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Review of September 2022 concert

Michael Joel, the SMCO’s musical director, always a favourite with both orchestra and audiences, was conductor of SMCO’s most recent concert.  It was a  hugely popular programme and Rachel Moxham led the orchestra with style and verve.

Although extremely well known both within NZ and internationally as the brilliant 1st violinist of the NZ String Quartet, Helene Pohl is a less familiar face in the concerto arena.  However, following her stellar performance as the soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto, we may well see requests for her to perform more frequently as a concerto soloist.  I’m sure the St Matthew’s audience would eagerly welcome her back.


The Beethoven opens with five gentle tympani beats before the woodwind and then strings enter to dominate the long introduction.  The orchestra played this most sensitively as did Pohl, and from her entry and soaring presentation of the first theme she had her audience enthralled.  Throughout the whole performance there was not one suppressed cough or dropped programme.  Pohl’s impeccable technique and very sensitive variations in tempi made for a monumental first movement.  This was Beethoven at his most eloquent and expressive.


The serene Larghetto is the real heart of the concerto with its exquisitely measured pace.   The orchestra was very restrained and allowed Pohl to soar seemingly effortlessly to the upper register of her violin.


The opening of the rollicking third movement followed the cadenza without break and the solo violin and orchestra engaged in a jolly conversation.  The bassoons were particularly jocular.  Pohl’s immaculate articulation of every note and subtle phrasing made this a not-to-be-forgotten performance.  The audience had been fully absorbedthroughout and their lengthy applause demonstrated their appreciation of the superb playing from Pohl and the orchestra.  Both deserved a share in the honours.


The first work on the programme was John Ritchie’s ‘Aquarius Suite No 2 for String Orchestra.’  This was very much in keeping with the watery and fishy works that have been featured in the other 2022 SMCO concerts.  The ensemble playing was well disciplined as was the dreamy violin solo, played by Rachel Moxham.


Sibelius’s Karelia Suite Op. 11, written in the 1890s has become one of his best loved works.  It was popular from its premiere as representative of the Karelia region of Finland, long under Russian occupation.  The mysterious opening of the first movement allowed the horns and percussion full rein and they played with disciplined enthusiasm.  Woodwinds and strings were centre stage in the Ballade and the evocative cor anglais solo was sensitively played by Kate Rendall.  The Alla Marcia is perhaps the most well known of the pieces, having featured in advertisements and tourist films.  Tympani and percussion reveled in their parts and the flute and piccolo tunes were Sibelius at his most optimistic.  The variations in tempi were well controlled.  


Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite was based on a play by Ibsen with a setting far from Norway.  The opening movement, Morning, was beautifully atmospheric with flutes and strings depicting the slow and gentle rising of the sun over a Moroccan desert while in The Death of Ase, the muted strings represented Peer’s grief at the death of his mother.  Anitra’s Dance had the strings at their most sultry and seductive with gentle rubati and pizzicato accents.  The brass took up the challenge in ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ playing the parts of trolls, gnomes and goblins.  The frenetic dancing and increasing accelerando with cymbals, percussion and full orchestra made for a splendid conclusion to both the suite and the concert.


Congratulations to Michael Joel and all sections of SMCO for their musical efforts. 

Review by Rogan Falla

Review of September 2022 Concert: News and Updates
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