Michael Houstoun and Friends delight at Waikanae


Piano Quartet No 2 in A, Op 26 (Brahms), Piano Quartet (Schnittke), Piano Quartet No 1 in C minor, Op 15 (Fauré)

Michael Houstoun – piano, Wilma Smith – violin, Gillian Ansell – viola, Ashley Brown – cello 

Memorial Hall, Waikanae, Sunday 28 June


I gather that the impulse for this happy ensemble came from the Waikanae Music Society, and that its creation inspired other concert promoters to invite them to perform: the Wairarapa Music Group and Expressions Arts Centre in Upper Hutt. Wilma Smith, the first leader of the New Zealand String Quartet and now co-concert master of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Gillian Ansell, her original quartet colleague – first second violinist, then violist in the quartet, and Ashley Brown, principal cello of the Auckland Philharmonia and cellist in the New Zealand Trio; and of course Michael Houstoun himself who needs no introduction. 

The second of Brahms’s two piano quartets, written in his twenties, is longer and less seductive (superficially anyway) than the first, even though it is in the happy key of A major. The performance itself expressed a warm unanimity of feeling and sensibility, as if the four had played together for many years (most of them had, though not continuously). The atmosphere they generated had a surprisingly intimate, domestic air, as if they were playing in a much smaller venue than the vast sports hall in which these concerts take place (it was needed for this concert that attracted over 500).

Where I was sitting, there was no reverberation at all, and I missed that a little, for the Brahms would have flourished better with a more opulent, spacious sound. The first movement was calm, capturing the vacillating emotions that the main theme suggests, though it didn’t provide the cello with as interesting a part as one might have expected in certain passages. Houstoun took full stock of the bold piano-led theme that comes unexpectedly in the middle of the Poco Adagio which slowly subsided into a more intimate phase with a richly harmonised, rhapsodic episode; it was the most beguiling of the four movements. There were a few blemishes in the dense piano octaves in the Scherzo and though the quartet captured the headlong, rhythmic, mid-sentence beginning of the Finale there were a few flaws here too.

Nevertheless, it was a very fine and persuasive performance of a piece that should be better known.

The Schnittke quartet was what one expects of him: it is not everyone’s taste, even for the adventurous, with its feeling of determined chaos tangling unnaturally (in my view at least) with short snatches of familiar music – here a theme from Mahler’s youthful piano quartet, hardly very familiar anyway. The performance defied any real possibility of judging its technical accuracy, for its demands were ferocious and just a little outlandish for all players and the energy and commitment with which these thoroughly rehearsed musicians tackled it left, to say the least, a feeling of total accomplishment, even triumph.

Fauré’s first piano quartet is one of the most charming in the repertoire. Here, the players’ skills were not subjected to such technically taxing music, but to the perhaps more rewarding challenge of creating from the most attractive and essential resources of the instruments, the most beguiling, beautiful music. So perfect was their unity of conception, that it was as if one mind was guiding all four players, through the muted trio section of the Scherzo, through the gentle, elegiac mood of the Adagio; as if the player were playing for each other before they were even thinking about the wider audience.

That is the essence of chamber music: an intimate communion among friends. The last movement reinforced all the virtues that had been audible earlier, the exquisitely judged rubato, wonderfully natural rise and fall of dynamics, but exercised on music of even more unpretentious beauty than they had available to them in the earlier pieces.


Wellington Chamber Orchestra – Psathas, Lilburn, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams

Conductor : Michael Joel; Soloist: Catherine McKay (piano)

PSATHAS – Luminous;   LILBURN –  Overture “Aotearoa”;  BEETHOVEN – Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major;     VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – A London Symphony

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington; Sunday, 28th June, 2009

This was a richly-conceived and engagingly-presented concert from the Wellington Chamber Orchestra, the music covering a kaleidoscopic range of repertoire, with the character of each separate work explored and brought to the fore for the listener’s delight. Things are seldom what they seem, as the saying goes – and it may have appeared to the average audience member that the concert would be something of a “separate halves” affair, with the “lighter” and therefore “easier” works placed in the first half, followed after the interval by a lengthy and hugely demanding single symphonic work. In fact, the programme had varying kinds of technical and interpretative challenges for the musicians all the way through the afternoon, most of which were triumphantly surmounted, even if there were occasionally moments of not-quite-together ensemble. Right at the end, the orchestra rose magnificently to the challenge of the finale of the Vaughan Williams symphony, throwing everything into the music’s impassioned utterances, and then achieving with their conductor Michael Joel (and leader Ann Goodbehere’s lovely final solo) an evocative and compelling stillness and beauty throughout the epilogue. In a sense it was appropriate for the concert to end this way, because establishing and sustaining a specific mood, especially in the slower music, was one of the things that the orchestra did extremely well at various times throughout the afternoon’s music-making.

The opening item, John Psathas’s Luminous, was recreated by conductor and players with breath-catching beauty, underlining that dichotomy of stasis and osmotic movement with firm, well-focused but still diaphanous tones, and a magical “other-world” ambience caught at the moment of withdrawal of a full orchestral triple-forte. The musicians nicely brought out the composer’s concentrated suffusion of the textures with light and atmosphere, very Ligeti-like in places, and building to the full weight of an orchestral climax with sound judgement, the close ambience of the hall allowing us to enjoy the full-textured differences between the smoky brasses and the more translucent strings. From outer (or perhaps “inner”) spaces we were taken out of our heads and out-of-doors in Lilburn’s Overture “Aotearoa”, the striking opening as plangently delivered as I’ve ever heard it by the bright, long-breathed flutes, contrasted beautifully with the other wind timbres, secure strings and nicely “terraced” brass, exchanging rhythmic figures with strings. The tricky dotted-rhythm motto theme of the work was occasionally a stumbling-block, the strings in particular not quite certain as to how much “snap” to generate in places, which put ensemble “out” in places. There was also an occasional rawness of tone, now and then a bit intrusive, but mostly helping to capture the bracing ruggedness of the writing, very much at the service of the music’s intentions – and better the occasional roughness than something lacking in spirit, which this performance never was. Though lacking finesse in places the playing plainly and forcefully brought out the music’s essential character.

