Auckland Philharmonia Violin Fantasy
Auckland Town Hall
The Auckland Philharmonia’s latest concert provided a number of highlights including a performance by the young Canadian violinist Nikki Chooi, the winner of the Michael Hill Violin Competition in 2013.
He played Bruch’s Scottish fantasy, giving the work an engaging interpretation with total focus. At times he was an integral part of the orchestra while at other times he seemed to stand apart like some romantic hero adrift in the vast landscapes and history of Scotland.
He captured the lyricism of the work, giving warmth to the sentimentality of one of the more recognisable Scottish melodies.
He also provided some bravura violin work particularly in the second movement responding to the boisterous dance melody. There were times when he and the conductor Giordano Bellincampi appeared to be engaged in a musical duel, with the conductor focusing his attention on the young violinist as though encouraging him to greater efforts.
Chooi moved easily between the wistful passages and the great drama of the work always showing a mastery of his material, playing with clinically perfect detail.
The other soloist on the programme was Robert Ashworth, the principal viola player with the APO, which premiered Aria, a new work by New Zealand composer Ross Harris. Rather than the brooding Scottish highlands, this work embodied the textures of the Otago landscape.
The orchestra provided a luxurious sound, with the viola floating across the landscape with a sharply expressed narrative line.
Ashworth dominated the work with a strong presence and an expert playing emphasising the contrast between soloist and orchestra.
At times there was an intriguing sense of the player tentatively discovering the musical line, bringing an immediacy and emotional frisson to the work. Also on the programme was Anton Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, which was like a primer or series of exercises on modern music which explored the colours and characteristics of the twelve tone scale.
Much of the music presaged the music of sci-fi and gothic thriller films in a beautifully sprawling work that contained the last vestiges of 19th century romanticism and the first hints of a new music.
The big work of the evening was Schumann’s majestic fourth symphony in which the conductor gave a compelling performance. By turns he seemed to coax, plead and command the orchestra to express the forces of the great drama of battles, storms and emotional conflicts which the symphony embodied.