Christchurch scores at Schools Chamber Music Contest

Chamber Music New Zealand: New Zealand Community Trust Chamber Music Contest, 2010 National Finals

Wellington Town Hall

Saturday, 31 July, 7.00pm

As well as providing an exciting contest, the annual finals made for a most enjoyable concert and a varied programme of music from young amateurs.  But make no mistake, this was music-making to a very high standard, some of it on a professional level.

Some of the combinations of instruments were unusual.  The first group, from St Cuthbert’s College in Auckland, played violin, piano and clarinet  performing four of the five movements of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat Suite.  The three girls’ handsome red and black outfits were appropriate to their name: Diable.  Sometimes the other instruments were a little too loud for the violin, but this was very competent playing of difficult music.  The first movement March was given a suitably acerbic tone, while the Petit Concert was bright and rhythmic.  The Tango-Valse-Rag incorporated a variety of well-executed techniques for the violinist.  Although there was less clarinet in this movement, her part featured sliding notes, expertly played.  The fifth movement, Danse du Diable, was pretty demanding.  Both A and B flat clarinets were employed in the work.

Another Auckland trio followed, named Alpine Trio; their work was Schubert’s The Shepherd on the Rock.   It was good to have a singer in the finals; something I haven’t heard for years.  Nor have I heard this beautiful work on the concert platform for a long, long time.  Clarinet and voice both performed from memory, and all the musicians were in command of a difficult work.  The fine soprano’s low notes tended to disappear, and once or twice she ran out of breath.  The performance was a little pedantic, and perhaps needed to be more romantic, but towards the end the players seemed to relax and ended with rubato.  Overall, it was a very enjoyable rendering of beautiful music.

The Roseberry Trio, also from Auckland, tackled challenging music that is nevertheless quite well-known: movements 2 and 4 from Shostakovich’s Piano Trio no. 2 in E minor.  The young cellist, Sally Kim, played with great vigour and a robust sound.  She was the only performer on the night to play in two groups, though there were others doing this in the two semi-finals held the previous day.  In reply to my question later, she told me she was 15 years old.  All three players had marvellous technique.  The violin pizzicato was sensational at the opening of the fourth movement, then the cello joined in doing the same, with the piano playing a sombre unison theme.  This work is pretty full-on for all three players.  There were gorgeous ripples from the piano, great attention to detail, and a lovely ending to the work.

This trio provoked great applause from the audience, and in a normal concert they would undoubtedly have come back for a return bow.  The players from these last two groups comprised three from Westlake Girls’ High School, one from Westlake Boys’ High School, and one each from Kingsway College from St Cuthbert’s College.

Next it was the turn of Christchurch, with four Burnside High School students in a group named Sw!tch performing Philip Norman’s delightful Short Suite, on SATB saxophones.  They made a lovely sound; their timing was absolutely unanimous, as were their dynamics.  The characteristics of the five movements were beautifully portrayed; the first jolly and fast, the second slower and thoughtful, the third jaunty and spiky, the fourth sombre, in a minor key, and the fifth fast, agitated and rich-toned.  It was not a great surprise when this group took out the KBB award for woodwind, brass or percussion performance.

They were followed by the Genzmer Trio, also from Christchurch, with two of the three players from Burnside High School.  Apparently the musicians: flute, bassoon and piano, Googled to find music for their combination, and came upon the German composer Harald Genzmer, and his trio for their instruments, composed in 1973.  They were able to locate a copy of the music, and worked on it largely on their own.

A most attractive first movement revealed the excellent balance and ensemble of this group.  While there was not as much eye contact between the pianist and the wind players as there was between the latter two, this did not seem to matter.  An andante second movement and a very fast finale demonstrated all the considerable skills of the performers.  They gave a great account of this appealing work, and made us like it.  It was hard to believe that these were school students: pianism of a very high order from Saline Fisher and very fine playing from Hugh Roberts (flute) and Todd Gibson-Cornish (bassoon) had the audience totally involved.  They were worthy winners of the Contest.

Finally, the Euphonious Quartet (three from Westlake Girls’ High School and one from St Cuthbert’s College) performed.  The girls all wore beautiful yellow dresses and silver sandals (not the practical flat shoes of other groups).  They chose the first and fourth movements of Dvořák’s well-known ‘American’ string quartet.  Euphonious it was, but the performers were perhaps handicapped by playing something so familiar, where any slight errors are more noticeable.

These were two fast movements, putting the players on their mettle.  In the opening movement the viola had some intonation errors.  Other wise, accuracy and tone were good, although the tone was not as mellow as one usually hears in this work.  Dynamics were well observed.   The cellist was exceptional, as she was in the Shostakovich.  The first violin melodies in the fourth movement were played superbly.

After all the competing groups had performed, the winning original composition ‘Mr Gengerella’ was played by its composer, Finn Butler on piano, with Rowena Rushton-Green, violin, and Rosalind Manowitz, flute, performing as ‘Shady Groove’, from Logan Park High School in Dunedin.  This was a very accomplished work, with plenty of ideas and subtleties.

At times the piano was a little too loud for the other instruments, but Finn is certainly a fine pianist, and there was plenty of light and shade.  This is a work that deserves being heard again.  It had complexity, but not for its own sake.  The performers all did well in communicating the music.

As well as speeches from CMNZ president June Clifford, Peter Dale representing the principal sponsor New Zealand Community Trust, Minister for the Arts Chris Finlayson and CMNZ Chief Executive Euan Murdoch, and Julie Sperring of SOUNZ, and presentations of the SOUNZ original Composition award, the KBB Award for the best wind group and the award to the members of the winning group, there was the award of the Marie Vanderwart Memorial Award to long-serving string teacher and chamber music coach from Hawke’s Bay, Marian Stronach (a friend of mine from primary and secondary school and Teachers’ College days in Dunedin).   Euan Murdoch had the pleasure of announcing that James Wallace had decided that very evening that his Arts Trust prize for each member of the winning ensemble should be doubled to $2000.

The judges for the contest were Bridget Douglas  (principal NZSO flute), Wilma Smith (former NZ String Quartet member and former NZSO concertmaster, now in the same role in Melbourne) and Michael Houstoun (leading pianist).  Bridget Douglas spoke about what the judges were looking for in awarding the KBB prize, and Wilma Smith spoke on behalf of all the judges about the main award.  She said that they were unanimous in their decision, and that she considered the level this year better than she had heard it before.  She said the judges were looking for maturity, passion, commitment, good ensemble but also good solo playing, and that the players knew when to bring their instrument forward.  She mentioned ability to characterise the music, phrasing, understanding the idiom of the piece, and communicating it to the audience.  She said they considered that the winning group demonstrated all these qualities.

