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Review of June 2024 Concert

A programme of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky was likely to attract a sizeable audience, but the reputation of Matthias Balzat as soloist and David Sharp as conductor guaranteed it. 


St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra June Concert opened with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture op.84.  The rich opening chords from the strings followed by the immaculate woodwind melodies set the scene for a memorable performance.  The gravitas of the first theme contrasted with the excitement and quicker tempo of the second.  The variations in tempi and the phrasing were beautifully polished.  David Sharp is well-known to the audience, having conducted SMCO on several occasions.  His extensive experience overseas was shown in his leadership of the orchestra, and he obviously enjoyed a warm rapport with all players.


Matthias Balzat, having won numerous competitions here in New Zealand and elsewhere, and completed a performance degree at Waikato University under James Tennant while still in his teens, is well on the way to an international career as a cellist of the highest quality.


Balzat was soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme op.33.  The serene orchestral opening was followed by the solo cello theme.  Balzat’s beauty and projection of tone, and his brilliant technique were mesmerizing.  Here was romanticism personified.  There was a very elegant blending of woodwind and solo themes.  The ‘question and answer’ between soloist and orchestra made for an ensemble of shared beauty.  Brilliant harmonics with fast scale passages covered the cello’s whole register.  His solo lines soared above the orchestra with seemingly effortless precision.  A totally spellbinding performance.  It is to be hoped that Balzat can be wooed back to New Zealand for further performances.

Faure’s Elegie op.24, originally for cello and piano but later arranged for orchestra and cello by Faure himself was a miniature gem.  Following his enthusiastic reception, Balzat amazed yet again with a fiendishly difficult encore – based on Paganini’s 24th Caprice for solo violin.  Double and triple stopping, harmonic runs, combined pizzicato and bowing were all there.  Bravo, Matthias – you are a marvel.


Beethoven’s Symphony No7, op 92, is undoubtedly one of his greatest symphonies and SMCO’s performance of it was a tour de force.  All sections contributed in a very special way – woodwinds with dance-like rhythms, strings with great attention to tempi, phrasing and sensitivity of playing, trumpets and timpani adding to the excitement, particularly in the Scherzo and Finale.  David Sharp’s clear beat and control of contrasting dynamics made for a polished and rhythmically taut whole.  The Finale, with its increasingly fast pace, was a challenge met with total control.  A convincing performance which received the enthusiastic response it deserved from the near capacity audience.

Review by Rogan Falla

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