All posts by Rebecca Stichbury

Review of June 2018 Concert

SMCO in Brilliant Form

Although performed last the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major of Mozart was
undoubtedly the highlight of the recent concert of St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra.
The two soloists, Monique Lapins and Gillian Ansell of the NZ String Quartet
brought musicianship of the highest quality. From the opening introduction it was
apparent the orchestra was going to produce its finest playing as a worthy partner.
The entry of the soloists, high above the orchestra, followed by a descending phrase
are two of the most magical moments in all music – and likely to cause the hairs on
the necks of the listeners to rise in ecstacy. Lapins’ and Ansell’s blending of tone and
impeccable intonation was splendid indeed. Ansell produced a sonority and
expressive playing which was mirrored in Lapins’ brilliant and rich tone with
authorative dynamics. The instruments wove a question and answer pattern of
supreme beauty. The poignant and introspective slow movement was truly beautiful
with sensitive playing from the orchestra, ever watchful of the conductor and soloists.
Indeed, the rapport between conductor, soloists and orchestra was apparent
throughout. Of particular note was the polished playing of the horns.

The orchestra was led with panache by John Thomson and conducted by Justus
Rozemond. His clear beat and obvious accord with the orchestra demonstrated a
clearly bond with them. His fluid conducting style was perfect for the dance-like
works in the programme.

Opening the concert was Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 also in E flat major. The warm
string tone and in the first movement the conversations between the woodwind
ensemble and then horn and strings were impressive. The Menuetto was a lilting
dance with cellos and basses giving the country dance real feeling. Clear phrasing
and variations of tempo were accomplished well. The symphony ended with a brisk
Allegro with plenty of work for all sections and a happy warmth.

Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite is based on Pergolesi’s music of the 18th century.
Originally written as a full ballet, the movements are all dances. The suite opened
with a broad-toned Sinfonia introducing the cheeky Pulcinella. The woodwinds
handled the tricky ensemble work with their usual skill. Stravinsky used a solo violin
and string quartet in several movements. There were difficult rhythms well handled
and blending of themes between woodwinds and strings, and some brilliant tonguing
from the trumpet. The theme of the original Sinfonia appeared again in the Finale
with the trumpet re-introducing Pulcinella.

Congratulations to SMCO and its soloists. A really glowing concert and warmly
appreciated by the near-capacity audience. Review by Rogan Falla

Review of May 2018 Concert

UNIVERSITY  STUDENTS  DELIGHT  AUDIENCE

On a fine Sunday afternoon a near capacity audience gathered at St Matthews in the City for the second concert in the 2018 program.    It was a markedly different  program from their usual offering in that it featured  three instumental  soloists and seven young singers from the Auckland University School of Music.  The music presented ranged from Bach to Beardsworth (a talented young New Zealand composer).

The opening item was a 9 minute  long composition titled  ”Prelude in D minor” by the  young New Zealand composer, Matthew Beardsworth.  To quote the composer himself, “I wrote Prelude to challenge myself to write in a style other than what I usually compose in.  Instead of writing in a rigid and structured form, I started with the motif and allowed the piece to organically develop from there in seamless flow.”  Opening with the viola and cello sections, the music swept from one section of the orchestra to another in flowing style.  There was no dissonance, and meagre melodic line, but there was plenty of harmony and this demonstrated the composer’s skilful orchestration.    The composer was welcomed to the podium by the conductor to acknowledge the applause from an appreciative audience.

Schubert’s  Symphony no 5  was next, and this provided  37 minutes of graceful melody with clever development and beautiful harmony.  Conductor José Aparicio drew a superb performance of this popular work from the orchestra.  His conducting style was economic in gesture, but he gave positive direction where he wanted to give extra emphasis to the music.  This symphony is so well known and widely popular but this performance was an excellent reading and was very well received.

Following the interval two young flautists, Zoe Stenhouse-Burgess and Yunesang Yune were joined by violinist Danny Kim to present with a reduced orchestra a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto number 4 in G Major. In three movements – Allegro, Andante, Presto – the conductor kept the orchestra volume at an acceptably low level so that the virtuosity of the three soloists could be heard to perfection.  They  performed brilliantly in the first movement, and then in the slower second movement  the minuet  tempo allowed them to accentuate the echo efffects  beautifully.   All three solosists were able to demonstrate their virtuosic skills in the final movement, and their performance was much appreciated.

