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Review of August 2023 Concert


Oboe Brilliance

Mozart’s Symphony No 29 in A, K201 which opened this St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra concert is perhaps the highpoint in Mozart’s early symphonic writing.  Composed when he was just eighteen, it is a lively and elegant work.  For strings, two oboes and two horns, the symphony was played with delicacy, precise rhythms, and grace – as was Michael Joel’s conducting.  Members of the orchestra seem to enjoy the playing as much as the audience did.

A sharp contrast in mood was provided by Louise Webster’s Oboe Concerto – While the Dark Tide Rises – commissioned by St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra for this occasion and played with brilliance by Thomas Hutchinson.  Hutchinson, a New Zealander by birth but now mostly engaged with orchestras in Europe and Australia, was a totally compelling soloist.  His amazing breath control, rich and full tone, and prodigious technique had the audience riveted.  Louise Webster, one of New Zealand’s foremost composers, has been a member of the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra for many years, and several of her works have been featured in previous concerts.

Webster was inspired by a letter written by Katherine Mansfield (who died 100 years ago this year).  While the Dark Tide Rises is atmospheric and listeners are invited to imagine what the mysterious themes, interwoven into a rich texture might represent – birdlike questions and answers between soloist and woodwind instruments, perhaps broody moonlight on water, and the shimmering of light from a rich profusion of percussion instruments – gongs, a saw and triangle.  Webster has created haunting lines for the soloist, and Hutchinson wove them into a marvellous soundscape.  One could hope he will be able to share it with a wider audience.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 Op. 90 – The Italian – is a landscape coloured with the bright sunshine of Italy.  Mendelssohn was in his early twenties when he visited Italy – its myriad of colours clearly impacted on him.  The energetic themes of full woodwind and brass gave the opening movement an exultant warmth.  The Andante with its procession-like beat from cellos and basses, and serene melodies from the upper strings and woodwind was played with preciseness.  The Minuet was a treat of graceful songlike melodies followed by the wonderful horn trio, while the Saltarello of the final Presto was a very well controlled frolic with high spirits to the fore.  A very jubilant ending to a challenging but highly successful concert.

Review by Rogan Falla

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