Lexus Song Quest 2009, Auckland, and Wellington recital

Reviews of the Final of the contest in Auckland and the recital in Wellington by the three prize-winners

1. Auckland

Six finalists with New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Lloyd: Julia Booth, Aivale Cole, Kristen Darragh, Andrew Glover, Wade Kernot, Polly Ott.

Auckland Town Hall. Thursday 23 April

In the second half of the contest, when all six finalists sing opera or oratorio arias with the NZSO, it was the fifth singer who caused the sensation. She sang an aria from Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, not very familiar, entitled ‘Es gibt ein Reich’. She sang it with extraordinary insight, passion, care with its pace and articulation: in short here was a stunning, real Strauss soprano, of which we have only produced one other – Kiri Te Kanawa. Yet this singer has an arresting beauty of voice, an earthiness and power that is different from – I hesitate to say greater than – her great predecessor.

Her name is Aivale Cole and she is from Wellington. I recall first hearing her in a small opera called Classical Polynesia at the 1998 International Arts Festival, and have watched her progress over the past decade, among other things gaining first prize at the prestigious Australian Opera Studio in Perth. And she has started to win principal roles in major opera houses.

The audience burst into a frenzy of shouting and applause as her Strauss aria finished and you could sense a general feeling that most people present knew the result then. And when she sang ‘Ritorna vincitor’, Aida’s great aria from the opera of that name, the big audience did a repeat performance.

Adjudicator, the great German tenor Siegfried Jerusalem, awarded her first prize.

The other finalists were not at all to be dismissed however. Auckland bass Wade Kernot gained second prize; as he had in the 2007 contest. He has a powerful, resonant bass voice that remains firm below the bass stave, but is at its most attractive in the middle baritone range. The first half of the contest comprised lieder and songs, accompanied by pianist Terence Dennis, and Kernot impressed at first with a Brahms lied, ‘Verrat’, investing it with convincing drama. His arias were ‘Se vuol ballare’ from The Marriage of Figaro, effective if not spectacular, but the great monologue of Philip II of Spain in Verdi’s Don Carlo, ‘Ella giammai m’amo’, did seem to put him in serious contention, with its deep insight into a lonely king reflecting on the path his barren life had taken.

Of the three not rewarded, I felt Kristen Darragh had been unlucky, for her song by Hahn was gorgeous, the aria ‘O mio Ferrando’ from Donizetti’s La Favorita arresting, and she gave a very impressive rendering of Lucretia’s aria from Britten’s opera on the Shakespeare poem. However, she was vindicated by inclusion in a principal role in L’Italiana in Algeri shortly afterwards.

This was one of the strongest contests of the many I have attended: all we need now is enough real opera activity to employ all the talent that emerges from our academies and universities.

(an edited version of the review for The Dominion Post)

2. The winners’ recital in Wellington. Aivale Cole, Wade Kernot and Julia Booth with Terence Dennis (piano)

The Opera House, Wellington; Thursday 30 April

There was a big audience at the Opera House for the Wellington recital by the three place-getters at the Lexus Song Quest held the previous week in Auckland.

This was the first time the contest has presented such recitals, believed to be compensation to the rest of the country because Lexus has stipulated that the finals should be held every time in Auckland. It will be recalled that Mobil, based in Wellington, had rotated the final around all the main cities and that, ironically, some of the smallest audiences were usually in Auckland.

The recital was a quite different experience from the competition final. The atmosphere allowed singers to respond more openly, in a more relaxed manner without the competitive tension. The singer who responded best to this was runner-up Wade Kernot. His Brahms lied, which had been dramatic enough, but monochrome, was now a most interesting and varied narrative. In addition he sang a droll Beethoven song, ‘Der Kuss’ with sufficient gestural accompaniment to make its ironical points amusing.

