Review of September 2019 Concert

Virtuosic Violin Brilliance

Superlatives abounded as the audience left the 15 September SMCO subscription concert which featured Martin Riseley as soloist.  As one audience member commented ‘There wasn’t one work that I wish wasn’t included.’  David Kay was conductor with Simon Ansell as the Concert Master.

Haydn’s Symphony No 101 ‘The Clock’ was a great opening work.  Beginning with a solemn rather dramatic introduction the first movement quickly became a romp with the brass quite jubilant.  The fugal development section was well articulated, and the woodwind followed by the full orchestra played their interleaving phrases with great style.

The bassoons (who played with very creditable finesse here and in the Prokofiev concerto) and the strings established the clock’s ticking in the second movement.  David Kay’s precise beat maintained the steady rhythm throughout.  The good-humoured Menuetto with the melody being tossed between flute, bassoon, clarinet and strings epitomized the grace and elegance of the eighteenth century.  It led to the Finale which began with a quietly majestic theme followed by brass and woodwind in full voice.  The strings played the intricate double fugue with precision.  A sunny and cheerful symphony.

Martin Riseley, the Head of Strings (violin) at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington,  has an illustrious ‘pedigree’, with a Doctor Musical Arts degree from the Julliard School of Music, New York, and fifteen years as the concertmaster of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in Canada.  All this experience was on full display in the Introduction and Capriccioso Op 28 by Saint-Saens.  The quiet meditative introduction quickly moved into Spanish ‘fireworks’.  Riseley’s virtuosic technique was spectacular with brilliant bowing and finger work and his richness of tone never wavered even in the highest register.

Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No 1 Op 19 opened with both solo violin and orchestra in a lyrical melody.  Rhythmically and harmonically challenging, the orchestra matched the soloist in skill.  The second movement was very fast, often in the upper register with energetic spiccato playing from Riseley.  There was great beauty in the interplay between soloist and orchestral soloists – most notably the bassoon.  The warm reception for Riseley was also an acknowledgement of the orchestra’s supportive performance.

Written when Prokofiev was in his mid-twenties about the time of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Classical Symphony is a most engaging and approachable work based on the eighteenth-century classical style.   Conductor David Kay set a brisk pace for the outer movements.  The scurrying string lines in the first movement were played with panache and the high-register theme in the first violins opened the second movement with crisp lower strings before the entry of woodwinds and pizzicato strings.  The third movement was a rich gavotte.  The woodwind tune was effectively accompanied by pizzicato in the lower strings.  There was plenty of skilled playing from all sections – it was a nice gesture on Martin Riseley’s part to join in the ranks of the first violins in the symphony.

A very polished concert and warmly received. Rogan Falla.