Readings of Beethoven’s G Major Piano Concerto seem either to declaim the notes as if intoning a sacred ritual, or trip a kind of light fantastic, carrying little ballast – this performance was of the latter, light-footed variety, the orchestra kept very much on its toes by Michael Joel’s edge-of-the-seat tempi for the opening tutti. Catherine McKay’s silvery playing was delightfully poised throughout, her rhythmic trajectories giving the notes plenty of phrasing-space while keeping up the music’s basic momentum, something which the orchestra found difficult to successfully emulate in places. The orchestra by contrast, seemed tenser, the playing even slightly “accelerando” in places, so that some of the “tumbling passagework” sequences took a while to find complete accord between soloist and band. Despite the lightness of touch, certain places where Beethoven hints at more esoteric, even metaphysical realms, received full due – the piano’s rapt modulation into distant harmonic realms mid-movement nicely highlighted the rolling concertante arpeggiations that followed, though I confess I wanted from Catherine McKay more of a contrast with the big G Major-related chords from the magically elfin passage that follows immediately after. The cadenza was the longer, more conventional of Beethoven’s, beautifully shaped by the soloist, and, despite a miscalculation by the oboe, nicely augmented by the winds at the end. The slow movement’s first string declamations were terse, abrupt and to the point, provoking a rather more assertive reply from the pianist than one usually experiences, more emotion-laden than ethereal and distant. As for the finale, what the strings lacked in rhythmic poise at the start they made up for in sensitivity of tone – and the whole orchestra made a splendid showing in the tutti passages in between the soloists’s fleet-fingered counter-statements. I thought the violas made lovely sounds during their “moment”, just before the build-up to the reprise of the opening; and the winds and strings worked well in accord throughout the myriad modulations leading up to the cadenza, the “stamping beginning” one, to which Catherine McKay gave plenty of dash and élan. Finally, what a joy to hear the horns right at the end sound the hunting-call with such confidence and relish, bringing the work to an exuberant close.

I’ve already mentioned the orchestra’s energy and commitment regarding the final movement of the Vaughan Williams symphony (such a lovely work!). Michael Joel and the players coaxed the first movement’s beginnings into life and brought about a vibrant sunrise, with a wealth of instrumental incident too numerous to recount in detail – though one remembers things like the tuba’s wonderfully rhythmic raspings leading into the allegro, and some great shouts of exuberance from the other brass in places, along with the entirely memorable “Thomas Tallis” string ambience at the beginning of the becalmed central section of the movement – lovely playing from the front desk strings. As with the Lilburn Overture, some of the jaunty syncopations in the exposed string phrases were ragged-sounding, though the section rose to the occasion magnificently in tutti at the movement’s conclusion. The slow movement I thought outstanding, the conductor encouraging playing from all sections redolent with the most wonderfully “charged” ambience, from the lovely cor anglais solo at the beginning to the dying viola phrase at the end. The wind trill that began the scherzo was scalp-prickling in its sheer joie de vivre, though the rhythmic complexities of this movement took their toll in places like the short fugato, where entries went off like out-of-control skyrockets! – such unsolicited excitement was only momentary, and generally the calm and poise of the harp and flute leading stepwise into the gloomy shadowlands of the coda spoke volumes for the playing of the orchestra as a whole throughout. All told, an exciting and warm-hearted concert to remember.

Festival Singers – Wellington Shines!


Works by Wellington Composers

Jonathan BERKAHN –  Resurrection Cantata “The Third Day” (premiere performance)

– with works by Andrew BALDWIN, Pepe BECKER, Jack BODY, Jonathan CREHAN, Stuart DOUGLAS, Felicia EDGECOMBE, Gareth FARR, Maurice FAULKNOR, Jenny McLEOD, Carol SHORTIS

The Festival Singers

Various Instrumentalists

Rosemary Russell (conductor)

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Saturday June 27th 2009


Some people might react to the expression “community music-making” with condescension bordering upon snobbery; but I can’t think of a better, more appropriate way to convey in words the remarkable scope and atmosphere of this joyous concert put on by Wellington’s Festival Singers, appropriately titled “Wellington Shines!”. A simple, cursory look at the names of some of the composers who contributed works to the concert would have been sufficient to alert concertgoers regarding the possibilities of a richly rewarding musical evening; and in fact, if not absolutely full- to-bursting St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace had a satisfyingly “well-peopled” feeling about it, which must have gratified the concert’s organisers. This feeling was reinforced in the most appropriate way imaginable by the standing ovation that greeted the conclusion of the evening’s most substantial item, Jonathan Berkahn’s Resurrection Cantata “The Third Day”.


But what better way to begin such a concert than with music by one of the most people-orientated of composers, Jack Body? His “Nowell, in the Lithuanian Style” required the singers to approach from a distance, gradually forming two groups on the platform and creating a charming overlapping vocal effect, the groups eventually merging as one, physically and musically (a metaphor, perhaps, for the evening’s bringing together of diverse peoples to enjoy a concert of music?). Just as engaging, but often in a sheerly visceral sense, is Gareth Farr’s work, his 1998 “Tangi te Kawekawea” based on a Maori chant announcing the beginning of the kumera-digging season engaging both choir and percussionists, with beautiful solo singing by Lydia McDonald in particular. Stuart Douglas’s 2003 work “Chanticleer” was another rhythmically infectious piece, featuring an attractive soprano line and snappy rhythmic support from the choir’s middle and lower voices. A simpler, more direct treatment of words was provided by Felicia Edgecombe’s attractive setting of G.M.Hopkins’ well-known “Glory Be To God For Dappled Things”, in which women’s, and then men’s voices by turns intone the melody before harmonising together.


A complete change of mood was provided by Pepe Becker’s piece for organ solo “Organis Plagalis”, using note patterns and intervals relating to birthdates, written for Douglas Mews, and played here by Jonathan Berkahn, an obsessive, even claustrophobic work which spent most of its time trying to fight free of the key of G to reach a D pedal note. Jonathon Crehan’s recently-composed “Three Songs” (2009) were great fun to listen to, the singer Frances Moore’s smallish, but responsive voice making the most of her opportunities to inflect the text and convey what the composer called the “fun, excitement and drama” of the pieces. Both singer and pianist-composer particularly enjoyed the second song, “Schadenfreude”, an amusing feline-phobic mini-drama. I thought the piano part a bit too heavily textured for the third song, everything needing a lighter touch for Eileen Duggan’s “Low Over Tinakori” to come clearly and engagingly through. But I liked Frances Moore’s singing, and found myself wondering how she would do Gershwin.  Still ringing the programme’s contrasts, Maurice Faulknor’s “The Lonely Seagull” for flute and piano pleasantly and poignantly explored melancholic realms, with episodes of flurried passagework from both Bernard Wells’ flute and Jonathan Berkahn’s piano providing added interest.


