Category Archives: Reviews

Review of June 2014 Concert

GIFTED STUDENTS EXCEL IN BAROQUE CONCERT

The June concert programme spanned four centuries, with the opening short piece for orchestra “Waitemata”, by 22yr old composer, Nelson Lam. A recent graduate of the Auckland University School of Music , Lam has won several Awards and Prizes for his compositions. This atmospheric piece was intended to convey his impression of Auckland Harbour shrouded in fog with shapes appearing and disappearing, finally opening out to reveal the sparkling beauty of the harbour in sunlight, with the indistinct horizons of the gulf in the distance. For this piece there were two oboes on either side of the orchestra with two horns in the middle. It opened with muted
strings playing softly with the woodwind and horns adding colour and with the volume building gradually to a climax with wind chimes adding further colour to the sound picture. This was well received by the audience who appreciated the composer’s explanation of the music that had been influenced by his observation of the Waitemata Harbour.

In total contrast we then heard the Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D Major by J.S.Bach, which featured three talented young soloists from the Auckland University Music School. With Music School Professor John Elmsly conducting, the three soloists, Hanny Lee (violin); Abigail Sperling (flute) and Eddie Giffney (harpsichord) delivered an exemplary performance of this well-known work. With a smaller orchestra of 35 players well suited to the baroque programme, the clarity and precision of the music was fully realised by the conductor and soloists. At times the three soloists were accompanied by a string quartet, consisting of the leaders of each string section playing, and then with the full orchestra entering to add emphasis and complete the ensemble. In the Allegro movement the harpsichord underpinned the other two soloists and towards the end launched into a lengthy solo cadenza in which Giffney was able to take some liberties with the tempi, which until then conductor Elmsly had kept very strict. The second movement was a showpiece for the trio of soloists, and Bach’s sparkling contrapuntal writing came to the fore in the final movement with soloists melodies intertwining with a magical clarity.

Haydn’s Symphony number 44 known as the “Trauer” was next. The first movement was played crisply and with conductor clearly had a real feeling for the music. He was rewarded by some of the best string playing that the orchestra has produced, and the audience was able to appreciate the dynamic contrasts that Haydn had intended, with the slow movement especially expressive. The final Presto movement highlighted the agitation and urgency that the composer intended to convey, and here too the string section excelled themselves and the symphony was brought to a satisfying conclusion. Haydn was a master of symphonic composition and this is typical of his ability to write brilliant counterpoint contrasting melodies in such a way as to give real audience satisfaction.

The final item was Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E Flat which was in effect a concerto for violin and viola. Soloists; Joella Pinto (violin) and Alexander McFarlane (viola) presented stylishly; she in a pale mauve dress, and he in a black dinner suit and they shared the podium with aplomb. When this piece was composed it was very fashionable to feature two soloists and in this work Mozart gives equal prominence to both, at times giving the leading melodic line to one soloist, while the other follows, repeating the phrase an octave apart, and with soloists alternating in introducing the melodic theme. Soloists and conductor clearly displayed an affinity with each other and we were treated to a performance of exceptional precision. This is music in its purest form and I am sure that the audience appreciated the opportunity to hear performances from such a talented line up of young students. The St Matthews Chamber Orchestra deserve credit for offering the opportunity to these talented students to gain experience in performance at this level with a full orchestra, something that is not easy to come by.
The next concert on 17th August, is a Beethoven programme featuring pianist David Guerin with Michael Joel conducting. With the Coriolan Overture, the Emperor Concerto and the Seventh Symphony this is a concert not to be missed. Robert O’Hara

Review of May 2014 Concert

PROLONGED OVATION FOR MOZART PERFORMANCE.

There was a good audience for the St. Matthews Chamber Orchestra’s second concert in the 2014 season. The programme offered something for everyone, with Prokofiev, Mozart, Sibelius and the first performance of a short work by the young Auckland composer, Ryan Youens.

