Review: Settling the Score Live

Last updated 11:30 29/11/2013

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For the second year running, Radio New Zealand Concert and the Auckland Philharmonia have staged Settling The Score Live and its enduring popularity ensured a good turnout at the Town Hall on Thursday.

For those not familiar with STS, it has been a treat for Concert listeners on New Years Day. Well before, we vote which are our favourite pieces of classical music and these are faithfully collated together and played on that day. Some of the pieces are predictable favourites. Others are not. But there is one enduring question - how high does the lark fly?

The lark in question was Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, a beautiful piece for violin and orchestra. But as I entered the Town Hall listening to the pre-concert chatter, I was starting to wonder whether it would be a similar line up to last year.

Perhaps the orchestra might give me some pre-concert tips. The brass section was practising something from Holst's Planets Suite so that was in. But what was that birdsong all about? Messiaen perhaps?

We didn't have to wait very long. Host Jim Mora in his easy and relaxed style welcomed the audience in the hall and those listening via radio and online to the event and quickly got down to business. The Planets had been demoted from top spot in 2012 to seventh. To lessen the disappointment, the APO and conductor Tecwyn Evans turned to Jupiter: the bringer of jollity which made for a bright start to the evening.

Three works which made tenth to seventh in the STS list but which were not performed were Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, a very recent APO Concert highlight, Mozart's ever-popular Clarinet Concerto and Mahler's Fifth Symphony. So what came sixth?

The answer, and indeed the birdsong heard earlier, came from Resurgences, a work by New Zealand composer Dame Gillian Whitehead. While it was good to hear a New Zealand work in the top 10, it isn't the most tuneful or truly memorable. You have to give credit to those who voted. But remind me to vote for a Gareth Farr or John Psathas work instead next year.

The cello stand on stage presaged some sort of concerto but surely it couldn't be the Elgar again? Luckily not. Antonin Dvorak's Cello Concerto is a staple of the concert repetoire and we were treated to a solid performance of the opening movement from APO Principal cellist Eliah Sakakushev von Bismarck.

After the interval, it was a straight shoot-out from fourth to first. Jim duly prepared the audience for a surprise or two.

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Bruch's First Violn Concerto placed fourth and we heard the third movement from the second soloist featured in the evening being Russian-born, Kiwi violinist Natalia Lomeiko. As a recent and regular soloist with the APO, one expected and duly received a performance showcasing her technical and interpretative talents.

The little brown bird did make her annual appearance true to form and Lomeiko returned to the stage to produce another elegant performance.

Dvorak was mentioned a second time. Would it be the cliched, the predicatble New World Symphony? Fortunately not. In a surprise, for me at least, the silver medal in this contest went to The Song To The Moon from the opera Rusalka. For that, you need a high quality soprano and New Zealander Patricia Wright certainly meets this requirement. Her clear and carefully nuanced performance did not drag and the audience acknowledged this appropriately.

So what was voted numero uno? Rather interestingly, Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs. From that work, we heard Beim Schlafengehen with Patricia Wright returning to the stage. In a rendition that was far better than from a better-known soloist earlier in the year, Wright conveyed the delicate charm of this piece and of Herman Hesse's poem. A lovely way to end an evening showing how variegated classical music can be.

Put 2013 down as a good vintage both for STSL and for the Auckland Philharmonia – it's been an intriguing and challenging season which has been full of great concerts. I'm already starting to wonder what next year year will bring.

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