Andrew Baldwin’s setting of “Ave Maria” won the New Zealand Secondary Schools Choral Composition Award in 2005. I was particularly struck by the music’s rich harmonies at “Blessed is the fruit” with full flowering on the word “Jesus”, and by the “rounding-off” effect of the first line’s repetition and “homecoming cadence” at the end. Carol Shortis’s setting of a text based on Psalm 128 “Show Us Your Ways” followed along  similar richly-upholstered harmonic lines, its direct appeal linking strongly in effect to one of Jenny McLeod’s “Sun Carols” which came immediately afterwards. Entitled Indigo II: “Light of Lights”, this was another lovely work, whose rocking motion and direct simplicity of utterance linked past and present with great strength and candour, as if we were listening to the collective voice of a faith-based community.


In a programme note Jonathan Berkahn made the point that, while there were plenty of musical works whose subject was Christ’s Passion and Death, there were few dealing with the latter’s Resurrection. Using texts taken from the Gospels and recast into different kinds of song-forms, Berkahn’s “Resurrection” cantata recounted the story from Christ’s death and burial to his rising from the tomb and reappearance to his followers, charging them with “The Great Commission” of going forth and teaching all nations. With Kieran Raynor’s sonorous bass voice, the full Festival Singers choir and a group of instrumentalists that included violin, accordion, electric guitars, bass and drums, everything seemed set for a colourful, rip-roarin’ traversal of one of the world’s great stories. As with Baroque performing practice, the instrumentalists were given melodic lines and the occasional chordal cadence around which they were expected by the composer to fill in appropriate textures and interlocking rhythmic patterns, which they all seemed to do so in the manner born. The whole progressed with a sweep and momentum that I for one found quite exhilarating.


Particularly striking throughout was the ease with which the composer fused the music’s sometimes jagged rock elements with a gentler, more lyrical character, in particular the extended exchanges between the two in the “Do you remember?” section near the beginning, the accordion at times imparting an almost Klezmer-like ambience to the proceedings. Berkahn used these contrasts to great effect in different ways, the choir voices soaring over the top of the instrumentalists’ fierce rhythmic energies in “He descended to the dead”, and in the dramatic change of ambience from number to number, as with “Early in the morning” which followed immediately afterwards, guitars gently rolling over a folk-ballad rhythm appropriate to the text’s aftermath of mourning and quiet tragedy. And the sudden effervescence of realisation that death has in fact been overcome in “Did you hear the angels?” – the voices almost falling over themselves with urgency and delight – suggests that the story contains far more drama, tension and excitement than one would guess from its relative neglect as a subject by composers over the years.


Another memorable effect was the use of a folk-fiddle at the beginning of the work’s finale, where the instrument’s dance-like rhythm blended with the chorale-like theme sung by the choir – very Bachian, and skilfully put together. At the very end the organ spectacularly added its antiphonal voice to the proceedings, giving splendour and tremendous weight to the words “Christ is risen: he is risen indeed: Alleluiah!” After such a tumultuous finale, no wonder the composer and musicians received a standing ovation! – most richly deserved.

The Tudor Consort at Lower Hutt

Around Renaissance Europe in 80 minutes

Music by Tallis, Byrd, Le Jeune, De Sermisy, Lassus, Issac, Josquin, Gombert, Palestrina, Marenzio, Victoria, Lobo, Morley, Gibbons, Weelkes

The Tudor Consort conducted by Michael Stewart

St James Church, Lower Hutt, Wednesday 24 June 2009

This is only the second time in their 23 year history that The Tudor Consort have sung at St James’s in Lower Hutt, both occasions as part of Chamber Music Hutt Valley’s concert season. There’s a general belief that singing doesn’t agree with fans of chamber music, but here was contrary proof: I sensed that the audience was bigger than for most of their purely instrumental concerts.

It was an Anglo-centric programme, starting and finishing in England, with a guided tour around Renaissance Europe – France. Spain, the Netherlands, Central Europe (meaning the German states) and Italy.

Michael Stewart’s pre-concert talk drew attention to the fact that France was not represented by any polyphony and England by only Tallis and Byrd. Though the latter two opened the evening, their pieces, a Pentecost motet by Tallis and Attolite portas by Byrd were among the more challenging pieces to bring off. The writing does not create the kind of almost naturally blended sound that the Continental polyphonists seem to produce; individual voices were more evident and the English composers’ intention was clearly to let the singers’ skills, and probably the force of the words, be appreciated.

The choir’s task was the greater challenge as a result of the church’s lack of reverberation, a surprise considering its size; the reason: acoustic tiles on the ceiling.

Loquebantur variis liguis began with fairly complex counterpoint at once, with long melismas on words like the first one. So the final line, ‘Gloria Patri et Filio…’,.sung in unison by the men, was all the more dramatic. 

The contrast with the two French chansons was striking, as Stewart had warned. Inevitably, their composers would have been unfamiliar to most, Claude le Jeune and Claudin de Sermisy, both working in the middle and late 16th century: both sung by a five-voice madrigal-style group. Le Jeune’s Revecy venir du printans was a charming song with quite a modern feel though the performance revealed a certain lack of ease. Au joli bois was in marked contrast: slower, more thoughtful with more touches of polyphony.

Orlando de Lassus, contemporary with Byrd, Palestrina, Victoria, was Flemish-born, but working in Munich, offered, for me, the first taste of the choir’s real strength in an imposing work, his Magnificat: Praeter rerum serium. Plain chant, evoking a much earlier era, alternated with polyphonic antiphons. Though they gave various opportunities for men’s and women’s voices alone, the masterly weaving of the counterpoint flowed with subtle dynamic variations while their dramatic pointing, such as emphatic attack on key words,

The heartland was reached before the interval, with the two other Flemish masters, Josquin and Gombert. Josquin’s Inviolata, integra et casta es revealed the beauties of the women’s voices in soprano-led passages, while Gombert’s Tulerunt Dominum demonstrated the choir’s control of long slow sentences in which volume and intensity ebbed and flowed.

Here the choir’s real talents, their careful vertical blending and contrapuntal textures, in great music, were most to be admired, all the work of conductor Michael Stewart.

