Review: “Schirmer & Shostakovich” – Auckland Philharmonia – 20 November 2014


Can it really be the end of the 2014 concert season already ? As Beethoven once said, “Must it be ? It must be !”.

The Auckland Philharmonia wrapped up its year with a performance of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Twelfth Symphony at the Auckland Town Hall last Thursday. Subtitled “The Year of 1917”, this symphony is probably best described as a sort of “obligatory commission” from the Communist Party of the USSR to Shostakovich as part of the celebrations at the 22nd Party Congress. Ostensibly dedicated to Lenin and comprising four movements played as a unitary piece, some writers have dismissed the work as being akin to nothing more than glorified film music. This is understandable as Shostakovich wrote a lot of film scores and the work is most certainly programmatic, but ultimately that view is surely wrong.

Because it depicts the Russian Revolution and some of its iconic places as well as the battleship Aurora, the piece is written to capture the events and the revolutionary emotions of that time. It is, in places, very evocative and dramatic music and the Auckland Philharmonia’s Music Director Eckehard Stier and the entire orchestra made sure we all understood this.

This was a exceptional performance of searing intensity from the very start. Maestro Stier is seemingly in his element with Shostakovich and here again he coaxed and cajoled all of the orchestra into delivering one of the best performances from the orchestra this year. All sections of the orchestra performed magnificently – it was impossible to single any particular section or player out.

Earlier, German pianist Ragna Schirmer performed both Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for piano and string orchestra and Mozart’s C major concerto No. 21 in the first half. The Schnittke was notable for starting and finishing in pitch darkness with all sorts of thematic and structural motifs as one would expect from this composer. This concerto is not often played so was interesting to hear. Ms. Schirmer’s Mozart on the other hand was notable for its clarity as well as the somewhat unusual cadenzas which must have been her own – the one for the final movement was unexpected and in fact quite jazzy and while perhaps a touch too long, was well received by the Town Hall audience.

The unexpected highlight actually came in the form of the encore of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 1 in the version for four hands with Ms. Schirmer playing the primo part and Maestro Stier performing the secondo part. We forget that Maestro Stier is a very good pianist and the two of them were very well suited to this.

But there was no question that the Shostakovich was the true stand out performance of the evening, A great way to conclude another high quality and very interesting classical music year in Auckland.

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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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