Review of August 2016 Concert


It is pleasing that more and more people are becoming aware of the pleasures offered by St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra concerts on Sundays in the central City.  Auckland residents are regularly able to access music played by the APO and also the NZSO orchestras on a regular basis but while these professional orchestras play some stimulating programs, there is in my view nothing to compare with music that is played by unpaid musicians who play purely for the pleasure of performing.   Such is the performance of the St Matthew’s Chamber orchestra that they play “from the heart” and when coupled with professional conductors and soloists their performance rises to provide unique enjoyment to their audience.

Their most recent concert featured an all French first half featuring Chausson, Debussy and Ravel.   It was great to welcome dynamic young conductor Holly Mathieson back for her third visit as guest conductor.  Despite her diminutive figure, she was a veritable giant on the podium giving authoritative direction to the orchestra at every step of the way to ensure that they played each piece as she wanted it.   The orchestra responded to a man/woman and the audience got a memorable version of each work.  First up was Debussy’s well known “L’apres-midi d’un Faune”.   This work of some 11 minutes starts with a plaintive melody played by flute in the lower register with harp glissando accompaniment.  It moves on with dream-like music that suggests the dreams of the Faun (a half man-half goat) who has become exhausted after chasing alluring nymphs through the woods.  This work was given a very sensitive performance by the orchestra and was much appreciated by the audience.

The next offering was Amedee-Ernest Chausson’s Poeme, where the orchestra was joined by Violin Soloist Andrew Beer.   It was something of a coup for the Orchestra to engage this brilliant violin soloist who is the concertmaster for the APO orchestra, and currently one of New Zealand’s most brilliant resident violinists.   This work for orchestra and violin soloist is about 18 mins in length and the commencement of the work is marked “Lento e misterioso”. It starts darkly in colour and harmony and after the orchestra introduces the opening theme, the soloist enters and the orchestra echoes the soloist, who then launches into a lengthy passionate unaccompanied cadenza, after which the orchestra joins in repeating the soloist’s theme.   The music that follows is intensely passionate and at times dreamy in colour.  In 1913, fellow composer Debussy reviewed a performance of this work and his comments are worth quoting.  He wrote “nothing could be more touching than the gentle dreaminess  of the quiet close –the music itself is the sentiment that commands our feelings — fine music this, and full of ardour.”     This was a truly apt description of Chausson’s work which was enjoyed by all.

Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane for violin and orchestra” was the final item in the first half of the program.  This work of some 10 minutes commenced with the unaccompanied solo violin playing for three and a half minutes which featured gipsy tunes and dances that varied between bright bravura tunes and sad melodies.  Then the Harp and Orchestra joined the violin and we had some exciting unmistakably gipsy tunes with the piccolo and other woodwind featuring in the accompaniment.   The whole work features brilliant orchestration by Ravel which the orchestra revelled in, and the whole work came to a brilliant climax at the end.  The applause showed how much this performance was appreciated.  Andrew Beer plays a J.B Vuillaume violin from 1845, and uses an 1880 bow by J.J.Martin.   The instrument displayed a very rich tone especially in the lower register.   When the audience would not let him go, he generously played an encore by Bach which demanded a lot of double stopping, coupled with some pizzicato.   His bravura performance was very much acclaimed.

Following interval, the major work presented was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2. Known as the “Little Russian”, a title given to the Symphony by critic Nicolai Kashkin, as a result of all of the Ukrainian folk tunes that have been incorporated in the work.     Some 36 minutes in length, this Symphony is one of the composer’s most cheerful works and it does include a lot of folk songs and dances from the Ukraine.   The first movement begins with a lengthy introduction, Andante sostenuto played by a horn followed by a bassoon with pizzicato accompaniment from the cellos and basses.  A folk melody “On the banks of Mother Volga” is played with variations.  The march in the second movement was actually from an opera Undine, and was originally a wedding march.  When the Opera proved to be a box office failure, Tchaikovsky destroyed most of the score and retained only a few successful pieces from the score.  The third movement, a bright Scherzo with fluctuating rhythms, hints at folk music but is actually is all original.    Tchaikovsky uses some brilliant orchestration in the course of this work, and conductor Holly Mathieson made the most of this with her direction, which was always clear.   This program was one of the best that the orchestra has presented in the past two years, and it is worthy of mention that there were more than 60 players performing in this orchestra, the most that I can recall that they have had in performance .

The next concert will be presented on Sunday 18th September 2016 featuring piano soloist Stephen De Pledge, and conductor Jose Aparicio.   The Program will feature works by Wagner, Mozart and Schumann.                       Robert O’Hara.