After the interval there were shorter pieces. The ‘Kyrie’ from Palestrina’s landmark Missa Papae Marcelli and a succulent madrigal by Luca Marenzio.

Introducing the two Spanish pieces, Michael Stewart noted their performance a couple of days earlier for the visiting King Carlos of Spain, the Versa est in luctum by Lobo, wondering about its appositeness – for the funeral of Philip II in 1598.  Neither it nor Victoria’s O quam gloriosum was long: I’d have tolerated rather more of such beautifully sung music, a robust bass line lending it character.

Then and elsewhere, I thought again how the atmosphere would have been enhanced by dimmer lighting.  Lighting has always been a matter of which the choir has taken care: it really matters.

We were then back in England, with two madrigalists, Morley and Gibbons. The latter’s The Silver Swan, was short, adroit, stylish, if perhaps without brilliant vocal contrasts – but that’s the dilemma of demanding very different genres from one group of singers – this one, trained, and perfect, in complex polyphony.

So they did well to end with Weelkes’s Gloria in excelsis Deo which again demonstrated their true skills in highlighting stereophonic effects, tossing phrases from section to section, and the beautiful balance and blending of voices within each section.




Orpheus Choir – Cloudburst


ERIC WHITACRE – Three Songs of Faith / Cloudburst
DANIEL LEVITAN – Marimba Quartet

Barbara Graham (soprano)
Handbell Ringers from Wellington Cathedral of St.Paul
Members of the Vector Wellington Orchestra
Orpheus Choir of Wellington
Richard Apperley (organ)
Michael Fulcher (conductor)

Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul, Wednesday 24th June 2009

Considering that this concert was subtitled “Contemporary American Choral Classics” one could be forgiven for anticipating with great interest and perhaps some caution the kind of musical fare which was to be served up by the Orpheus Choir and their conductor Michael Fulcher. Would the music be esoteric, austere, remote and dissonant, in a ‘modern” manner, as opposed to the use a more traditional language and tonal idiom? Or would the result be something of an amalgam of old and new? I’ll risk a certain amount of derision by admitting that I had never heard of Eric Whitacre, nor Morten Lauridsen, before this concert, which enabled me to come to their music freshly and without preconception. I thought Whitacre’s music the more interesting of the evening’s two vocal composers, with his opening Three Songs of Faith (settings of poetry by ee cummings) filled with wholehearted responses to the musicality of the poet’s texts, the wonderfully arching lines and the delicious rhythmic delineations of the phrases and words most surely matched by the composer’s musical imagination.

The first one I will wade out was marked by its wonderfully leaping opening, whose buoyancy was splendidly conveyed by the choir and further glorified by the church’s reverberant acoustic. That same angular muscularity returned at the words “I will rise” after a haunting ostinato-like treatment of “alive with closed eyes” and with the full “organum” of the voices giving expressive weight to “the sleeping curves of my body”. The music fused without a break into the second poem I hope via atmospheric cluster harmonies, each individual word treated like a variation on a tolling bell with the sounds rolling over each other, until with the word “soul” the voices come to rest, suggesting an eternity in each phrase-breath of the music. The last poem  I thank You God for most this amazing  began from these same ethereal regions, swelling and growing upwards, the soprano soloist Barbara Graham adding her voice to the words “which is yes”, and reaching a point of transcendence at “I who have died am alive again today”, with quietly ecstatic modulations, and repeated clustered-chords.

As with the voices in quieter choral passages, the dulcet tones of the marimba in Daniel Levitan’s Marimba Quartet took on a more-than-usually unworldly aspect in the cathedral acoustic, the sounds almost disconcertingly disembodied, apart from the occasional szforzando. The instrumental timbres made a pleasing change as a foil for the choral items, though the effect was perhaps a bit generalised in such an environment, even if the rolling chords that linked the two movements certainly took us to distant realms of enchantment, almost a “Prospero’s Island” of sounds rich and strange. Jeremy Fitzsimons and the rest of the group from the Vector Wellington Orchestra handled their instruments with the expected flair and finesse, their contribution making a mellifluous impression as an interlude of musical abstraction.

Eric Whitacre’s work Cloudburst, which gave the concert its name, has brought its composer considerable success, winning an American Choral Directors’ Award, and being frequently performed world-wide. Intriguingly scored for a twelve-part choir and forces such as handbells, piano and percussion, it combined conventional and aleatoric techniques to produce an evocative pre-thunderstorm ambience, whose textures seemed to merge and overlap constantly, setting off the words of the Spanish-text poem by Mexican Octavio Paz which were variously sung (by both soloists and choir) and spoken. Speaker Linda Van Milligan’s nicely-focused delivery of “We must sleep with open eyes” worked magically against a choral backdrop, as did both Barbara Graham’s and Kieran Rayner’s singing voices, with Barbara Graham’s warm, rich tones at “…and return to the point of departure” in particular beautifully augmenting the flow of mystical radiance engendered by the choral and instrumental sounds . In places David Hamilton’s The Moon is Silently Singing came to mind, though the use of percussion gave Whitacre’s work more of a volatility in places, splendid drum rolls whose percussive impact filed the cathedral with sound.

Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna  is a kind of requiem, without following the normal liturgical sequences – more a meditation on the theme of “light” as employed in various medieval and renaissance texts. Written in 1997 for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the work doesn’t seek to explore any avant-garde harmonies or melodic contourings, preferring instead to speak simply and directly, a world of musical language not dissimilar to that of Durufle, or even Faure. The Orpheus responded with firm lines and blooming tones, all beautifully balanced by Michael Fulcher, in the opening “Introitus” reaching towards ecstatic realms at the words “et lux perpetua” then with the reprise of “Requiem aeternum” building once again from a hushed,“experienced” viewpoint towards a sonorous fusion with the following “In te Domine, speravi”, where a rather more angular, somewhat questioning tone occasionally gave the music an unexpected twist, though the mood remained firmly grounded in the hushed tones of “Miserere nostri, Domine”. Warm, rich harmonies banished all dissent in “O nata lux de lumine”, the choir beautifully realising the tonal surgings towards “…nos membra confer effici”, the words delineating physical union with the blessed body of Christ.

