After a stunning Mahler 5 from the NZSO under Vasily Petrenko last week, I was looking forward to Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony under another young superstar Lionel Bringuier. Sadly, an injury prevented him from travelling to Auckland and he was replaced at the eleventh hour by the veteran Austrian conductor Gunter Neuhold.
The programme of Felix Mendelssohn’s popular Violin Concerto and the Bruckner obviously inspired the “From Leipzig” title given that both of these works were premiered in that eastern German city.
While Mendelssohn’s great concerto needs little introduction, being one of the most popular concertante works in the repertoire, mention should be made of the evening’s soloist, someone whose playing the British conductor Daniel Harding described as “uncluttered honesty”.
German violinist Isabelle Faust has garnered many favourable reviews for her various performances throughout the world most recently for her recordings of Bach, Beethoven and Bartok. She brought her “Sleeping Beauty” Stradivarius violin with her so what sort of sound would she bring to the Auckland Town Hall ?
It was strong, clear and precise with perfectly weighted intonation. From the first notes which come in almost immediately, there was no hesitation, just beautiful, uncluttered sound with drama where required and senstivity throughout. The second movement Andante was particularly notable for its honesty as Faust resisted all temptation to make it sentimental or schmaltzy as some performers tend to do. She was sending a clear message – let the music (and the fiddle) do the talking. The finale was indeed molto vivace and again, the technical challenges within were dealt in fine style without sacrificing any of the detail or tone. A performance worthy of her excellent reputation and received very warmly by the Town Hall audience.
An encore of the third movement Largo from Bach’s C major Sonata for solo violin was a treat and underlined the clarity and balance we had just heard. Let’s hope that she returns in the near future,
And so to the Bruckner – his massive symphonies are challenging for many reasons, not least of which is the question of which edition of the score to use, Haas or Nowak ? In an illuminating pre-concert talk, APO librarian Robert Johnson noted that Maestro Neufeld had brought with him two versions of the score including the ‘original’ Breitkopf & Haertel published edition and had requested some amendments to the parts the orchestra had.
Such details aside, Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony was one of his most popular and acclaimed works in his life time which was unusual given the hostile critical reaction to his other works. It contains all of the Brucknerian hallmarks – a wide canvas with broad thematic ideas, huge dynamic contrasts, long contrapuntal phrases and plenty of brass including four “Wagner Tubas”, the first time these instruments had been programmed outside of the theatre.
On the whole, it was a reasonable effort from the Auckland Philharmonia and Maestro Neufeld, who is well known in Europe for his operatic works especially his Ring Cycle. Particularly strong playing from the cello and viola sections was prominent throughout and the horns and Wagner tubas provided the dark shading unique to these instruments, The fourth movement Finale was notable for its coherence and dynamic balance between the various sections and capped off a decent evening of solid classical music.