Instead of ‘Se vuol ballare’ which he’d sung in Auckland he sang the Catalogue aria from Don Giovanni which was a brilliant showcase for his studied comic skills and for a voice capable of pointed tonal variety. On the other hand, his great Don Carlo monologue was rather more involving than Fiesco’s ‘Il lacerato spirito’ from Simon Boccanegra which he sang in Wellington. And ‘Ol’ Man River’ suited him, not merely because of its low notes but because he could invest it with such a feeling of defeat.

Away from comparison with the other three singers, the gap between Julia Booth and the first and second place-getters was more noticeable; she seemed to have lost some stature on account of the greater maturity and assurance of the other two singers. In ‘Die Forelle’ her voice seemed smaller and less warm than in the Auckland Town Hall and her second lied, Böhm’s ‘Still wie die Nacht’, sort of lesser-Schumann, though nicely sung, was less interesting. In comparison, her adventurous Britten song, ‘A Poison Tree’ had marked her Auckland performance as well-schooled and well-understood.

Her arias in Wellington were generally more comfortable. She sang none of the same pieces as in Auckland: now it was the touching ‘Il est doux, il est bon’ from Massenet’s Herodiade (made familiar on CD by Gheorghiu), and ‘Ain’t it a pretty night’ from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. Her voice tends to thin at the top, but her middle register is attractive and expressive. After Cole’s and Kernot’s consummate duet ‘Bess you is my woman now’, Julia was not well placed for her singing of Gershwin’s early song ‘The Man I love’  (originally for inclusion in Lady Be Good of 1924). An interesting tune for sure, but in Booth’s hands too fragile.

The third prize went to soprano Julia Booth, Canadian-born to New Zealand parents, a Waikato University graduate. She probably gained credit for a challenging Benjamin Britten song, ‘A Poison Tree’, which she handled very intelligently; and perhaps for Dvorak’s Song to the Moon, and Liu’s last aria from Turandot, ‘Tu che di’ gel sei cinta’.

Ensembles were an interesting feature. The Flower Duet from Lakmé was a fetching blending of Julia Booth and Aivale Cole, the trio from Così fan tutte, slightly less so, alongside Wade Kernot’s imposing Alfonso.

I was anxious that my opinion of Aivale Cole’s triumphant singing of the aria from Ariadne auf Naxos (‘Es gibt ein Reich’) would be vindicated by her singing in Wellington. While in this piece her voice was more even and opulent in the recital than in her earlier items, it was perhaps the one time that I missed the Strauss orchestra, as wonderfully supple and sensitive as Dennis’s accompaniments were.

But before that she had sung the three songs from Korngold’s Op 22; the first two were good if not really demonstrative of her quality, which appeared more convincingly in the flowing melody of ‘Weil ist stille eingeschlafen’. Her other opera offering was the famous La Wally aria, ‘Ebben? Ne andrò lontana’, which, rather expectedly, displayed her talents at their best, her tone dramatic, vividly expressing her anguish.

In her last bracket of American songs, her choice, apart from her duet from Porgy and Bess with Kernot, was ‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child’, arranged by John Carter, easy and fluent; again it revealed a voice and a musical sensibility capable of finding the authentic style and spirit of almost anything.

Christopher Hainsworth at the organ of St Mary of the Angels

‘Last Night of the Poms: an homage to the Silver Fernie’

Church of St Mary of the Angels, Wellington, Saturday 19 April 2009

One did not know quite what to expect from Christopher Hainsworth’s humorous and cryptic title of his concert. But it certainly disclosed one of the aspects of the concert: his sense of humour with its double entendres and puns; ‘Elgar-rhythms’ for example (get it?); an arrangement of a Csardas by one Monti (‘not of the Python family’). Christopher talks about the music and how he’s handling it; it’s pitched at a somewhat unsophisticated level, not assuming, for this concert, much musical knowledge.

