Every now and then, we do get a superstar of the classical music world come to visit. So it was good to see the ‘sold out’ signs both on the web and at the Auckland Town Hall last Thursday’s Auckland Philharmonia concert. Perhaps repertoire everyone knows was another reason but more likely was the appearance of American-Korean violinist Sarah Chang making her New Zealand debut.
Chang is rightly billed as a superstar and seemingly concertising everywhere. Indeed, Auckland was the last stop on what must have been a very exhausting twelve-week tour that started in Asia and then took in the Australian capitals for both concerti and recitals.
Smetana’s Overture to ‘The Bartered Bride’ can be a bit of a warhorse but not this time. Polish conductor Michal Dworzynski, a welcome return visitor to the APO, took the vivacissimo tempo marking very literally and really pushed the orchestra from the beginning. If that was going to be the pace for the evening, there would be some burn out at some point.
Two words aptly describe Antonin Dvorak’s Violin Concerto – neglected masterpiece. Compared to the other concertante works for the violin, perhaps it does not dazzle or charm as much, but without rock-solid technique and intonation, its degree of difficulty can easily render soloists undone from the very first notes. This might well be the reason why Joseph Joachim, the violin virtuoso to whom the work was dedicated, may have decided not to play it even once.
While we saw and heard flashes of brilliance and Chang’s trademark clarity throughout the performance, something seemed out of place. Chang’s body language on stage seemed to indicate discomfort with something, particularly in the first movement. Perhaps the exertions of the last three months had caught up with her in some way. Certainly, the lack of an encore might have been a hint in that direction.
Having heard a number of her recordings and other concert performances, Chang is clearly capable of better and it was also clear that the Town Hall audience expected more. Given that she is friends with APO Music Director Designate Giordano Bellincampi, maybe she will return for a performance of her favourite Brahms concerto in the future.
Luckily, the second half more than compensated for the first with Bizet’s Carmen Suites and Ravel’s Bolero.
Maestro Dworzynski works well with the Auckland Philharmonia and the orchestra responded back with an assured performance of both the the suites as one continuous work. Carmen might be a tragedy, but the audience was well pleased.
Bolero Ravel’s most famous piece, something that surprised even the composer himself – he wondered whether orchestras would want to perform it given its repetitive, mechanical nature. Forever associated with the Winter Olympic champions Torvill & Dean in the 1980s, it is actually quite a clever work as the various wind instruments take their solos and the snare drum gets louder and more insistent.
Conductor and orchestra both made sure that this was well-paced and like Goldilocks’ porridge, was not too slow, not too fast, not too soft but loud enough in all of the right places. Worthy of a perfect 6.0 from all the judges.