Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra: Master of the Violin

30 Oct

Although I have been looking forward to the APO’s Master of the Violin for some time now, I have done so with a certain amount of cautious scepticism. It seemed potentially undeserving to attribute a word like “master” to the barely-past-thirty violinist Ning Feng, who – while fairly acclaimed – doesn’t quite have the kind of prominence that might warrant such a lofty title.

The APO does have an uncanny talent for picking conductors. Eduardo Portal, previously the assistant conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, is lanky, wide-eyed and has a vibrancy that makes him appear to be to the conducting equivalent of a mad scientist. This was exactly what was necessary to produce the kind of frantic energy of the staccato-heavy Mendelssohn
pieces (Overture to Ruy Blas and Symphony No. 4 “Italian”) that opened the performance. Portal’s movements were so vigorous he frequently looked as though he was challenging the orchestra to a fight. It’s hard not to be compelled by a man who looks as though he may, at any minute, launch from his dais and tackle one of the cellists.

But it was Ning Feng, the very violinist that had inspired feelings of trepidation, who stole the night completely when he took to the stage for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The sound Feng produces from his violin isn’t especially loud, but it is wonderfully rich and he plays with astonishing clarity. This incredible tonal quality is emphasised by Feng’s expressive force – he ranges from light and
playful to heart-breakingly mournful. When he was called on stage for the encore, he played a solo Schubert violin piece with such wonderful frenzy I believed he would not have a bow by the end of it (I counted at least five snapped bow hairs). I am now convinced – Feng truly does deserve to be
called a “master”.

By Tessa Clews


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