We were then treated to a succession of opera arias by seven very talented young singers, most of whom are aiming to carve out a career as professional singers.  First up was Ella Ewen who gave a very sensitive performance of Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga” from the opera “Rinaldo”.   Tenor Nathan Hauraki gave us a fine performance of Monostatos’ aria from The Magic Flute.  His ringing tenor voice gave urgency to the Moor’s plea in his unrequited love for Pamina. In the next item, Ella Ewen was joined by Carla Camilleri in the “Letter” duet “Sull’aria” from The Marriage of Figaro.  Countess Almaviva is dictating a letter to her maid in which they plan to trap the Count  and expose his infidelity.    The two singers combined well and their performance was much appreciated.   The serenade, “Dei Vieni alla Finestra” from Don Giovanni was given a rousing performance by baritone, Alex Matangi.    The Pamina/Papageno duet from The Magic Flute was given a very fine reading by baritone Arthur Adams-Close and soprano Ella Ewen.   In the next item, from Donizetti’s opera “Daughter of the Regiment”, soprano Clare Hood dressed in a flame red frock, gave a saucy performance of the regimental song and demonstrated her command of the coloratura register.      In the nexy item,  Leila Alexander in a flared white frock gave a splendid performance of  “Meine Lippen” from Franz Lehar’s opera Giuditta, and also demonstrated her dancing ability.    In a flamboyant finale, all singers came on stage together with champagne bottles and glasses and gave a rousing performance of the Champagne Chorus from the Johann Strauss opera, Die Fledermaus.    They were given a noisy farewell from a warmly appreciative audience.

The usual well researched notes by Lois Westwood were of great assistance to the audience in their appreciation of the program.

Robert O’Hara.

Review of March 2018 Concert

A VIRTUOSO CELLO PERFORMANCE

St Matthew’s Church was well filled for the opening concert of the Chamber Orchestra, and the audience was treated to a wonderfully well balanced program.

First up was Mozart’s Ballet Music for the opera Idomeneo.  This gave the composer the opportunity to display his melodic invention in showy dance rhythms.   His Chaconne, a stately dance in triple time, featured woodwind and the brass section, followed by a Passepied, also in quick triple time leading on to an elegant gavotte.  The composer’s neat and tidy melodic invention was well presented and led on to a brilliant conclusion.

It is believed that Haydn wrote his Cello Concerto No 1 between 1761 and 1765 for Joseph F. Weigl, the principal cello of Nicholas Esterhazy’s orchestra.  It then disappeared from the repertoire for over 200 years until it was discovered in 1961 in the Prague National Library by musicologist, Oldrich Pulkert.  Its authenticity has been questioned but it is now generally accepted that it is by Haydn.   It is a virtuoso work that makes stringent demands on the soloist, and with Ashley Brown on the podium we were treated to a brilliant performance.   One of New Zealand’s leading cellists, his fingering was a joy to behold and the rich honeyed tones that he was able to coax from his 260 year old cello soared over the orchestra with total ease. He gave us an exceptional reading of this wonderful concerto and at the conclusion he was given deservedly rapturous applause by the audience.

The final work was Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 in D Major.  This work was completed in 1802 while the composer was living in Heiligenstadt.  Oddly enough this bright and cheerful work gives no hint of the anguish that the composer was suffering as a result of his incipient deafness.  In the traditional four movements, it opens slowly with several melodic themes which are developed and heard later in the work.  The symphony is bright and cheerful throughout, although it was not immediately accepted at its premiere in Vienna in 1803.  The Larghetto movement begins with a meltingly beautiful melody not unlike Schubert might have written.  To this is added a second and third subject to bring the whole to a powerful climax before returning to the first theme.  The Scherzo is in true comic fashion bright and breezy.  The final movement, Allegro molto continues in light hearted fashion with the woodwinds, especially the bassoon, floating above the scurrying strings.  A pizzicato passage in the coda offers a sense of mystery before the symphony is brought to a happy conclusion.  This work was a happy choice to conclude what proved to be a well-balanced program.

The next St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra concert on May 20th will feature Hawke’s Bay conductor, Jose Aparicio and Auckland University Students, the Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 4, various Arias and Schubert’s Symphony No 5.