The ten minute “Overture on Hebrew Themes” by Serge Prokofiev opened the programme. Originally composed for Piano, Clarinet and string quartet, when it was first performed in 1920, in New York, the composer later orchestrated it in 1934 and it was this version that we heard played by 59 members of the orchestra. The music is unmistakably Jewish in style being mainly in the minor key with the solo Clarinet playing in the lower register in lugubrious manner accompanied by rhythmic strings. The Piano also added an extra dimension to the orchestration, and the flow of the work alternated between being mournfully sad, and joyous and happy. Conductor Peter Thomas quickly demonstrated his command of the score and his clear direction of the orchestra.

The second item brought featured soloist Matteo Napoli to the Piano to give a sensitive performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21. This is a demanding work with the ornate piano score matching the orchestral support in brilliant fashion. The gentle beginning of the concerto featured the woodwind section of flute, oboe and bassoon, who ushered in the solo piano in stylish fashion, and the movement continued in majestic style. Mozart’s music is always neat and tidy in its form and the soloist’s attention to the intricate detail of the piano part was impressive. The Andante section of the work features a tune that has become known as the “Elvira Madigan” theme, after it was used extensively in the 1967 film of that name. Singer Neil Diamond also made use of the Mozart melody in his “Song Sung Blue.“ This movement gave the soloist the chance to shine and he took it in eloquent fashion soaring over the orchestra with ease. The final movement Allegro vivace assai was performed with great flair as the music deserved, and moved to an exciting and exuberant end. The performance was rewarded with an enthusiastic ovation, and the pianist was called back three times to acknowledge the audience appreciation.

Following the interval, we were privileged to hear the first performance of a brand new work for orchestra composed by the young Auckland –based composer Ryan Youens. Titled “Unwrapped”, the programme notes indicated that the work was intended to explore the range of emotions that are experienced when unwrapping a gift. It did not require a vivid imagination to appreciate how much the orchestration conveyed the various feelings that might be felt in the course of opening a parcel containing a gift. This composition was tuneful and the orchestration skilfully managed and well balanced, so that every section of the orchestra had its moment of glory. We look forward to hearing more of this talented composer’s work in the future. He uses the Sibelius Composition System and has his own web site on (www.ryanyouens.com)

Symphony No 2 of Jean Sibelius was the major offering. Again it seems that the composer’s words eloquently described the symphonic composition, when he wrote, “It is as if the Almighty had thrown down the pieces of a mosaic for heaven’s floor and asked me to put them together.” The music of Silbelius seems always to have a nationalistic dimension and the opening movement of this Symphony introduces fragments of melodies which he later forms into a powerful whole. The music is evocative of the rugged Finnish countryside and he paints a wonderful picture with all the orchestral colour at his disposal. Conductor Thomas had no easy task in plumbing the depths of this powerful work, but he was very clear in his direction and the various sections of the orchestra acquitted themselves in worthy endeavour. The percussion section featured prominently throughout the Symphony and deserve special mention, and at the conclusion, the conductor insisted on each section of the orchestral soloists taking their individual bows.

I was sorry due to my absence in the Chatham Islands, to have missed the opening concert of the series featuring Cello soloist Eliah Sakakushev-von-Bismark playing the Rococo Variations with Napier based conductor Jose Aparicio, and Symphonies of Haydn and Schubert. I understand that this was a very fine performance.

We can look forward to the next concert on 22nd June, which will feature a number of talented senior students from The Auckland University Music faculty.
Robert O’Hara

MARIMBIST GIVES IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE – August concert review

An enthusiastic audience gathered at St Matthews in the City on Sunday 18th August for what proved to be a unique experience for many. The opening item was Douglas Lilburn’s Drysdale Overture written in 1937 when he was a student at the Royal College of Music, London. The overture was composed in response to a challenge from his professor, Ralph Vaughan-Williams. The work was dedicated to the composer’s father Robert Lilburn and celebrates the family farm and estate north of Hunterville. The music is evocative of New Zealand rural landscape and in fact I felt that the musical style had “Vaughan-Williams” stamped all over it. Clearly his teacher had a definite influence on his early compositional style.