Lauridsen’s setting of the well-known “Veni Sancte Spiritus” brought forth resplendent organ tones (Richard Apperley bestriding the organ console) with beseeching utterances from the choir, the whole swift-moving, celebratory and all-embracing, the organ breaking out with a final flourish at the end, leaving the voices to drift the music downwards and into the hushed, reverential depths of the “Agnus Dei”, a series of three varied choral recitatives repeating the opening words and augmenting the last of the three with the echoed word “sempiternam”. After this, the fugal treatment of “Cum sanctis tuis” begun by the tenors gave rise to a “many-tongues” effect, the final alleluias resplendent at first, then serene and rapt right at the end, with the organ softly joining in at the richly-deep-throated “Amen”. Not, I think, a great work, but an eminently approachable one; and here given every chance to make its full effect with some richly mellifluous and  strongly committed work from the Orpheus Choir under Michael Fulcher’s expert direction.

Vox Serbicus: lunch at Old St Paul’s

‘Slavic melodies’ A cappella concert of choral pieces from Serbia by Vox Serbicus choir conducted by Mima Nikolic

Old St Paul’s, Tuesday 23 June 2009

I last heard Vox Serbicus in 2007 and was impressed then by their skill and their grasp of the idiom of the Serbian liturgical and folk music they sang.  Part of the reason for my enjoyment of the music, which I’d first heard from them in 2004, was the effect of trips through Serbia when I was living in Greece in the 60s, and was susceptible to the music of all the Balkan countries. I still am, but I have to confess to a little disappointment this week.

This lunchtime concert, in this beautiful church, so visually appropriate to the sombre character of the mainly liturgical music that they sang, seemed to be at a lower temperature, probably on account of the rather small number of singers who were able to use a lunchtime in this way. The members include both Serb and Russian immigrants while about half are New Zealanders of Anglo-Saxon descent. Their genial compere was Ray Shore who offered interesting background to the pieces they sang.

There were simply too few men’s voices though those few made valiant efforts.  But it was not till the last item, Mnogaja Ljeto, a celebratory hymn, that they displayed their quite impressive strength, few in number thought they were. .

In my 2007 review I had noted the high praise they’d recently received at a festival in Canberra and admired the same ‘vivid dynamism and strong vocal projection, along with superb ensemble and balance’ that I had heard in 2004.

The first half was devoted mainly to church music by Stevan Mokranjac, Serbia’s leading composer in the 19th century, who composed much music for the Serbian Orthodox Church. Unaccompanied, they met some intonation challenges in the handling of the harmonies, always more difficult if there are too few voices to overcome the feeling of exposure and to create confidence in one another.

There were a couple of excerpts from Mokranjac’s Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (which also has famous settings by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov); the second of these, ‘We sing to thee’, was more lively and rhythmically interesting than the first, the Alleluia. The only piece by another composer was a hymn by Rachmaninov with an attractive, flowing line.

The folk songs in the second half were more varied in tone though a melancholy permeated most of them, apart from a lively dance in a style that would be familiar to those who know the dances of the region.

It is a pity that other immigrant groups have not (to my knowledge) formed choirs to present the music of their homelands to Wellington’s large musical community and lovers of choral music. Vox Serbicus is a fine example of a worthy endeavour, helping in the vital task of keeping alive their language and music.


A Mozart Double Bill – Boutique Opera and N.Z.Opera Society

“Mini” Magic Flute & Bastien and Bastienne

Boutique Opera and The NZ Opera Society

Directed by Ian Graham (The Magic Flute) and Kate Harcourt (Bastien and Bastienne)

Musical Director: Lesley Graham  Piano: Fiona McCabe

St Andrew’s on-the-Terrace,  Sunday 21st June, 2009

This was my introduction to the work of “Boutique Opera”, a company whose activities are based around the studio of Wellington singing teacher, Lesley Graham, and which gives aspiring singers the chance of performing experience on stage in operas and musicals. The productions today, in collaboration with the New Zealand Opera Society, featured an adaptation of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” for young singers, and a complete performance of the same composer’s youthful singspiel “Bastien and Bastienne”. In their entirely different ways, both performances were immense fun to watch, it being a fascinating, instructive and rewarding notion to set a novice production alongside an accomplished “adult” one, albeit of different works – the experience for the young singers of being able to watch their more seasoned counterparts close at hand on stage would have been invaluable.


Very properly, the simplified “Magic Flute” came first, complete with narrator (Charles Wilson) and piano accompaniment (Fiona McCabe), both contributions extremely capable and stylish throughout, making the most of their storytelling opportunities. The enthuisiastic acting by the young Monster, Wiremu Andrews, as he attempted to attack the Prince Tamino stole the show during the first scene, but decorum was restored by the entry of the Three Ladies, Rima Shenoy, Evgenia Chamritski and Chloe Garrett, whose tremulous but effective intervention saved the Prince’s life. Papageno, the bird-catcher, was nicely acted by Henry Hillind with plenty of personality, if rather small of voice. James Adams as Tamino, the Prince, made a good fist of his “portrait aria”, with some expressive acting and singing. A treasurable moment was when the Queen of the Night failed to appear on cue the first time round (unfortunately, there was no Shakespearean dialogue of the “methinks I was mistook” variety to help the cast through the hiatus, so they simply started the music again, and the invocation was successful the second time through!). The queen, sung by Georgia Gray, survived her “what time is the next thunderclap?” glitch in style, giving us some true-voiced singing and a series of nicely-placed high notes, though the aria was truncated with nearly all of the coloratura cut. Her second aria, later in the opera, was even more impressively handled, with some of the high work left in to great effect on notes such as the third “Hear!”.I was disappointed that only the Three Ladies sang the music describing the flute and the bells which were given to Tamino and Papageno on their “quest”, and not the men in reply, because it is some of the loveliest music in “the Flute”. The Ladies’ tones were nicely blended and they handled the harmonic descents most sensitively.


I liked Lara Denby’s  Pamina, true-voiced, sweet and nicely tremulous, her vulnerability the perfect foil for the menacing Monostatos of Sam McBain; and later, her dramatic instinct finding a believable tragic note for “Ah, my heart is broken” in the face of her apparent rejection by Tamino. The Three Boys (Girls, actually – Rosemary Thomson, Chloe Garrett and Lauren Yeo) sounded lovely, with attractively youthful tones and good harmony. As Sarastro Michael Miller seemed overwhelmed by the occasion, but he kept his singing line and extracted what resonance he could from the music in both of his arias, better of the two being “O Isis and Osiris”. At various points in the drama Fiona McCabe’s piano-playing was a joy to register, no more so than during the teasing by an old crone (Papagena in disguise) of the hapless Papageno, the acting by both in this scene both entertaining and touching even if the singing was rather small-scale. In all, I thought this production managed to capture a lot of the full opera’s feeling and flavour, quite obviously a valuable experience in different ways for the youthful participants.


