Le nozze di Figaro – Overture
Symphony No.5 – iv: Adagietto
The Londonderry Air
Don Giovanni – Overture
Purcell, arranged Stokowski
Dido and Aeneas – Dido’s Lament
Henry V – Passacaglia
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
New Queen’s Hall Orchestra
Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker
Reviewed: 5 December, 2012
Venue: The Woodville Concert Hall, Gravesend, Kent
In those idyllic moments when the mind meanders over nothing in particular, one might consider what it was like to have been in the audience for the very first appearance of a great conductor in front of an orchestra – not during rehearsals, but at the concert itself. What can it have been like to have witnessed Beecham’s very first concert? Or Toscanini’s, Furtwängler’s, Boult’s, Karajan’s or Klemperer’s? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not building Matthew Boyden up only to knock him down, but merely to suggest that conducting, in many ways, is not something that can be taught in the generally-accepted sense of the word.
Everyone has seen a conductor in front of an orchestra and therefore has a pretty good idea (if a superficial one) of what they do (or are supposed to do), but apart from paying Matthew Boyden the compliment of admiring his courage in getting up in front of an orchestra before a paying audience – for the first time in his life – and bringing the concert off with commendable aplomb, it was clear that his father John Boyden’s faith in handing the baton to his son was not wholly misplaced.
This concert was part of New Queen’s Hall Orchestra’s residency at the excellently-appointed Woodville Concert Hall – a 750-seat venue, less than two minutes’ walk from Gravesend railway station, and a warm, facilities-laden venue. I mooched around the attractive central part of the town to see what was left of the place where the 15-year-old Rimsky-Korsakov composed the slow movement of his First Symphony.
As I mused afterwards, this concert was eminently worthwhile. The first half consisted of numerous Beechamesque lollipops – no harm in that, for the music warmed the audience (and the players) up. These pieces passed by amiably, the Don Giovanni Overture being particularly successful, though one wished for a slightly slower tempo for Londonderry Air (leader Malcolm Allison undertaking the violin part admirably) and for the Purcell-Stokowski, but we had to cope with the news that John Boyden – the NQHO’s founder and guiding light, father of the conductor making his debut – had been taken seriously ill that very morning. In addition, Sian Thomas and Eliza Hunt, who had been booked to intersperse the musical items with readings from As You Like It and The Tempest, were unable to attend, and the advertised concluding item in that first half, an orchestration of Debussy’s ‘Clair de lune’ (from Suite bergamasque), had to be omitted. Such news and last-minute changes might have fazed a less-confident conductor, but Matthew Boyden impressed by his single-minded commitment to the music and by his self-evident musicality. We enjoyed a succession of classical favourites.
All of this was a prelude to a much bigger undertaking: Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony in which the conductor came into his own. A critic might pick at this or that aspect of Boyden’s conducting manner, or the occasional bloopers from one or other instrumentalist, but none of that was of any significance when it was clear from the first two chords that this was to be a real performance – full of commitment and fire, a very swift first-movement tempo (with the exposition repeat – thank God!), wholly maintained without unnecessary interpretative point-making, and played with an inner sweep and pulse which carried all before it. In the ‘Funeral March’, initially I felt the tempo change to the maggiore was going to be too quick – but it worked, convincingly so, against my original better judgement: so here, one felt, we had a conductor with ideas of his own who accomplished what he set out to do. The scherzo was very fast, but very exciting, and the finale impressed with a totality of conviction that one does not often experience with long-established professional conductors or ‘seen-it-all’ orchestras.