra depicted the fairies flitting  through the woods, the heavy rhythms of the Mechanicals  and the braying of Bottom along with the delicate themes portraying the lovers.

The Brahms Serenade No 1 also creates images but for this work Bellincampi was no longer waving a fairy wand, using the orchestra to  create a fantasy world. His baton became a brush using Brahms’ music to paint emotional moods and expressive landscapes rooted in the everyday. The contracts in the music  were those of the landscape – scudding clouds, changing  light  and colours

The lovely, descriptive  music was accompanied by Bellincampi’s graceful conducting and his dance-like movements on the podium

Future APO Concerts

Poetry and Passion

November 12

Leonie Holmes, For just a little moment…(world premiere)
Schumann, Piano Concerto
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No.4

NZ-based German pianist Michael Endres joins the APO playing  Schumann’s Piano Concerto replacing Ingrid Fliter.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Looking for the ghost of Robin Hyde

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

“Shining Land, Looking for Robin Hyde” by Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima

Massey University Press

RRP $45

Publication Date: November 12th

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The cover illustration for ”Shining Land” by Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima’s new book about Robin Hyde is rather puzzling. A group of trees in park doesn’t suggest much about the author, even the subtitle, “Looking for Robin Hyde” which could be some literary version of Where’s Wally? doesn’t help much either.

Its only when you get halfway through the book that one discovers that the view is of the Birch Grove in the grounds of the Queen Mary Hospital at Hamner Springs that it makes any sense. This is a place where the young Robin Hyde was treated after a mental breakdown and the grove could have  been a place where she contemplated her life and possibly began some of her poetry

Robin Hyde had a life full of promise and adventure but  she existed on the margins of society and sanity most of her life. Physically she was hampered by a damaged leg and she was crippled in her relationship with men which resulted in pregnancies and illegitimate children. Her journalistic career was as chaotic as her personal life but she managed to publish numerous books and volumes of poetry in New Zealand and Britain.

In “Shining Land” Morris and Sameshima explore the life of Hyde both through an examination of her work as well as road trips which take the two of them on  journeys to the various places where Hyde lived, worked and rested – Whanganui, Hamner, Wellington, Auckland, Whangaroa, D’Urville Island and Rotorua

Morris details Hyde’s life, drawing together her own assessment of the author along with quotes from the authors works and letters as well as other writers’ assessments of her. Paralleling the text Sameshima provides photographs of  the locations she lived – a view from the window of her flat overlooking the Whanganui River and her room at the old Auckland Mental Hospital (Oakley).

The book is an almost poetic meander through Hyde’s life, filled with digressions (footnotes to the text and photographs offer another level of discovery) and reflections. Many of Sameshima’s photographs have a washed-out colour giving them a look of aged images[JD1]  from the 1930’s. They are all devoid of human figures and the few objects in them heighten a sense of bleakness and loneliness.

The book is also something of  a contemplation on writing and Morris  manages to explore the psyche of pre World War II New Zealand with its ghosts of World war I and the changing lives of New Zealanders, particularly women.

“Shining Land” beautifully marries text, design and photography capturing the life and the impulses of one of our great female authors with clarity and insights.

“Shining Land” is the second in the series of works described as picture books for adults under the general editorship of Llyod Jones. The first of these was High Wire  written by Jones and illustrated by Euan Macleod,


Reviews, News and Commentary

Installation at ACAG reflects on the Australian bush fires and other world crises

Reviewed by John Dasly-Peoples

Alicia Frankovich: AQI2020

Auckland Art Gallery

Until November 8, 11.30am–3.30pm daily

Late night performance. Friday 6 November  from 5-9pm

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Alicia Frankovich’s work AQI2020 at the Auckland Art Gallery is a three dimensional installation /performance referencing the bush fires  which raged on Australia’s east Coast last summer. The artist uses imagery, personal stories and news media accounts to create this tableau about the disaster. In particular, she uses an image showing a group of people trapped in thick orange smoke on a  beach.

Frankovich says of the work  ‘The title, AQI2020, refers to the Air Quality Index, a scale to measure air pollution and associated risks. AQI2020 stems from my first-hand experience of sustained, severe smoke levels that infiltrated my Canberra apartment where I was living and rose to alarming levels, with one notable occasion over New Year’s Eve 2020. The region was surrounded by smoke – from the Orroral Valley and Currowan fires – which lingered for more than 60 days. Over the evening of 31 December 2019 and into 1 January 2020, the Air Quality Index in Canberra peaked at levels 26 times those deemed hazardous.’

