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New Zealand Herald Review
It was as if American conductor Christian Knapp had been given his dream assignment by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra last Thursday.
Knapp is one of the most ebullient baton-meisters to take the Town Hall podium for some time, and David Hamilton's Elysian Fields gave full vent to his seemingly inexhaustible energy.
Hamilton's unbridled celebration of sound, written a decade ago for Auckland Youth Orchestra, was given the full professional upgrade.
Stirring string themes had a prairie sweep to them, minimalist textures bubbled appropriately, and percussion were at their tintinnabulating best, with cascades of glockenspiel and tubular bells.
Mark Kaplan was one of the orchestra's major finds, weaving through Bartok's Second Violin Concerto.
Kaplan's pliant, free-ranging lines were a unifying force through a diverse score. Whether in tranquil duet with the woodwind or moving from mysterious quarter-tones to blazing cadenza, this soloist could not be fazed.
In tandem with Knapp, and the orchestra at its best, Kaplan illuminated the dark night music of the slow movement, while the Finale did not always hurtle, gracefully accommodating that wistful waltz melody that perhaps symbolised happier times for its composer.
A winning encore of Bach's Gavotte en Rondeau, immaculately styled, was a refreshing sorbet after such a testing and rewarding main course.
Sibelius' Lemminkainen's Return set us on our way after interval, although I am not so sure that it was necessary in an already generous programme.
But Knapp did not stint in rallying the players to bring its grisly tale to life, building to a shattering onslaught of E flat major.
Stravinsky's Petrushka is remarkably modern for a score almost a century old. The splash of colour in its opening pages, the defiant repetitions and almost cinematic jump-cuts and fades are still with us in the music of today.
Knapp was there for all the fun of Stravinsky's Shrove-tide fair from the opening chords, leaping in the air, hands clenched in excitement, a mood that was sustained to the work's final crescendo.