Review of July 2021 Concert

Piano Brilliance and Orchestral Grandeur

The COVID 19 transport restrictions have thrown up some curved balls for SMCO’s concert planners, but happily they were able to gather a talented and winning team of conductor piano soloist and programme.

The conductor, Jose Aparicio, has conducted St Matthew Chamber Orchestra on several occasions and established a warm rapport with the musicians. 

The concert began with Prelude for Strings, written in the mid-1980s by New Zealand composer, Leonie Holmes.  Opening in a rather wistful accessible style in the lower strings, it was an engaging, accessible piece with quite open harmonies reminiscent of the style of Larry Pruden.

Sylvia Jiang, who played the Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 to a rapturous reception in May this year, was soloist in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2.  She is a pianist of immense talent who plays with great sensitivity, and both were there in abundance in this concerto.  Liszt is known for his flamboyance but in this concerto the piano was very much an ensemble instrument, with themes spread almost equally with the full orchestra and individual players.

Opening with a gentle, reflective melody from the woodwinds, the piano and horns moved into a duet.  Written to be played without break between movements, the concerto moved from languid to animated, and finally a boisterous finale with brass and percussion interlaced with virtuosic pianism.  Ever supportive, the orchestra matched Sylvia with brilliance, and the capacity audience gave them well deserved applause.

The gloriously long Eroica, Beethoven’s Third Symphony was totally riveting.  The orchestra’s two opening chords in the Allegro, began the most exciting performance we could have hoped for.  Jose Aparicio’s stylish conducting – with emphasis on beautifully controlled dynamics, phrasing and accents all generated tension and exhilaration. 

The haunting sadness of the oboe theme in the second movement saw the lifting of the emotional tension of the Allegro.  The feeling of despair in its latter bars gave way to energy, hope and excitement in the Scherzo.  The driving momentum of a pulsing theme in the cellos and basses created great tension.  The movement ended with triumphant horns.

In the Finale, the pizzicato in the strings was immaculately played.  The winds, which were brilliant throughout, tossed themes about between instruments in the Theme and Variations.  The basses and cellos were dependable and sure.

The symphony ended with a rich chorale-like theme from the whole orchestra.  The grandeur and honesty of Beethoven’s great symphony was fully realized.  Heroic indeed.

As one very knowledgeable member of the audience commented, ‘St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra must undoubtedly be the best amateur orchestra in New Zealand.’  Well said!

Review by Rogan Falla