This is music that is easy to listen to despite the occasional dissonance and I could identify with Lilburn’s observation that composing the overture left him with the “image of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn drifting dreamily down the Mississippi and wondering if the Stars above them had been made or only just happened”. Lilburn’s overture has been performed a number of times by the APO and the NZSO and a recording of it is available conducted by James Judd. It mostly features a pulsing melody that drives onwards building up to a very satisfying climax. The orchestral colour often suggests elysian fields and a pastoral setting. Throbbing strings provide a backdrop for solos from both the brass and the woodwind sections. The cello section features in an eloquent solo with lush sweeping melody that moves on to a fitting climax.

Next up was the very talented Japanese marimbist Yoshiko Tsuruta, who along with the conductor Justus Rozemond was making her debut with the St Matthews Chamber orchestra. The marimba is a very large solo instrument (longer than a concert grand piano) with a 5.5 octave range. It has rosewood keys of varying length and thickness with the sound of each key having natural amplification through individual hollow tubes of varying lengths and diameter. The player uses mallets of varying degrees of hardness or density to strike the keys and produce the music notes.

The soloist holding two mallets in each hand gave us a wonderful demonstration of her virtuosic skills, in the performance of Emmanuel Sejourne’s Concerto for Marimba and strings. Sejourne a French composer and percussionist was born in 1961 and is now the Head of the Percussion Department of Strasbourg Conservatory of Music, and composed this concerto in 2005. For a modern work it is very tuneful and easy listening for the first hearing. The String orchestra opens the work with a gentle and rather plaintive introduction and then leaves the soloist to open up with a fiery cadenza that features a brilliant display of keyboard skills which range from the bottom notes to the very top, and also demonstrate the wide variation in volume that is possible for the player. The cellos introduce the main theme and the soloist breaks into dance mode weaving a playful dance theme, with string accompaniment.

For the first movement the soloist used softer mallets which produced a sweeter tone. She alternated with the strings at times playing the melody, and at other times the accompaniment. This worked well throughout the work and at all times we were given a wonderful demonstration of what this unique instrument is able to accomplish in the hands of a brilliant exponent. The conductor in this work gave meticulous attention to the co-ordination of the orchestral score with the soloist, not made easy by the fact that she was directly behind him and not alongside (as is usually the case with a marimba concerto) Using harder mallets for the second movement, Yoshiko was able to produce louder and even more percussive notes from the instrument and, at all times, totally dominate the tonal harmony produced from the string ensemble. There was a return to the theme introduced in the first movement which ended in a spectacular flourish. She got a well deserved round of applause from an appreciative audience.

Following the interval, we were treated to a fine reading of Brahms Symphony No 2 in D Major. Initially this work was given the nickname of “Pastorale” though this is now rarely used. It might be more fitting to label it “Viennese” because it was so well received by the citizens of that musical city and in the first movement Brahms gives something of a tribute to Johann Strauss and the Viennese waltz. History tells us that Brahms proclaimed this work to be “a sorrowful and melancholy” work that merited the publisher Simrock printing a black mourning band around the score. However the symphony in performance is so buoyant and full of melodic incursions and mellifluous harmony that it could never be considered mournful or melancholic.

Justus Rozemond’s conducting of this symphony was energetic and he used his whole body to impart his wishes on the orchestra. With precise direction he was able to eloquently shape orchestral phrases to perfection and one sensed that members of the orchestra were very much at home with the tempi he adopted. The second movement written in sonata form introduces two themes, one played by the bassoons and the other by the cello section. Both themes remain in contact but developed and varied in different ways ending in a fugato. In the scherzo the landler theme is played by the oboe in an elegant melody accompanied by cello pizzicato, almost Schubertian in style. In this Symphony Brahms added a tuba to the trombones, and in the final movement marked allegro con spirito the brass features prominently in a robust movement that moves quickly to its dramatic conclusion. In acknowledging the applause, the Conductor paid tribute in turn to each section of the orchestra who were asked to stand to accept their rightful accolades. This was a fitting end to a polished performance. Reviewed by Bob O’Hara

Audience wowed by Schumann concert

The May concert presented by St. Matthews Chamber Orchestra was dedicated to Huko Kobe, a double bass player who has been a stalwart member of the Orchestra since its inception forty years ago. He died five weeks ago and will be sadly missed.

