Concert Review: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra at Auckland Town Hall

Christopher Seaman
New Zealand Herald

By William Dart

Vaughan Williams' Wasps Overture was a prime contender on my schoolboy classical hit parade and, on Thursday evening, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra made me realise just why.

Under the ever-alert Christopher Seaman, the musicians romped through the work's stinging trills and jaunty reels as well as a main theme that marched away somewhere between Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance and Eric Coates' The Dam Busters.

But, on the more reflective side, we were also transfixed by pages that reminded us of the English composer's deep admiration of Ravel's music.

John Chen caught the inner soul and fire of Mozart's C minor Piano Concerto.

The pianist's finely nuanced opening melody morphed seamlessly into passagework that seemed to breathe of its own accord; in the central development, musical dialogue was a high priority and all involved were elegant conversationalists.

The sprightly Larghetto had the orchestra's woodwind section matching Chen's pristine clarity with the pianist sneaking a playful elaboration into Mozart's line en route for a cadence point.

One felt the sterling contribution of Seaman in the Finale, providing a solid base for some of Mozart's happiest variations; a saunter in the major featuring Chen and woodwind was particularly sunny.

Wooed back to the stage by insistent applause, Chen played the first F sharp major Prelude and Fugue from Bach's 48. Exemplary in its musicianship, the Prelude had the buoyancy of Scarlatti while the Fugue coaxed new colours from the at times recalcitrant town hall Steinway.

Listening to Sibelius's First Symphony and indeed to much of the composer's orchestral music, it is difficult not to see the music in terms of landscape and weather. As Seaman and the APO were voyaging through the symphony's lustier moments, I was reminded of Marshall Walker's evocative personification of the work pacing down the Great Glen of Scotland with gusts of brass tone as the wind rises.

It was all this and more in Seaman's hands, from the Nordic chill of its opening clarinet and timpani pairing to the great burly shouts of its closing pages. In between, there was rare poetry from an orchestra that our city and country have every reason to cherish.