NZSO players entertain their friends

Wellington Friends of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra: End of Year celebratory concert

Ilott Theatre, Sunday afternoon 15 November 2009 

The Friends of the NZSO exists partly to give themselves musical entertainment and background, and partly to raise money for the orchestra.  To help promote those aims around twenty NZSO players plus guest pianists and mezzo soprano Annabel Cheetham took part in a highly entertaining potpourri of mainly chamber music before a full Ilott Theatre.

The concert began with Carolyn Mills on the platform, alone with her harp, to play Autumn Arabesque by her former colleague Kenneth Young, achieving music beautifully adapted to the harp; at first ethereal, later adorned with arpeggios that no harp piece could be without, moving to its heart in which it was hard not to remark a palette and melodic characteristics suggesting the sounds of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, coloured with comparable charm. 

Other orchestral instruments that are less common in recital appeared throughout; the next, cor anglais, played by Robert Orr as part of a Cor Anglais Quartet by Françaix; his companions were the members of the Iota String Trio – Haihong Liu, Lyndsay Mountfort and Eleanor Carter. Françaix is not a major composer, at least, not of deep and weighty music, but the three of the five movements played were lively, somewhat irreverent and were played accordingly.

The violin sonata is not a rarity, but Strauss’s youthful Op 18 is not often heard; violinist Cristina Vaszilcsin was joined by Mary Barber to play the Improvisation (second) movement. It marked Andante cantabile, it is romantic and rich in tonal variety, hardly improvisatory at all.

This item demonstrated a theme that ran through most of the programme: performances that I’d heard in various places over the past few months: this one in a ‘Mulled Wine’ concert at Paekakariki. 

I heard the Trombone Quartet, as ‘Bonanza’, at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson in January; it is a brilliant ensemble. There were some different players; one new embouchure was Mark Davey, a new graduate from the New Zealand School of Music and a player in the Wellington Orchestra; he took the main line, with easy lyricism, in their arrangement of Mendelssohn’s song Die Nachtigall. ‘Achieved is the Glorious Work’ from Haydn’s The Creation seemed an unusual piece to give to a trombone quartet, but its realization was convincing. To read interesting comment on the role of the trombone in this chorus by a trombonist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, go to: I would guess that the New Zealand players had read and taken on board Mr Yeo’s counsel, They also played a fugue in D minor by Bach, and the party piece for all trombones by Meredith Willson (though they were 72 trombones short of the prescription).

The Cecilian Ensemble, for this purpose at least, comprised Rebecca Struthers and Elizabeth Patchett (violins), Belinda Veitch (viola) and Roger Brown on the cello, together with guest trumpeter Cheryl Hollinger (she was heard at a St Andrew’s lunchtime concert a few months ago). Using a baroque soprano trumpet, she led Purcell’s Sonata for trumpet and string quartet. If it hadn’t been for the strings-only second movement in which the string players did indeed reveal energy and warmth, the brilliance of Hollinger’s virtuosic trumpet with the most adroit and tasteful ornaments, would have made it a rather unfair contest,  

Stille Liebe was the title given to a recital at the Cambridge Terrace Congregational Church two weeks before, which had included the song of that name in a cycle that Schumann composed to poems by Justinius Kerner. But we didn’t hear that; instead, three songs by Frank Bridge which called for mezzo soprano Annabel Cheetham and Mary Barber (piano) along with Peter Barber with the obbligato viola part. The poems, by Shelley, Arnold and Heine, seemed oddly assorted, but Cheetham’s voice was a good fit, given her distinctive timbre and character.

The Zephyr Wind Quintet consists of wind principals from the orchestra (Bridget Douglas, Robert Orr, Philip Green, Edward Allen, Robert Weeks). They gave two concerts with different programmes in July and August, in another ‘Mulled Wine’ concert at Paekakariki, and in Wellington; both the pieces here were played at Paekakariki, and both repaid further hearing.

This was one of the most striking groups of the afternoon; they played Barber’s beguiling but quite unsentimental Summer Music with singular instinct, as well as skill and musicianship; flute and oboe had prominent parts in episodes where the music danced. It was followed by Opus Zoo by Luciano Berio, an eccentric, witty piece, but also one with a social and political message, calling for each player to recite texts.  Musically, it shows neo-classical influence, and the overlay of words suggest The Soldier’s Tale, but there is no consecutive story and it uses a sort of animal allegory to cautionary purpose.

There is an uneasy air about the music that was confirmed by the disparate texts: each of the four movements seems distinct though united by a common idiom. The second movement deals with war: “the cry of bombs…the scream of distant fields… what madness of men…to blast all that is lively, lively, proud and gentle. What can the reason be?”; which is intoned repeatedly by several players. The other movements use animals to exemplify innate weaknesses that lead humans to disaster.

Finally, after the stage was rearranged by timpanist Laurence Reese (whose purposeful stage management throughout won a round of applause), he wheeled a side drum from behind the curtain, sat at it, and set up the rhythm for Ravel’s Bolero, The two cellists carried their instruments out, plucking the bass ostinato strings as they came, and they were followed by winds, with the tune, violins and violas, and finally the four trombones which lent some real swagger to the performance. Naturally, it was much abbreviated, but it brought the house down.


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