Robert O’Hara

Review of November 2017 Concert

MAINLY CHORAL PROGRAM DELIGHTS AUDIENCE

St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra’s final program of the year featured the Auckland Youth Choir with various soloists and Dr Te Oti Rakena, (Baritone), conducted by David Squire. The first item was a group of five spirituals from Sir Michael Tippett’s “Child of our time” Oratorio. These were beautifully performed by the Auckland Youth Choir with young soloists Emily Young, (Soprano), Johanna Quinn (Alto), Sid Chand (Tenor) and Alex Matangi (Baritone). These songs were sung with great conviction by the choir, with sensitive direction by the conductor.

In 1938 the assassination of a German diplomat by a young Jewish refugee prompted the Nazi party to react in the form of a violent pogrom against the Jewish population. Tippett was moved to include spirituals

in his oratorio “Child of our time” as they had universal acceptance as representative of the oppressed everywhere. Composed in 1941 this oratorio is a deeply affecting work that has cemented Tippett’s popularity worldwide as an oratorio composer.

The second item was Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ Five mystical songs, which featured Baritone Dr Te Oti Rakena as soloist backed by the Choir. The songs were Easter; I got me Flowers; Love bade me welcome; The call; and Antiphon. In every song Rakena’s diction was immaculate, and he enunciated each word he sang with total clarity.  His singing was a joy to hear, and as the co-ordinator of vocal studies at Auckland University he gave a pure demonstration of the art of singing, with sublime backing from the choir, who alone sang the final hymn of praise, Antiphon. This bracket of songs was particularly effective with the male voices ranged behind the orchestra on the south side, while the female voices were ranged behind the orchestra on the north side, with the soloist centre stage.               Audience appreciation was demonstrated by their rapturous applause.

The final item was Saint-Saens’ Organ symphony in C Minor. In this work conductor David Squire gave a wonderful reading of the score which featured both Organ played by Paul Chan, and Piano played by violinists Penny Christiansen and Georgina Jarvis. The symphony is divided into two distinct movements, which are in turn divided into two sections.     The energetic strings ushered in the in the second movement which featured some brilliant scale passages from the piano, and led on to the transformation of themes.

The orchestration gave virtually all of the sections of the orchestra the chance to shine and show their special tonal quality. The conductor drew this out skilfully and when the loud organ chord ushered in the final Maestoso movement, the orchestra swept on majestically to thrilling finish, which brought the house down with applause.

To mark the end of a very successful season, the audience were invited to join in with Coopers Creek wine, cheese and nibbles provided. This was much appreciated and most of the audience took up the invitation.

The 2018 season was announced and the program features an extra concert on top of the usual six. The first concert on the 11th March, 2018 will feature Cello soloist Ashley Brown, with conductor David Kay.

Robert O’Hara

Review of September 2017 Concert

NEW MUSIC APPEALS.

The compositions selected for this concert could not have been more contrasting, and the orchestra takes something of a gamble when it selects music that its audience has never before experienced.  Graeme Koehne (pronounced “kerner”) is one of Australia’s foremost composers, and has an impressive academic record.  He is currently Director of Composition at the Elder Conservatorium, Adelaide University, as well as chairing the Music Board of the Australia Council.  He has been particularly successful as a Ballet Music composer and has been commissioned to write Ballet Music for the Australia Ballet, the Queensland Ballet and the West Australian Ballet.   Lois Westwood’s informative notes describe Koehne’s music as ‘cheerful, melodic, rhythmic and accessible and has been described as “something like Copland in populist mode” ‘. This description is most apt, and I am sure that many in the audience were agreeably surprised to find how much they enjoyed hearing this music for the first time.   It opens with a somewhat enigmatic clarinet solo which then floats into some strings with effective use being made of pizzicato passages.   The orchestration varied from quite soft strings, at one stage we heard a quintet of the leaders of the five string sections playing a tuneful waltz, and for some 25 minutes we were thoroughly entertained by some very attractive music that would have been a delight for ballet dancers to perform to.  It was given a warm reception by the audience.   We probably have Conductor David Sharp to thank for the introduction of this composer’s music, and he deserves our thanks accordingly.