The work consists of a large a large, transparent orange box that echoes the  orange smoke-filled sky. Inside, half a dozen performers engage in surviving, a  hostile environment with just a few clothes, backpacks, a torch a  small boat and their water bottles.

Moving about the space sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with purpose,  sometimes as if in a dance they: engage with each other, supporting  and comforting. At other times they seem to ignore each other.  They also try to communicate with the outside world with one performer holding up an article about the fires to the wall, inviting the audience to read it.

While this tableau takes its inspiration from the bush fires it can be read as a metaphor for many of the issues plaguing contemporary society. These individuals can be seen as being in  cells, camps or  hostile environment which imprison them physically, socially and emotionally, they  are individuals  at the mercy of outside forces imposed by Man or Nature.

Many of the performers hold up their arms in helplessness, surrender or supplication. They could be refugees, demonstrators or people caught up in the fog of war. We become aware of issues around oppressive regimes, the refugee crisis,  climate change, the lack of water resources, the lack of human interaction and  kindness

Reviews, News and Commentary

NZ Opera’s stunning interpretation of Handel’s Semele

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Emma Pearson as Semele. Photo: Garry Brandon.

“Semele” by George Frideric Handel

New Zealand Opera

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell

Until November 6

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

God arrived at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell this week in the form of Jupiter who disrupted  the wedding ceremony of Semele the  daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes, to Athamas.  Then he had some of his biker friends spirit Seleme to his heavenly realm so he can pursue his  adulterous affair with her. But this  coupling is only part of a larger love dilemma as we learn that Ino, Semele’s sister, is in love with Athamas and Jupiter’s wife Juno of course is incensed by the affair  and is determined to destroy the woman who has displaced her

Back in her palace, Semele is not entirely happy, realising  she is only a mortal and Juno (disguised as Ino) persuades her to ask Jupiter if she can become immortal.

Jupiter tries to dissuade Semele from this request but she insists and when appears in his godly form she is consumed by his power and dies, Ino returns to the world of mortals, marries Athamas and they live happily ever after and by some trick of the gods Semele’s ashes are transformed into Bacchus.

The story of Semele comes originally from Ovid’s Metamorphoses but Handel used a libretto which was written by William Congreve and combines  elements of Restoration drama, opera, and oratorio, managing to bring together  mythology, Christian iconography and hints at contemporary political events and ideas.

Even in the period of the Enlightenment there were still the problem of  mixing of the classes, at the upper levels of society, arranged marriages were more important than romantically based ones. These are notions have come down to the present as we saw with the marriage of Diana and Charles. There are also universal themes interwoven through the work – the desire for success and immortality, looking for love and seeking revenge. So the opera is something of a morality play while prying into the lives of the rich and famous.

At close to three hours this is a testing work for orchestra  and singers, but they all rose to the challenges and succeeded with a spectacular performance which was entertaining and enchanting. The New Zealand  Baroque Opera Orchestra  under Peter  Walls gave an energetic performance giving Handel’s music with its many Messiah-like tunes a very sympathetic reading.

Parts of the work are a bit tedious but the first act and most of the last act are filled with action and some lush, emotional singing.

Emma Pearson as Semele was outstanding bringing power and sensitivity to the part both with her acting and  voice which at various  times  conveyed sensuality, passion and wretchedness. She used her nimble soprano voice wonderfully, especially singing the beautiful Oh Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?”.  Many of her arias were greatly enhanced by embellishments and a brilliant coloratura.

Sarah Castle both as the slightly wicked Juno and the solicitous Ino sang some of Handel’s great arias with precision and vibrancy.

Amitai Pati as Jupiter used his deep rich voice  great effect, capturing the nobility, obsession and ardour of his character.

Paul Whelan gave solid performances as Cadmus and Somnus while Stephen Diaz as Athamas gave a spirited take  on the part.

It was a brave production especially choosing to have it in Holy Trinity which doesn’t have the best of acoustics or good sight lines, However, the production team and directors, Thomas de Mallet Burgess and Jacqueline Coats pulled of a triumph  creating a stunning interpretation of one of the great Handel operas.

Semele Photo: Garry Brandon.
Reviews, News and Commentary

NZSO’s Timeless performance of the great composers

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Hamish McKeich

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra


Auckland Town Hall

October 23

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s latest concert, “Timeless” was an opportunity to hear significant compositions from three major composers  but it also provided an insight into the ways that music changed in a short period. The three works on the programme spanned less than fifty years from Haydn’s Symphony No 64 1773 and  Mozart’s Symphony No 40 of 1788 to Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue of  1826.