The opening offering was “Remember Parihaka” by New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie. While Composer-in-Residence at Dunedin, Ritchie became aware of the colonial aggression against peaceful Maoris who were occupying their ancestral lands at Parihaka in Taranaki. Many Maori taken prisoner in the late 1870s and 1880s were shipped to Dunedin where they were held in caves secured by iron doors at Andersons Bay . (These caves are there to this day). Ritchie was much moved by this disgraceful episode in New Zealand ’s history, and this orchestral composition was his way of expressing his feelings about the matter. It opens slowly and quietly like a gentle sunrise with no percussion, and evolves into an impassioned statement with the woodwind section introducing a chant-like theme based on a Maori song. The intensity grows with several melodic ideas presented by the string section over a growing relentless bass and percussion building to a frightening climax. The work then returns to a peaceful conclusion tinged with sadness perhaps reflecting the passive resistance adopted by the Maori leaders Te Whiti and Tohu. It is commendable that the Orchestra elects to introduce the work of talented New Zealand composers in this way. This work was first performed by the Dunedin Sinfonia in 1991.

Clearly the highlight of this concert for the audience was the spirited Robert Schumann Concert piece for a horn quartet. The work demands some virtuoso horn playing from the soloists, particularly Nicola Baker who played a descant horn and together with the other three, Emma Richards, Carl Wells and Simon Williams gave a brilliant reading of this exciting work. This particular performance was the first time it has been performed in the North Island, and it has only been previously heard once in New Zealand with a performance several years ago in Christchurch . The three movements of the work are contrasting. The opening has great impact. Two declamatorychords from the orchestra bring in the horn quartet fortissimo in a brisk lively movement that shows the contrast in tone between the horns playing in the high register with the more mellow tone of the instruments taking the lower register.

The slow lyrical Romanze of the second movement contrasted cleverly with the liveliness of the introductory movement and we were treated to some of Schumann’s inventive melodic beauty. Schumann is best know for the many songs he wrote during his life and was a master of melody and the lied. The final movement returned to a very lively pace with arpeggios featuring and some brilliant inter-action between the four solo horns and the orchestra with conductor David Sharp in fine form. His direction of the orchestra in the accompaniment of the horn quartet provided judicious support at all times and when the work came to it’s brilliant finish, the audience erupted in eager appreciation of the virtuosity that they had just experienced. The four horn soloists were recalled three times to acknowledge the prolonged applause. Incidentally there is an excellent example of this work on You Tube by a Spanish orchestra conducted by James Judd.

The large work to conclude the programme was the Beethoven “Eroica” 3rd Symphony. This work was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, but when he crowned himself Emperor, a disgusted Beethoven struck out the dedication on the score with such vehemence that his pen tore through the parchment paper. This symphony is popularly regarded as being the transition between the Classical and Romantic music periods. In size and emotional depth this symphony is truly “heroic”. The first movement kicks off with two massive chords followed by the eight strong cello section introducing the first subject in legato style. This is developed and built upon with massive syncopated chords at the end of the exposition which is broken by a dissonant horn solo that introduces the recapitulation. A solemn funeral march follows with the double basses performing a simulation of drum rolls. This is followed by an excited Scherzo. The word scherzo actually means “Joke” and Beethoven’s treatment of this is light-hearted but by no means frivolous. It features the horn section playing a triumphant fanfare, and the strings and horns unite to conclude the movement with a determined fortissimo. The final movement seems to capture the all of the moods of the former three, and features pizzicato strings played in joyful and almost playful variations. Suddenly it changes to a solemn chorale with some of the most moving passages ever written by Beethoven. David Sharp guest conductor from Adelaide was able to coax some very fine ensemble playing from the whole orchestra, and they seemed to rise to the occasion under his precise and sensitive direction. The end result was an excellent performance of this iconic symphony.