In interviews broadcast the following day, Michael Houstoun reiterated Wilma Smith’s remark that some of the groups tackled music that was beyond the level of their maturity and life experience: The Shostakovich and the Dvořák were probably particularly in mind here.

As Michael Houstoun said, this was a happy evening.

NZSM Orchestra downtown for major concert with the school’s star teachers

Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde (Wagner); Our Own Demise (Pieta Hextall); The Red Violin – Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra (Corigliano); Nocturnes – II Fêtes and III Sirènes (Debussy); Francesca da Rimini (Tchaikovsky)

The New Zealand School of Music Orchestra conducted by Hamish McKeich with Margaret Medlyn (Soprano) and Martin Riseley (violin)

Wellington Town Hall

Friday 30 July 7.30pm

The Red Violin was a 1997 film by François Giraud for which John Corigliano wrote the score; it told the adventures of a haunted violin. From it the composer arranged a piece for violin and orchestra – a Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra and it proved a fine showcase for Martin Riseley. It may have been his first appearance with an orchestra in a public venue since he returned to New Zealand to take up his position as Head of Strings at the New Zealand School of Music.

It has been a few years since the university orchestra performed down-town, at the Town Hall. So this was a very significant occasion, an opportunity to hear two of the school’s most distinguished teacher-performers, with international reputations.

The second was Margaret Medlyn. 

It was a particularly interesting programme that would both challenge a student orchestra, and thoroughly engage an audience.

It was also an unorthodox programme, starting with the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan. Not the purely orchestral version that many would be familiar with, but with Margaret Medlyn who emerged through the orchestra during the last minute of the Prelude to deliver a ringing, passionate performance of the apotheosis that ends the opera – the ‘Love-death’. There was power without strain, riding easily over the orchestra’s ebb and flow, until the climax, the orgasm if you like, where the orchestra did rather dominate.  I am sure it was an arresting experience for all vocal students from the school to hear one of New Zealand’s finest singers in such repertoire.

The orchestra opened after the hall was appropriately dimmed to create a quasi-theatrical scene, with those famous, unresolved harmonies carefully articulated, well balanced, and with scrupulous attention to dynamics. One could often be forgiven for thinking one was listening to an experienced professional orchestra, in this and much else in the programme.

Next came the piece that won the 2009 Jenny McLeod Composition Prize, Pieta Hextall’s Our Own Demise, for which she offered a ‘programme’ in the form of quasi-political reflection on the curtailment of freedoms through the increasing complexity of society: a latter-day yearning for the age of the noble savage?. I quickly abandoned any attempt to make connections between that and the music, though the purpose of the alternation of spacious, pure harmonies and increasingly dense and complex textures was clear enough. Early, a phase of primitive, elemental sounds –strings tapped lightly with the bow, ethereal percussion – suggested a time of innocence, perhaps a very low level of social life. Later, an apparently aleatoric episode perhaps told of societal breakdown.  Its variety of expression and texture, mood and emotion maintained interest; it was coloured by an occasional almost melodic, consoling episode from the solo violin, then a gruff phrase from double basses and tutti tremolo that suggested swarming insects.

In some ways, I felt the idea lent itself too easily to the temptation to employ too many resources too insistently and too chaotically, and that less use of musical disharmony and confusion might have produced better music. But there was no denying Hextall’s imaginative, highly accomplished piece which the orchestra had clearly worked at very conscientiously.

Then came the Corigliano: a name not as well known here as in the United States where his fairly accessible orchestral music as well as his ‘opera-buffa’ The Ghosts of Versailles, have penetrated public awareness. Ghosts was one of the very few new operas to have been staged by the Met in New York since WW2.

The form of the piece, loose variations on a chaconne (basically a slow dance in triple time) ground bass, announced its attention to musical tradition and though its sounds could have derived from no other than the current era, there were some rhapsodic, unashamedly lovely episodes from the soloist, a striking flute solo, with echoes by other woodwinds, all demonstrating admirable musicality. Later we were treated to an almost hummable tune on the viola.

In short, it is music in the Barber, the popular Copland or later Rochberg tradition, for all of whom the audience mattered.

It achieved its aim of drawing attention to Riseley’s distinction as violinist.

The second half would have been welcome in an NZSO concert: two of Debussy’s Nocturnes for orchestra and Tchaikovsky’s great symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini. The first was a scrupulous, admirably accurate portrayal of luminous, highly coloured scenes, hardly nocturnal I always feel. Fêtes sparkled with lively rhythms and brilliant performances by wind players, and also by well-disciplined strings (students filled the ranks of both violin sections: guest professionals did no more than enrich the lower strings). Sirènes featured a small and warmly seductive vocal ensemble underpinning more colourful playing.

If the concert so far had impressed by the orchestra’s precision and balance as well as its vitality under Hamish McKeich, Francesca da Rimini revealed some shortcomings. Strings got by very well but slips in the brass suggested less adequate rehearsal. Yet there were fine solos again here, in particular from clarinet and the lovely cello passage that follows. And the final phase built to its tragic, though exciting climax with splendid energy and youthful exuberance.

I must comment on the programme notes, by Frances Moore. More than commonly literate and displaying a wide-ranging musical knowledge, her notes for each of the three standard repertoire pieces – the Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Debussy – indicated an unusual talent for describing in imaginative terms, with a comfortable familiarity with pertinent literary, philosophical and artistic questions, significant musical connections that illuminate both composer and the music.

I was relieved that, though the gallery was closed, the stalls were well filled. It was an event that deserves to become an annual fixture that should get a lot more publicity. I was disappointed to see no acknowledgement of any City Council backing which I would have expected, giving substance to the council’s readiness to boast of the city as cultural capital.

Another interesting lunchtime concert at Wesley, Taranaki Street

Nielsen: Quintet for woodwinds, Op.43

Whirlwind: Eshian Teo (flute), Jose Wilson (oboe, cor anglais), Andrzej Nowicki (clarinet), Kylie Nesbit (bassoon), Alex Morton (French horn)

Winter @ Wesley; Wesley Methodist Church, Taranaki Street

Wednesday, 28 July at 12.30pm

Whirlwind was the delightful name chosen by a quintet of wind players who performed the last of the Winter @ Wesley series of concerts.