Over that time the nature of music changed  dramatically. The architecture of the music composition changed as did the emotional power which flowed from their compositions.

Haydn’s Symphony No 64 came from the period when the composer was experimenting with the form and while there is drama in the work the movement are generally constructed  around single themes or motives with a  formal  classical structure. There is a strong sense of balance and orderliness along with wit and clever juxtapositions which is profoundly satisfying. Conductor  Hamish McKeich  was able to emphasise these aspects as well as  guide the orchestra through the dynamic changes of the first movement  and the restrained,  at times mournful second movement.

By comparison Mozart’s Symphony No 40 is intense, highly coloured, and unconventional, notable for the number and variety of themes which build through the work. His writing was also more flamboyant  as he dissected, reworked and elaborated on his themes. The success of the work also owes much to Mozart’s interest in opera and the work is filled with melodies which  seem to be taken from or designed for the opera voice.

From the opening voluptuous  sequence to the final movement which prefigures Beethoven and point the way towards 19th century romanticism the orchestra gave a dazzling and coherent performance.

While Mozart created a sense of emotions, partly through the urgency of the “voice” In his Grosse Fugue Beethoven plumbs an emotional depth which reveals a personal angst  which is both disturbing and enriching.

One of the greatest achievements of Mozart and Beethoven was the development of their compositions into a distinct, sophisticated and almost dramatic art form. The Grosse Fugue It is a work which  is uncompromising and enigmatic, with arts of it sounding like twentieth century music , no wonder that  Igor Stravinsky said that the Grosse Fugue was absolutely contemporary and would stay contemporary forever.

McKeich ensured that the complex orchestration, the overlapping of themes, the abrupt changes in tempo and texture, the almost dissonant passages, the sequences which seemed like collapses  were, at all times controlled

Reviews, News and Commentary

APO’s “Reflections” concert filled with nostalgia and joy

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra


Auckland Town Hall

October 22

Debussy’s Prelude a L’après-midi d’un faune (“The Afternoon of a Faun”) is based loosely on the poem by he Stéphane  Mallarmé which describes the sensual experiences of a faun waking up from his afternoon sleep and reflecting on  his encounters with several nymphs in a dreamlike monologue.

Their delicate flesh-tint so clear,

It hovers yet upon the air

heavy with foliage of sleep

Its images like these opening lines that Debussy put to music and the APO captured this dreamy quality with the opening notes played by flautist Melanie Lancon, the orchestra Principal Flute. Along with the languid sensual tones of the work there were other harsher aspects as in the lines;

The secret terrors of the flesh

Like quivering lightning

This idyll which is full of contrasts and ambiguities, has passages of  melancholy and regret which can be heard in the woodwinds but underlying the work is an impetus which carries the work along with a dance-like lushness.

The second work on the programme was the world premiere of Canadian Gary Kulesha’s ”Oboe Concerto” a piece that blends avant-garde techniques with traditional forms and references. It was played by Principal Oboist Bede Hanley who gave a thrilling performance

The work in some ways seemed an extension of the Debussy Prelude with a description of an individual immersed in a landscape and ambience but a place with moreshadows.

Much of the time the orchestral sounds were dramatic and slightly menacing, creating a brooding sound with a combination of Big Band sound and the aggressiveness of Benjamin Britten’s operas.  Bede Handley’s oboe danced through the orchestra his playing effortlessly ranging over the  playful, lyrical and soulful,  at times providing intense shards of light and extraordinary riffs. In his long faultless solo he managed to span the full range of the instrument, both musically and emotionally.

Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony was the final symphony written in an attempt to win the Stalin Prize of 1952 and repair his reputation with the authorities. It sounds as though in the attempt to write something which would appeal to the judges, he fell back on some of his previous compositions so the symphony has echoes and themes from works such as his Romeo and Juliet ballet.

From the first movement it sounds like an evolving narrative, a nostalgic look back to better times in the composer’s life, the past tinged with sadness. In the second movement the lively dance rhythms were responded to by conductor Bellincampi  dancing around on the podium.

There are moments of tenderness, passages of playfulness as well as of contemplation. There were times of lightness and others reaching a fever pitch and in the final movement the various groups instruments seemed engaged in a competition as they passed the musical themes between them.

Bede Hanley had given a lively encore after his performance which is usual but at the conclusion of the Prokofiev Maestro Bellincampi provided an encore from the audience who played the march from the composer’s opera, For the Love of Three Oranges.