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Review of June 2023 Concert

St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra’s previous concert saw its audience and players well entrenched in 20th century jazz idioms.  In this, their latest performance, we were back in the late-eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century.  Michael Joel, the orchestra’s musical director, is a great favourite with musicians and audience, and brought all the grace and charm of Fanny Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Schubert to a very appreciative audience.

Fanny Mendelssohn’s sparkling Overture in C was written when she was in her late twenties.  It was easy to see why her brother Felix was able to get some of her charming music published in his own name, to circumvent the misogynistic attitude of the day.  The music was quite testing and quite demanding in places.  The string playing of the quick up and down scales was impeccable.  The bouncing of themes between the more delicate strings and the assertive trumpets and horns, and the lyrical writing for woodwinds made for a charming overture.

Diedre Irons, the doyenne of New Zealand’s pianists, who stepped in at short notice, played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in A, K488 with all the grace and musicianship she is famed for.  Beautiful phrasing and careful balancing of orchestra and piano were outstanding.  Irons’ beauty of tone and clarity of touch are hallmarks of her artistry and ever present here. 

The slow movement in F sharp minor was serene and graced with excellent solo work from the flutes and then the whole woodwind ensemble.  The orchestral playing was polished with beautiful attention to light and shade.  A quite superb performance deserving of the enthusiastic reception for soloist and orchestra.

Both works in the second half of the concert were by Franz Schubert.  His Overture in C – In the Italian Style – is probably the better known of two overtures he wrote when he was twenty.  Schubert was an enthusiast of the music of Rossini.  The music was charming and the several changes in rhythm and dynamics were reminiscent of Rossini’s writing. There were opportunities aplenty to display the melodies and the interaction with sections within the orchestra. All were taken and the result was polished.

Schubert’s Symphony No 4 in C minor, D417, Tragic, was written when Schubert was nineteen, but not premiered until more than twenty years after his death.  This symphony and the Unfinished symphony were the only two he wrote in a minor key.  Michael Joel’s conducting, with emphasis on phrasing and elegance of style, was immaculate.  The yearning of the opening movement, the grace of the slow Andante movement, the decisiveness of the Menuetto and the intricate weaving of themes between the sections in the Finale, were all lovingly expressed.  Congratulations to all players and conductor.  A brilliant concert.

Review by Rogan Falla

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