After an interval of almost Wagnerian proportions (presumably to allow the youngsters to change, clear the decks and join the audience for the second half) we were treated to an enchanting performance of Mozart’s youthful “Bastien and Bastienne” (a work I didn’t know, to my shame). The performers included James Adams (the Tamino in the first half’s “Flute”) as Bastien, with Barbara Graham an enticing and cocquettish Bastienne and Roger Wilson as the wily and sonorous-voiced Rawleigh’s man (an inspired piece of Kiwiana up-dating!), with Fiona McCabe, as throughout the first half, providing splendid piano support (a beautifully-played introduction, with the principal theme exactly that of the opening of the “Eroica” Symphony!). I was held spellbound as much by the assurance of the teenaged Mozart’s writing as the beauty and deft theatricality of Barbara Graham’s singing, both in the lovely “I’ll wander through the meadows” and in her subsequent interaction with Roger Wilson’s Colas, where she conveyed a whole range of emotion in an entirely believable way. 


As the Rawleigh’s Man with an eye for the main chance, Roger Wilson’s Colas hugely entertained us, taking in his stride his failure to win a kiss from the distraught Bastienne with a powerfully-delivered “Don’t forget – do what I’m advising”. And his magic potion aria “Hokus Pokus” (with great support from pianist Fiona McCabe) had show-stopping impact – finely sung and acted. Although James Adams as Bastien didn’t have quite the same vocal heft, he established his character surely with some nicely-focused singing; and he managed to created a telling amount of furious emotion at the thought of his sweetheart Bastienne’s supposed infidelity. The on-stage rapport of the lovers, later in the piece, also made for entertaining results, using such diverse objects as a shepherd’s crook, some sunflowers and a cell-phone – all such stand-off confrontations staged and delivered with a sure dramatic instinct.


Again and again I was left marvelling at the inventiveness of the young Mozart, with so many precursors of the goings-on of the later and greater operas served up for us here in beautifully-crafted form. The production brought out the work’s strengths in this regard, the final scene typifying the sense of fun and instinctive theatrical touch of director Kate Harcourt working with talented singer-actors – the concluding ensemble “Children, children” featuring Colas tying the lovers together with a rope, and then, in the final refrain “The Great Rawleigh’s Man” Colas skipping as the lovers turned the rope for him. All very joyous and tremendous entertainment – a great success!

Kari Kriikku and the NZSO – Second Concert

TCHAIKOVSKY – Overture “1812”
TIENSUU – Puro, for Clarinet and Orchestra
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV – Scheherazade

Kari Kriikku (clarinet)
Pietari Inkinen (conductor)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Saturday 20th June 2009, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

I must admit to having been thrilled at the NZSO’s programming of one of my all-time favourite warhorses, Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Scheherazade in the subscription concert series, but less keen about having Tchaikovsky’s hotch-potch battle-symphony-like Overture “1812” on the same programme, mainly through having heard so many routine performances of it. Also offered was a contemporary work for clarinet and orchestra written by a Finnish composer, Jukka Tiensuu, and featuring the astounding playing (judging by what I heard in another concert) of visiting clarinettist Kari Kriikku. So, with reservations about the Tchaikovsky, all was good, including the time-slot, which must have given many people like myself the chance to get to see both the NZSO and the All Blacks on the same day, thanks to the concert being an afternoon matinee (how times have turned things around!).

As it all turned out, the orchestra played a blinder, making even the Tchaikovsky Overture sound like great music, conductor Pietari Inkinen leading the charge against Napoleon with thrilling, nail-biting results, much the same as the All Blacks managed to do against the French at the Westpac Stadium later in the evening. Inkinen drew golden tones from his ‘cellos at the Overture’s beginning, with plaintive utterances from the woodwinds and urgent shouts from the brass urgently voicing the cry of war. The allegro depicting the advancement of Napoleon’s army into Russia began a little sedately but soon gathered excitement, the “Marseilles” sounding and resounding splendidly over the battlefields as the French drove towards Moscow. The folk-like interludes were poignant and plangent, the battle reprise vivid and biting, and the build-up to the first cannonade brimful with anticipation, the electronic explosions resoundingly satisfying, and the descending string figurations for once sounding jubilant and festive, setting the scene for a peroration that rocked the building with tsunamis of cannonades, churchbells and brasses and percussion – what I would call playing the music for all it was worth!

Finnish composer Jukka Tiensuu’s piece for clarinet and orchestra Puro was described in the Finnish Music Information Centre programme note as “a hall of mirrors”, music in which the solo clarinet initiates ideas which “are reflected in sounds and gestures from the orchestra”. The music’s opening bears this out, with the soloist’s first high, shrill note echoed in the violins, and the ensuing melody rippling through the orchestral textures, rather like a continuous dialogue over the top of ambient string-and-wind chords. As with the Lindberg Concerto, I found the sheer density of invention in this work simply amazing, a combination of creative combustion with a superb instrumentalist (Kari Kriikku) setting ablaze all kinds of orchestral responses ever leading the ear onwards. If the overall impression was less dynamic than Lindberg’s work, more consistently reflective (no pun intended) and ambient in effect, there was still enough occasional raw excitement to satisfy the sensation-mongerers, especially in the wake of the instrumental cadenza, where the orchestral contribution seemed to notch up on confrontational insistence and send swirling strings and percussion crescendi shooting outwards until the restoration of calm, and the soloist finishing the piece’s journeyings with a quizzical squawk! But the overall mood of the work had long since been set by sonorities seemingly having a lot in common with Arvo Pärt’s “tumbing strain” tintinnabulations with occasional touches of Dali-esque melt-down keeping stasis at bay, and leading ever forwards to other realms. Without a doubt the performance was a stunning achievement by all concerned.

Jukka Tiensuu’s work and its epic qualities were nicely set in relief by an encore from Kriikku and the orchestra, Tanze aus Korond by Laszlo Draskodzy, a czardas-like piece, with all kinds of gypsy-inflections, played with tremendous swagger, and a good deal of showmanship (perfectly appropriate in this setting), involving the soloist collapsing at one point on the floor in a heap and playing part of the work while lying on his back, leaping to his feet again for the final “friss” section. I enjoyed watching the two clarinettists in the orchestra, Philip Green and Patrick Barry, “grooving away” during the music’s course with enjoyment and appreciation of Kriikku’s astounding playing.

