Review of May 2017 Concert


On a lovely sunny Autumn day the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra managed to attract a capacity audience with a very colourful program.   David Farquhar’s ‘Ring round the Moon’ was a welcome starter. Originally commissioned by Richard Campion to accompany a New Zealand Players production, it has undertaken a number of modifications over the years since the original in 1953.  The Alex Lindsay String Orchestra recorded it in a nine dance form which was regularly played by Radio New Zealand during the 70s and 90s.  The version performed by the S.M.C. Orchestra was the six dance suite taken on a tour of Europe and China by the New Zealand Youth Orchestra in 1975.  The opening Tango is zany and quirky but instantly appealing with its extensive use of pizzicato. The Polka introduces a jaunty cheeky tune that flirts with the minor key and with a pulsing rhythm. It too has an instant appeal to listeners. A dreamy waltz follows with some smooth and soulful phrasing and beautiful string tones.  The orchestra clearly enjoyed playing this music and conductor Timothy Carpenter drew the best out of them with minimal effort. The audience gave the performance warm and appreciative applause.

Weber’s Bassoon Concerto in F is perhaps the best known and most frequently performed of the Bassoon concerti, and it is a work that demands a virtuoso performer. The wide experience of soloist Ben Hoadley was put to the test and he came through with flying colours.  The long first movement is especially demanding of the soloist, who alternates between the lowest and highest registers of the instrument, with some very florid passages that demanded the utmost dexterity.  He was given the most judicious support by the conductor who kept the orchestral volume at just the appropriate dynamic level through the whole work.  The middle section was slower and allowed the colour and tone of the instrument to shine above the muted backing of the orchestra.  The Horn Section provided a contrasting accompaniment to the soloist leading into the cadenza.  The final Rondo was most exciting with the soloist demonstrating his complete mastery of the instrument, rolling onward to a brilliant conclusion. This performance got the thunderous reception that it rightfully deserved. A truly virtuoso performance by both soloist and conductor.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony concluded the program. Although some of Beethoven’s other symphonies have their origins in the Austrian countryside, this was the only one that the composer chose to explicitly acknowledge as his inspiration.   His subtitle for the first movement, “The cheerful feelings excited by arriving in the country” aptly describe the beautiful music that follows.  It is easy for the listener to conjure up visions of “water rippling over stones” or “wind gently whispering through foliage” because of the descriptive nature of the music.  The second movement, written in sonata form, suggests a peaceful flowing stream, which comes to an end with the depiction of a nightingale (flute) a quail (oboe) and a cuckoo (clarinet).  The Allegro ushers in the peasants dancing and their drunken dance is soon ended by a turbulent storm.  There follows a quaintly unusual passage for the off-beat oboe, clarinet and bassoon who seems only to be able to play three notes. The symphony is brought to a close after a turbulent opening, and Hector Berlioz trembling with fear and admiration described the storm, “It is no longer merely rain and wind but an awful cataclysm!” The symphony concludes with the shepherds’ hymn of thanksgiving which is taken up by the whole orchestra.   A muted horn call brings the work to a peaceful close.  Conductor Timothy Carpenter’s direction of the orchestra in this work seemed effortless but most impressive.

Lois Westwood’s thoroughly researched program notes helped the audience to fully appreciate the program.    The next concert on Sunday 18th June will feature Conductor James Tennant and Cello soloist Matthias Balzat from the University of Waikato.

Robert O’Hara