This was a group of highly skilled wind players, who gave a fine account of an attractive work by Nielsen.  It contained plenty of variety, and good opportunities for each player to shine.  The allegro first movement and second movement minuet were fairly short, but colourful.

The last movement featured first a prelude, using the cor anglais (which I recently learned should be translated ‘angled horn’, not ‘English horn’), followed by an adagio theme and variations, in which Jose Wilson reverted to oboe.  A wonderful hymn-like theme, with gorgeous harmonies, was followed by eleven delightful variations, in which each instrument had solos, and ended with a repeat of the chorale.

This was an innovative programme.  It was a surprise to hear the same work played on Radio New Zealand Concert that very night!  The Whirlwind players did not suffer by comparison.


Kapiti Chamber Choir at St Paul’s Cathedral

Dixit Dominus (Handel), Choral items by Ralph Manuel, Katherine Dienes-Williams, Halsey Stevens, Morten Lauridsen, Samuel Barber, and arrangements by Aaron Copland, Haflidi Hallgrimsson and Moses Hogan

Kapiti Chamber Choir (conductor Guy Jansen) with Lesley Graham, (soprano), Janey McKenzie (soprano), Linden Loader (contralto), James Adams (tenor), Roger Wilson (bass), Handel Chamber Orchestra, Peter Averi (organ), Phillip O’Malley (piano)

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Saturday, 24 July, 4pm

A concert with two distinct parts: first, choral music from the 18th century with orchestra and soloists; after a long interval in which most enjoyable mulled wine and nibbles were served while a small string ensemble played charming music by Matthew Locke, a choral recital followed with a variety of pieces, some of them unaccompanied.

Some of the excitement, and certainly the precision, of the orchestral introduction to the Handel work was lost in the over-resonant Cathedral acoustic.  However, the choir worked hard at overcoming this handicap.

The first number, for chorus initially, involved complex counterpoint.  Attack was good, and the dynamics were handled well (no pun intended).  Then the soloists entered. Due to the acoustics, the lower register of both Lesley Graham’s and Linden Loader’s florid opening solo passages were lost.  James Adams came across very well, since the tessitura of his voice was higher.

The solo for contralto which followed showed Linden Loader in fine voice, and the next, for soprano, gave rein to Janey MacKenzie’s beautifully clear soprano.  She was precise, yet had a lovely carrying tone.

The orchestra, brought together for last year’s Messiah and again for this occasion, was a little shaky at times, but on the whole did well.  The continuo playing of Janet Holborow (cello) and Peter Averi (organ) was excellent, especially considering the great distance between the two players.  Perhaps obtaining the use of a chamber organ would have been worthwhile.

There were sprightly rhythms in the numbers for chorus, and plenty of weight, too.  ‘Dominus a dextris’ particularly, featured bouncy rhythms, while the following ‘Judicabit’ at the word ‘conquassabit’ the syllables (and therefore the notes) became detached, giving quite a curious effect.  Perhaps it was word-painting, the words (in translation) being ‘…he shall fill the places with the dead bodies: and smite in sunder the heads over diverse countries.’  The more covered tone in this number was most appropriate to the words.

The men’s chorus was splendid in ‘De torrente’, their pianissimos truly hushed yet sonorous. The soprano soloists began with a only a few strings playing; this was most effective.

The extended fugal Gloria chorus at the end was executed confidently, although some singers are reluctant to favour the conductor with a glance.  Both here and in the second half, some of the soloists joined the choir for the chorus.

Handel wrote the work while in Italy in 1707; there is no record of a first performance.  Perhaps it was first performed in a large Italian church with similar acoustics to St Paul’s?  For my taste, the Dixit Dominus was the wrong music for the building.  Admittedly, it was about the right size, with a near-capacity audience.

After the interval, the choir began singing from the back of the church, unaccompanied and without their scores, Ralph Manuel’s Alleluia.  It was by an American composer, as indeed were nearly all in this half of the concert.  This piece used the resonance to great effect, the more so from being at the back.  It had an exquisite pianissimo ending. 

The performance reminded me of a number of concerts some years ago (by different groups) where the choristers were spread all round the Cathedral, and used different spaces for different items.  Likewise, a few years ago there were lunchtime concerts incorporating piano and solo singers, who sang from the back, near the main door, with the audience seated around them.  And the Orpheus Choir once performed from the gallery with the orchestra below them, rather than from the chancel steps.

Ave verum corpus by Katherine Dienes-Williams, former Organ Scholar at the Cathedral and now Organist and Master of Choristers at Guildford Cathedral in south England, featured beautiful floating lines, and was sung very well, with excellent tone and vowel-shaping.

Halsey Stevens wrote a setting of ‘Go, lovely rose!’  Its attractively pensive mood and dynamics were echoed in the next song, ‘O nata lux’ by Morten Lauridsen.  This was quite a difficult piece, with clashes and discords, but was confidently sung in a gorgeous pianissimo, with a impressive decrescendo at the end.  Following this item, Guy Jansen gave several brief spoken introductions to the pieces.

Another piece by Lauridsen was performed with piano.  This seemed to make more obvious another feature of this building:  sibilants have a way of sounding completely unconnected with the words they are part of.

While the women singing tenor did a great job, it does alter the sonorities to use women singing at the bottom of their register rather than men singing at or near the top of theirs, with their resultant brightness.  However, when there is a shortage of the male variety, it is probably unavoidable.  In the Handel, with the strings and organ accompanying, the difference in tone was not so noticeable.

Samuel Barber’s famous (hackneyed?) Adagio was arranged by him for eight-part choir, soloist and organ, as an Agnus dei.  It was very effective in this setting.  The choir was beautifully blended, especially at the ending, all singing with the same tone and dynamic.

A very rhythmic ‘Shall we gather at the river?’ with organ, arranged by Aaron Copland, followed.  Then, for a complete change, the choir sang an Icelandic evening song, arranged by Haflidi Hallgrimsson.  The pronunciation certainly sounded authentic, and added to the variety of language and music in the concert, not to mention variety of style.  It included interesting harmonies.  The effect was of stillness, which produced a dynamic of ppp without apparent difficulty.

