Review of July 2020 Concert

Superb Mid-Winter Concert – Diedre Irons and Beethoven

Sunday 26 July saw St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra relaunch its 2020 concert season following the COVID 19 hiatus.  There was a real air of anticipation.  Finally there was live orchestral music at St Matthew’s –with a capacity crowd, an exciting soloist, a promising new conductor and a wonderful programme.

Vincent Hardaker, newly appointed as Assistant Conductor to work with all the NZ regional orchestras, impressed from the opening of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito overture, with his decisive beat.  Led by Simon Ansell, the strings were a perfectly rounded ensemble with great intonation and phrasing.  The woodwinds enjoyed tossing snippets of melody among themselves.

Diedre Irons, the doyenne of New Zealand’s women pianists, was soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, Op. 58 in G.  Hailed by many as Beethoven’s greatest piano concerto, the No. 4 is a challenge with rapid scale-like runs which dominate a lot of the piano part.  Irons was in total control.  The concerto opens with the pianist delicately announcing the first subject.  She maintained a bell-like clarity of touch in all three movements.  Followed by strings, the theme developed in intensity.  In the second movement there was both serenity and a sense of pending doom, alternating between piano and orchestra.  Movements two and three are joined seamlessly and immediately there is a cheerful lightening of mood with a questions and answer sequence between piano and orchestra.  The principal theme from the first movement reappeared and the concerto ends with a final scamper.  It was a moving and emotionally charged performance from Irons and received with great acclaim from both audience and orchestra.

Dvorak’s Symphony No 9, Op, 95 in E minor, American, filled the entire second half.  The symphony opens with a serene theme in the lower strings then moves to the woodwinds, building in exuberance as an extremely effective brass section joined.  The movement ended with a triumphant flourish.

The cor anglais solo, played very beautifully by Amy Cooper, was the highlight of the second movement.  The muted strings accompanied with sensitivity.  The orchestra was very responsive to Hardaker throughout.  The dance rhythms of the Scherzo and impeccable intonation in the strings’ exposed upper register made for a very polished and cheerful movement.

The Finale opened with the brass in dominance and the movement veered between grandiose brass and wistful woodwinds.  In the climax of the movement the brass relished the opportunity for unleashed bravura before dying away, leaving the movement to end with hints of the theme from the first movement.

Congratulations St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra.  An inspiring programme played with precision and panache.

Review by Rogan Falla