Students’ lunchtime string-along at St. Andrew’s

String students of the New Zealand School of Music

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Five string students, with the emphasis on the viola, performed a varied programme.  First up was Megan Ward, playing the Suite no. 1 in G for solo cello on viola.  Bach was well served by this performance.  Megan Ward, playing the seven movements from memory, produced a lovely rich tone, which seemed so well suited to the acoustics of the church. She had superb control, accurate intonation and brought out the variety in the work through her use of dynamics and phrasing.  This was a splendid start to the concert.

For this work, as for all the items, there were excellent programme notes; however, I would like the students to know that there is an English word ‘recurs’ – no need for the clumsy ‘reoccurs’.

Next up was an unfamiliar piece: Viola concerto in C minor, in the style of Johann Christian Bach, by French composer Henri Casadesus (1879-1947).  Apparently Casadesus was in the habit of passing off his works in baroque and classical styles as being discovered pieces by composers of those eras.  This was played by Leoni Wittchou, viola, with Douglas Mews providing piano accompaniment; his support was always that of a first-class partner.

The work was interesting though not an outstanding composition.  The violist’s tone was quite different from that of the previous performer – not as rich. this may be at least in part due to the different instruments – violas vary a lot more than do other stringed instruments.  Leoni played without the score, but made a false start.  There were not infrequent lapses in intonation, and phrasing was sometimes untidy.  However, while at times she exhibited beautiful tone, there was nevertheless unevenness of tone.  The charming last movement featured strong, rich playing, especially in the cadenza.

The third violist, Eva Mowry, played Robert Schumann’s Maerchenbilder (Fairy Tales).  She seemed somewhat tentative in the first movement, Nicht schnell (played using the score), but the second, Lebhaft, really caught fire, and the competing piano and viola parts were fun. The same player followed with Henri Vieuxtemps’s Capriccio.  The work did not seem particularly capricious – perhaps it was played too slowly?  It was rather a difficult solo viola piece, but was played with care and good tone.

The final piece was the first movement, allegro serioso, from Zoltan Kodaly’s Duo for violin and cello, performed by Vivian Stephens (volin) and Lucy Gijsbers (cello).  This was difficult music exceedingly well executed, in fact to a professional standard.  The interplay between the performers was superb, and they were obviously well inside the music.  The cello sound, particularly, was gorgeous, and the phrasing of both players was immaculate.   thoroughly accomplished performance.

All the performers played to a very high level, and demonstrated how expert is the tuition they are receiving.  It was interesting to have a number of viola works, but perhaps a little unfortunate that this enabled comparisons to be made between the players.

Bon voyage, Brigitte – a farewell recital

Vocal recital: Brigitte Heuser (mezzo-soprano)

with Catherine Norton (piano), Daniel O’Connor (baritone) and Aivale Cole (soprano)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Brigitte Heuser arrived on the platform looking elegant and beautiful.  She began her programme with Mahler’s Lieder eine fahrenden gesellen.  These lovely and varied songs were sung very well; the fourth, ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ particularly, was given a heartfelt rendition.  There was not, perhaps, sufficient variety of tone in the other songs.  One certainly misses the variety and subtlety of the orchestra, but Catherine Norton accompanied superbly.

It would have been good to have had printed translations of the songs; we are not all skilled in the German language as is Brigitte.  There is so much in the poems that cannot be rendered in the singing; we are not just listening to pleasant music.

I found the singer’s hand movements rather off-putting in lieder; they are fine in operatic excerpts, but detract from the value of the words and music in lieder.

Daniel O’Connor followed with Onegin’s aria from Eugene Onegin by Tchaikowsky.  This was a very assured and characterful performance.  O’Connor’s voice has a mellow quality, and is even through the range.  It was easy to mentally see him as Onegin, on stage.

Four excerpts from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte were most enjoyable: the arias ‘Smanie implacabili’ and ‘E amore un ladroncello’, the duet ‘Il core vi dono’ (with Daniel O’Connor) and the lusciouis trio Soave sia il vento (with O’Connor and Aivale Cole).

All these were quite lovely.  The second aria was sung very brightly. In the duet the voices matched very well, making for a charming rendition.  The trio was absolutely splendid.  It was great to hear Aivale Cole again.  She stood quite still and just sang, with superb control, wonderful top notes, warmth, and expressive commitment.

Brigitte Heuser came on for the second half in another skirt and top in shades of dark red, beautifully toning with the carpet and hangings in the church.

Her ‘Jewel song’from Gounod’s Faust was rather fast, and her intonation became a little sharp in places, but was nevertheless effective.

The two women followed with the ‘Flower duet’ from Lakmé by Delibes.  The voices were beautifully together and blended, making for a gorgeous performance.

Then Aivale Cole sang ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Puccini’s Tosca.  She knows how to colour her big voice.  Her words were excellent, with generous vowels.  Her splendid performance reminded me of Maria Callas in her heyday.  It was met with huge applause from the good-sized audience.

Brigitte Heuser was next, with ‘Una voce poco fa’ from The Barber of Seville by Rossini.  This was well executed, and as with all her singing, showed promise.

‘Bella sicome un angelo’ from Don Pasquale by Donizetti was Daniel O’connor’s next offering, and again his assured singing and excellent words had one placing him in a performance of the opera.

Brigitte Heuser closed with two Kurt Weill songs, one in German and one in English.  Her singing was stylish and very accomplished;; she seemed at home in these songs.  As an encore she sang (and acted) a French cabaret song, which was most amusing.

Throughout, Catherine Norton’s accompaniments was very skilled and sympathetic; she made a good approximation of an orchestra.  Not only did Brigitte Heuser sing very well, with a attractive, mellow tone, she was fortunate to have such expert musical collaborators. This was an evening of very musical performances of lieder and arias.

Brigitte was offered and accepted a place at the International Academy of Voice in Cardiff, where Phillip Rhodes has recently completed a course.  However, unfortunately the British government has withdrawn funding for the Academy for this (northern) academic year, but she will be able to take up her place there next year.  She intends in the meantime to have lessons from the Aademy’s principal coach, Sir Dennis O’Neill, and from other teachers and coaches.

She should do well – she has a fine voice, stage presence, and a very musical approach to her singing.