Finally, Moses Hogan’s setting of the spiritual ‘My soul’s been anchored in the Lord’.  It was performed with piano and organ, and sung with enthusiasm, the conductor achieving a variety of colourings of the voices, yet still obtaining precision singing.  A good fortississimo ended the concert.

Time-travelling Wellington Orchestra revisits 1810 and more….

Vector Wellington Orchestra – ‘1810’

BEETHOVEN – Overture ‘Egmont’ Op.84 / SCHUMANN – Piano Concerto in A Minor Op.54

ROSSINI – Overture ‘The Barber of Seville’ / STRAVINSKY – Ballet ‘Jeu de Cartes’

Michael Houstoun (piano)

Marc Taddei (conductor)

Vector Wellington Orchestra

Wellington Town Hall

Saturday 24th July, 2010

The idea of learning one’s history through music seems an attractive one; and the Wellington Orchestra’s 2010 programme has taken pains to forge links in time between the present year and various composers and their works connected with one, two, and three hundred years ago. The latest in this year’s concert series focused upon the year 1810, though only two of the four works on the programme seemed to have an association with that year. Of the others, the Stravinsky ballet Jeu de Cartes was part of a parallel series featuring the composer’s ballet works, and Rossini’s perennially delicious Overture Il Barbiere di Siviglia was included to highlight Stravinsky’s use of one of the most prominent tunes from the work in his own ballet.

One could posibly cavil at the shortish playing time of the concert, just as some of the audience at the NZSO last Saturday night objected to the longer-than-usual presentation. Perhaps room could have been found for another work, or the Rossini replaced by something a bit more substantial length-wise. A positive aspect was that the contents of the concert made a refreshing change from the usual formulaic componentry of such concerts – overture, concerto, symphonic work – one which seldom admits any pieces which don’t fit the mould, and are thus neglected. A soprano could have been engaged and given us a couple of the orchestral songs from Beethoven’s Egmont music. Alternatively, another Stravinsky work could have been included in the concert (one which would have contrasted nicely with both the Rossini Overture and Jeu de Cartes) such as the Dumbarton Oaks chamber concerto, a piece which seldom gets played in symphony concerts because of its awkward length (about 12 minutes).

Of course, less is sometimes more, as my grandmother used to say; and what’s important is quality, more so at times than quantity. I thought this concert had sufficient quality to make it an eminently worthwhile venture. Marc Taddei, as is usually his wont, spoke with his audience before the concert started, emphasising the interactive links between the orchestra and its community, as reflected in both the attendance at concerts and the sponsorship the orchestra receives from locally-represented businesses. In hindsight the speech’s message served as a counterweight to the scenario painted by speakers at an after-concert reception, involving arts funding from Creative New Zealand for the orchestra being cut, a policy that would also affect the NZSO. It would be a pity if the Wellington Orchestra had any of its activities impaired by such a policy.

The concert started snappily and strongly with the Egmont Overture – and a rattling good performance it was, too, athletically directed by Marc Taddei, the playing notable for muscle rather than mass. This is an orchestra which consistently punches above its own weight, and this concert and the playing of things like Egmont demontrated living, dynamic proof of its quality. Only a lack of numbers in the string section disadvantages the balance in tutti passages, where the brass and winds seem to hold sway, without the strings being able to properly soar over the top and exert plenty of tone and muscle.

I was really looking forward to hearing Michael Houstoun playing the Schumann Concerto, partly because I’d enjoyed his Beethoven series with the orchestra last year so much, and partly because I was looking forward to comparing Houstoun’s with Diedre Irons’s performance which I’d heard earlier this year. Well, in a sense the occasion didn’t disappoint, because the interpretations were very different. Houstoun brought all of his familiar virtues to his interpretation, strength, directness and incredible focus, setting up a great sense of flow in the first movement  and achieving a lovely build-up to the first big orchestral tutti – the orchestral solo playing was notable, with both Merran Cooke’s oboe at the beginning and Tui Clark’s clarinet in the dreamy exchanges doing a very lyrical and sensitive job. Occasionally I thought Houstoun’s playing just a bit too abrupt – he’s not really into romantic rhetoric – and so the pianist’s big octaves statement mid-movement had muscle and fire rather than a grand declamatory air. So, in general it was an interpretation which went for drive and urgency rather than any kind of big-boned romanticism.

The slow movement was successful in bringing about a necessary contrast – the exchanges between piano and orchestra were sufficiently poised to give a sense of poetic feeling, though one sensed still a current of urgency beneath it all. What lovely ‘cellos at their big moment in the middle section of the movement! – and then, a beautifully-shaped build-up by the whole orchestra towards the last statement by the strings of this very romantic theme! These were touches of radiance in the midst of what seemed like serious business.

And serious business I thought the players made the finale – it was exciting in its way, it danced and surged, but for me it had very little of the tumbling warmth I’ve always enjoyed in this music. The speeds were very quick, and there was an element of precariousness about the exchanges between soloist and orchestra in places which added to the tension the urgency was already generating. Now call me old-fashioned if you will, but I don’t actually seek this music out as a listener for its dogged, insistent qualities, or its tensions – I’m wanting the music in this finale to evoke surgings of joy and warm-heartedness that I suspect in Schumann’s life were very precious, and savoured to the utmost when they happened for him. The “serene delight” of this music spoken about by numerous commentators was only fitfully in evidence here, and hearing Houstoun play this work left me wondering just how much he actually loved it, if at all. For me, not very much love came across in its performance overall, however impressive along the way I might have found the drive, the virtuosity, the control and the delineation of the themes.

I have to say that Houstoun got a great reception at the end – he was recalled more than once to foot-stamping ovations – so people obviously enjoyed that sense of the concerto being strongly and excitingly delivered. And I would be the first to declare that music can take as many interpretations as there are performers, if that music is delivered with sufficient conviction by those performers; and that one ought to rejoice at such variety stemming from realisations of a single work. However, Schumann’s music doesn’t “play itself”, and for me a certain dogged quality about the playing made it all just a bit one-dimensional.

The Rossini Overture, straight after the interval, was excitingly delivered, via one of Marc Taddei’s no-nonsense entrances – a brisk walk, a leap onto the podium, and a gesture plunging us straight into the music. While I enjoyed some of it immensely, I also want my Rossini to “smile”, and insinunate as much as scintillate – but there wasn’t much subtlety, though the energy was exciting enough in places.

