Review of March 2016 Concert


The St Matthews Chamber Orchestra drew a large audience for it first concert in 2016, and the program proved to be very popular. There was a hushed expectancy for the Wagner Idyll which was the first item on the program. This very romantic piece was intended by Richard Wagner as a birthday surprise for his wife Cosima. It was first performed on Christmas Day 1870. Wagner had gathered together a small group of musicians from the Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich and they played the Idyll on the staircase of the Swiss villa outside Cosima’s bedroom. She was much moved by the performance and the music had deep significance for the family. It includes many of the themes that later formed part of “Siegfried”, the third opera in the Ring Cycle. Conductor Michael Joel has just returned from London where he was working as a duty conductor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He drew a very sympathetic reading of the Wagner work from the orchestra, and the strings were particularly expressive. The orchestration is mainly quiet and serene in character and the themes are spread around the various instruments, so that every section of the orchestra has its moment of glory. This was much enjoyed by the audience.

Catherine Bowie, professor of flute studies at Auckland University, was the featured soloist in Carl Reinecke’s Flute concerto in D Major. Composer Carl Reinecke was a noted pianist who studied under Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt, and also taught Liszt’s daughter Cosima. His Flute sonata “Undine” is perhaps his best known composition, although the D Major Concerto has become an important part of the concert flute soloist repertoire. Playing a Lillian Burkhart flute, Bowie’s performance of the first and second movement was exquisite, but in the demanding final movement she had the opportunity to demonstrate her virtuosity which was outstanding. The scoring for the orchestra in parts of this work is quite heavy and called for the conductor to keep volume levels under control. This was sensitively achieved by Michael, and at the triumphant conclusion, the soloist’s skill was roundly applauded.

The final work in the program was Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony number 7 in D Minor. This work was composed during a rather sad period in the composer’s life and his personal tragedy is reflected in some of the music. In 1884 Dvorak was admitted to honorary membership of the London Philharmonic Society, who commissioned him to write a new symphony. He completed this and conducted the first London performance on 22nd March 1885. As in his previous symphonies he made quite extensive use of Bohemian melodies. In the early part of the work the St Matthews Orchestral performance highlighted the contrast between the movements. At first introspective and foreboding, then the mood changed and the darkness was swept away in a glorious rush of impassioned music. The opening theme was developed and the whole work swept on to an impressive climax. Once again the thoroughly researched program notes by Lois Westwood were significant in adding to audience members’ appreciation and understanding of the program.

The next concert will feature pianist David Guerin, with Michael McLellan conducting, and this will be on Sunday 15th May 2016. Robert O’Hara.