NZSM senior piano students at St Andrew’s

New Zealand School of Music senior piano students: Rafaella Garlick-Grice, Laurel Hungerford, Benjamin Booker, Sam Jury, Ben Farnworth

St Andrew’s on The Terrace. Wednesday 14 October 2009

We have been hearing a series of lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s by present and former students of the New Zealand School of Music in recent weeks. This one maintained the level of excellence both in the appearance of highly accomplished performers and in interesting music.

Rafaella Garlick-Grice began with a very mature and well-considered performance of the Prelude and Fugue in G from Book II of the Well-tempered Clavier. Varying her posture at the piano from upright to a hunched effort to climb inside the instrument, her playing was virtually flawless, but more importantly, shining with intelligence and engaging with the audience through illuminating every voice in both prelude and fugue, and entertaining dynamic colouring and subtle rhythmic nuances.

Laurel Hungerford’s Haydn Sonata (in C, Hob XVI 35) was just as distinguished, as she demonstrated her mastery and enjoyment of Haydn’s droll devices, the mock flourishes, the irregular phrases and unexpected harmonic and key shifts. You could hear her smiling at the jokes and the teasings; particularly in the somehow featureless Andante which is actually a small tour de force demonstrating how much delight can be created with musical ideas of great simplicity. My pleasure in her playing was hardly affected by her memory lapses in the last movement, though naturally, they somewhat affected her confidence thereafter.

Though he scarcely acknowledged his audience as he took his seat at the piano, Benjamin Booker played Liszt’s beautiful Un Sospiro, one of the Three Concert Studies, with admirable grace, poetic feeling and technical competence.

Liszt’s second Ballade is a different matter; a piece that attracts censure from the more pedantic of his critics. Its structure might not seem very shapely or easy to bring to a performance that convinces the listener of its organic unity, of a credible progression from one phase to the next, but for one easily seduced by Lisztian emotion, it is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, its secrets are discovered only through a rather more experienced pianist, more profoundly immersed in Liszt’s musical world, and the task, bravely tackled by Sam Jury, was a little beyond him. The opening phase with its mystical terrors that arise perhaps from Hades were too earthbound, and the later fearful left-hand octaves failed to do their job; however the sunny passages were beautifully played, and by the end enough of its essence had been re-created to satisfy and to stimulate a search for the several versions in one’s collection of LPs and CDs.

The last pianist was Ben Farnworth who played Ginastera’s Suite of Creole Dances. There are three, utterly different: the first hardly a dance, rather perhaps an invitation to a dance and the last a ferocious, violently syncopated dance. Farnworth did them proud, in turn, with delicacy, romance, bravura, swagger, and extravagant Latin American exhibitionism.

Quite apart from the interest in hearing several talented and very accomplished young piano students, it was a most satisfying programme of the sort we are scarcely ever offered by our normal concert promoters these days.

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