Review: Magic of Mendelssohn on 22nd June 2008

by Dr David Salisbury

Overture to a Midsummers Night’s Dream (Op. 21)

From the opening choral like statement of the woodwinds to the very light and energetic answer of the violins the tone of the overture was one of suspense and anticipation of what was to come.  Conducted by John Hopkins OBE founding patron of the orchestra, the musicians responded to his every nuance and subtlety with devotion and enthusiasm.  The delicate interplay between strings and winds played out in brilliant colour and dynamics that gave the audience a sumptuous display of the orchestra’s technical skills.  The principle episodic themes continued to emerge as if to compete for the audience’s attention with Mendelssohn using the opening woodwind choral as a beginning and ending statement for sections as well as the entire overture.  The orchestra provided a delightful performance that was well received by the audience who responded with robust applause to show their appreciation.

Violin Concerto in E minor (Op. 64) with guest soloist Matthew Rigby

Matthew’s performance displayed confidence and authority from the first passage of the concerto to the final notes played.  His enthusiasm and expression was mesmerising and his technical virtuosity was impressive. John Hopkins who masterfully conducted the interplay between the soloist and the orchestra consistently kept the balance between these two principle aspects of the composition.  The concerto consists of three movements with the following tempo markings:

  • Allegro molto appassionato (E minor)
  • Andante (C major)
  • Allegretto no troppo – Allegro molto vivace (E major)

Playing from memory over twenty-seven minutes of music, the young violinist displayed considerable concentration and focus to produce a wonderfully energetic performance.  So appreciative was the audience that Matthew was compelled to perform a spontaneous encore of the Preludio of Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major as an unaccompanied solo for the enthralled listeners.

Symphony No. 4 in A major (Op. 90)

The first movement with the tempo marking of Allegro Vivace has a bright and sunny disposition that pervades throughout and has operatic quality with heroic and tempestuous themes often proceeded by heraldic statements by the brass that the orchestra produced with obvious relish under Hopkins’ skilful direction.

The second movement marked Andante con Moto has a slightly more reflective mood about it in which the orchestra produced the flowing melodic lines contained within with a marked sensitivity and emotion.  Hopkins conducted this movement with characteristic balance and delicacy.

The third movement, Con Moto Moderato, evokes scenes by the riverside or seashore with its flowing string lines and undulating accompanying background lines.  Mendelssohn then juxtaposes the French horns with the strings and then full brass and strings to give a sense of majestic views and sweeping vistas.  Hopkins used the orchestra to his advantage bringing this imagery to the audience with his deft control of tempo and dynamic range.

The fourth and final movement, Saltarello Presto, begins with a big orchestral flourish and a renewed and invigorating sense of purpose.  At once playful but with an underlying intensity Hopkins’ baton furiously commanded the orchestra to greater heights.  With fluttering flute passages interspersed with dynamic flowing string passages the movement hurtles forward to its ultimate conclusion with a sense of urgency further heightened by Mendelssohn’s artful usage brass and woodwind interjections.

This concert was a thoroughly balanced assemblage of Mendelssohn’s craft as a composer and artist.  A very ambitious program wonderfully performed by the orchestra and soloist alike.  It is with a great deal of satisfaction that I compile these thoughts and impressions of such a fantastic effort by our own Barrier Reef Orchestra under the direction of John Hopkins with a stellar performance by Matthew Rigby. 

It is without reservation that I declare that all who attended this most enjoyable performance had an outstanding night.