All in all, I enjoyed the first and last items the most at the concert – Marc Taddei seems to have a “feel” for twentieth-century repertoire, as evidenced by previous forays into this repertoire with the orchestra. I thought his interpretation of Stravinsky’s wonderful Jeu de Cartes (The Game of Cards) allowed his players plenty of space to phrase and point in a way that brought it all to life, notwithstanding a couple of hesitant moments. What a feast of a score for orchestral soloists – so many solo lines, like a concerto for orchestra! Especially wonderful was the writing for brass, both solo phrases and in ensemble.

I’ve got to say that I thought the orchestra’s playing had tremendous spirit and character – there were occasional burbles in the brass, which any player will tell you is par for the course if you play such an instrument and your name isn’t Dennis Brain. The strings also had a lot to do, plenty of treacherous rhythmic dovetailing (this is Stravinsky at the height of his “neo-classical” period, revelling in rhythmic complexity and textural juxtapositions). Generally the players acquitted themselves magnificently, the odd purple patch of ensemble aside – as with the performance, earlier in the year, of Danses Concertantes, I feel they caught the “spirit” of the music and characterised the different sections vividly. Especially telling was the music for the Joker, who, throughout the work, was the disruptive “villain ” of the scenario.

The three movements are called “deals” as in a card game – and in the last deal, Stravinsky quotes from other composers’ music, in Rossini’s case directly from the Overture which we heard earlier in the second half of the programme. One could surmise that these quotations are nothing but deceptions on the part of the Joker, who, however, is defeated at the end of the game by a royal flush. Conductor and orchestra contrived to bring out all the theatricalities and chameleon-like colourings of these rites of deception, raising a ripple of mirth with the Rossini quotations, and underlining the finality of the Joker’s fate with the final, brusque quotation of the opening theme, its severity and abrupt closure splendidly conveyed, and leaving no doubt as to the hero/villain’s come-uppance.

Rapturous Mahler and more, with the NZSO

HARRIS – Three Pieces for Orchestra

HAYDN – Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major

MAHLER – Symphony No.5 in C-sharp Minor

Li-Wei Qin (‘cello)

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Pietari Inkinen (conductor)

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday 17th July, 2010

This was a blockbuster of a concert, regarding both its overall length and the epic nature of the music throughout its second half. The Mahler Fifth Symphony isn’t the longest of the canon, but it has an epic grandeur that invites big, measured utterances, and the performance by the NZSO and its conductor Pietari Inkinen squared up to the work’s demands magnificently. Earlier we got Ross Harris’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, evocative vignettes of different times, places and personalities, followed by some lively, elegant Haydn from one of the stars of the world of ‘cello-playing, Li-Wei Qin.

Having a piece of contemporary music, and especially a world premiere put onto a programme always gives a concert a special flavour. Such occasions are welcomed with great interest and expectation in some quarters, and received in more conservative circles with attitudes ranging from mild tolerance to avid dislike. Ross Harris’s piece got its foot in the door rather cleverly with its different evocations of three places in Europe associated with well-known composers, one of whom was Mahler, whose name is of course forever linked with Vienna.

The work was a commission from Peter and Kathryn Walls, and was originally intended as a “calling card” for the orchestra to take on their European tour later this year. With each of the three European places named in the piece planned as part of the orchestra’s concert schedule, it seemed an ingenious idea that the orchestra should play at least the movement from the work referring to the concert’s location on each of those three occasions. One would think that concert promoters in each of those cities would jump at the idea of having a visiting orchestra play a piece written about their own part of the world, each piece emphasising an association with a great composer.

I hope the idea of touring the work goes ahead, if only because the music is so good – each piece unerringly captures a world of vivid impressions concerning a place and its effect upon a powerful creative mind. The Vienna/Mahler piece is a spiky, grotesque waltz, not unlike that of the composer’s Seventh Symphony scherzo, from which there is a quote at the music’s beginning. Parts burlesque, reverie, nightmare, and satire, the piece catches a volatility, a juxtapositioning of vastly different moods throughout, the waltz-rhythm as much a tribute to Vienna as to Mahler’s use of the dance in his music. Of the three pieces I thought it the most subtle in that the direct links to the music of the associated composer were the least “signalled”, leaving the world of pastiche far behind.

The second piece, entitled Lucerne/Wagner, began with a tolling bell, the resonances drifting over still waters, evoking the scene that must have greeted Wagner on many a morning while he lived at the Villa Tribschen, on the shores of Lake Lucerne. This was reputedly the happiest period of the composer’s life, so it was interesting that Ross’s tribute had an elegiac, almost valedictory tone, with a cor anglais solo beautifully played by Michael Austin. The last piece was called Dusseldorf/Schumann, the music right from the start restless and agitated, for me reflecting Schumann’s energetic and obsessive activities as a composer and anxieties as a performing musician. Throughout the piece the Schumannesque fingerprints juxtaposed nervous tensions and dream-like fantasisings, with golden “Rhenish-Symphony” horns summoning the composer back from the most distant realms of his creativity, and returning the music to the opening agitations, the piece concluding with an ethereal upward flourish, an ending which seemed to take most listeners by surprise.

People have been quick to point out that such an ending to a piece doesn’t make enough of a rousing impression on audiences, especially when it’s an unfamiliar work. I thought the music’s “not with a bang but with a whimper” conclusion entirely appropriate given Schumann’s tribulations and eventual descent into madness while at Dusseldorf. I was more concerned with the obviousness of one or two of the quotations in the second and third pieces, quotes which pushed the pieces more towards the realms of pastiche – I wondered whether the “Rheingold” and the “Prophet Bird” motifs in the second and third pieces respectively needed to be quite so exposed, especially as, in the “Mahler” movement, by comparison, the references to original work made for a somewhat less cliched effect. Even so, I thought that each of the pieces was quite delectably written, managing to say significant things about the ambience of interaction between composer and location in all three instances – rather like acts of homage from one creator to three others. As such, it’s a very “international” piece that should travel well – and I feel certain the orchestra will have a lot of success with it, wherever they play it, either in part or as a whole.

