Half a century ago the late John Dalton would ensure that the Auckland Youth Orchestra visited Kerikeri every couple of years. How appropriate it is, then, that they should now perform in the Turner Centre’s wonderful auditorium, which is named after him.
Their programme began with everybody’s favourite piece of Smetana, Vltava, one of the six tone poems which make up Ma Vlast (My Country). The Vltava (which the Germans know as the Moldau) is the majestic river that flows through Prague, and Smetana’s piece depicts its course from its birth in the hills to its arrival in the capital. The orchestra’s discipline and balance were apparent right from the start, with a unanimity of dynamic and tone unusual in any amateur orchestra, let alone such a young one. As the Vltava flowed past a peasant wedding, the lumpen dancing was perfectly captured without caricature, and the St John’s Rapids would have struck fear into any sane canoeist.
Louis Spohr’s first Clarinet Concerto, which followed, is one of those many C19th show-off pieces which set the performer an Herculean task without necessarily saying much musically. The soloist was Kenny Keppel, experienced beyond his years, and with a formidable technique. He dispatched the first movement (mostly hair-raising scale passages) with aplomb, and with the arrival of the Adagio achieved the feat of making it sound as if it did actually have something to say. By the time Spohr wrote the Rondo finale, he had discovered that he did after all have a sense of humour, and Keppel and the orchestra captured this mood delightfully. Keppel coaxes a beautiful sound from his instrument, and although he is still studying (in Australia), he clearly has a great future ahead of him.
After the interval, the symphony was Sibelius’s second. Of all the northern hemisphere’s composers, Sibelius is the composer whose music speaks most naturally to New Zealanders, every note redolent of the open spaces, forests and lakes of his Finland, a landscape (and climate!) radically different from ours, yet oddly familiar in the emotional responses it triggers. Sibelius 2 is a weird symphony if one is expecting something in the mould of a Beethoven, with the “Grand Tune” having to wait right to the last page. So it’s a tricky piece to bring off well, especially with such hair-raising cross-rhythms, and it’s a tribute to conductor Anton Poljanich that the AYO succeeded brilliantly. Again, the unanimity of tone and intonation in the strings was most impressive. The wind section all played well, and if I single out the principal oboe, Josh Webster, it is as primus inter pares. The powerful contribution of the brass (including two tubas!) and the busy timpanist added to the impact of the finale.
The Auckland Youth Orchestra’s tag-line is “Here plays the Future”. The capacity audience left the Turner Centre feeling that if that’s the case, then music, and Kerikeri’s thirst for it, are in very good hands.
Come back soon, AYO!
Review courtesy of: Michael Burch.