Some interesting programming by the Auckland Philharmonia and the prospect of some magic from a highly-regarded soprano ensured a good turnout at the Auckland Town Hall on Thursday evening.
Interesting if only for the Sinfonietta by Alexander von Zemlinsky which opened the evening. This three movement work belongs firmly in the Second Viennese School so one did not expect harmonious lines much less something easy on the ear. It would have been hard going unless you are a fan of Schoenberg and Webern. Things did not seem to gel in the opening movement despite seemingly clear direction from conductor Jun Markl but settled down to coherence in the second movement Ballade. The final Rondo was colourful and energetic.
The contrast between that and Strauss’ Four Last Songs could not have been clearer. From the first few notes of Spring, the orchestra was clearly happy to be back in more familiar territory.
Canadian Soprano Measha Brueggergosman was a late replacement for Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet who had withdrawn due to a back injury. NZSO subscribers will doubtless recall that Brueggergosman herself had to withdraw from the opening concerts of the 2012 season due to her pregnancy. Brueggergosman is nothing if not determined – a survivor of open-heart surgery three times and other personal challenges besides, she has carved out a reputation as a versatile artist, comfortable in the classical and popular spheres.
But again, something seemed out of place. At times, there was a lack of tonal and dynamic balance between soloist and orchestra with Brueggergosman sometimes overwhelmed. We know that she has a powerful voice and we heard glimpses of that in September and Beim Schlafengehen. Maybe I was simply expecting too much – these powerful songs have magical, soaring melodies that seem to float on high clouds. The Town Hall audience seemed happy enough with very warm and sustained applause for Brueggergosman who also seemed pleased with her performance.
It is hard to believe now that Schubert’s Ninth Symphony lay undiscovered for a time and was first performed well after the composer’s death. Nicknamed the “Great”, it was deemed unplayable initially by some of the orchestras who were asked to perform it. There were no such issues for the Auckland Philharmonia and there was no lack of contrast as there seemed to be in the first half. Maestro Markl, conducting from memory, set a barnstorming pace from the Allegro in the first movement and really pushed the orchestra to the limit. There were times where you did wonder whether the wheels were going to come off the cart, especially in the third movement Scherzo. The fact that everything held together and resulted in a compelling performance is testament to both orchestra and conductor.
Overall, a decent evening, if a little disappointing.