Pianist Sarah Watkins is well known throughout New Zealand both as a soloist, a very competent accompanist and also as a founding member of the celebrated New Zealand Trio.  Her choice of Concerto was Anthony Ritchie’s Number 3.  Ritchie’s music covers the whole spectrum of the classical repertoire from orchestral works to chamber music, Operas, Oratorios, song and choral music, and he has had more than 250 works published during his working life.    He studied in Hungary the music of Bela Bartok which became his PHD thesis subject.   He is currently the Associate Professor of Music at Otago University.  His Piano Concerto No 3 is a lively work which starts with a long solo piano introduction, which is taken up by the orchestra with some colourful effects of pizzicato strings.  In the following slow movement some dissonances suggest a yearning for something unattainable, and there is both whimsy and humour in the music that follows.  The piano soloist showed consummate skill in every aspect of her playing, and this highlighted the drama of the music.   The final passage demonstrated a wonderful rapport between soloist, conductor and the whole orchestra, and led up to a spectacular finale.

Schubert’s ”Unfinished” Symphony has never lost its universal appeal, and its inclusion in today’s program was warmly welcomed.   Although the work is so well known, it does not seem that there is universal agreement on the tempo at which it is to be played.  One has only to check on Youtube to realise that the length of time varies from Georg Solti’s 31 minutes, to Leonard Bernstein’s 26 minutes and Von Karajan’s 24 minutes. This is a wide disparity in performance time, but oddly enough when listening to the performances, it does not seem to matter.  Schubert’s music reigns supreme and aloof from all argument about tempi.   David Sharp’s reading of the work was exemplary and he took it through in 27 minutes.  The orchestration of the work features the lower strings to start with and then moves to the woodwind with clarinet and oboe playing a poignant melody.   All sections had their chance to shine alone and the unadulterated happiness in the music manifested itself very effectively.  It was much appreciated by the audience.

The next concert on Sunday 19th November will feature the Auckland Youth Choir, Baritone Te Oti Rakena, and conductor David Squire.

Robert O’Hara

Review of August 2017 Concert

MASTERLY CELLO CONCERTO PERFORMANCE

The St Matthews Church was well filled for the August concert, and the audience were served up with a very satisfying feast of music.  Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis was the first item. Tallis is believed to have been born around 1505 and is famous as the “father” of English choral music.  He held a post at Canterbury Cathedral and later became the Gentleman in Residence at the Chapel Royal.  He lived to the age of 80, dying in 1585. Ralph Vaughan Williams conducted the first performance of his “Fantasia” on a Tallis Theme in 1910 at the Gloucester Cathedral.   His composition is unique in that it is written for three separate groups, a full string orchestra, a smaller orchestra, and a string quartet, all placed apart from each other.  The SMCO did not attempt this layout but the performance that they presented was immensely satisfying.  The orchestral parts are so cleverly written that one is not aware of how spread the notes are in the presentation of the theme and variations. This performance had such a mesmerising influence on the audience that at the finish there was a stunned silence for several seconds before the audience gathered to show its appreciation.

Hungarian composer, Erno Dohnanyi flowered early as a child prodigy and grew up to become a famous pianist, conductor and composer.  Although he used folk music in his compositions, he was never considered a Nationalist composer in the way that Bartok and Kodaly were.  Living in Germany he took the name Ernst von Dohnanyi, the “von” indicating “nobility”.  After World War 2 he suffered somewhat unjustly the accusation that he was a “Nazi Sympathiser”, but in fact he had helped many Jewish musicians to avoid Nazi persecution.  He later emigrated to the USA and for ten years he lectured at Florida University.  He died there in 1960 and was buried at Tallahassee.  As a child he was used to hearing his father play the cello, and so he was motivated to write the Konzertstuck in 1904.   This is a one-movement work of some 25 minutes, and it calls for a very capable cellist to master its technical difficulties.   Eliah Sakakushev-von Bismarck’s virtuoso performance captured the audience and he was given clamorous applause.   Dohnanyi’s composition was wall-to-wall melody from start to finish and was a worthy inclusion in the programme.

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony must surely be the most well-known piece of classical music ever written.  Its prophetic four note introduction is repeated again and again throughout the work.  It took the composer the best part of four years to fine tune it until he was fully satisfied with the end result.  During the Second World War it was known as the “Victory Symphony” for several reasons.   “V” is the Roman numeral for 5, and the dit-dit-dit-dah rhythm is the Morse code signal for the letter V.   The BBC broadcasts to Europe during the war began with the same rhythm played on the drums.   Michael Joel’s handling of this work was exemplary and it is by no means an easy work to conduct.   The orchestra too played with verve and vigour and the final result was most satisfying.  The final movement provided a wonderful crescendo with the Trombones, contra-bassoon and piccolo joining the rest of the orchestra to drive the work to a very powerful conclusion.

