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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Review: The APO's Fantastic Symphonies

Posted in: Music
By Larry Jenkins - 16th November 2008

Review: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - Fantastic Symphonies

Music by Debussy, Szymanowski, and Berlioz

Lionel Bringuier, conductor; Ewa Kupiec, piano

13 November, Auckland Town Hall

One of the worst things about musical competitions is that they launch careers.

Piano soloist Ewa Kupiec
The young French conductor Lionel Bringuier, as I stated last week, took the honours at the 2005 Besançon Young Conductors' Competition and his calendar is now full of engagements, including this brace of concerts with the Auckland Philharmonia, ended on Thursday with a concert featuring one of the accepted landmarks in symphonic music, the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. I want to talk about that performance first because it was the single work in the second half of the concert and because it missed the mark so completely that it would take a week of analysis to fully explain why I think that, though here I will be succinct.

Bringuier, being a pianist himself, and a cellist, clearly thinks like an instrumentalist. I imagine fingerings going through his head instead of orchestral colours. His face firmly buried in the score, he (as I more or less stated I feared he would) adopted tempos, particularly in the second movement, A Ball, too swift to let anything at all happen in the proceedings resembling narrative or drama, and when he did, rarely, ask for rubato, the orchestral machine he was attempting to command was powering along and couldn't quite manage it together, which made me wonder about how much rehearsal time was marked out for this work. They've had a week to prepare this concert, a luxury by modern orchestral standards. Moreover, there was no terror at all in the fourth movement, the famous March to the Gallows – one would've thought the doomed were themselves going to a ball. It was sad that the music of one of the greatest sufferers amongst great composers (Berlioz was always in a passion about something, whether it be unrequited love or the ostracism he endured from the Parisian musical elite, most significantly Cherubini, an Italian and head of the Conservatoire, a most influential position from which to make and break careers) should have his masterwork performed in a way which reflected none of the pain that is written in it so clearly that only a callow youth could ignore it. I could go on, but you get the gist.

In the first half we heard Szymanowski's Symphony No. 4, a concertante work featuring the piano, in effect a piano concerto. The soloist, Ewa Kupiec, gave a very fine and energetic reading of a composition not familiar to many and received a warm response. It's a virtuosic piece and her command of it was exemplary. She in turn gifted the grateful audience with a bit of Chopin, fittingly, as both composers' origins in Poland bound them together in their struggles and traditions. That was preceded by a floating performance of Debussy's revolutionary essay in ballet music – Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun – sensibly paced and featuring wonderful flute playing by last week's Mozart soloist Catherine Bowie.

It was the end of the season for the APO in the Town Hall but a fine programme has been launched for next season. A look at their website will show you:

Larry Jenkins - 16th November 2008