Review of March 2015 Concert

SUPERB PROGRAMME TO OPEN 2015 SEASON

There was a very full audience for the opening concert of the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra season. The big audience was clearly attracted by a well-chosen programme. The first item, Douglas Lilburn’s Overture “Aotearoa”, was written when he was a student at the Royal College of Music, London studying composition under Ralph Vaughan-Williams and the work had its premiere in 1940 at His Majesty’s Theatre, London. This work has an ethereal beginning with woodwind introducing strings which then weave through some spell-binding themes. The orchestra made the most of the contrasting orchestration which demonstrated some of the influence that Vaughan-Williams, Lilburn’s teacher must have had on him. This work formed part of a very cohesive programme which was really appreciated by the large audience who gave it well deserved applause. The work was 8 minutes long.

The second offering was the popular Variations on a Theme by Haydn, composed by Brahms. This piece of some 18 minutes is known universally as the St. Anthony Chorale. After introducing the simple melody, Brahms then elaborates on the theme with eight contrasting variations, each featuring the various sections of the orchestra, with extra special attention to the woodwind sections, including contra bassoon. This well-known work was given a fine rendition by all sections of the orchestra. During the work, I could not help playing the main theme over in my head as I listened to each variation and it was this that made me appreciate what a finely orchestrated work Brahms had done with such a simple theme. It was as if a master had taken the work of another master and worked miracles with it. Brahms originally wrote two versions of these variations, one for two pianos and the other for full orchestra. Each had eight variations and a finale. It appears that there is some doubt about the original St Anthony being composed by Haydn and it is often described as being “attributed to Haydn”. I see no problem with this as like most of the audience, I am prepared to accept and enjoy the music for what it is, a truly brilliant orchestrated arrangement of variations by Brahms for orchestra.

After the interval, we heard an enthralling performance of one of the world’s most celebrated violin concertos. The soloist Simone Roggen was beautifully dressed in a simple short-sleeved black wool top and a long full gold satin skirt. Her elegant appearance was matched by conductor Michael McLellan who was also impeccable in a white tux and black tie. Playing an 1838 vintage Italian violin, Simone conquered the audience with her warm tone and stylish technique. Originally from Auckland, Simone did spend some of her early years in Switzerland, where she played with Hans Fitzti in an Appenzeller Band from the age of 8. She returned to Auckland to study with Mary O’Brien at Auckland University. Now based back in Switzerland, she is well established on the world stage and we are privileged to have her perform here for the St. Matthews Orchestra. The Brahms violin concerto is among the leading six violin concertos of the world. Its popularity is world-wide and of course when you opt to play this concerto you have to give a flawless performance otherwise you will not be accepted. Simone’s performance was truly brilliant and the audience recognised it with sustained applause. Her performance of the Joachim cadenza was especially well performed and her double stopping technique was breath-taking. Performances like this are few and far between and deserves to be enjoyed by the widest possible audience.

Robert O’Hara