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Review of September 2023 Concert

While the concert was titled Sweet Sadness, the latest SMCO concert conducted by Michael Joel, had plenty of jollity and light in a very varied programme.  It opened with the very popular Masques et Bergamasques Op. 112 of Faure.  Made up of four movements, the suite of dances was charming with nods to the 17th and 18th centuries and played with great panache – there was plenty of lovely sectional work from strings and woodwinds. The first movement, Overture featured light orchestration, jaunty and dainty motifs, and a beautifully played viola theme.  Two dances – Menuet and Gavotte –followed, dainty and with classical flair.  The Pastorale was a tranquil movement which brought the suite to an expressive end.

Edouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor is probably less well-known than his Symphonie Espagnole, a five-movement concerto for violin and orchestra, but it is a real gem.  Ashley Brown, one of New Zealand’s foremost cellists was soloist and his consummate technique and beauty of tone made it a most memorable performance.  Each of the three movements is in two parts, with contrasting changes in tempo, rhythm, and style.  The first movement, Lento-Allegro opened with a slow orchestral introduction before the solo cello entered.  The Allegro maestoso which followed featured assertive chords from the brass and brilliantly played fast demisemiquavers from Brown.  The violin and viola opening to the second movement was followed by the full string section in a slow lyrical passage before a skittish solo line from the cello.  The movement ended with quirky pizzicato chords.  The final movement, Andante—Allegro vivace opened with a quiet solo line before the orchestra took over with an energetic rondo.  The orchestra and soloist played together with real musicality and Brown acknowledged the support from all sections with special recognition to the woodwind instruments for their beautiful playing. 

Kenneth Young’s Douce Tristesse commissioned by Peter van Drimmelen for the Wellington Chamber Orchestra in 2012 was a very accessible work for strings, woodwinds, horns, harp, and percussion.  Young described it as ‘… a gentle and yet nostalgic work.’  It was played with great sensitivity – woodwinds, horns and harp came in for special commendation, but the strings were admirable as well.

Schumann’s Symphony No.3 in E flat Op.97 ‘Rhenish’ was the final work of the concert.  Schumann’s last major work, the symphony, in five movements, was generally warm and positive.  The majestic opening was expressive and rather grandiose, and the theme was expansive with its rich orchestration.  The swaying rhythm of the Scherzo was played with lightness and sensitivity.  The third movement – Nicht schnell – provided opportunity for serene ensemble work between the strings and woodwinds, while the horns had their moment in the fourth movement with its representation of worship in Cologne Cathedral.  The symphony’s final movement, Lebhaft, was ecstatic, joyful, and dramatic.  What a challenging work, played with great feeling by a very polished orchestra, led on this occasion by Harris Leung.  Congratulations SMCO – you served all the composers faithfully.

Review by Rogan Falla

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