Hainsworth was raised and educated in Wellington, and after taking degrees in French and music from Victoria University took a doctorate at Toulouse. That led to academic posts in that region as well as in New Zealand (Waikato University) and he is now titular organist at Béziers Cathedral in the département of Hérault in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. This recital was in part to launch a CD celebrating a 1974 radio broadcast by Maxwell Fernie at his Saint Mary of the Angels organ (Radio New Zealand tapes are now lost), and he played several of those pieces. They included a Berceuse by Eduardo Torres and a Pastorale by Lefébure-Wely. This CD is referred to in the article below, by Nicola Young.

The purpose of the concert was to celebrate his teacher, Maxwell Fernie, organist for the last 40years of his life at the church of St Mary of the Angels, and who designed and supervised the building of the famous organ housed in that church. It is undoubtedly an instrument unique in New Zealand, designed according to French and Belgian taste and traditions in which Fernie was steeped. Though it is only a three-manual instrument, it is sufficient for the church, one of Wellington’s most traditionally beautiful in the neo-gothic style.

So it was not surprising that the most striking characteristic of Hainsworth’s playing was his comprehensive mastery of the individuality of the registrations of this organ which he knows intimately, and tightly executed, sometimes cheeky ornaments, neatly inflected.

Though on occasion Hainsworth could show a flair for massive couplings and multiple registrations, his playing on the whole was limited to single or very few stops at one time, though they could alternate and change kaleidoscopically. He exploited its most brilliant qualities in the most startling and colourful ways, often with keen wit but always with restraint and taste.

It is therefore inappropriate and unkind to comment on the music itself, which was light, popular in tone, avoiding altogether any of the major works in the organ repertoire. It was a mixture of English and French music from an essentially mass-audience, 19th century kind of recital: bits from Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony (in its short span showing how exquisitely he could emerge through shrouded, dark stops to full diapason splendour), a Handel organ concerto, the above mentioned pieces by Monti and Elgar and the famous Purcell tune, the Rondeau from the incidental music to Abdelazer which Britten used in his Young Person’s Guide.

Perhaps many of us were hoping for some interesting and more meaty French music, not to say even Bach. But another time perhaps.…

Re-Master: Maxwell Fernie – organist

Another view of Maxwell Fernie by Nicola M J Young

This article appeared recently in Tommy’s Lifestyle magazine and is reproduced with the author’s permission.

Wellington’s musical landscape was transformed when Maxwell Fernie returned in 1959. After five years as organist at central London’s Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, he had been longing to get home. Max was director of music at St Mary of the Angels in Boulcott St for 41 years and organist for nearly as long; during this time he sent seismic shocks through the capital’s Roman Catholic schools and ensured St Mary’s had an organ as good as any (and better than most). His obsession with organ design and performance and choral music still reverberates through the capital, 10 years after his death at the age of 89.

Now a CD has just been launched in New Zealand and France, based on a radio broadcast made by Max in 1974: ‘Christmas Maximus’, performed by Christopher Hainsworth (a New Zealand classical organist based in Beziers, France), on the pipe organ Max designed. The CD replicates the broadcast’s programme, together with some of Max’s favourite Christmas music, a composition by Douglas Lilburn, and a number of French pieces selected by Chris Hainsworth. Max was the quintessential Wellingtonian, despite his years studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music and working abroad (with a stint in New Zealand’s Expeditionary Forces in Egypt during WWII).

His immaculate dressing (including homburg hat and floppy silk handkerchief) was a novelty to the generations of Roman Catholic school children to whom Max introduced some of Europe’s most glorious ecclesiastical music. His brilliant teaching, exuberance, panache, perfectionism and excoriating wit were eye-opening (and slightly terrifying) to Wellington children raised in the very buttoned-down 50s and 60s, as he trained school choirs, conducted recitals and concerts, taught piano and organ, and performed – often J S Bach, his favourite composer, and nearly always with the extemporisation for which he was renowned. At the end of the 11am sung Mass every Sunday, parishioners and devotees from afar would stay seated while Max played and played – many years on, my not-particularly-musical ears can recall the joys of his ‘Christus Vincit’ and, at Christmas, ‘Personent Hodie’.