By dint of his association with Vienna, both as a choirboy in his young years and as a senior composer, Haydn was readily aligned with Mahler for the purposes of this concert. And if there appears to the ear very little in common between them stylistically, each composer did share and express a joy in the countryside which they expressed in their music, Haydn far more so than many of his classical contemporaries, and Mahler through his frequent “nature-music” episodes in his scores. With the latter’s Fifth Symphony, however, the impression is less of evocation of nature than of a kind of neo-classical spirit, the composer declaring that he wanted the work “to combine the contrapuntal skill of Bach with the melodiousness of Haydn and Mozart”. As for Haydn himself, there were touches of rustic vigour in his newly-discovered ‘Cello Concerto in C Major, played here by one of the stars of the world of the ‘cello, Li-Wei Qin.

This was a gentler performance than I was accustomed to, having recordings by both Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma, both of whom ride the work using their instrument as a kind of bucking bronco in places, a very exciting and earthy “pesante” approach to which the music readily responds. But Li-Wei Qin made the work his own through gentler, more restrained means, very musical, if in places somewhat circumspect, my impression being that he was putting the music first and the performer second. The scaled-down orchestra kept things on a similar wavelength, concentrating on beauty of tone and unanimity of phrasing, rather than snap and bite. He didn’t make the upward scales in the finale behave like skyrockets, or evoke the madness of a Keystone Cops chase with rapid figurations – it was a performance that spun the music out like gossamer thread, everything more elegant than earthy, and in the end coming off beautifully.

The evening’s heavyweight business came with the Mahler Symphony in the concert’s second half. I thought that, corporately and individually, the players delivered this work magnificently, under the direction of Pietari Inkinen. Right from the opening trumpet fanfare (Michael Kirgan’s playing of this had a wonderfully urgent sense of sounding an alarm to the world, which sent shivers down the back of my neck!), one felt that the players were there for the long haul, bar by bar, bringing out everything they possibly could from the music. I was struck by the excellence of the solo instrumental playing as much as by the ensemble – and this work, as with a number of the Mahler symphonies, abounds in opportunities for solo playing, quite scarily in places where the player is so exposed (as with that trumpet opening).

I can recall hearing at least two previous performances by the orchestra of this work, the most recent being in 2006 with Susanna Mälkki (coincidentally, from the same part of the world as Inkinen)  – and, while I admired Mälkki’s skills and her commitment to other music she conducted here, I thought her interpretation of the Mahler fairly unsympathetic. The work was rattled through at what seemed like a tremendous pace, which brought forth brilliant playing from the orchestra but with so much of what I thought of as the music’s character ignored – its tremendous weight at the start, its charm and circumspection in the middle, and its lyrical beauty and good humour at the end – all seemed to me sacrificed to brilliance. Of course, this is music that, like all great works of a similar ilk, can be played many different ways and still work its magic upon audiences – rarely is a great piece of music performed to nobody’s (or everybody’s) satisfaction.

Thankfully, Pietari Inkinen seemed far more involved with the work’s spirit throughout, taking great pains to characterise strongly the symphony’s three parts – the grim purpose of the first two movements, the dancing energies and nostalgic remembrances of the third movement, and the romance and gurgling good humour of the final two movements all received their dues. Where the interpretation really blossomed for me was with the third movement, the waltz-scherzo, the movement of which Mahler predicted that “conductors for the next fifty years will take it too fast!”. Inkinen seemed to have fully heeded the composer’s warning, and directed a performance with such lilt and charm and sensitivity to changing moods that the whole hall took on a kind of ambient glow at the shared pleasure of it all. The horn section, led by Ed Allen, played like heroes, sounding their frequent calls with golden tones across magically-conceived soundscapes, while the rest of the orchestra danced and ruminated by turns, Inkinen getting from the players real point to the Viennese rhythms throughout.

Another of the work’s features was the contrapuntal character of Mahler’s writing, again in the waltz-scherzo, but also in the finale. Conductor and players brought out these interactive lines with lots of energy, humour and bubble, the music given room to breathe and for the phrases allowed plenty of “point” – in fact the music takes on an almost concerto grosso aspect in places, with frequent quotations from the composer’s own songs and the counterpoint to which the melodic lines were yoked given as much to a variety of solo instruments as to the strings or brass sections. As for the work’s most famous movement, the strings-and-harp Adagietto, beloved of both film-makers and musak-merchants, it was played here so simply and with such pure intensity (at a natural breathing-pace) that it sounded for all the world as though it had been freshly-composed – it just unfolded, strand by strand, episode by episode, to magical effect (and I loved the basses’ choreography throughout their final descending phrase, the players swaying and digging into each bow-stroke as though their lives depended upon the outcome).

My only reservations came with the first two movements, neither of which I thought generated enough “weight” to adequately support what the brass players were doing so wonderfully with the top lines. I didn’t think there was quite enough sense of enormous crushing power in the tread of the first movement, and especially not in those baleful chromatic descents which conclude with percussive strokes that ought to shake the surrounding’s very foundations – I wanted the lower instruments at those points to really dig in and to “thwack”, to bring us right to the edge of the abyss, as it were, generating more of a sense of “Do not go gentle into that good night” throughout what the composer intended to be a funeral march. In the second movement, I felt the music’s baleful aspect was underplayed, the horns for one not given sufficient encouragement to roar in places, and the percussion held in check for most of the movement – that is, until the appearance of the work’s mighty crossbeam, the great brass chorale, where Inkinen seemed at last to really “open the music up” and give us a searing glimpse of something akin to the eternal, the orchestral playing magnificent almost to the point of pre-empting the chorale’s re-appearance at the end of the finale.

Had we experienced this degree of tonal weight and deep intensity earlier in the work, I would want to say that the performance was the finest I had ever heard of the symphony. As it was, Inkinen and the NZSO were able to spectacularly convey the work’s cumulative effect sufficiently for us to take into our hearts something of the composer’s idea of this worlde’s joye. No matter that the concert stretched on into the night later than was usual (a 7:30pm starting time would have helped in this case) – the exhalations of pleasure I heard from people all around me at the exciting conclusion of the symphony’s finale spoke volumes regarding the thrills of the music-making and the success of the concert.

NZSO’s Friday series with Schumann and Schoenberg

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Pietari Inkinen (conductor), Li-Wei Qin (cello)

Arnold Schoenberg: Transfigured Night

Schumann: Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129

Brahms: Piano quartet No.1 in G minor, Op.25 (orchestrated Schoenberg)

Friday 16 July, 6.30pm

A concert with such an interesting programme as this, and with such a superb soloist, should not have suffered so many empty seats; one is tempted to think that some would-be patrons were scared off by the name Schoenberg – or were they all at the rugby?  There was no need to be scared with this programme.

