Cantatas and Chorales

ARTS, Music

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Town Hall, Auckland | July 21

The focus on Bach continued in the third and final concert of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s Splendour Series, though not for the first time in the Series another composer provided the highlight.

This composer was Berg, the most romantic member of the Second Viennese School, and the work was his two-movement Violin Concerto (1935). One of the great violin concertos of last century, the piece is serialist, utilising a method of composition that relies on a series of pitches from which all material is derived. Berg’s genius in the Concerto was to write the underpinning series in such a way as to allow a kind of confluence between tonal and atonal worlds. Further, the last four notes of the series are the first four of the chorale with which Bach concludes Cantata No.60, and in the dying stages of Berg’s second movement, the chorale emerges in the clarinets. It’s a particularly poignant moment in a remarkably moving work.

In this concert the soloist was Natalia Lomeiko, a former winner (amongst other accolades) of the Michael Hill Violin competition. Lomeiko was the ideal soloist for this work, with a beautiful tone and strength to her playing that gave the performance a real gravitas. The Concerto’s often serpentine melodic lines were delivered with an assuredness by Lomeiko, and this utterly convincing performance was well supported by the orchestra, the trombonists Doug Cross and Tim Sutton playing a key role.

The Concerto was straddled by two Bach Cantatas (nos.60 and 80), and here the Orchestra was joined by The Graduate Choir and four solo voices. The choral singing in these works was very good, and there was excellent playing from much of the orchestra, in particular new principal cellist Eliah Sakakushev. Unfortunately the performance was marred by uninspiring solo contributions, and the penultimate movement of Cantata No.80 fell apart in one of the ugliest moments on stage I’ve seen from professional singers.

Mendelssohn was instrumental in bringing Bach’s music to public attention, and his Fifth Symphony (1830), which closed the concert, contains elements of the chorale Ein feste Burg that opens Bach’s Cantata No.80. But while the Symphony’s place on the APO’s programme was well justified in terms of its connections with Bach, it is a totally unremarkable work that bores on the purely musical front and also fails to communicate its supposed programme of religious revolution. In this concert, it was comfortably played, with notable contributions from the woodwind, but the only real pleasure here was in the occasional evocations of Wagner’s Parsifal—a work that uses the same chorale to much more interesting effect.