Max also established the Schola Polyphonica which, for its 21 years, was generally considered the finest choir in the country; it specialized in Renaissance music (in particular 16th century polyphonic music) and performed with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions. Max was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in 1954, a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, awarded the OBE in 1974 for services to music and the Papal Cross pro Ecclesia et Poniface in 1989. He was Wellington’s city organist for 27 years, and supervised the brilliant restoration of the Town Hall’s organ

(considered one of the best organs in the world). Organ restoration is fraught with fashion and politics: the butchered modernisation of Auckland Town Hall’s organ in the late 1960s led to 30 years of complaints and outrage, culminating in its recent restoration – back to the original brief. His lasting legacy, however, was the organ at St Mary of the Angels built to his own specifications.

Before Max was even thinking of returning home from London, the parish priest at St Mary’s sent the details of a proposed new instrument – a modest ‘two manual’ organ. This was no use to Max; instead he designed a more complex organ, determined Wellington would have an organ suitable for all music: baroque to contemporary, with particular emphasis on the pipes’ clarity (essential for his beloved contrapuntal music). He ‘borrowed’ his favourite Westminster Cathedral pipes overnight to copy their specifications and even tracked down details of other specialized pipes from, for example, the cathedral in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The Maxwell Fernie Trust was founded by his widow, Greta, to continue Maxwell Fernie’s legacy by awarding an annual scholarship of $10,000 to promising New Zealand organists and conductors of choral polyphony. The first scholarship will be awarded next year, on the centenary of Maxwell Fernie’s birth. The Trust aims to raise $100,000 through donations, bequests and fundraising events. The Trust has produced two CDs, both $32 (including postage) and available from

Christmas Maximus: featuring French organ music played by Christopher Hainsworth. Tenebrae Responsories 1585: sung responses for Holy Week, composed in 1585 by Tomás Louis De Victoria and performed by the Schola Polyphonica. The CD has been digitally remastered from the original 1981 recording made at St Mary of the Angels.

PULSE – Vector Wellington Orchestra’s first 2009 subscription concert

Body – Pulse; Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.1 in C Major, Op.15; Janáček – Sinfonietta

Vector Wellington Orchestra: Marc Taddei (conductor); Michael Houstoun (piano); Members of the Central Band of the Royal New Zealand Air Force


Wellington Town Hall


Saturday 18 April 2009


First things first – full marks to Vector Wellington Orchestra’s programming flair for this concert, bringing together such an interesting juxtapositioning of works to open its subscription season. The remaining concerts in the series don’t in my view have quite the same enterprising zeal (we could have done with at least one other New Zealand work, for example, to counterweight things like Duke Ellington’s Suite from The River and Piazolla’s Tangazo). No matter – Michael Houstoun’s performances of all the Beethoven piano concertos will, I’m certain, more than compensate, along with crowd-pleasers such as Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.


It’s interesting that both the Wellington Orchestra and the NZSO chose works by Jack Body at the beginning of their respective seasons. I have nothing but admiration for Body’s music, and consider his orchestral works excellent concert choices, but am left wondering when any of our local orchestras are going to get around to giving neglected works by, say, David Farquhar, John Rimmer, Edwin Carr and even Douglas Lilburn (his First Symphony languishing in concert-hall obscurity) the chance to become repertoire classics of a homegrown kind, music which can be heard alongside and compared favourably with any from anywhere.


Still, it was fascinating to compare the performances of Body’s music by two different orchestras and conductors (albeit in different works), Melodies with the NZSO a fortnight previously, and Pulse with the Wellington Orchestra in the present concert. The NZSO and Pietari Inkinen scored points in matters of ensemble and polish, but regarding flair, colour, atmosphere and rhythmic excitement, Marc Taddei and the Wellington Orchestra seemed to me to have a distinct edge, taking us right inside the intoxication of ritualistic frenzy noted by the composer when observing the original New Guinean fire-dance from which much of this music was transcribed.