Robert O’Hara

 

Review of June 2017 Concert

Celebrating Brilliance

One look at James Tennant’s festive multi-coloured waistcoat and we knew this concert was going to be a celebration.  It certainly was – a configuration of the stars would not be an exaggeration:  James Tennant, the internationally known concert soloist, conductor and teacher conducted a performance of the Schumann Cello Concerto in A minor played by Matthias Balzat.

What made the event so special is that James has been Matthias’ cello teacher since he was eleven.   The youngest child of seven – a musical prodigy in a musical family – he began learning the cello from Sally-Anne Brown at the age of three. He was accepted into the Music Performance Soloist Specialization Course at the University of Waikato at the age of 14, when most youngsters of that age are in their second year of high school. James continued to be Mathias’ cello teacher and mentor during his university years. Now 18, Matthias is a graduate at an age when most students are just enrolling for tertiary study!  As Matthias is now ready to move overseas for the next stage in his career this concert marks a major milestone in his musical life.

The programme began on a high with the lively overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers. Just for fun Rossini turned the plot of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio on its ear and now it’s the maiden who saves her lover from the pirates.

The Schumann Cello Concerto Op 129 in A minor followed.  The three movements are played as one because Schumann hated applause between movements. Finished themes and fragments from the first movement reappear throughout and range from deeply meditative to agitated.There is also a showcase passage of double-stopping. This was an excellent work to display Matthias’ glorious rich tone and his impeccable technique. It was noted that the full house included quite a number of cellists who had come to listen, cheer, whistle and stamp their feet in appreciation of this amazing young talent. As did the rest of us.

With barely a break Matthias then played the Tchaikovsky Pezzo capriccio op 62 (little piece) written originally for Tchaikovsky’s friend Anatoly Brandukov in 1887. The contrasting themes – lyrical, melancholy, and energetic – were designed to test a variety of skills, namely tone quality, technical ability and control in the high range. This piece of Tchaikovsky wizardry is rarely heard, probably because it is so difficult but Matthias certainly mastered it. After sustained applause he played an unaccompanied encore, Caprice no. 7 by Piatti.

The major work was Dvorak Symphony No 6 in D major Op 60. This was written when Dvorak was at a formative stage in his career and the first two movements are very much influenced by Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert. It is very demanding work for every section of the orchestra, particularly the brass. The third movement was a foot-tapping furiant, a swirling Bohemian folk dance with forceful cross-rhythms and the fourth movement payed homage to the Brahms’ second symphony in an exuberant finish. People seated at the front were able to notice that James was so much in command of the repertoire that he rarely looked at the score.

There were two other special SMCO events marking the occasion. Tessa Petersen, Senior Lecturer in Violin from the School of Music at the University of Otago came up from Dunedin to be Concertmaster for this performance, and long-time player Diana Gash who now lives in Dunedin was welcomed back as leader of the second violins for this concert. She’ll be back again in August.

Lois Westwood

Review of May 2017 Concert

POPULAR PROGRAM PLEASES AUDIENCE

On a lovely sunny Autumn day the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra managed to attract a capacity audience with a very colourful program.   David Farquhar’s ‘Ring round the Moon’ was a welcome starter. Originally commissioned by Richard Campion to accompany a New Zealand Players production, it has undertaken a number of modifications over the years since the original in 1953.  The Alex Lindsay String Orchestra recorded it in a nine dance form which was regularly played by Radio New Zealand during the 70s and 90s.  The version performed by the S.M.C. Orchestra was the six dance suite taken on a tour of Europe and China by the New Zealand Youth Orchestra in 1975.  The opening Tango is zany and quirky but instantly appealing with its extensive use of pizzicato. The Polka introduces a jaunty cheeky tune that flirts with the minor key and with a pulsing rhythm. It too has an instant appeal to listeners. A dreamy waltz follows with some smooth and soulful phrasing and beautiful string tones.  The orchestra clearly enjoyed playing this music and conductor Timothy Carpenter drew the best out of them with minimal effort. The audience gave the performance warm and appreciative applause.

