13 Apr 2018

Review: APO – A night of firsts

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 13 April 2018

Pianist Ingrid Fliter joined the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra last night for A Night of Firsts.

The concert featured the Australasian premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Symphonic Movements, the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto and the Sibelius’ first symphony.

Peter Hoar reviews.

Ingrid Fliter

Ingrid Fliter Photo: ingridfliter.com

This concert marked the Australasian premiere of a new piece by British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. It was co-commissioned by the APO, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Oregon Symphony Orchestra which premiered it last year.

Written in memory of Turnage’s friend, the composer & musician Richard Rodney Bennett, the piece is in five movements. The APO gave it a powerful performance under the baton of young, Danish-born conductor Christian Kluxen.

Kluxen is an animated conductor who moves a lot and almost dances at time on the podium. He gave off a sense of commitment and enjoyment. Each of the movements has its own character.

The first opened with an almost slapstick feel with lots of syncopated interplay between the sections. This is not the sort of modern music that is ‘hard’ or ‘difficult’. It’s engaging – lilting at times – and there was a jaunty air to the movement although also darker undertones.

I really liked the 2nd movement with its ethereal woodwind opening. It had a mysterious, almost magical feel. Lots of colour and a delicate conclusion.

The pace picked up with the fairly brief 3rd movement. Lots of skittish melodic fragments being passed around the orchestra and very energetic with a sudden ending.

The 4th movement was the heart of the piece to me. Brooding and dark with an ominous atmosphere. Opening with a haunting clarinet theme. All very ghostly and such rich textures and orchestration. It faded into silence ... which was shattered by the quite violent final movement.

It had lots of stabbing brass and a lurching, almost drunk sounding middle section. Powerful interventions for the percussion. Quite savage and a lot of intense rhythms. As a tribute to a dead friend, this definitely didn’t go quietly into the night.

The Mendelssohn piano concerto 1 up next with Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter who has been here before. She gets very involved with the music and ‘fidgets’ a certain amount – wiping the keys, her hands, moving a lot. But not distracting I thought.

And wonderful playing Muscular in the opening, delicate and gentle in the lyrical second and stirring in the finale. But I found the music itself to be a bit dull to be honest. A bit too polite. She gave us a beautiful and moving Chopin encore – a speciality of hers. Certainly showed up the Mendelsohn I thought.

The concert’s second half was quite speedy and powerful version of the Sibelius 1st symphony. I really enjoyed this performance for its verve and sheer esprit. The glorious clarinet and tympani opening led into a powerful and taut reading of the 1st movement.

Kluxen’s approach gave the symphony overall a sense of direction and drive which gave a sense of focus. Sibelius was still developing his symphonic style at this stage and this symphony can be a bit of a sprawling mess if it’s not given strong direction I think.

This was urgent and compelling playing and conducting but it never felt rushed.

The more sombre and melancholic 2nd movement never dragged and there was a sense of drama that came through in the stormy dynamics and powerful climax of the central section.

A lively and engaging 3rd movement felt very dance-like in this performance with energetic strings but also some darker undertones. A brilliant finish which led us into the final movement.

This was dramatic and sweeping. Menacing at times – there’s a lot of drama in this symphony. A blazing conclusion that was cut off with a couple of pizzicato chords. A fine finish to a varied evening of symphonic music.