There’s been some discussion regarding Jack Body’s transcription pieces, with opinions expressed as to the validity of regarding the works as original compositions – but Jack himself has no such inhibitions regarding his sources or inspirations, describing his Pulse as ‘a radically conceived composition for orchestra based completely on transcription and quotation’.


The work liberally quotes from Beethoven’s Eroica and Pastoral Symphonies, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Stravinsky’s ballets Agon and Le Sacre du Printemps, though the ‘borrowings’ are intriguingly, at times even gruesomely refracted (Beethoven ‘synthesised’ by Berlioz?) through a pulsating latticework of rhythmic and textural incident, making the point that all music worldwide and through the ages is derived from ‘pulse’. Interestingly, it was as much melodic as rhythmic pulse which Body’s use of those quotations brought out – and who would have ever thought that the opening chord of the Eroica would give rise to smiles and chuckles from an audience?


Michael Houstoun then took the stage to give us the first instalment of his much anticipated cycle of Beethoven Piano Concertos with the orchestra, beginning with the First (actually composed AFTER the Second, but published as No.1 in C Major).


Houstoun gave us poised and finely shaped playing at the outset, his first entry and subsequent taking up of the leaping octave theme slightly more relaxed and mellow than Taddei’s opening tutti with the orchestra, which seemed at first a little edgy in places in intonation and rhythm. A beautifully-pedalled ambient glow from the pianist marked out the development’s beginning as a magical entry into a realm of enchantment, anticipating something of the romantic feeling of the work’s Largo movement. The cadenza was a marvellously exploratory exercise in modulation, Houstoun occasionally gathering up armfuls of tonal weight and splendour, which would then be tossed aside in favour of differently constituted ideas, in a way that I found fascinating – and I liked the witty “Yes? – No….Yes!” series of indications from the piano regarding the orchestra’s reentry point..


The slow movement was gorgeously introduced by Houstoun’s opening paragraph, one which I felt Taddei and the orchestra took a little time to warm to, some unexpectedly brusque phrase endings from the orchestra suggesting that the players’ concentrated feeling for the music didn’t quite extend to the whole of some of the passages.


With Houstoun, there’s not a note I think that hasn’t cost him a great deal of thought regarding where it fits in the scheme of things, so that you get the feeling that he values it all so much and presents it as something cherishable and to be taken seriously. The reprise of the orchestra’s reply to the pianist’s opening was more lovingly shaped by Taddei, as if things had by then come into wider focus; and the rest was characterised by some rapt exchanges between piano and orchestra, a momentary ‘blooped’ brass note at one point reminding us of how expertly delivered everything else was.


Altogether, the performance was a wonderful realization, with the ebb and flow of the argument between soloist and orchestra nicely maintained. The only thing I miss with Houstoun, and this was especially evident in the concerto’s finale, is a ready sense of humour – nothing is ‘cheeky’ or just a wee bit outrageous or simply ‘thrown away’ though, I must admit that at one point during the Rondo Houstoun surprised me by finishing a phrase on a diminuendo when I was expecting an upsurge of tone, which made me smile. In all other respects it was a very strong interpretative viewpoint, as always with this pianist, and one I suspect that would stand up to repeated hearings and remembrances really well – I look forward eagerly to the remainder of the Beethovens from him during this year.


In a sense Janáček was a kind of Beethoven of his time, wholehearted and expressive in his emotions, single-minded in his pursuit of musical ends, totally uncompromising in the face of diffidence or hostility of others towards his music, and obsessed with the musical ‘idea’ ahead of its execution, pushing things to extremes in search of his goals. His Sinfonietta was originally planned as a set of fanfares for a gymnastics festival in Brno, but the work then took hold of the composer and grew into five movements for full orchestra.