Weber’s Bassoon Concerto in F is perhaps the best known and most frequently performed of the Bassoon concerti, and it is a work that demands a virtuoso performer. The wide experience of soloist Ben Hoadley was put to the test and he came through with flying colours.  The long first movement is especially demanding of the soloist, who alternates between the lowest and highest registers of the instrument, with some very florid passages that demanded the utmost dexterity.  He was given the most judicious support by the conductor who kept the orchestral volume at just the appropriate dynamic level through the whole work.  The middle section was slower and allowed the colour and tone of the instrument to shine above the muted backing of the orchestra.  The Horn Section provided a contrasting accompaniment to the soloist leading into the cadenza.  The final Rondo was most exciting with the soloist demonstrating his complete mastery of the instrument, rolling onward to a brilliant conclusion. This performance got the thunderous reception that it rightfully deserved. A truly virtuoso performance by both soloist and conductor.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony concluded the program. Although some of Beethoven’s other symphonies have their origins in the Austrian countryside, this was the only one that the composer chose to explicitly acknowledge as his inspiration.   His subtitle for the first movement, “The cheerful feelings excited by arriving in the country” aptly describe the beautiful music that follows.  It is easy for the listener to conjure up visions of “water rippling over stones” or “wind gently whispering through foliage” because of the descriptive nature of the music.  The second movement, written in sonata form, suggests a peaceful flowing stream, which comes to an end with the depiction of a nightingale (flute) a quail (oboe) and a cuckoo (clarinet).  The Allegro ushers in the peasants dancing and their drunken dance is soon ended by a turbulent storm.  There follows a quaintly unusual passage for the off-beat oboe, clarinet and bassoon who seems only to be able to play three notes. The symphony is brought to a close after a turbulent opening, and Hector Berlioz trembling with fear and admiration described the storm, “It is no longer merely rain and wind but an awful cataclysm!” The symphony concludes with the shepherds’ hymn of thanksgiving which is taken up by the whole orchestra.   A muted horn call brings the work to a peaceful close.  Conductor Timothy Carpenter’s direction of the orchestra in this work seemed effortless but most impressive.

Lois Westwood’s thoroughly researched program notes helped the audience to fully appreciate the program.    The next concert on Sunday 18th June will feature Conductor James Tennant and Cello soloist Matthias Balzat from the University of Waikato.

Robert O’Hara

 

Review of March 2017 Concert

A BRILLIANT SOLOIST AND CONDUCTOR TO OPEN THE SEASON

A packed house was assembled at the first SMCO concert for 2017 and this must have inspired the orchestra under the direction for the first time of young conductor Vincent Hardaker.  This young man has an impressive CV which includes an Honours degree in Conducting and has undertaken Masterclasses in conducting with a line-up of internationally distinguished conductors.   His competent control of the orchestra was evident from the very first beat of Beethoven’s Overture “Consecration of the House”.   Brass and wind instruments accompanied by pizzicato strings opened the melodic line which was then taken up by the strings.   Beethoven’s mastery of counterpoint was evident in the work and the conductor’s direction of the orchestra was elegant without being flamboyant.   One sensed that the orchestra were in complete accord with the conductor’s demands and they rose to the occasion magnificently.  With just 4 cellos and two double basses the lower string sections  had to work a little harder than usual to achieve a  balanced sound. The Beethoven overture drew warm applause.

We have heard Simone Roggen play with the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra on several occasions in the past, so we knew that we were in for a brilliant performance.  She impressed from the start walking on stage dressed in a beautiful long full skirt of a golden brown hue with sparkling glitter and offset by a plain black top.   Playing the well -known Bruch No 1 concerto she commanded the audience’s attention from the first note.  Listeners always look for certain dynamics and contrasting levels of sound from the soloist and orchestra in this work and we were treated to a superb performance by both soloist and conductor. Simone performed on a  300yr old  Italian made violin and the sonorous depth of tone that she was able to coax from the instrument especially in the lower register was impressive.  Her double stopping too was impeccable, and the rapport that she had with the conductor made for an incredibly memorable performance which the audience marked with sustained applause.

To conclude the programme Mozart’s 40th Symphony was a wonderful choice.  Despite its popularity the 40th Symphony is never banal or hackneyed.  It is so cleverly composed that it commands the audience’s rapt attention from start to finish, and conducted with the obvious “feel” for the music that Vincent Hardaker displayed, it swept the audience along with powerful concentration.  From the opening bar the music pulsates along with a relentless tempo and a haunting quality.  The changing harmony is tossed from section to section of the orchestra with contrasting loud and soft passages that keep listeners on their toes.  The conductor gave such clear direction to the players that the audience couldn’t help but glue their eyes on him throughout the performance, and when the symphony came to an end, there was a breathless hush for a significant interval before the well-deserved applause broke out.  We will look forward eagerly to welcome this talented young conductor back in the future.

