National Youth Orchestra principals in chamber music

Serenade No 10, Op 79 (Persichetti), three movements of String Quartet in E minor, Op 44 No 2 (Mendelssohn), Introduction and Allegro (Ravel)

NZSO National Youth Orchestra principals

St Andrew’s on The Terrace, lunchtime Wednesday 1st July

The long-standing, free lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s on The Terrace, most Wednesdays, present a great variety of music: jazz, brass and military bands, student groups, ethnic ensembles, as well as conventional, classical music – solo singers, piano, chamber groups, choirs.

This was the week that the National Youth Orchestra gathered for rehearsals in preparation for their major concert at the weekend; eight section principals took time out to play chamber music.

The result was a most rewarding concert.

A few years ago a composer like Vincent Persichetti would have been slightly disparaged, for music that was rather traditional in form and tonal character, failing to exploit the latest academic fashions. Happily, his music can now be enjoyed without apology; in any case, no one could mistake its idiom as anything but of the past 40 years. It employed Lucy Anderson on flute and Ingrid Bauer on harp who played it with sensitivity and alacrity. It consisted of eight very short movements, starting with an Andante prelude that involved some pitchless strumming by the harp. The following sections alternated between allegros and slow pieces, in clearly delineated moods, rhythms. The third section – Andante Grazioso – giving the flute some charming, diatonic, legato music, was nevertheless keen-edged and pithy, and the fourth section, even slower, was more warm-toned, with subtle flute vibrato, echoing Debussy and Ravel.

In the penultimate movement – Adagietto – flute and harp randomly dropped languid notes with tact and musicality.

The Mendelssohn string quartet was without its short Scherzo, second movement; we heard the best of it, one of his finest, deeply felt chamber works. The playing by these four young musicians made me think of the way many a famous string quartet has begun, with four gifted conservatorium students finding an affinity and a determination to devote themselves to the most refined and sophisticated of musical genres.

Leader Amalia Hall has been in the eye of the musical public for some years and Ben Morrison, second violin, has already gained something of a soloist’s reputation: their playing respectively subdued or emphatically vivid or dynamically subtle. Violist Nicholas Hancox was heard in beautifully calm, meandering passages in the Andante, while one was always aware of cellist Edward King’s attentive underpinning of the textures and musical lines as well as on his own.

The performance held the attention throughout.

A rare chance to hear, live, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro was, for me, the main draw of this concert. (I indulge myself remembering my first hearing with an Air Force friend, musically more educated than I, during a Sunday off during CMT at Taieri Air Base in 1956).

It involved, in addition to the string quartet, flutist Hannah Darroch, clarinettist Hayden Sinclair and again, Ingrid Bauer. The placing of woodwinds to the left and the harp to the right of the four string players contributed to the sonic interest of the piece which danced and shimmered – echoes of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau of a few years before. Flute and clarinet listened to each other to find a beguiling tonal blend.

As explained in the interesting programme note, it was intended as a demonstration of the powers of the pedal harp, commissioned by the leading Paris piano house, Érard, in reaction to competition from Pleyel’s new chromatic harp for which Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane had been commissioned.

So it was to be expected that the harpist should make the most of her quasi-soloist role and there was no denying the arresting character of her cadenza with its perhaps exaggerated dynamic contrasts between her right and left hands.

The gathering of such a combination of instruments, permitting less familiar and often very beautiful chamber works to be played, is rare and the result, especially from such sensitive players, should never be missed.

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