Resplendently filling two rows of organ gallery seats in the Town Hall on Saturday night, the dozen or so members of the Central Band of the Royal New Zealand Air Force made a stunning initial impression with their playing of the opening fanfares, even if Marc Taddei’s tempo was, I felt, a shade too quick for them to get successfully around the treacherous syncopations of the toccata-like middle section, which could have done with more ‘point’ rather than speed.


But the players were able to fill out the grander phrases with marvellous tones, aided and abetted by the hard-working stick-flailing timpanist Stephen Bremner. The second movement, played attacca, brought in the full orchestra with its utterly different sonorities to great effect, strings and winds playing their hearts out – though the players at first found the tempo changes between different sections unsettling, causing ensemble difficulties and affecting incisiveness at points.


Things came together nicely to herald the epic brass statements (played by three of the Central Band ensemble’s trumpets), creating a stirring, open-air feel around the proceedings, their highest notes having a kind of snow-capped splendour, with one player surviving and quickly rectifying a false entry towards the dying fall of one of the phrases.


The orchestra really came into its own in the third movement – a melancholy string phrase at the start was underpinned by deep, sonorous notes from the tuba, and plaintive winds echoed the opening string phrase – after which the orchestral brass announced itself, quite magnificently, with nicely nimble work from Peter Maunder’s solo trombone, and waves of great black tone pinning back our ears and bringing forth appropriate shrieks of terror from the winds. The horns couldn’t quite keep their ‘whooping’ up at the cracking pace Marc Taddei set when charging towards the movement’s climax, but it was a small blip on a mightily impressive sound-sequence.


More fanfares in the fourth movement were this time played keenly and crisply by the orchestral brass, with strings supplying an agonized counterpoint, and one of the percussionists bashing the tubular bells for all he was worth! Taddei and the orchestra also nicely brought out the folkish aspect of the last movement’s introduction, before Moira Hurst’s clarinet and Timothy Jenkin’s piccolo began to screw up the tension, leading the way into a kind of chaotic vortex of confusion which the composer resolves with a cymbal crash and a trumpet call, the fanfares of the opening returning with a kind of full orchestral counterpoint adding to the ceremonial magnificence. Was the tempo a shade too fast for the brass once again?


Taddei did broaden the pulse for the coda, which was spectacularly delivered by all concerned, an overwhelming final chord bringing out the raw grandeur of the music.


The Tudor Consort in Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories

Tenebrae Responsories for Good Friday by Carlo Gesualdo

The Tudor Consort directed by Michael Stewart

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Friday 10 April

The re-creation of entire liturgies of the medieval and renaissance church has long been a popular activity for early music groups and The Tudor Consort has a long history of such achievements under all its directors from the founder, Simon Ravens, on. Some have been intensely rewarding, but the Tenebrae Responsories of Gesualdo (1560-1613), (cf Campion and Monteverdi, both born 1567, Shakespeare, born 1564), were a challenge.

They were undoubtedly a challenge for the choir, which their director Michael Stewart led admirably through twelve polyphonic motets of extreme complexity and harmonic originality.

Gesualdo’s music was engrossing, but there was simply too much chant, and I wondered whether we would have lost anything if each had been somewhat abbreviated.

Familiar as I was with Gesualdo’s music, I was repeatedly surprised by the chromatic part writing that must have been alarming dissonance to the ears of 1600. The effect was remarkably modern, as tortured contrapuntal lines expressed in music the sometimes cruel and harrowing images and events that the words of the Responsories called up: they narrate the events at the Last Supper, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

The Tudor Consort has always paid attention to the theatrical element, and here, we had the church dimly lit by candles on the columns separating nave from the side aisles and a candelabra of a dozen candles in the sanctuary behind the singers. One by one they were extinguished, the tradition of the Easter Tenebrae services, till only one remains, representing Christ. And we’d been warned to desist from applause till the traditional ‘Great Noise’ broke out, signifying the earthquake reported after the crucifixion.

