Directed by José Aparicio
St John’s Cathedral, Napier Saturday 4 August 2018
Hawke’s Bay Orchestra
Concertmaster Stephanie Buzzard
Soprano Lisa Harper-Brown
Soprano Anna Pierard
and the Napier Civic Choir
Reviewed by Peter Williams
Between the two choral performances of the Verdi Requiem, the Hawke’s Bay Orchestra presented what is almost certainly the first ever Hawke’s Bay performance of Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection” by Gustav Mahler, featuring also the Napier Civic Choir and soprano soloists, Lisa Harper-Brown and Anna Pierard, in the final movement.
The performance of the Verdi Requiem was a huge undertaking in itself. The addition of the performance of the Mahler Symphony in the same weekend made a colossal task. Again, it was Aparicio’s drive and imagination which saw it all come to fruition at the end of a spectacular performance which totally captured the audience with its dramatic power.
Set aside the formal structure of the classical period composers, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Here was a symphony in five movements – the middle movements using themes from Mahler’s previous works, outlined by a huge first movement which displayed the widest range of orchestral sound, and a final movement involving choir and soloists. Here Harper-Brown and Pierard’s glorious voices combined with the Napier Civic Choir and the Orchestra in an exultant finale.
The Mahler Symphony represents the personal struggle of a troubled composer. This epic work dwells on the most profound of subjects as it charts a journey across the full gamut of human emotion and experience, ultimately ending in a message of hope, with a choral finale somewhat similar to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
The orchestra for this performance was little more than half the size demanded in the original score, yet the impact was still breath-taking in its dramatic impact, from the gentlest pianissimos to the overwhelming power of percussion, a battery of brass instruments both on and off the stage, some glittering solo woodwind and solo horn contributions, all backed up by the sonority of the large string section and the cathedral organ.
A work that simply has to be experienced live, it will surely live long in the memory of those privileged to be present. Yes, there were imperfections – split brass notes, some insecure intonation, some moments of uncertainty – but these were minor considerations in a performance which gave so much to both performers and listeners.
Thomas Wilkinson’s excellent informative notes in the printed programme will have added much to the enjoyment of the audience at both the choral and orchestra concerts.