A well-attended Auckland Town Hall audience was treated to another intriguing programme from the Auckland Philharmonia on Thursday evening. Bach, Dutilleux and Shostakovich are not your everyday concert fare and the theme of “Out Of This World” was a nod to the main work and the evening’s soloist, German cellist Nicholas Altstaedt.
JS Bach’s Overture from his Suite No.3 in D major started proceedings and Music Director Eckehard Stier conducting a baroque-sized ensemble kept things balanced, bright and breezy as befits this piece.
Henri Dutilleux is not likely to be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of French composers but perhaps he should be given more prominence than he currently enjoys. A firmly independent voice despite being compared to his contemporaries such as Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez, there are many intriguing descriptions about his compositional style and his music – perfectionist, anti-ideological, unsentimental and poetically flexible.
(A very useful guide to Dutilleux’s music by the excellent critic and writer Tom Service can be found here:
The work that gave the evening its title was Tout un monde lointain (literally “A whole distant world”) and Dutilleux wrote it between 1967 and 1970 for the acclaimed Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Inspired by Baudelaire’s poetry, this five-movement work is challenging for both soloist and orchestra. The cello soloist is required to play a good portion of the work in the high register but at the same time act as a foil for the orchestra as well as projecting its unique and solo voice. The orchestra, with its expanded percussion section, might easily overwhelm the soloist and Maestro Stier was visibly at pains to ensure the balance was correct throughout.
This was, apparently, Nicholas Altstaedt’s first concert performance of this work and also the first time the Auckland Philharmonia had performed it. You couldn’t tell as both seemed completely assured in their performances. While this work might not dazzle with technical derring-do as you might expect from a concerto, that is as Dutilleux intended and this performance was notable for the clarity from Mr. Altstaedt, the complexity of the different layers of music in the piece and the restraint and balance from the orchestra. It all gelled together nicely in an intriguing way. Not having heard it live before, it is a piece I would not mind hearing again. And I think the Town Hall audience would agree.
A encore of Sibelius’ “Raindrops” performed by Mr. Altstaedt and concertmaster Andrew Beer was both charming in contrast and its simplicity.
Remarkably, we saw Mr. Altstaedt in the second half as well as he joined the Auckland Philharmonia’s cello section for Dimitri Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. Not for nothing is it one of the more frequently performed works in the modern symphonic repetoire with its searing harmonies in the first movement, the comical sarcasm of the second, the plaintive and highly emotional third and the highly charged and mock triumphant fourth movement.
The Auckland Philharmonia’s performance can justifiably described as out of this world in every respect. Perfectly paced and weighted dynamically throughout, I cannot remember a performance from this orchestra that had so much energy and intensity and which conveyed a full range of musical colours and textures on every level. Maestro Stier asked for much from his orchestra and got it with interest. A stunning and highly memorable performance that both conductor and orchestra should be very proud of.