If you believed the marketing hype the accompanied this concert, then you were in for a treat from a ‘superstar’ violinist. Indeed, some in the audience were gleefully reading articles on Tasmin Little’s recent success at a recent music awards event so the Auckland Town Hall was pretty much full and had high expectations. However, I’m not sure that those expectations were duly met.
The programme got off to a lyrical start with Aulis Sallinen’s Sunrise Serenade. While a work ostensibly written to commemorate the 100th birthday of a major Finnish bank (Kansallis-Osake Pankki) might sound somewhat self-serving and obsequious, the work is anything but and with trumpets placed on stage and at the back of the stalls, the effect of the echoed theme gave a balance and a mystique to the performance that made it more interesting to listen to. Maestro Kamu, a well-known face to New Zealand audiences clearly knew the work well and made sure to acknowledge his ‘soloists’.
So to the Sibelius Violin Concerto. In an interview with TV3, Little said that this was one of her favourite concerti and is one of the staples of the repetoire. It didn’t seem that way – from the start it seemed tepid and you had to query the intonation. Perhaps she was suffering from jetlag or a cold ? She certainly did not look happy or comfortable. Notes were missed, some of the runs that you would expect a world-class soloist to polish off with elan were muddled and there were definitely times where soloist and orchestra did not gel. It wasn’t the orchestra’s fault, they provided a sympathetic accompaniment where they could but the work is written to expose the soloist more. Things did not improve in the second movement and there were passages in the third movement which seemed oddly slow, adding to my disappointment. The audience response was polite but tepid and it was notable to see quite a few people not applauding the performance. I certainly did not. It was a huge let down and luckily we were spared an encore.
Brahms’ Third Symphony is a work with many traps, so noted Bernard Haitink as part of a masterclass at the Royal College of Music, London. The first three notes alone should be mind-boggling in a way and on the third, it’s like a door flying open. The door didn’t fly open as dramatically as it could have but overall it was a good performance with care taken in the second and third movements on those lyric melodies between the strings and the woodwind which are so central to those sections. What a relief to hear after the dismal rendition of the Sibelius. That relief doubtless reflected in the warm and sustained applause for Maestro Kamu and the Auckland Philharmonia. Job well done.