Philharmonia's Requiem 'season highlight'

Last updated 12:00 13/09/2013
German cellist Alban Gerhardt

WELCOME RETURN: German cellist Alban Gerhardt.

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There was a very well attended Auckland Town Hall for Thursday's Auckland Philharmonia concert. The major work on the programme was Mozart's Requiem, a work which is familiar to many.

The previous day, I had got my rather battered score of the piece to go through it again.  You might have heard some of the various sections at some stage such as the Dies Irae and the Rex Tremendae Majestatis which were written by the dying Mozart and the remainder from the Lacrimosa which was completed by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayer. But familiarity breeds a little complacence from time to time and we were to be shaken out of it.

A friend rang up in the late afternoon to say we wouldn't be hearing that traditional version at all. Apparently Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie refuses to perform the Süssmayer version given that another completion is more faithful to the composer. So this was going to be an intriguing concert even before it started.

Maestro Labadie, an expert in the Classical and Baroque repertoire, prefers the completion which was done by Harvard Professor of Music Robert Levin in 1993. Levin's version contains some re-orchestrations and reworkings which seek to overcome some of the technical deficiencies and limitations befalling poor old Süssmayer. Mozart was a tough act to follow however you look at it.

I'll leave discussion of the relative positives and negatives of both versions to people better qualified than me to say. What I can tell you is that this was a wonderfully powerful and vocally elegant performance, especially from Voices New Zealand under the direction of Karen Grylls. Soloists Nicole Car, Sarah Castle, Paul McMahon and Stephan Loges all performed solidly in the Tuba Mirum and Recordare quartets. Maestro Labadie, making his New Zealand debut, conducted with immense enthusiasm and from memory with broad, sweeping gestures. If you were listening to the Radio New Zealand Concert broadcast, you might have been wondering whose sharp intakes of breath you could hear - those belonged to the maestro as he energetically cajoled the orchestra, choir and soloists throughout the evening.

The Requiem was not the sole item on the programme and it would be completely remiss of me not to mention German cellist Alban Gerhardt who was soloist in Haydn's C Major Cello Concerto and making a welcome return to New Zealand. The concerto is technically demanding, perhaps surprisingly so for Haydn, and Gerhardt's sureness of technique and tone made it seem easy, particularly in the final movement which was performed at a blistering pace. Conductor and soloist were deservedly well pleased with their efforts.

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Prior to that, the concert had begun with a solid performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 26, the "Lamentatione". Pared down to chamber orchestra size for the evening, the lush romantic sound we had heard from the Auckland Philharmonia the week prior had been replaced with a drier, crisper, slightly flatter sound which characterises Baroque and Classical period ensembles. The performance was well-balanced and highly charged which set the tone for the evening.

This concert would have to be one of the highlights of the 2013 season. With the 2014 season to be announced in the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see whether something as good will be featured next year.

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