Once again very informative and well researched programme notes were provided by Lois Westwood.

 

Review of October 2016 Concert

A VIRTUOSO PREMIERE PERFORMANCE

 A capacity audience attended the final concert of the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra to hear the carefully chosen program which opened with a commissioned work by composer Louise Webster, a violin concerto some 26 minutes in length. This work was inspired by a poem “The Sea” by Ruth Dallas. Dallas was born Ruth Mumford in 1919 and became blind in one eye at the age of 15. She was a prolific poet who received many awards including an honorary D. Lit. from Otago University for her poetry. Reading the poem it is easy to see how Louise Webster could be inspired by its down to earth poetic description of New Zealand’s sea and coastal forest. In three movements, the solo violinist Helene Pohl led the orchestra through some colourful passages with some occasional dissonance and ascending to the very highest notes possible on her instrument. The orchestration was finely balanced and sympathetically handled by conductor Michael Joel. The second movement was, to use the composer’s own description, “jagged, rhythmic with a very driven and acerbic quality.”  One could feel how the composer developed an affinity with the Dallas poem in her music writing especially in the final movement which was a gentle slow-moving passacaglia scored only for the soloist and strings. This built in intensity and momentum throughout only to end with the solo violin playing on its own. This premiere performance was warmly received by the audience and I look forward to hearing it again in the not too distant future.  Listening to this work it is easy to appreciate how the composer was inspired by Ruth Dallas’ words, but also by the sounds and images of the sea and the New Zealand landscape.  The solo violinist Helene Pohl gave an inspired performance of this concerto.

The second item was Beethoven’s four movement Symphony No 1. This starts slowly with sustained chords by the woodwind and a wandering melody by the strings which soon moves into a sunny Allegro.  From here on Beethoven shows his sure-footed  grasp of orchestral writing as the bright melody is played by the violins then taken up by the woodwind section who introduce a graceful second tune and then on to a plaintive duet between the woodwind and cello section.   In the second movement, we hear a stately dance with the second violins playing a lovely melody and later development with some brilliant counter-point. Listening to this music one appreciates just how skilfully the composer introduces such beautiful music and handles its progression and development with such confidence and skill. The third movement is labelled Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace. The violins rush in on an ascending scale with pulsing rhythm suggesting tension but order and calm is restored by the woodwind section who break into a trio with pulsing chords.  The movement ends in something of a romp.  The final movement is reminiscent of Haydn but it has the unmistakable stamp of Beethoven’s authority on the music. The cellos and basses are given some wonderful music to play against the main melody carried by the violins with the woodwind and percussion playing their part too. The 54 members of the orchestra gave an inspired reading of this symphony under Michael Joel.  With this numerical strength they are in truth no longer a “Chamber Orchestra” and their ability to play major symphonies is unquestioned.

The final item presented was Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No 2 which brought soloist Helene Pohl again to the podium. This concerto starts off in positively dark mood with the soloist playing a melody that is full of foreboding and tension. The orchestra joins her in a different key which heightens the tension, and the music continues in the same dark mood with the soloist having to play some fiendishly difficult passages. The second movement introduces a graceful melody with pizzicato accompaniment, and some inventive musical development involving interweaving melodic themes.  In the third movement the soloist showed her consummate skill in some of the most difficult music she was called upon to play.  Although this movement featured the percussive effects of castanets I did not think the music was in any way Spanish in style.  It was however fast-paced and rollicking music which the composer had instructed that the end be played “Tumultuoso”. The first performance of this concerto was in 1935 in Spain. At the present performance, the audience showed their admiration for the virtuosity of the soloist and the high standard of the orchestra.

To wind up the concert a general invitation to partake of wine (supplied by sponsor, Coopers Creek) and nibbles was warmly welcomed by the audience.  The 2017 program was unveiled.  Musical Director Michael Joel spoke and explained how future programs were selected. He explained that suggestions for future programming would be welcomed.  A presentation was made to Michael McLellan who was stepping down as concertmaster after 26 years in the role.  He was given a worthy round of applause.

Robert O’Hara