Review: Auckland Philharmonia, “Czechmate” – 2 October 2014

While the audience numbers might have been affected a little by traffic on a wet evening, nevertheless it was a solid turnout at the Auckland Town Hall for the Auckland Philharmonia’s final “Great Classics” mini-series concert. The evening’s theme was Czechmate – a nod to the great Czech composers Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana.

Smetana’s symphonic poem The Moldau is well known for its sweeping main melody, depicting one of the Czech Republic’s longest rivers the Vltava. In the composer’s own words, the music depicts the coming together of two currents, woods and meadows, a country wedding, castles and ruins and the river’s swirls as it heads off into the distance. All of these pictorial details were conveyed succinctly by the orchestra under British conductor Christopher Seaman.

Schumann’s Cello Concerto does not have the emotional drama that the Dvorak or the Elgar concertos do and this probably explains why it is not played that often nowadays. Schumann himself once said that he could not write concerti for virtuoso performers and would have to try “something else”. In this case that “something else” is a display of lyricism and melodic line which is carried through all three movements, played without interruption.

Soloist for the evening was Swedish cellist Torleif Thedéen who is no stranger to the Auckland Town Hall. Totally secure in his intonation and phrasing, Thedéen  performed with his trademark elegance and without overdramatising the music. While one could criticise the piece itself, you could not criticise this performance. The Auckland Philharmonia and Maestro Seaman provided a carefully weighted and dynamically sensitive accompaniment in tune with the soloist. A nod also to APO Principal Cellist Eliah Sakakushev-von Bismarck in the second movement duet which was duly acknowledged by soloist and audience alike.

An encore of Bach’s c minor Sarabande from the Cello Suite No. 5 was an atmospheric contrast to the Schumann and also well received.

My sense is that Antonin Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony is not programmed as much as it ought to be compared to the Eighth or the Ninth. Perhaps it is a bit darker emotionally, reflecting challenging times for its composer when he wrote it. While there are obvious parallels to symphonies of Schubert and Brahms in its orchestration, it still has a Bohemian voice through some elements of folk elements that populate Dvorak’s works.

Maestro Seaman’s uncomplicated conducting style was well suited to this symphony. Perhaps at times it may have lacked a true Bohemian flavour, but the second and final movements were respectively rich and triumphant. One particular highlight was the exceptional quality of the wind playing which was a notable feature throughout the evening. All of which seemed to please the audience. Isn’t that what matters at the end of the day ?

About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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