The service is in three sections, one each for the three days in question, each introduced by an Antiphon and Psalm, chanted from the pulpit by Michael Stewart, then three alternating Lessons, drawn from the Bible and Responsories, that represent Christ’s words or thoughts and later an observer’s comments on the Crucifixion; the lessons and antiphons are chants while the Responsories are Gesualdo’s music.

It was the Antiphons and Lessons that introduced each Responsory, handled very well I must say, but to rather extended and unvarying chant, that I felt might have been abbreviated, for no one, I imagine, was following, in the dark, the English translations in the programme.

Chants, dare I say, are of limited interest, while Gesualdo’s music for the Responsories is remarkable, original, exciting, expressive, dramatic in its attention to the drama of the words of each piece.

The Tudor Consort sang throughout with their accustomed clarity and precision, stylistic awareness, careful diction and varied colouring and dynamics.


Music in the time of Monet – Note Bene at Te Papa

Choral songs by Debussy, Lili Boulanger, Poulenc and Ravel

Nota Bene, conducted by Christine Argyle.

The Marae, Te Papa

Saturday, 4 April 2009

One of the musical accompaniments for the temporary exhibition entitled Monet and the Impressionists was an hour-long, free concert by Wellington chamber choir Nota Bene. It was founded in 2004 by Christine Argyle whose voice is familiar to listeners to Radio New Zealand Concert and it has become known for its varied and perhaps quirky programmes, such as one entitled Sentimental Journey which recalled the character of broadcasting before most of the choir were born. The choir also operates in the market-place as a ‘choir-for-hire’ for weddings as such.

In 2007 I commented in a review that “it’s always impossible to predict the character of the next concert; so far, each has been a unique creation, built around a musical idea; not an academic concept, but something that lends itself to a programme that is invariably entertaining.”

This Saturday afternoon concert did not fall into that class for its character was prescribed.

It was a free concert, open to the rest of the museum and ordinary museum visitors, attracted by the sounds, came and went; some stayed standing at the back – every seat was taken; some drifted away.

Its setting was the first thing to remark. The uniquely designed marae or concert room if you prefer, decorated in the most remarkable way by Cliff Whiting, one of the most imaginative of Maori artists who has used traditional figures but juxtaposed and coloured them in a unique way. And there was something perhaps incongruous in a group of formally dressed singers performing French music mostly from the early years of the 20th century.

The ensemble began with three Debussy choral settings of three poems by the 15th century Charles duc d’Orléans: ‘Dieu! Qu’il la fait bon regarder’, ‘Quand j’ai ouy le tambourin’ and ‘Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain’.

Only the second of the set struck me as of much interest; the others showed Debussy paying somewhat ritual homage to the age of Dufay. The third one was made delightful however by the group of soloists: Jane McKinlay, Marian Willberg, Peter Dyne and Jonathan Kennedy.

Lili Boulanger’s songs (‘Soir sur la plaine’, ‘Les sirènes’ and ‘Hymne au soleil’) were scattered through the programme and were more seriously interesting, illuminated by Emma Sayers’ colourful and individual piano accompaniments which enchanted my ear, particularly the first two which really were perfect aural equivalents of Monet . Anna Sedcole, Patrick Geddes and Kennedy again.

There were three songs by Ravel (‘Nicolette’, ‘Trois oiseaux du Paradis’ and ‘Ronde’) that hinted at folk song, sometimes droll, Satie-esque, with witty changes of tone,

Pianist Claire Harris played three Novelettes by Poulenc that punctuated the concert, they recalled now Couperin, now Satie, were flippant, spiky and the last an unpretentious, charming, rocking piece.

Whether it cast light on the Monet paintings I cannot say and whether the excellence of the choir with its splendid, lively singing registered with this varied audience, I cannot guess, but it can only be a good thing for Te Papa to use its spaces regularly to present other than the visual arts.