Review of June 2015 Concert

Cellist excites Audience

Only two items were programmed for the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra concert for 21st June, but the Charles Ives Symphony No 2 and the Dvorak cello concerto were a very suitable match and showed considerable sensitivity from those responsible for selecting the programme material. Both works were composed in U.S.A. within a few years of the commencement of the 20th Century, and both composers made use of traditional American folk songs in many of their compositions.

Charles Ives Symphony No 2 is sublime music that incorporates in its five movements, patriotic songs, gospel hymns, and popular fiddle melodies. It is a real “salad-mix” of American folk music cleverly assembled to provide a very satisfying audience experience. Although the symphony was written in 1907 it was not performed in public until 1951 when Leonard Bernstein conducted its first performance in New York. Bernstein was almost totally responsible for bringing Charles Ives’ music to public notice in the musical world. Sunday’s performance was very capably conducted by the noted Viola Player, and Bartok expert, Professor Donald Maurice, and his reading of the Ives Symphony was truly exciting. With five contrasting movements, the symphony was about 36 minutes in length and featured some challenging orchestration which Maurice made the most of. The orchestral sound was colourful with some expressive playing from the horns and flute sections, and the pizzicato string playing was crisp and well balanced. Towards the end the intensity and pace of the music became frenetic and built to a wonderfully satisfying climax.

The SMCO is most fortunate to be able to secure the services of internationally acclaimed cellist, Rolf Gjelsten as the featured soloist in Antonin Dvorak’s popular cello concerto Opus 104 in B Minor. This work was composed in 1895 by Dvorak while he was Director of the New York National Conservatory of music. The concerto at 43 minutes long is among the most popular of the cello concertos and includes some of the most poignantly beautiful music that Dvorak ever wrote. The symphonic orchestral opening lasts for almost 4 minutes before the soloist enters and elaborates on the main melodic themes. Here too the horn solo was expressive and plaintive, while later the flute took up the tune interwoven with the soloist. Dvorak’s orchestration was seriously affecting and brought out the wistfulness and emotional quality of the music. The soloist at times intertwined with the woodwind in a most expressive way. The final movement in march time gradually built from a quiet beginning to an intense finish. The cello soloist was brilliantly dominant and exhibited some virtuoso playing. The enthusiastic audience response showed just how much they had enjoyed this exciting performance. Gjelsten performed on a 1705 Venetian made cello by Francesco Goffriller.

Once again I must pay tribute to the informative and well-researched programme notes provided as always by Lois Westwood. There is no doubt that they enhance the audience’s enjoyment of the programme that is presented by the orchestra.

Robert O’Hara