Review: APO, Auckland Town Hall

Giancarlo Guerrero
New Zealand Herald

By William Dart

The concert's title, "Not Your Grandma's Organist," may have been cumbersome, but there were few empty seats in the town hall on Thursday night - thanks no doubt to Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's soloist, the media-savvy organist, Cameron Carpenter.

Carlos Chavez's 1962 transcription of a Buxtehude organ Chaconne was the perfect welcoming for the evening's guest.

Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero urged the orchestra to heights of Stokowskian splendour, but did not neglect textural subtleties in more subdued moments.

At the other end of the programme, Guerrero went all out for high-tensile drama in Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony.

The opening pages were laid out on deliciously poised tenterhooks, very much the calm before the storms to come.

Perhaps the 5/4 "waltz" of Tchaikovsky's Allegro con grazia might have fluttered a little more capriciously, but the ensuing Scherzo was so effectively demonic that a burst of applause clouded the first bars of the final, heart-wrenching Adagio.

Predictably, Cameron Carpenter gave a star turn, the only concession to his glittery reputation being spangled tights, which were ideal for giving a theatrical thrust to agile scampering over organ pedals.
Joseph Jongen's Symphonie Concertante proved a worthwhile curiosity, quite possibly being given its New Zealand premiere, 77 years after it was written.

From the start, there was a real team spirit on stage, as the first movement bubbled away with Bachian bonhomie. Not only did Carpenter lace Jongen's original with his own quirky decorations, the American's endlessly inventive palette blended seamlessly with the orchestra, the result of two intensive rehearsals.
The full razzle-dazzle would come in the Toccata that ends the work; before that, Carpenter hurtled through a Divertimento with pinpoint accuracy and a musical paint shop of colours, going on, with the orchestra, to evoke mysterious stained-glass sonorities in Jongen's Molto Lento.

An encore was inevitable and flashy. The Prelude from Bach's First Cello Suite was, initially, a feet-only affair, dazzlingly danced on the pedals. By the end, it was a hands-on, full-scale party, transforming the august civic setting into a circus tent, a piece of alchemy that Carpenter has promised to repeat in tonight's solo recital.