What set the seal on the afternoon’s music-making was a superbly atmospheric and evocative performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with the fabled storyteller in tip-top narrative and descriptive form fending off the bloodthirsty intentions of her vengeful husband, and, in the end, winning his heart. The violin-playing of Vesa-Matti Leppänen at the outset would have won over the most hard-hearted of tyrants, and the scenarios, characterizations and tales woven by Inkinen and the orchestra were by turns thrilling, colourful and ravishing, one of the finest performances of the work I’ve heard. Some examples to instance such praise – the maritime evocations of the first movement, alternatively tempestuous and calm, delivered with both deep-throated sonority and winsome sensitivity; the eloquent wind-playing by all principals throughout, the strikingly “conversational” bassoon/oboe narratives at the beginning of the second movement, and the exciting “a-tempo” pace throughout the same movement (like Ferenc Fricsay’s edge-of-the-seat reading in his old DGG recording), the brass-playing full of panache despite the occasional “fluff”; the slow movement’s rapturous string-playing; the finale’s fearful opening exchange between Scheherazade and her impatient husband, full of menace and urgency, the fantastic virtuosity of the orchestra throughout the “Festival” sequences, and the cataclysmic wrecking of the ship in the storm against the rock, with again some achingly beautiful violin-playing, by both Vessa-Matti Leppänen and his cohort Donald Armstrong at the very end. Pietari Inkinen and the orchestra, take a bow! – a most enjoyable and thrilling concert.

Bach Choir nails Elijah

Elijah from the Bach Choir (conductor: Stephen Rowley) and the Palmerston North Choral Society. (conductor: Alison Stewart)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace, Saturday 20 June 2009

For me, Elijah is a problematic work. In terms of its fans, it seems to draw a line in the sand between paid-up choral music groupies, particularly traditional deists, and other music lovers whose interests lie, to varying degrees, with chamber music, or orchestral music, or opera.

The latter groups suspect that the popularity of Elijah derives from its religious subject, and from its kinship with the great choral works on religious topics by Bach and Handel.  In New Zealand and other ex-British countries, it might have more to do with the musical tastes of the expanding middles classes in Victorian England whose social aspirations led them both towards religious grandiloquence and socially-driven enthusiasm for what they saw as great music. Those characteristics came with the 19th century immigrants from England to places like New Zealand.

German, Jewish-born, Lutheran-convert Mendelssohn epitomised most of that: well-educated, cultivated and hard-working, enjoying an intimacy with the British Royal family, with an obviously great musical talent starting as an infant prodigy, and an output of music that echoed the great German composers but eschewed the scorned modernities and non-classical features of Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner.

His is well-written music, with a few numbers that are both popular and worthy.

As for its religious subject, I am bemused by it, seeming to buy into the primitive violence and religious intolerance that lies at the heart of the Old Testament.

The oratorio was originally set to the German Bible text but it was adapted to the King James version for its Birmingham premiere. I’d have preferred the former, or better, in Arabic or Tagalog, where the words would not matter.

However, the performance was generally admirable. Jonathan Berkahn accompanied on the church’s main organ; as in his work with the Menotti and Weill radio theatre pieces a week before, his was a highly impressive contribution. That was clear from the outset, as he supported Peter Russell singing Elijah’s introduction in sober, velvet tones, and then in the interesting Overture, though Mendelssohn made no effort to depict the character of the primitive, 9th century Hebrew story that followed. In truth, the music itself that follows is far more coloured by Bach-driven influence and conventional Christian piety than by any feeling of the barbarous nature of Old Testament society.  (In time, will our descendants revere stories glorifying the behaviour of the people of Bosnia, of Irak, of Sri Lanka, of Northern Ireland?) 

The conducting was shared between the conductors of each choir – Alison Stewart with Part I and Stephen Rowley the second. I could detect no differences in their approaches, no doubt because of the fusion, in rehearsal of any stylistic individuality that each might have brought to it.  The energy and accuracy, clear diction and fine ensemble singing were a credit to both.

The opening chorus presented an even, balanced sound and the benefit of more than doubling the normal size of the Bach Choir with Palmerston singers was evident straight away. Adequate men’s voices provided good foundations for the sound and we were not so exposed to the inevitably uneven quality of individual voices with a smaller ensemble. I was struck particularly by the men’s voices in the first chorus of Part II, ‘Be not afraid…’. And soon after, the rather unchristian ‘Woe to him, he shall perish….’ was appropriately strong and cruel – a foreign import, from Jermiah, a century after Elijah.

That standard was maintained throughout, for example, with distinctive calm in No 9, ‘Blessed are the men who fear him…’ (actually from Psalm 112). 

The first duet by soprano Nicola Holt and mezzo Felicity Smith was a further encouraging sign of the quality of the singing throughout. Both singers, with European training, have voices of considerable polish and character and their performances were always well-studied and convincing.

The tenor role was taken by William Parry. As Obadiah, his voice was strident, and his phrasing slightly uncomfortable; that was perhaps partly a problem of singing the not particularly euphonious English (taken here from the book of Joel, which is quite unrelated to the story of Elijah as told in 1 Kings).  The effort to enunciate clearly, as he did, was a bit at odds with the forming of flowing musical lines. When Obadiah reappeared at the end of Part I and in Part II, his voice and the musical line seemed much more at ease.

There were omissions, a major one No 5, the Chorus of the People, ‘Yet doth the Lord see it not…’, dictated by time constraints.

Trouble with the rhythm of the words struck me here and there, with the chorus of the Priests of Baal, ‘Baal, we cry to thee…’; what an unmusical word ‘extirpate’ is! 

Alto Felicity Smith was prominent at the early stage, as an Angel, very comfortable at the top, and with excellent control of dynamics – lovely soft notes.

The scene between Elijah and the Widow, soprano Nicola Holt, was very successful, starting with the Widow’s plainly characterized statement, ‘What have I to do with thee…’. Russell caught the consoling quality of Elijah’s response well, even if his voice isn’t really suited to the higher notes.

From a dramatic point of view it was odd, however, as they seemed to talk past each other; but that’s oratorio and is perhaps it’s why Elijah and other oratorios are sometimes staged, opera-like.

Later, Holt took the role of the Youth, which was beautiful, with clarity and refined dynamics at the top. And she made a fine impression again in the Air at the start of Part II, polished and well characterized.

