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.

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