It is fair to say that a number of organisations provide sponsorship for this worthy orchestra, and I acknowledge their generosity in this review – Kirk Burnand (KBB) Music; Pub Charity; ASB Community Trust; Coopers Creek Wines; Sky City Auckland Community Trust; Presentations Design & Print; The Auckland Printing Company and the Chisholm Whitney Family Trust. Performances of this standard reflect intense rehearsals which with a visiting conductor have to be squeezed into a few days. Auckland can be truly proud of St Matthews Chamber Orchestra which seems to go from strength to strength.

Madeleine Peirard stars in opening concert, Sunday 10th March 2013

The first offering at the opening concert of St Matthews Chamber Orchestra was New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn’s Diversions for string orchestra. In five short movements, each of which contrasted strongly with the one that preceded it, it demonstrated what can be achieved with the various sections of the strings being plucked or bowed with great attack. This was one of Lilburn’s earlier works and showed the strong influence that his former teacher Ralph Vaughan-Williams had had on his compositional style. It was first performed in New Zealand in 1947 by the visiting Boyd Neel String Orchestra of 15 players. It was light hearted and entertaining and surely deserves to be performed much more often than it seems to be, although I note that the Auckland Grammar School string orchestra performed it with great success in the Secondary Schools Chamber Music competition. In Sunday’s performance the eight-strong cello section showed how sonorous the cello section can be, and in fact each of the string sections gave a fine rendition of this lively music with some crisp playing whether with bow or pizzicato.

Mozart’s Overture to La Clemenza de Tito was next up and this was a real delight. It suggested some of the harmonies that can be heard in both the Magic Flute and the Mozart Requiem which is not surprising since they were all composed at the same period.

It was a real coup for the Orchestra to secure Madeleine Pierard as their featured soloist. Since winning the Lexus Song Conquest in 2005 she has gone from strength to strength in her vocal prowess, and while following her singing studies at the London Opera School has won numerous singing awards. She would now be among New Zealand’s leading opera singers and can look forward to a brilliant future in the Grand Opera arena. Mastering Mozart arias is great training for young up and coming singers and Wagnerian singers, Simon O’Neill and Bryn Terfel will attest to what a great grounding they received in their studies of Mozart roles. The three contrasting Mozart arias that Miss Peirard chose for her programme;. “Ach ich fuhls“ from The Magic Flute; “Dove Sono” from the Marriage of Figaro; and finally “Come Scoglio” from Cosi fan tutti, portrayed variously, rejection, resignation, and finally in the Fiordiligi aria, pride, bitterness and determination. Madeleine is a statuesque woman who radiates glamour and poise. She really nailed each of her arias, and especially the last one, which has a fiendishly wide tessatura which she handled with confident ease.

It must be said that conductor Michael Joel gave her very sympathetic support from the orchestra and ensured that they provided just the right balance at all times. She received a great ovation from an appreciative audience and thoroughly deserved it. It is all too rare that we have the opportunity to hear in person, performance of Mozart arias of this standard.

The final item was Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 in D Major. The opening movement requires the violins to be on their mettle with some very deft fingering called for, which the orchestra players accomplished splendidly. Several themes mostly on a descending scale, are introduced and developed later. The second movement is a beautiful larghetto in which the strings really sing out.

Beethoven treats the listener to some brilliant orchestral colour and wonderfully interwoven melodies. It is truly sunny happy music which is truly remarkable in view of the fact that at the time of writing this work, Beethoven was in deep depression and considering suicide as a result of his incipient deafness. This particular Symphony is not heard or performed nearly as often as Beethoven’s odd numbered Symphonies, and I often wonder why, since this is truly a Masterpiece of Symphonic composition. Michael Joel’s direction of the orchestra in this work was excellent and the tempi he employed seemed utterly appropriate at all times. On a bright sunny warm Auckland day it was a great experience to sit in the sanctuary of St Matthews and listen to such sublime music.

Reviewed by Bob O’Hara.

