Lisa Larsson gives majestic performance in APO's final concert of the year

Heaven and Earth
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall

November 16

Soloists normally only make one appearance in a concert, but Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson was on stage twice in the APO’s recent concert singing Berg’s Seven Early Songs as well as The Heavenly Life in the final movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

The Berg songs are poetic and philosophical contemplations on psychological states and varying emotions and Ms Larsson managed to capture all the nuances of these conditions with her sinuous voice.

She sang the opening song Nacht in a way which was evocative of the opening phrase “The clouds embrown the night and valley; the mists float above, the water rushing gently…”

Tender moments were etched into the bleak landscapes as her voice floated like a shimmering cloud passing through the dark night

In other songs, her aching voice created a tension with the astringent sounds of the orchestra. There was a tension between the almost romantic aspects of the singer’s voice and the harsh sounds of the orchestra.

Larsson managed to achieve an atmosphere of mystery and nostalgia with her ethereal voice. There were also times when she was able to use her voice to superb effect cutting between tones, textures and volume.

The main work on the programme was Mahler’s Fourth Symphony which the most accessible of his works It presents many of the qualities of his works – his love of nature, musical wit, extraordinary orchestration, along with an ability to combine a variety of instruments with song.

He used all these aspects to explore and make sense of his personal, social and religious approaches to life and his quest for the meaning of life.

The symphony ranges across the evolution of a person’s life from childhood, growing up, death and the final joy of the afterlife. Conductor Giordano Bellincampi ensured the music was at all time played in a sympathetic manner, articulating the various emotional, meditative and descriptive passages

Bird-like high flutes and sleigh bells begin the symphony conjuring up images of childhood and then proceeds with a combination of street songs, church music, folk music and Viennese dance tunes

In the second movement, we hear a "mistuned" violin played by concertmaster Andrew Beer which can be seen either as a frolicking gypsy or a reference to death stalking the landscape

The most exquisite and disquieting section is the final movement where Ms Larsson sings The Heavenly Life. It is a childlike vision of heaven but sung with an edgy ambivalence, joy overlaid with a sense of despair

At times her tender lyrical singing contrasted with the sharp hectic sounds of the orchestra while at other points the music and her voice seem to be enfolded in a gentle environment.

Before the Berg and Mahler works, the orchestra played the bookend of the Mahler’s depiction of Heaven with Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni which ends with the Don being dragged off to hell.

There was also an additional work Beethoven’s Six German Dances which provided something of an introduction to Mahler and its own dance tunes.

Next year’s APO programme features several soloists.

Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet playing Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto, Henry Ong Doe playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 and the baritone Thomas E Bauer sings Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer and Funeral Rites.