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REVIEWS FOR NZ SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: TAKEMITSU, KER AND BERLIOZ - WELLINGTON, MAY 2021

 

I found [the Takemitsu] exerted a spell from which I was awoken by silence, everything miraculously wrought by orchestral playing of the utmost delicacy and the surest motivation, and contrived by what seemed like limitless sensitivity of direction from the conductor. I was reminded here of the famous British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham’s well-known prescription for successful interpretation as “maximum virility allied to maximum sensitivity”, with the music’s focus never in doubt throughout moments of both intensity and serenity. The piece’s fourteen minutes seemed akin in a timeless sense to poet William Blake’s phrase “eternity in an hour”, where the poet’s words become the agents of vast possibilities similar to those in Takemitsu’s music.

I thought Holly Mathieson got the first movement [of Berlioz] absolutely right in terms of finding a balance between structure and spontaneity – the opening music dreamlike, fragmented, episodic, creative, seemingly conjured out of the ether,  the conductor fluid in her movements, tending to use both arms as well as the baton to describe whole roulades of sound with her gestures, but getting the required “attack” as the strings raced through the cross-rhythms to the first “peak” of excitement, and pointedly bringing out the wind augmentations to the strings’ excitable reiteration of the opening ... Even if I felt that I wanted the climax of the symphony’s final “Witches’ Sabbath” scene to be a notch or two wilder and harsher, I thought Mathieson’s control of the opening of the scene was stunningly evocative, with the players delivering the focus and bite the music seemed to call for, the winds balefully “bending” their raptor-like cries, and the basses rumbling their cavernous tones with real menace ... The absolute mayhem that broke out at the end was properly gratifying, as was the audience response to the music-making, which, in tandem with Holly Mathieson’s promising NZSO debut, had helped to make this concert such a memorable and significant event, a most appropriate scenario in which to wish her the warmest of welcomes!

Middle-C Classical Music Reviews (Peter Mechen)

From the outset, Mathieson conducted with total, crystalline clarity and control. The first movement’s great harmonic arc was beautifully sketched: “You can hear him playing the structure,” as my piano teacher, the late, much-lamented Elaine Sharman, used to say about Michael Houston. The tone and feel of the symphony’s very first notes could still be heard in the last ones, a rare achievement even among the best conductors.

And along the way there were beautiful touches: a sharp, intense finale in the second movement’s ball scene, for instance, or the sad stillness of the third movement’s slow passages.

Stuff (Max Rashbrooke)

 

 

 

REVIEWS FOR NZ OPERA, TURN OF THE SCREW - WELLINGTON AND AUCKLAND, OCT 2019

 

[T]he cast is splendid, the set is brilliantly ominous and the small orchestra – taken from Orchestra Wellington – under the astute direction of Holly Mathieson, is splendid.

The Dominion Post (John Button)

The instrumental playing (largely members of Orchestra Wellington, led by violinist Justine Cormack), and complemented by pianist David Kelly (whose stylish solo accompanying Jared Holt’s narration opened the work) was directed with precision, verve and enthralling atmosphere by New Zealand-born conductor Holly Mathieson.

Middle-C Classical Music Reviews (Peter Mechen)

From opening to ending, New Zealand Opera’s new production of The Turn of the Screw is a dark, unsettling, nerve-shredding experience – and an exercise in finely judged storytelling. No fault [...] can be found with the backdrop – both visual and musical – on which the leads do their work. The chamber-sized orchestra, splendidly conducted by Holly Mathieson, sound far more numerous than they actually are, maintain a ceaseless, restless energy, and conjure up an extraordinary range of colours, from dark treacly tones to manic, skittering passages.

Scoop Culture (Max Rashbrooke)

Rarely does one have the pleasure of reporting that a production has seamlessly drawn together all the elements of the drama so superbly that “everything works”. Here, it patently does. The visual conception is perfect. Holly Mathieson’s beautifully configured orchestra delivers the audience a fine bonus, being right up there with its dramatic timing and wall-to-wall atmosphere. At the same time it creates a Bernard Herrmann-like pace and drive (movies again, sorry) while supporting rather than dominating the singers who have a finely grained story to tell. Its presence is as evanescent as Quint’s.

