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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Review: Akld Philharmonia Orchestra's 'Images in Glass'

Posted in: Music
By Larry Jenkins - 19th October 2008

Australian saxophonist Amy Dickson
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Images in Glass

Otto Tausk conductor, Amy Johnson saxophone. Auckland Town Hall, 16 October

How very fortunate that Debussy wrote his Images for orchestra, for it hadn't been for the inclusion of that work in this concert, it would have been grump-inspiring to have hauled oneself to the Town Hall on a not particularly salubrious night for a dose of tedium.

The Debussy is delicious, imbued with colours as subtle and malleable as some of the composer's painter idols – Monet, Degas, Renoir – had concocted from their now-immortal palettes. Dutch conductor Otto Tausk, who last week gave us superbly controlled yet jovial readings of choral masterworks by Stravinsky and Haydn (Les Noces and the Paukenmesse respectively) again proved he is a particularly fine interpreter of twentieth-century complex compositions, both in Debussy's and Philip Glass's vastly at-odds scores. Debussy won hands down, and the orchestra, under Tausk's able command, responded with subtlety and grace, especially in the second section of the work, a tribute to Spain totally without cliché.

It was the Glass "Saxophone" Concerto that got my goat, so to speak. Firstly, it's not a work for saxophone but originally for violin! The evening's pretty and successful soloist (and one could perhaps add "arrogant" to that description for entertaining the presumption that this composition would transfer well to her unwieldy squawking soprano sax, if it were not for the fact that Glass apparently sanctioned her misfiring ambition). At any rate, totally out of step as usual, I didn't enjoy one bar of this unspeakable monotony and sat stupefied at the considerable ovation offered up by the punters at its long-awaited (by me) end. Australian Amy Johnson presumably chose the soprano saxophone because of its high register, but this "arrangement" solves none of the to-be-expected problems of transferring music designed to be bowed to an instrument that is blown. (Length of phrasing comes first to mind. Antoine Berthomé the idiot who foisted the wonderful César Franck violin sonata on unsuspecting flautists, committed the same folly.) And her often shocking intonation and inability to smoothly mask the instrument's awkward registers made the whole effort seem amateurish.

The opening Mozart – the seldom-offered Lucio Silla overture K135 - served to remind us that genius too has a childhood and that a sixteen-year-old boy whose head is swimming not only with music but with Roman plots, murders, and battle hymns is not the same person as the man of double that age who composed the overture to, say, Le Nozze di Figaro, which I would've rather heard despite its over-exposure.

Congratulations to Maestro Tausk, formerly assistant to the remarkable Valery Gergiev, for an extremely edifying stay in New Zealand. I for one hope that he will return often. He has a lot to say.

Larry Jenkins - 19th October 2008