Review of May 2016 Concert

A FULL HOUSE FOR MOSTLY MOZART

It was gratifying to see such a good attendance at the second concert of 2016 for the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra. In balmy Autumn temperatures it was a great feeling to sit in St Matthews Church to hear such an uplifting program.

The Overture to “Don Giovanni” was the first offering.  Its dark introspective chords give a foreboding feeling of the tragic drama that is to follow.  From Lois Westwood’s informative notes we learned that Mozart wrote the whole overture the night before the first performance, leaving no time for the orchestra to rehearse.  Despite this the opera was a resounding success, and continues to enthral audiences all over the world to this day.  In the view of the great opera critic, George Bernard Shaw, “Don Giovanni” was the “greatest opera ever to have been written”. Many would agree with him.  Certainly the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra’s performance of the overture was a superb beginning to what was to become one of the best concerts in my view that they have performed.   Michael McLellan’s direction was superb and we heard some very fine string playing.

Renowned pianist David Guerin was the featured soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 9.  The Allegro first movement was dashed off with great panache, and the second movement was played with great sensitivity, the soloist showing a very real feeling for the most delicate of Mozart’s passages for the keyboard.   He was well supported by the orchestra, and was able to command respect with the contrast he was able to achieve between forte and pianissimo passages.  One could not have wished for a better interpretation of Mozart from any solo pianist, and at the end, the audience showed their loud appreciation of his and the orchestra’s performance.

The performance of Anthony Arthur Watson’s “Prelude and Allegro for strings” was a curious choice to play alongside Mozart.  However with conductor Michael McLellan opting to offer dissected fragments of the work at the beginning, we were able to gain a greater appreciation of the compositional structure of the work.  Watson for over ten years played the viola in the National Orchestra of New Zealand and later was the first Mozart Fellow at the University of Otago.  This work was commissioned by the Alex Lindsay String Orchestra, and was first performed by the N.Z.S.O. in 2009.  Although the work was only 6 minutes in length it offered great tonal colour, with clever use of dissonance.   There were times during the work that reminded me of Ligeti with his broad tonal colour achieved by so many different notes being played at once on different instruments.   There were other moments when I was reminded of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” with its pulsing bow work on the strings.   It received a good reception and it is pleasing that the orchestra chooses to include works like this from New Zealand composers on their program, because we might otherwise be denied that opportunity.

The main symphonic work on the program was Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony No 36 in C.  This work composed at breakneck speed is unusual in that it starts with a slow introduction reminiscent of Haydn.  It teems with melodic invention and is generally a sunny and extrovert work.    The second movement in a minor key finally settles down and proceeds in orthodox fashion.   The glittering minuet that follows is martial and followed by a trio that is a rustic dance of gentle beauty that features an elegant duet for Oboe and Bassoon.  The finale is a bustling presto that trots out a dazzling variety of musical ideas and exhibits a pungent wit timed to perfection.  The composer’s direction was that it be played “as fast as possible”, and the orchestra and conductor did their best to carry this out.   This performance was a fitting end to a superb program and ensured that the audience will be back for the next concert on June 19th when David Kay will conduct the Orchestra with a group of Vocal Students from the University of Auckland presenting a program of Opera Arias and Excepts.  – Robert O’Hara