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.