Italian-born Danish conductor Giordano Bellincampi has been named as Musical Director of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra from next season and 'Musical Treasures' was one of the last two concerts with the orchestra before taking up this position. Given that current Musical Director Eckehard Stier has treated Auckland audiences to an abundance of thrilling Stravinsky interpretations, there was some trepidation in hearing his successor's take on the same composer.

Giordano Bellincampi © Andreas Köhring
Giordano Bellincampi
© Andreas Köhring

Thankfully, it is my pleasure to report that Bellincampi's grasp of Stravinsky's rhythmic complexities and his rapport with the Auckland Philharmonia appear to be almost as adept as Stier's, even at this early stage of their collaboration. The 1919 concert suite of sections taken from The Firebird suffered a little from some little lapses in ensemble in the Introduction but these were happily absent thereafter. Rarely have I heard anything with such elementary thrill as the Infernal Dance's bass drum thumps in this performance. Stravinsky's inventive scoring allowed the Auckland Philharmonia's superlative wind soloists to make their mark, Bede Hanley's oboe in the Round Dance memorably phrased and the Berceuse's bassoon solo given a beautifully restrained rendition by Ingrid Hagan. Throughout, it was Bellincampi's attention to rhythmic detailing that impressed the most; a most encouraging sign for future years at this orchestra's helm.

Richard Strauss’s very early Romance for cello and orchestra, written when he was a mere nineteen years of age, Lasting just over ten minutes, this work features sweet melodic sections framing a more dramatic central part. Orchestra principal cellist Sakakushev-von Bismarck employed a warm, singing tone throughout and the orchestra contributed a tenderly glowing accompaniment. Here and in the following Respighi, the cellist gave a sincere, unaffected performance of a work that could easily descend into mere sentimentality.

Composed four years after his breakthrough Fountains of Rome, Respighi's Adagio con variazoni inhabits a similar late-Romantic soundworld to the Strauss, despite being composed some forty years later. From its haunting initial theme, a lush Romanticism oozes from every bar. The influence of Respighi's few lessons with Rimsky-Korsakov can be heard in the colourful orchestration though it was revealing how much more Stravinsky achieved under the same composer's tutelage in the aforementioned Firebird. Both Sakakushev-von Bismarck and Bellincampi are clearly committed to this work, though for this listener the variations were insufficiently differentiated, more the fault of the composer than any deficit in this performance. The playing itself was again gorgeous, the soloist knowing when to step back and form part of the orchestral texture and when to step forward and shine. These two short works ordinarily might not make it onto an orchestral programme because of their relative brevity, but there is strong case for pairing such shorter works like this rather than programming Dvořák or Schumann's cello concerti every other time.

The Fourth Symphony has traditionally been eclipsed by the two moody masterworks flanking it in Beethoven's symphonic canon. Stylistically, it appears more a successor to the earlier symphonies than the mighty 'Eroica'. This is often seen as one of the breeziest and most genial of Beethoven’s works but Bellincampi's interpretation wasn't afraid to take risks in tempi and dynamics, creating a more thrilling experience that one is used to with this work. The uneasy and searching introduction brought a suitably mysterious sense of anticipation, leading into a fleet account of the first movement exposition that was characterised by a crisp rhythmic vitality and strong contrast of dynamics. The Auckland Philharmonic's violins gave a loving rendition of their lines in the second movement, the movement that Berlioz claimed to be the work of Archangel Michael. Bellincampi took this a little quicker than the Adagio marking might suggest, but effectively so; the music had a very natural-feeling flow and there was some lovely woodwind playing. Bellincampi made the Scherzo rather too breathless in its pacing; though it was undeniably exciting, not every musical idea was given the chance to make its full impact before being pressed aside by the next. He managed the transition to the Trio smoothly without an obvious gear-change but one was once again slightly taken aback by the overly-clipped first subject reprise. The Finale was once again very quick but this rambunctious energy felt more appropriate here, the strings achieving an admirable lightness of tone yet maintaining a very clear rhythmic profile. Though it was all very exciting, the succession of quick tempi didn't always allow for desirable contrast. Overall, Bellincampi made a strong argument for some neglected musical treasures and one looks forward to see how his collaboration with the Auckland Philharmonia develops.