Schoenberg’s five-movement work, Transfigured Night, based on a poem by Richard Dehmel, is very far removed from atonal.  It is based on a string sextet that he composed early in his career, and is scored for strings only.  It is lush and romantic.

Its slow, quiet start opens with cellos only, then violas join in and later the other strings.  Guest principal violist Jethro Marx (who was in New Zealand earlier in the year with the Zukerman Chamber Players) had plenty to do; his solo passages were strong and resonant.  The section’s position to the right of the conductor made the violas more noticeable, and probably made their sound more prominent.

The music becomes more angular, reflecting the distress of the woman in the poem, who is carrying a child by a man other than her lover.  Towards the end of the work (the movements played continuously) there is contrasting quietude and restful resignation.  All was beautifully played, with much feeling in the last section, and finally, serenity and exaltation.

In addition to the guest principal violist, there was an acting principal of the cellos, a young Englishman, who was able to come to the fore in the cello concerto, where he has a duet section with the soloist.  In addition to these two, an Australian clarinettist was brought from Sydney at short notice, when the orchestra’s regular principal clarinet was unable to play, and a guest principal bassoonist from Amsterdam was also part of the line-up.

The high point of a very good concert was undoubtedly Li-Wei Qin’s playing of Schumann’s cello concerto.  The soloist had a rich sound; no doubt helped by the 1780 Guadagnini cello he plays.

This was his first visit to New Zealand, although he lived in Australia from the age of 13 before going to Manchester to study.  However, he has played with the NZSO before, at the Beijing Olympics Cultural Festival in 2008.  His playing of the work was passionate and romantic.  He has an apparently effortless technique, married to good articulation and phrasing.

The duet between the soloist and the principal cellist was played with typically Romantic ecstatic longing.  The soloist was somewhat flamboyant of gesture at times, but what gorgeous and brilliant playing!  It was a thoroughly luscious interpretation, alternately robust and delicate as required. 

The virtuosic cadenza was completely musical in its execution, despite the soloist not having free rein, free of the orchestra, (or ‘free reign’ as the programme notes had it).  One could only agree with the quotation in the notes from Pablo Casals – ‘one of the finest works one can hear – from beginning to end the music is sublime’.

Li-Wei Qin responded to the tumultuous applause with an encore – a little March by Prokofiev which featured double-stopping and left-hand pizzicato, and was quite delightful.

With its very lively movements, this piano quartet of Brahms perhaps lends itself to a full orchestral arrangement more than many would.  However, I found it strange to hear a chamber music work that I know reasonably well, being played by full orchestra.  The effect was of a Brahms symphony.

There was no question that it is a fine orchestration, but I would still rather have it as a quartet.  It sounded heavy and even dull at times, despite the exciting percussion and winds that Schoenberg has employed.  The delicacy one gets with a chamber ensemble was almost entirely absent, though there were glimpses in the second movement’s trio, especially the lovely woodwind sections.

The opening theme, normally on piano, sounded quite strange on bass clarinet (?). Elsewhere there were big washes of sound where in the original there would be subtlety; the work was expansive instead of introspective.

The third movement became pompous, but the themes were brought out well. The gypsy finale suffered less from the orchestration, its gaiety and syncopation were merely amplified, especially by the use of percussion: tambourine, xylophone, triangle, glockenspiel and side-drum.  But at times the unison effect was rather overpowering.  It was delightful to have a small section in this movement scored for string trio alone.

Strings attached – viola then violin at the NZSM

Douglas Lilburn – Suite for Solo Viola

Cesar Franck – Sonata for Violin and Piano

Donald Maurice (viola)

Rupa Maitra (violin) / Ching-Fen Lee (piano)

New Zealand School of Music

Lunchtime Concert, Adam Concert Room

Friday 16th July 2010

Having already played Douglas Lilburn’s Suite for Solo Viola at a recent St.Andrew’s lunchtime concert, violist Donald Maurice decided to make further amends for the work’s previous neglect in recital by performing the suite again, at the Adam Concert Room on the Victoria University campus. This brought the work’s total of performances in this country to three, including the New Zealand premiere in 1989, played by Michael Vidulich in Auckland. This second performance by Donald Maurice was, I thought, more confidently and securely voiced than the first, undoubtedly the fruit of the player having brought the work up to performance pitch a second time in a short while, and living with the music close at hand in the interim. I’m sure my own increased familiarity with the music also contributed to the sense I felt of the work being given a deeper, richer aspect this time round, as was my own appreciation of what the composer was able to achieve writing for what must have been for him a relatively unfamiliar instrument. It must have been one he thought well of, enough to write within a few years a second piece featuring the viola, this time in duet with a baritone voice, the Three Songs of 1958.

As noted with the earlier performance, the first movement’s poco lento allowed the instrument’s magnificently rich and uniquely melancholy tones full opportunity to sing –  Lilburn’s blend of folk-lyricism and austerity reminded me this time round of some of Holst’s writing in works like his Lyric Movement for strings and solo viola. In contrast, the following movement’s “Quick” evoked the dance, with lovely reminiscences of the Scherzo of the composer’s Second Symphony, and spiky double-stopped seconds flavouring the melodic line, with a quirkily-slurred pizzicato note to finish the piece. I thought the succeeding piece “Lightly” enigmatic and ambivalent on first hearing, this time registering the music’s insistence and scarcely repressed nervous energy, perhaps denoting some anxiety on the composer’s part at the time of writing – though the piece seems to gradually ritualise its insistence with dance-like measures that finish on a more lyrical, even sombre note (all beautifully and vividly characterised by the player, I thought).

The fourth movement became, of course, the work’s prodigal son, revealing itself only in the performance by the dedicatee Jean McCartney’s grandson, James Munro, in Australia, in 2002. Regardless of whether the composer completed the serialist tone-row sequence he’d set out to do, the music has “other lives” involving effects created by a recitative-like tone punctuated by expressive trills and irruptions of rhythmic patterning. The intervals of the tone-row themselves expressed an interesting “adventure-sequence”, coincidentally in line with the idea of a work rediscovered after being lost in an ambient wilderness. The finale’s flowing ritual was nicely brought out at the beginning, Donald Maurice tightening up the textures and patternings of the music splendidly as the movement progressed, even if the occasional quicker figuration showed some intonation edginess at the tops of the phrases. My impression, after the music had finished, was of a journey well worth making, and with the opportunity to hear the work repeated in such a short space of time nothing short of a godsend.

