East of Vienna – Wellington Chamber Orchestra

GEORGE ENESCU – Roumanian Rhapsody No.1


BORIS PIGOVAT – In Argentinian Style

BELA BARTOK – Hungarian Peasant Songs

ALFRED HILL – Symphony in A Minor “The Carnival”

Wellington Chamber Orchestra

Donald Maurice, conductor

St.Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington

Sunday 20th September, 2009

Now here was an enterprising programme! – two of the composers whose music was featured I had never heard of; and no less than FOUR New Zealand premiere performances were given, the works by Gary Goldschneider, Boris Pigovat, Bela Bartok and Alfred Hill.  George Enescu’s colourful Roumanian Rhapsody No.1 was obviously the “taster” which began the concert, the music’s beguiling opening melodies and catchy rhythms providing exotic atmosphere aplenty, and setting the scene for further, more unfamiliar explorations to follow.

Conductor Donald Maurice encouraged a lovely improvisatory feeling with the winds’ phrasings at the Rhapsody’s opening, choosing tempi that set the rhythms of the dances nicely in motion, and characterising each differing section of the music with lovely colour and real feeling – a nice touch was getting the violist to stand for his brief gypsy-like solo! The more energetic sections went with real “schwung” in this performance, the woodwinds and horns covering themselves with glory, and the rest of the brass making the most of their more raucous moments. The players caught the “folksiness” of it all splendidly and put across episodes such as the lead-into the work’s “friss” section with infectious excitement and a great rush of adrenalin.

American composer Gary Goldschneider, who spent a short time in the 1980s teaching in both Nelson and Wellington, conceived his work Sinaia while on a trip to Roumania in 2001, after being carried away by the splendours of the historic Peles Castle, located in the town of Sinaia amid mountainous surroundings. Goldschneider based his work on Roumanian and other Eastern European folk-rhythms and melodies, using the device of a recurring motif representing Peles Castle to unify the different episodes of the piece. The work’s contrasting sections create evocative, even mystical ambiences from the outset, a strong, darkly-wrought opening throwing subsequent quixotic pizzicati and agitated, claustrophobic waltz-measures into relief, everything vividly and enjoyably characterised by the players. Another New Zealand connection came with the composer of the next item In The Argentinian Style, Boris Pigovat, through the advocacy by Donald Maurice of another of Pigovat’s works Holocaust Requiem. In gratitude to the New Zealander, Pigovat wrote In the Argentinian Style for Donald Maurice earlier this year, a “tempo di tango” piece that uses another South American dance style, the Milonga. The players delivered this with great verve, and real rhythmic bounce, Donald Maurice encouraging the violas in particular to make the most of their “moments”,  with warm and sonorous sounds.

Both works in the second half originally came into being for smaller forces than orchestra – Bartok’s Hungarian Peasant Songs were originally written for solo piano, but then orchestrated by the composer, while the Symphony by Alfred Hill began as String Quartet No.3, before being recrafted for orchestra 43 years later in 1955, but keeping the same nickname, “The Carnival”.  Throughout the Bartok, I thought the players’ instrumental detailing was exemplary, capturing the music’s wistful, melancholic aspect at the beginning, the winds in particular bringing a colourful “tang” to their exchanges with the brass in the “Peasant Songs” section; while horn and strings beautifully set the scene in the second part for the big processionals to follow – my notes read “majestic brass, imposing strings, winds add to the splendour with Kodaly-like shrieks” – the whole conjuring up the feeling of sounds springing from the very soil on which the dancers’ feet trod.

And so to the Symphony by Alfred Hill, whose string quartet version I had heard and enjoyed, but which equally captivated me in its orchestral guise, its rumbustious opening and attractive Italian-style rhythms moving with wonderful insouciance in this performance throughout the movement’s different episodes, towards a lovely, sospiro-like ending. The oboes relished their jaunty moments in the scherzo, strings digging lustily into their peasant-like drones, then relaxing into a brief but graceful contrasting episode – such skilfully crafted music, nicely realised.  I loved the strings’ command of the sinuous melodic lines in the slow movement, taken up by long-breathed winds, the expression reaching Elgarian depths of feeling in places.The finale, in a sense, returned us some of the way to the world of the Enescu Rhapsody which began the programme – a sultry, gypsy-like spirit galvanised Donald Maurice and the players, setting a sombre melancholy against a vigorous impetuosity, whose energies carried the day, and brought the concert to a suitably rousing conclusion.

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