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


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