Review of September 2017 Concert

NEW MUSIC APPEALS.

The compositions selected for this concert could not have been more contrasting, and the orchestra takes something of a gamble when it selects music that its audience has never before experienced.  Graeme Koehne (pronounced “kerner”) is one of Australia’s foremost composers, and has an impressive academic record.  He is currently Director of Composition at the Elder Conservatorium, Adelaide University, as well as chairing the Music Board of the Australia Council.  He has been particularly successful as a Ballet Music composer and has been commissioned to write Ballet Music for the Australia Ballet, the Queensland Ballet and the West Australian Ballet.   Lois Westwood’s informative notes describe Koehne’s music as ‘cheerful, melodic, rhythmic and accessible and has been described as “something like Copland in populist mode” ‘. This description is most apt, and I am sure that many in the audience were agreeably surprised to find how much they enjoyed hearing this music for the first time.   It opens with a somewhat enigmatic clarinet solo which then floats into some strings with effective use being made of pizzicato passages.   The orchestration varied from quite soft strings, at one stage we heard a quintet of the leaders of the five string sections playing a tuneful waltz, and for some 25 minutes we were thoroughly entertained by some very attractive music that would have been a delight for ballet dancers to perform to.  It was given a warm reception by the audience.   We probably have Conductor David Sharp to thank for the introduction of this composer’s music, and he deserves our thanks accordingly.

Pianist Sarah Watkins is well known throughout New Zealand both as a soloist, a very competent accompanist and also as a founding member of the celebrated New Zealand Trio.  Her choice of Concerto was Anthony Ritchie’s Number 3.  Ritchie’s music covers the whole spectrum of the classical repertoire from orchestral works to chamber music, Operas, Oratorios, song and choral music, and he has had more than 250 works published during his working life.    He studied in Hungary the music of Bela Bartok which became his PHD thesis subject.   He is currently the Associate Professor of Music at Otago University.  His Piano Concerto No 3 is a lively work which starts with a long solo piano introduction, which is taken up by the orchestra with some colourful effects of pizzicato strings.  In the following slow movement some dissonances suggest a yearning for something unattainable, and there is both whimsy and humour in the music that follows.  The piano soloist showed consummate skill in every aspect of her playing, and this highlighted the drama of the music.   The final passage demonstrated a wonderful rapport between soloist, conductor and the whole orchestra, and led up to a spectacular finale.

Schubert’s ”Unfinished” Symphony has never lost its universal appeal, and its inclusion in today’s program was warmly welcomed.   Although the work is so well known, it does not seem that there is universal agreement on the tempo at which it is to be played.  One has only to check on Youtube to realise that the length of time varies from Georg Solti’s 31 minutes, to Leonard Bernstein’s 26 minutes and Von Karajan’s 24 minutes. This is a wide disparity in performance time, but oddly enough when listening to the performances, it does not seem to matter.  Schubert’s music reigns supreme and aloof from all argument about tempi.   David Sharp’s reading of the work was exemplary and he took it through in 27 minutes.  The orchestration of the work features the lower strings to start with and then moves to the woodwind with clarinet and oboe playing a poignant melody.   All sections had their chance to shine alone and the unadulterated happiness in the music manifested itself very effectively.  It was much appreciated by the audience.

The next concert on Sunday 19th November will feature the Auckland Youth Choir, Baritone Te Oti Rakena, and conductor David Squire.

Robert O’Hara