Review of Dunedin Youth Orchestra

Holly Mathieson conducts the Southern Sinfonia

16 August 2014

A full house at King’s and Queen’s Performing Arts Centre responded proudly to Holly Mathieson’s new professionalism as a conductor. Since graduating from Otago University, Mathieson has honed her skills in Europe. She presented a European classical and somewhat safe programme before an audience boosted by notable members of Opera New Zealand and Creative New Zealand. A stage backdrop of acoustic-enhancing panels enhanced visual and aural aspects of the performance.

Richard Strauss’ Suite in B flat major for wind was written and premiered by him when he was 20 years old. It is a slight work containing melodic richness, rhythmic interest and an intriguing fugal section. Given very pointed and studied direction it failed to fire overall and became, more importantly, an excellent opportunity to enjoy the Southern Sinfonia’s excellent wind section.

C.P.E Bach was the more sensitive son of the Bach dynasty. His Concerto in E flat for Harpsichord and Fortepiano amply demonstrates this. The work also showcases the rather nasal sounding fortepiano, against its predecessor the harpsichord. David Burchell (harpsichord) and John Van Buskirk (fortepiano) shared trills and scale passages of virtuosic speed while capturing as much expression as the two instruments are capable of. The plucked sound was beautifully highlighted against the Sinfonia’s mostly smooth accompaniment.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is well known and accordingly a challenge to direct in a way which adds another interpretation. From the beginning Mathieson had it rolling leisurely along with many balletic gestures. Beethoven’s well-loved countryside, its bird song and dreamy streams were nicely pointed. Guttural double bass notes used to depicting an approaching storm might be heard as clichéd after recent similar treatments to Vivaldi’s Seasons, though the ferocity of the thunderclaps was surprisingly dramatic. Mathieson and the Southern Sinfonia can be proud of their performance.

Marian Poole