Review: Concert with James Tennant and Santiago Canon Valencia. Reviewed by Robert O’Hara

BRILLIANT YOUNG CELLIST ENTHRALS IN SAINT-SÄENS CONCERTO

The St Matthews Chamber orchestra excelled itself in the June concert programme, starting with Faure’s Pelléas et Mélisande suite. Not only Fauré but Debussy, Schoenberg and Sibelius were all inspired by Maeterlinck’s play to write music, either in operatic form or as incidental music to the drama. Fauré wrote the suite in four parts. Prelude, Fileuse, Sicillienne and Morte de Melisande. After the short Prelude the Fileuse features the woodwind section carrying the melody while the strings accompany and weave a wistful rhythmic figure that cleverly portrays Mélisande working at her spinning wheel. Wagner used a similar format in the Spinning Chorus in his opera, The Flying Dutchman. The Sicillienne is often performed on its own as a flute solo accompanied by harp, but here the whole orchestral colour was used to paint the picture of this joyous music which is intended to convey the romantic happiness of Pelléas and Mélisande. The final movement of the suite was sadly introspective and the poignant minor key effectively conveyed the death of Mélisande in a very moving way.

James Tennant steered the orchestra deftly through this emotionally moving music and one sensed that the players followed his direction with great care.

The iconic Saint Saëns cello concerto brought the brilliant young Columbian cellist Santiago CanonValencia to the platform and from the very first crashing orchestra chord that introduces the work one was immediately plunged into the most vivid display of virtuosity by the soloist. I have a clear recollection of the wonderful reading of this same concerto by James Tennant under David Sharp’s baton with the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra last year. His familiarity with the nuances of the work showed in the sensitive way that he marshalled the orchestral resources to provide the emphasis where needed for the soloist throughout the concerto. This concerto traverses the whole range of notes possible to be played on a cello from the lowest notes on the sonorous C string to the highest notes produced at the top of the finger board on the A string and does so while at times demanding fiendish dexterity in the playing of fast passages. James Tennant’s conducting style is at times expansive and at other times delicate, but his directions are clear cut and despite eschewing a baton his gestures exercise positive control and effectively convey to the orchestra what he wants. He provided terrific accompaniment to allow the brilliance of the soloist to shine through. The audience were indeed very appreciative of the obvious virtuosity of this young cellist and rightly gave him generous applause. He responded by offering an encore, a Chaconne by Lashkov (an American composer) which was also received with enthusiastic applause.

After the interval, James Tennant joined his pupil Santiago to give a spirited performance of Vivaldi’s seldom heard Concerto for Two Cellos. This was accompanied by a reduced 15 piece string orchestra with Peter Watts on the Harpsichord. This work is an excellent example of a Baroque work typical of the period where court musicians inEuropewere required to churn out concertos and orchestral compositions on a monthly basis without fail. The final movement of the work requires the two solo instrumentalists to vie with each other in an almost combative style while the other players and the harpsichord provide suitable backing. Performance of this Baroque work was a wonderful contrast to the monumental Symphonic work that followed, and I thought reflected clever choice of programme.

The months of June, July and August 1788 must surely have been the most musically productive of Mozart’s life for it is in these months that he completed his three greatest symphonies. No 39 in E flat, No 40 in G minor and No 41 in C. known as The Jupiter. James Tennant and the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra gave an exciting performance of the Jupiter to wind up a wonderfully balanced programme.

This is a monumental work of four movements, and demonstrates Mozart’s total mastery of contrapuntal harmony. From the crisp opening chords, James Tennant’s direction of the orchestra was inspiring and his passion for the work was reflected in his total physical involvement, at times dancing on his toes, at other times giving extra emphasis to orchestral entries by stamping his feet. The orchestra responded eloquently and the final allegro molto movement in which five melodies are interwoven with such consummate skill, was served up with verve and fire.

This performance by the orchestra ranks up with their very best and goes to show that they were truly inspired by the greatness of the music that they were playing. Aucklandconcert-goers are indeed privileged that such a dedicated group of enthusiastic amateur musicians performing music of a professional standard, present a series of concerts each year in such an awesome venue. The next concert on 19th August will feature music by Tchaikovsky, Weber, Dvorak ,and Beethoven performed under Rupert D’Cruze (conductor) with Ashley Hopkins (clarinet) as concerto soloist.

Robert O’Hara