Thursday evening’s Auckland Philharmonia proved to be a study in contrasts, not just in terms of the programme but also in terms of the performances. Subtitled ‘A New Age’, the APO continued its exploration of music of the early 20th century with works by Debussy, Glazunov and Schoenberg.
Think Pelleas and Melisande and Debussy’s opera, not Arnold Schoenberg’s tone poem, comes to mind. And mention Schoenberg and a shudder likely runs up the spine as you think of twelve-tone harmonies. Perhaps it was to provide the audience with some reassurance that APO Music Director Eckehard Stier spoke to the audience briefly about the work before the start of the second half of the concert.
He need not have worried. Being early Schoenberg, the music is unmistakably Late Romantic in style. Its dense richness was exemplified by well-textured and emotional playing from the cello section, Principal Oboe Bede Handley and Principal Violist Robert Ashworth in particular. Maestro Stier is very comfortable in this repetoire and difficult to the ear this music might be at times, this was an elegantly executed performance with the story clearly told and the highlight of the evening.
Glazunov’s Violin Concerto is not that well known either compared to say Tchaikovsky’s, Mendelssohn’s or Beethoven’s equivalents. There may be some logic to this in that it is played as a unitary work and is both technically demanding and somewhat meandering at the same time. Then again, like me, you probably haven’t forgiven Glazunov for premiering Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony under the influence and his music should suffer as a result.
Competently performed by young German violinist Linus Roth, if you were hearing it for the first time, this performance might convince you to hear it again. Or rather not. A little oddly, the audience did not seem in the mood for an encore from the evening’s soloist. A pity, as it would have been interesting to hear more from him. Maybe next time.
Ironically, the weakest performance of the night came first. La Mer, Debussy’s symphonic portraits of the sea, needs little introduction. But compared to the rest of the programme, it seemed strangely underrehearsed. To echo composer Erik Satie’s famous comment about From Dawn To Midday On The Sea, I liked the parts at eight o’clock, nine thirty and half past eleven.
Thank goodness, then, for the Schoenberg. It made the evening worthwhile.