Tawa’s orchestra tackles substantial programme under lively young conductor

Tawa Community Orchestra conducted by Andrew Atkins and Laura Barton (violin)

Mozart: Symphony No 25 in G minor – first movement: Allegro con brio
Wieniawski: Violin Concerto No 2 in D minor, Op 22
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture

Tawa College Hall

Sunday 8 June, 2 pm

There are several community, amateur orchestras around Greater Wellington; their major role is probably to enable local musicians to get orchestral experience; not to lay any claim to offering dazzling musical revelations. Most of the audience no doubt comprised friends and family members. Many of those have a genuine interest in music of the classical kind, and no matter the level of accomplishment, it is always interesting, sometimes pleasantly surprising, to be at such concerts.

My connection was as family member, but I was more than a little interested to hear how the players would cope with pieces that were one hundred percent solid classical repertoire.

The first movement of Mozart’s ‘Little G minor symphony’, No 25 (distinguishing it from the other one, No 40) would have resonated with many, as the urgent music, with arresting syncopation, that opened the film Amadeus. While the opening bars were an interesting exhibition of the meaning of ‘balance’, demonstrating the challenge of getting an integrated sound from the varied instruments of the orchestra, which are by nature so incompatible. More striking however was the energy that the young conductor, Andrew Atkins, a graduate student at the New Zealand School of Music, brought to the job. He imposed a professional tempo and sense of momentum on the performance that to a good extent masked any weaknesses of ensemble and technical competence in the players. Nevertheless, the real Mozart showed through, the spirit and the melodic genius.

It was the next piece that had me intrigued. While the Mozart employed a fairly limited orchestra – horns the only brass instruments – Wieniawski, writing about a century later, called for the full Romantic orchestra, double woodwinds, horns and trumpets, three trombones and timpani.

Here too the presence of several guest players, including many from the School of Music, strengthened strings and brass, in particular.

Though I knew both Wieniawski’s violin concertos, I cannot recall hearing either played live, though it would be surprising if the Michael Hill Violin Competition had not thrown one of them up at some stage. The concertos of instrumental virtuosos tend to be denigrated or ignored, though Paganini’s, Vieuxtemps’s and Wieniawksi’s remain in the repertory. However, this one is well-wrought, melodic, interesting; but it would hardly have survived an amateur performance without a pretty competent soloist.

Violinist Laura Barton is a student at the New Zealand School of Music.  After getting through the formal and not uninteresting orchestral introduction, with a certain tentativeness, Barton’s first phrases sounded as if she was feeling her way, but she very quickly hit her stride, playing without the score in front of her, though there remained, very understandably, a degree of tenseness. But if the audience still had to be convinced of her credentials, the first movement cadenza demonstrated an accomplishment that banished any doubts.

The gentle second movement, Romance, demonstrated an unsentimental lyricism and true musicality in the violinist. While Barton despatched the last movement, with its exciting gypsy rhythms, with an aplomb that not only confirmed a fine violinist in the making, but an orchestra that did not disgrace the performance.

The last work was even more of a challenge, written about the same time as the concerto, a product of Tchaikovsky’s early years, it is a colourful and vivid symphonic poem after the manner of Liszt, depicting three episodes of Shakespeare’s play.  No one could have expected a particularly polished performance from the orchestra, yet the energy and zest that young maestro Atkins drew from it, the poignant, lyrical music of the love scene, produced a performance that was quite engaging. There was a palpable feeling that the entire orchestra was giving more than they might have believed possible, and they as well as the audience were being rewarded accordingly.


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