Violin Sonatas at Old St Paul’s: Elgar and Franck

Old Saint Paul’s: Free lunchtime concert

Violin Sonatas by Elgar (E minor, Op 82) and Franck (A major)

Olya Curtis (violin) and David Vine (piano)

Tuesday 7 July 2009

The sphere of classical music seems more populated by immigrants than any other area, whether of the arts in general, education, or the public and business sectors. That was understandable in earlier times when no tertiary institutions offered musical performance teaching. But since around 1970, one would have imagined that the supply of New Zealand-born and trained musicians would have filled the demand. But note, I am applauding, not lamenting, the often more cultivated character of our immigrant populations.

I wonder if there have been any studies to discover whether the apparently high proportion of musicians from other countries in the industry is the result of positions that cannot be properly filled by New Zealanders, or whether the proportion of musically trained and inclined people is simply higher among those who seek to migrate here.

Violinist Olya Curtis was born and educated in Russia and now divides her time between teaching privately and at Wellington East Girls’ College, and playing in the Wellington Orchestra. She makes a valued contribution to our musical life.

The pairing of these two sonatas ought to have been a success. They have characteristics in common, but one is simply much more popular and loved than the other. The programme note pointed to the very marked difference which has led to the comparative neglect of Elgar’s somewhat sombre piece, but it omits the real reason – a reason which it is not fashionable to account for the essential popularity or neglect of music – the presence or not of beautiful, memorable melody.

It was cold in the church and it was tough to open with the Elgar. Olya Curtis tackled it with care and delivered a sincere account, but clearly she had not been won over by it and she simply did not display great affinity with it, its phrasing, not gauging well how to vary dynamics and tempi, or to find a legato expressiveness to make the most of its (limited) lyrical qualities. Those qualities were rather more evident in David Vine’s accompaniment.

César Franck’s sonata found her much more comfortable with its style and with the emotional content of the music and both players managed the technically testing score well until the last movement when there were a couple of slight mishaps.

But generally, Curtis’s intonation, which was a little wayward in the Elgar sonata, was more accurate and the very tone of her violin seemed to have become warmer and more musical in Franck’s beautiful sonata.

Nevertheless, the regular, free, Tuesday lunchtime concerts at Old St Paul’s are a happy feature of Wellington’s varied musical life offering a charming visual setting for music that is always worthwhile and well played.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *