Review of September 2015 Concert


The selection of Rossini, Elgar and Dvorak music was a wonderfully contrasting choice for it ensured that there was something on the programme for everyone.

The St Matthews Chamber Orchestra concert opened with the ever-popular Overture to Rossini’s Opera Buffo “The Barber of Seville”.   The alternative title to this opera was “The Futile Precaution.”   Giuseppe Verdi declared it “The finest Opera Buffo in existence.”   However he also commented that, for the first six minutes of the overture the audience mostly talked and paid no heed to the music.  Obviously opera audiences in Verdi’s day lacked the musical appreciation to recognise the consummate skill of Rossini in his melodic flare and also his clever orchestral instrumentation. On Sunday’s concert the audience however enjoyed the stylish performance that conductor James Tennant drew from the orchestra, and showed their appreciation by hearty acclamation.

For some years now the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra has engaged young solo performers who have demonstrated exceptional talent, and the cello soloist for the Elgar concerto, 17-year-old Catherine Kwak is an excellent example of this policy.  Starting cello lessons at seven years of age, she has in just ten years made her presence felt, both nationally and internationally in competitions.  She was a prize winner at the 18th International Brahms Cello Competition in Austria, and has already built up an enviable reputation as a cello soloist in Europe at the Euro Arts Festival and at the International Summer Academy at Biel, Switzerland where she was chosen to perform as a soloist with the Budweis Philharmonic Orchestra. Elgar’s cello concerto is an extremely poignant work written just after World War one, when Elgar was at the peak of his compositional powers.  He was at the time somewhat depressed by the horrors of war and in particular the death of the son of a woman to whom he had been very close during her residence in England.  The work requires a mature approach to bring out the feelings of pathos that music evokes, and Miss Kwak rose to the occasion magnificently and demonstrated a maturity far beyond her age.   Her teacher James Tennant was right with her supportively throughout the work, ensuring that the orchestra gave her the sensitive backing that is essential to the moving performance that resulted.  This was a performance that went to the very heart and soul of listeners, and the audience’s applause reflected this. Following her performance she unobtrusively joined the cello section of the orchestra to play the Symphony.

Dvorak’s Symphony Number 8 was the major work presented, and it proved to be a masterpiece of contrasts, with extensive use of the Mixolydian mode suggestive of neither major or minor and thus giving the work a definite folk character.  Dvorak was a real master of melody and once said that “melodies simply pour out of me.”   This Symphony is literally “wall to wall” melody from start to finish, and it contains many Bohemian folk tunes. These are played cleverly with contrasting sounds from each of the orchestral sections taking their turn at presenting melodies which are either dark and sombre or bright and cheerful depending on the minor or major key in which it is played. Stirring trumpet fanfares feature in the middle section of the second movement, and one could sense the influence of both Beethoven and Brahms in this Symphony.   The third movement is a charming waltz that has a foot-tapping quality and the orchestration used enhances the music to a great degree.    The finale is introduced with another trumpet fanfare and the theme and variations are most colourfully presented by the various sections of the orchestra. James Tennant’s conducting of this Symphony was vigorous and dynamic.  He was dressed in a multi-coloured waistcoat which contrasted with the sombre and formal black of the orchestral players and at times he literally danced his way through different sections, which seemed to add authority to his hand gestures. Shunning the usual conductor’s baton, his conducting gestures were both eloquent and elegant and his directions to the orchestra were crystal clear.   It resulted in a superb performance and I am sure that the orchestra members numbering over 50 maximised their satisfaction playing under his direction.   It was well received by an appreciative audience.

The final concert for 2015 on Sunday 18th October will feature Viola soloist, Gillian Ansell, and Melbourne based conductor Holly Mathieson.  The works presented will be a commissioned piece by Dr Leonie Holmes, Lecturer in Composition at Auckland University, William Walton’s Viola Concerto, and Tchaikovsky’s  Fourth Symphony.