24 Oct 2017

Review: Michael Houstoun & Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

From Upbeat, 1:20 pm on 24 October 2017

Lyell Cresswell’s new piano concerto was premiered last week by Michael Houstoun and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. The programme also featured Elgar and Prokofiev. Peter Hoar discusses whether all three are masterpieces.

Michael Houstoun

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The concert began with a delightfully elegant and well-paced performance of the much-loved Elgar Serenade for Strings from 1892. The APO strings were in fine form from the dancing Allegro through the emotional and moving  Larghetto and culminating with an amiable Allegretto. Conductor Johannes Fritzsch and the APO gave us a refined performance that did justice to the powerfully elegiac second movement.

Any new piece by New Zealand born composer Lyell Creswell is always an event and his second Piano Concerto was no exception. A rich and compelling piece based around six Lutheran chorales orchestrated by J.S. Bach, this was a difficult piece to take in at first hearing. It uses a wide range of orchestral and instrumental sonorities and combinations in a myriad of variations on the chorales. Stark and slow sections contrasted with violent, rapid variations and throughout we heard imaginative and rich use of each orchestral section. Michael Hosutoun’s playing was precise and rose to each challenge from simple thematic statements to complex figurations that were reminiscent of Conlon Nancarrow’s textures. This is a powerful work that would repay further listening.

The evening concluded with a stirring version of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, his final, which was premiered in 1945. Beginning with a powerful Andante that summoned the horrors of the Great Patriotic War, the APO gave us a bravura reading of this stirring work. The dancing second movement was taken at a thrilling pace. The Adagio third movement turned back to the war with its sombre tones but the darkness was dispelled by a roaring final movement that gave us a note of triumph to conclude the evening.