The APO’s ‘Free Spirit’ concert lived up to its title with a trio of works that were full of dash and vigour although there were more tragic moments as well.
Under the ever-capable conducting of Giordano Bellincampi the players gave us an evening of spirited playing.
Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan began the evening with an orchestral flourish as if the famous libertine had leapt on to the stage with a swirl of his cloak and a twirl of his mustachios.
This Don Juan is a complex and philosophical symbol embodying Romantic ideals of yearning and idealism ending in disillusion and death.
The APO gave us all this with exciting playing that captured all the piece’s moods and ideals.
Bede Hanley’s oboe was sensual in the central section with the horns plunging us back into the drama which ended bleakly with hushed strings, woodwind, and tympani.
After the nihilism and near-hysteria of Don Juan, Anthony Ritchie’s Viola Concerto felt like we had been taken to a glorious spring day in Otago.
This music is full of airy energy and pulsating rhythms despite its agitated opening.
The APO’s principal viola Robert Ashworth filled the town hall with rich and warm tones.
There are folk, jazz, and bluegrass elements in this concerto along with a lot of wry humour and Ashworth and the APO explored all these aspects with an energetic and exciting performance.
Ashworth’s cadenza leading into the catchy and exhilarating finale was full of colour and vigour.
The composer was there to take a bow and we had a buoyantly bluesy and improvised chamber take on Dave Brubeck’s Take Five for an encore.
Great to hear New Zealand music performed by a New Zealand orchestra.
This should happen more often than it does.
And for what it’s worth, in my opinion this concerto is far superior to a certain famous piece about a lark.
Dvorak’s 8th Symphony in the sunny key of G Major was a fitting conclusion to the concert with its bucolic and idyllic atmosphere.
From the opening movement the APO gave us a delightful walk in the countryside with birdsong and folk based melodies underpinning the symphony’s themes.
The second movement was a standout with its complex mix of sombre themes and dreamy melodies form the strings and winds.
The movement’s central climax of brass and timpani was powerfully delivered.
After a sweet and lilting third movement the orchestra delivered a rousing set of variations with the finale.
A mid-movement lyrical section slowed the pace before the evening ending with a rip-roaring, high spirited, and crowd-pleasing flourish.
Conductor - Giordano Bellincampi
Viola - Rob Ashworth
R. Strauss - Don Juan
Anthony Ritchie - Viola Concerto
Dvořák - Symphony No. 8