Theatreview (Dave Smith)

The orchestra and conductor were on-stage, part of the set, so the balance was perfect. In fact, often Britten’s score alternated the accompaniment and the singers lines, or the accompaniment was two or three instruments only. The orchestra was superb. With only 13 players, everyone was a soloist and they played magnificently – aided [...] by the taut expertise of conductor Holly Mathieson.

 {...} It was a fabulous, compelling production – perfectly cast, perfectly performed and sung, and had a unsettling set, galvanic lighting and a ghostly, ghastly, uneasy, psychological drama.

DMS Review Blog (Stephen Gibbs)

The speed of the choreography and the stylistic moves are delivered with style and panache by the company. Never once does the energy lapse, driven by the brilliance of Mozart’s music and the terrific conducting of Holly Mathieson. At times, one wonders how the dancers cope with the fine detail required whilst working with harness and diamond sharp hand movements. 

*****

The Wee Review (Mary-Ann Connolly), 31 MAR 2019 (Scottish Ballet, Dextera, Inverness)

Holly Mathieson made a considerable impression with her concern for clarity and elegance in all circumstances. Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 is having a London renaissance with appearances from the LSO and LPO in recent months. It’s a cherishable creation with glittering orchestration that is stuffed full of folk melodies. Mathieson made a most persuasive case for it in an amiable reading that caught its chimerical nature and drew out fine woodwind solos, especially the languorous opening clarinet and a quicksilver flute. Phrases were carefully moulded with swooning strings and there was an almost improvisatory quality as Mathieson danced on the podium [...] Bartók casts a long shadow over Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, music with great rhythmic vitality as well as bold and vivid colours. The KSO rose to the challenge and Mathieson was totally responsive to the demands of this intricate score creating steadily mounting tension in the opening ‘Intrada’, its closing section particularly haunting. Mathieson captured a sense of nocturnal mystery as well as furtive motion in the central ‘Capriccio notturno ed arioso’ building to a powerful climax. The Finale is longer than the other two movements combined and maybe too long for its material but Mathieson held it together with a sense of purpose – brooding, vivacious and dynamic. The concluding ‘Corale’ had some chandelier-rattling climaxes with Mathieson a cool head amongst the surrounding mayhem as brass and percussion delivered in spades, with energy and enthusiasm.

Classical Source (Brian Barford), March 16, 2019 (Kensington Symphony Orchestra, St John's, Smith Square, London)

Holly Mathieson brings clarity and transparent appreciation for the elegance of the music to the seasonal diet of Strauss waltzes. Not to criticise the fine line-up of guest conductors we have seen already this season, but we do not see her often enough on the podium, where she was also a very informative emcee. This was a concert of charm and sophistication, miles from the barn-storming arena-filling approach that others have inflicted on these beautiful tunes.

The Herald Scotland (Keith Bruce), 2018 (RSNO, Viennese Gala, Stirling)

This music was not only beautiful and accessible, it was played with such verve, such panache, such virtuosity, that while some prior knowledge may have been interesting for some, this experience was universal. The significant single element was conductor Mathieson's clarity and elegance in the way the orchestra was led to interpret and present what was, more than anything else, an evening of extraordinary musical images. Mozart's Symphony No.25 in G minor began with a perfectly executed Allegro con brio in which there was brio to burn and a haunting oboe asking moody and moving questions of the brio. Heard it before? Not like this, you haven't. Mathieson seemed to have an unusually perceptive understanding of the musical imagery in the Mozart, perhaps most particularly in the Menuetto and Trio  and this understanding was even more obvious in Eve de Castro-Robinson's Releasing the Angel, a recent and evocative composition filled with visual poetry and musical exploration. Edward King's cello, so responsive to Mathieson's informed guidance, was spell binding [...] I am quite lost for words.

www.stuff.co.nz (Sam Edwards), 2016 (Opus Orchestra, NZ)

[If] there was an atmosphere conjured up it was mainly due to the efforts of the orchestra under the excellent New Zealand conductor Holly Mathieson. Her gestures were impeccably clear and yet expressive, and the orchestra responded impressively to her way with the score. She naturally feels just the right amount of give and take, enabling the music to flow. The orchestra needs to be extremely flexible to avoid exuding a sort of generalist Gallic feel, and Mathieson was particularly adept at isolating the central feel of a particular section, or following the unfolding drama naturally.

Seen and Heard International (Colin Clark), 2015 (Holland Park Opera)