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BRILLIANT SYLVIA JIANG IN THE GRIEG PIANO CONCERTO

Review of August 2022 Concert

St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra’s August’s programme featured works for the three main sections of the orchestra – Tremain’s Symphony for Strings (1960), Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphony for Winds (1885) and David Farquhar’s Divertimento for Brass (1960). Tremain’s and Farquhar’s are examples of the rarely played New Zealand compositions that have been included in the orchestra’s 2022 Subscriptions concerts. 


Ronald Tremain and David Farquhar both studied composition with Douglas Lilburn before studying in Europe and later returning to New Zealand university positions.  Both Tremain’s and Farquhar’s styles had absorbed some of Lilburn’s, while Tremain’s neo-classicism had overtones of Bartok, Stravinsky and Hindemith.  His counterpoint no doubt gave the string players much fun to play.  In the Farquhar Divertimento for Brass the trumpets mostly carried the melody lines with trombones, horns and tuba largely accompanying and adding harmonic colours.  The players seemed to revel in the difficult rhythms and harmonies.


Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphony for Winds premiered in 1885.  It is a lively, tuneful and elegant work.  Instrumental groups alternated with the full ensemble.  At the end of each piece the faces of the players reflected the fun they had had, and their pleasure in the chance to be soloists or part of an intimate group. 


The playing in all three works was disciplined, precise and admirably conducted by Michael Joel, the orchestra’s musical director.  There were prominent solos in all three works and they were played very capably.


After the interval the hugely talented Sylvia Jiang was soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto.  Sylvia played Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 and also Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2 in 2021 to great acclaim.


Jiang’s entry after the opening timpani roll immediately stamped her authority on the work.  Her diminutive height belied her commanding hand and shoulder strength, and her superb technique allowed her to move from dramatic runs and crashing chords to tender and lyrical pianissimos.


There was total coordination between soloist and conductor as seen in rubati and the blending of solo and orchestral lines.  The numerous solos from within the orchestra were handled with ability and aplomb.  Notable were the lyrical cello line in the first movement, the blend of melodies in the woodwind and horns in the slow movement and the full brass section throughout.


The concerto was a tour de force for Jiang and the orchestra and Jiang fully deserved the standing ovation.  She was very gracious in her acknowledgement of the orchestra’s contribution to her performance.  What a privilege to have Jiang back in New Zealand during a summer break from her studies at the Juilliard School of Music in New York where the acceptance rate for entry is only 7.6% of applicants.


The orchestra was led with confidence and skill by Tessa Petersen and Michael Joel demonstrated the real rapport he has with soloist and orchestra.  His appearance with Helene Pohl and the Beethoven violin concerto later in September will be a concert not to be missed.

Review by Rogan Falla