There are, admittedly, effective dramatic moments, such as the Priests’ call to Baal where the chorus acquires a fine, ringing passion and heavy ascending and descending scales on the organ support their impact. And the organ leads peacefully to Elijah’s aria, ‘Lord God of Abraham…’. Not for the only time, of course, I was bemused by the composer’s (not to say the prophet’s) glorifying of Elijah’s command that the prophets of Baal be slain – after all, they were only doing their job.

Peter Russell of course carried most of the solo singing; his baritone voice has a very distinctive timbre, smooth, flexible but perhaps better adapted to song and lyrical roles than to dramatic ones. So those aspects of Elijah’s speeches that expressed sympathy or gentleness better represented his talent than the calls to vengeance or the proclamations of religious bigotry.

Perhaps alto Felicity Smith shared my feeling, for I enjoyed the uncharacteristic gentleness with which she sang the harsh echoing sentiment (‘Wo unto them who forsake him…’, presumably by the People, and like much else, is taken from another ‘foreign’ text, Hosea – 8th century BC, with nothing to do with Elijah).

In spite of my difficulties with the subject and its handling by Mendelssohn, and to some degree with the musical style (and I have to point out that contemporary opinion is still admiring: for example it’s among the 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear before You Die), I found myself engaged by the performance. The fairly small audience – I guess around 100 – may have been due to the clash with an NZSO subscription concert which the choirs ought to have been able to avoid. It certainly deserved a much larger crowd.

Wellington Orchestra with Houstoun and Aivale Cole

Vector Wellington Orchestra conducted by Marc Taddei with Michael Houstoun (piano) and Aivale Cole (soprano).

Brandenburg Concerto No 3 (Bach), Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat (Beethoven), Death and Transfiguration and Four Last Songs (Strauss)

Town Hall, Saturday 13 June

Fortune is at last smiling on Wellington’s Orchestra. First, there’s the happy appointment of Marc Taddei as music director, whose instinct for attractive and rewarding programming is combined with a ready skill in communicating with an audience and sound conducting talents.

Next, there was the astute decision to include the winner of the Lexus Song Contest in one of their concerts, and the winner turning out to be a Wellington singer of Samoan descent who captured the public imagination.

And since Aivale Cole had won such great admiration, there and in her subsequent Wellington recital, for her singing an aria from Strauss’ opera Ariadne auf Naxos, the obvious choice for her was Strauss’s best loved group of songs. At least 2000 Wellingtonians were captivated by the attractiveness of the package.

However, the concert did not get off to an altogether brilliant start. Baroque orchestral music has rather become the preserve of specialist ensembles who have implanted in our heads the sounds of baroque instruments with gut strings and warm tone, little vibrato yet a particular bite in string playing and a certain rhythmic elasticity; and speeds are often faster too.

The orchestras that play these works are typically small, often one instrument to a part, giving a chamber music quality.

Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3 opened the evening with, properly, three each of violins, violas and cellos, plus a double bass and a harpsichord. Fine: but the opening Allegro moderato was not very moderato – not such a fault per se, but I missed certain things. Bite in the strings, more pronounced accents on the strong beats and a bit of breathing space, occasional rallentandos, a little more variety of tone and articulation to generate interest in repeated phrases and motifs. There could have been more attention to these things, but occasional untidy playing was of little matter.

It was only the first movement that suffered however; for the speed of the last, a straight Allegro, seemed fitting as its spirit is headlong, impetuous. I hadn’t heard Penderecki’s Adagio meditative cadenza linking the two quick movements before and was impressed by its compatibility and particularly by its wonderful performance by violist Victoria Jaenecke.

Michael Houstoun is playing all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos in this orchestral series: on Saturday it was No 2, actually the first he wrote, and very clearly in the shadow of Mozart, though Mozart at his most imaginative; the orchestra here was of classical size – 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, as far as I could see. There were no real faults in the performance and Houstoun’s playing was stylishly tasteful; in spite of that, the concerto did not really take flight, lacking intensity and delight, at least until the ear was captured by the spirit of the slow movement and particularly the delicacy of the short second movement cadenza. But on the whole it remained a conscientious, well-considered affair that just missed the chance to win over the record audience attracted to this otherwise splendid concert.

‘Splendid’ related to the second half, when the strengths of conductor and orchestra emerged vividly. Tod und Verklärung – Death and Transfiguration – is one of Strauss’s less often played tone poems, though I have always found its dark, anguished emotion strangely compelling. The dread-filled, macabre opening by brass and timpani created a chilling atmosphere, even more by flute and harp; I was rapidly persuaded that this was to be a thrilling performance and it surprised me that Taddei inspired his round 70-strong orchestra to such dramatic power and such highly charged playing.

There was evidence from all departments of real professional quality, from the solo violin of Matthew Ross, through horns, flutes, and indeed from the larger body of strings, naturally far more opulent than was there for the Beethoven. It allowed the final Transfiguration pages of the score to be uttered with a blazing power and intensity, some sort of victory over the dying man’s death agonies.

Though the scenario of the piece is all too evident, it is really of only curiosity value, for the music must stand as music without external help. Many composers have created works that originated with some kind of story or theme, but have had the sense to refrain from explaining, knowing that it can create the false idea that music is capable of ‘understanding’ in the same way as a piece of writing does.

Taddei reversed the order of the two Strauss pieces, ending with Aivale Cole’s singing of The Four Last Songs, in line with chronology and making better sense of the related themes of the two works.

Again, Cole vindicated herself in Strauss; not overwhelmingly in the more simple utterance of Frühling, but certainly in the undulating beauties of September (what beautiful horn playing!), and later where she expressed subtle and nostalgic sadness in a voice that rose and fell, changed colour with the meaning of the words.

And here in Beim Schlafengehen we had Ross’s gorgeous violin solo that pre-echoes the soaring voice that resumes with the words ‘Und die Seele, unbewacht, wie in freien Flügen schweben…’ I could almost forgive the burst of applause at its end, though it was indeed a sore disturbance of the mood. It happened after each song in spite of the clear signals from conductor and singer to desist.

The end of Im Abendrot, with its slow sequence of unresolved chords, left the audience deeply moved, many damp-eyed, though not so overwhelmed as to actually get a shy Wellington audience to its feet, which it should have.

I have remarked before that I am mystified as to what the world could have been like, when I was only about 12, when these songs did not exist.