Review of September 2014 Concert

ENIGMA VARIATIONS PLEASE AUDIENCE

The September program featured all English composers and first up was a tuneful concert march by contemporary Englishman Vince Harris which was the final movement of his Rodney Suite.  A bassoonist who had a career with the Royal Marines as Bandmaster and then as a Chief Instructor at the Royal Marines School of Music, Vince’s explanation of this march was to mirror the activity and fun of the Kowhai Festival, and the lyrical theme to represent the beauty of the Region.   The March was bright and breezy music that reminded me of Eric Coates, and was very well received.   Vince joined the bassoon section for this concert and took a bow to acknowledge the applause.

The next number, George Butterworth’s Shropshire Lad Rhapsody was by contrast much more sombre.  Violas introduced a sad melody that was somewhat reflective of the horrors of World War 1.   The rhapsody moved quietly forward to build to a climax in which the brass section echo the poignant melody and with the timpani drum beats dominating  the finale.  Scored for full orchestra, this work gave some eloquent music to the bass clarinet and the cor anglais, and featured some interesting writing for the string sections as well.    Sadly the composer died in the battle of the Somme aged just 31yrs.

Gerald Finzi’s clarinet concerto featured soloist James Fry who has had a distinguished career as a Principle clarinettist with several orchestras in Australia and New Zealand.  Finzi lost three older brothers during World War 1 and this is said to have reflected in the darker mood of some of his music in comparison with his contemporaries.  In this concerto scored for clarinet and strings the soloist is given some music that demands virtuoso performance, especially in the final movement.   The Adagio movement featured some dreamy music of restful quality with the soloist soaring above some delightful string playing in legato passages.   In the final rondo movement, the soloist really demonstrated his consummate virtuosity, and the concerto finished on an optimistic note.   The soloist was given a rousing reception by an enthusiastic audience.

The best known work, Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” was saved till last.   For some people who know Elgar only as the composer of “Land of Hope and Glory” and the Pomp and Circumstance marches, it might seem that he is doomed to be known as the creator of music of “jingoistic pomposity”.     As Master of the King’s Music he was obliged to compose works for various State events, and he duly did so, serving up music that was appropriate to these solemn and often grand occasions.   However he was also the composer of some lyrical music of touching beauty, for example, “Salute D’amour” which he composed for his wife Alice as an engagement present.    He too was affected by the tragedies of World War 1 and his moving cello concerto is a lasting testament to his feelings about the horrors of war.    His “Enigma Variations” after years of hard work, turned out to be an overnight success in 1899, and he finally achieved the accolades that he deserved from an adoring public.   Clearly conductor Michael Joel has an affinity with this work, as he directed it with great care and precision, bringing out the features of each of the variations with great clarity.   The orchestra too played the work with attention to detail, especially  Helen Taber, whose fine viola solo featured in variation 10 and Michael Weiss, whose eloquent cello solo featured in variation 12.  The audience showed how much they appreciated the orchestra’s performance of this wonderful work.

The final concert of the St. Matthews Chamber Orchestra on Sunday 19th October will feature the Auckland Youth Choir conducted by Michael McLellan in a program featuring French composers, Ravel and Faure.          Robert O’Hara.