Review of July 2022 Concert

SMCO’s Emperor concert might very well not have happened.  The absence through illness of several of its regular players could have signalled disaster but a group of very talented players from other orchestras took some central roles and deputised for unwell or isolating St Matthew’s players.  Instead, it became a performance to long remember.  It presented an interesting collection of pieces, it had a stellar soloist in Diedre Irons, and a brilliant conductor in David Kay who stood in at late notice for Michael Joel.   Kay’s conducting style was decisive and graceful, and engendered warmth and enthusiasm amongst his players.  Rhythms were precise, rubati were well controlled and tempi never rushed.

The Alex Taylor ‘Silk/Gravel’ composition which was to open the programme was rescheduled for a future concert.

Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, the showpiece of the programme became the opening work.  Diedre Irons deserves all the accolades she is graced with.  Her modesty of manner and total dedication to composer and the music, her bell-like clarity of touch, her authority, impeccable technique, and her collaboration with conductor and players were all there, supported phrase by phrase by the orchestra.  Irons stamped her authority on the performance from the opening chords of the piano.  The exultant feeling of the first movement was matched with similar bravura in the last movement.  The slow second movement with long passages of muted strings generated a sense of reverence and gentle conversation between soloist and orchestra.  The movement was notable for impeccable woodwind playing.  The brass and horns led the burst of exultant bravura to end the concerto.

Anthony Ritchie’s French Overture was composed for the NZSO and written to express some of his experiences of Paris while there on study leave.  It has quite a different feel from his Underwater Music the orchestra played in its last concert.  The gentle atmospheric watery creatures in Underwater Music were replaced by rather stern and hard harmonies representing the toughness of a big city – not the romance and beauty of the Paris enjoyed by a casual tourist.

The final work was Sibelius’s King Kristian II Suite.  Written as incidental music for the King Kristian play, the suite is unmistakably Sibelius – his characteristic harmonies, quirky use of woodwind, dark themes, and emphasis on violent historical events – are all present in the five movements.  The best known of the movements was the Musette, in a rustic style.  Sibelius provided plenty of scope for brilliant trombones, trumpets, timpani, evocative winds, and gentle strings.

Congratulations to soloist, orchestra and conductor, and appreciation from the audience for their efforts in achieving a splendid concert of very appealing music.

Review by Rogan Falla