More analytical minds than mine might well have been able to establish connections between the two works scheduled for this concert, with the Lilburn work followed by Cesar Franck’s full-blooded, overtly passionate Violin Sonata, played by Rupa Maitra, with Ching-Fen Lee on the piano. All I could think of was “vive la difference” as I listened to this gorgeous work unfold at the hands of two very skilful and committed musicians. The work’s opening phrases were beautifully floated, the violinist, though smallish-toned, demonstrating just enough variation to lead our ears onwards; while the pianist kept the music’s poise and gravity to the fore, not letting the feeling spill over at too early a stage. As well, occasional touches of portamento gave Rupa Maitra’s playing a slightly old-worldly air, in keeping with the late-romantic atmosphere the players were generating so well – both the culminating phrase of the “big theme” and the last ascent to the top note at the movement’s end were delivered with just the right amount of weight to realise the pent-up emotion of the music, which of course, surged and overflowed throughout the following allegro. Both musicians dug into the music splendidly, even if the violinist’s intonation occasionally went awry under pressure. The central declamations from both musicians were passionate and involved, and the coda was nicely prepared for, very “charged” at the start, and then excitingly negotiated.

The slow movement’s opening has an almost Shakespearean quality of utterance, both musicians catching the improvisatory and volatile air of the dialogue, and heightening the exchanges with well-timed breath-catchings of great stillness. They also beautifully coloured the finale’s second subject precursor, which stole in for its first appearance, before giving way to the great falling-interval theme that dominates the second half of this movement, here played juicily and whole-heartedly by Rupa Maitra, and supported with rich, spacious tones from pianist Ching-Fen Lee. The finale began sweetly, the canonic theme light and supple at first and gathering weight, with both violinist and pianist suitably trenchant when required, Rupa Maitra surviving an off-colour falling-theme episode which steadfastedly refused to find the note (her previous announcement of the same theme, a few phrases earlier, had been nicely in-tune, such are the anomalies of performance). But recovery was assured and easeful, as the opening theme returned and built gradually towards the “swinging” coda, thrills and spills adding to the excitement of reaching that final unison A – an enjoyable, and at times, stirring performance.

Viola and piano in innovative, delightful recital

Victoria Jaenecke (viola) and Mary Ayre (piano)

Ravel: Kaddisch from Two Hebrew melodies; Weber: Andante e rondo ungarese; Hindemith: Duo Sonata, Op 11 No 4 ‘Fantasie’; Kodaly: Adagio

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 14 July midday

I’ve been familiar with the name Jaenecke for many years, first, I suppose, at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson, where Victoria lived before moving to Wellington. Her performances in the festival always seemed to put her in the forefront of indigenous Nelson players; most musicians at the festival, naturally, are from elsewhere.

This was a most attractive opportunity to hear her in a duo setting, in music that is less familiar mainly because most of it was written for viola. I entered just after they began playing and before looking at a programme; I couldn’t guess the composer.

The viola’s wonderful, warm sonority in the Kaddisch captured the common aural image of Hebrew music, rather like the music of Ravel’s contemporary, Bloch whose Schelomo has long been engraved in my head. It was a gorgeous performance from both viola and Mary Ayre at the piano.

Weber’s piece was originally written for bassoon and orchestra and exists in various arrangements; viola and piano certainly suit its character. Though I am a cellist, the viola has always seemed to me the perfect voice – a mezzo voice, the quintessential voice – among all the string family: I don’t need the violin’s brilliance and high register most of the time, and not all cellists produce really beautiful sounds at the bottom. So it’s the viola that I wish composers had lavished their time on.

In the second movement, the Gypsy rondo, Jaenecke brought energy and bite and an element of peasant daring.

The viola was Hindemith’s instrument, and while there are moments of his characteristic acerbity in this sonata, there is lyricism and tunefulness as well. One always seeks similarities to other composers and it was Prokofiev who came to mind, with his comparable brusqueness and occasional strong melody, though the latter is more elusive with Hindemith.

It was in this piece, not easy to bring off, that the pianist’s contribution became distinctive and impressive and together they held the attention; the piece became much more than a series of geometric gestures and cool motifs, but a living creature in which its ‘fantasie’ character could blossom.

I did not know the final piece, by Kodaly, either. It too captured the viola’s human and elegiac spirit through rhapsodic passages; it had no pretensions, and expressed itself with perfect sensibility and then petered out.

It was a typical and delightful example of the kind of slightly unusual recital that is the ideal for a free concert in an inner-city church: excellent music beautifully played.

The free lunchtime concert on Wednesday 21 July is by the Seraphim Choir of Chilton St James School, choir with a reputation for excellent musicianship


Winter @ Wesley another lunchtime series

The Crofton Flute Ensemble

Arthur Sullivan: Arrangement of music from the Savoy Operas; Poulenc: Suite Française (four movements from the Suite); Robison: André’s New Shoes; Daquin: Le Coucou; Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride

Wesley Methodist Church, Taranaki Street

Wednesday 14 July, 12.30pm

The ensemble is made up of seven players, and features flutes from piccolo in the high treble to bass flutes, which most of us seldom see. 

Poulenc’s series of French dances, arranged for the flutes by Brian James, leader of the ensemble, was full of lovely slithering harmonies, and ended with delightfully discordant quirky cadences.

Popular flutist Paula Robison’s André’s New Shoes was a pleasant little piece, in this case incorporating a baritone saxophone as substitute for a double bass (the group’s bass player having gone overseas), but this didn’t really work: it was too dominating.

Louis Daquin’s well-known piano piece Le Coucou went extremely well on flutes: 2 bass, 2 alto, 2 ‘standard’ flutes and 1 piccolo, as did Leroy Anderson’s well-known Sleigh Ride. The very skilled arrangements were by Brian James.

As an finale, the ensemble played a jolly, rhythmic Japanese piece about the adventures of some octopus dumplings, the piece being a theme from a Japanese children’s television programme.

Despite some intonation wobbles, this was a creditable concert by an unusual but competent amateur ensemble.

The series of concerts continues at 12.30pm on the next two Wednesdays: 21 and 28 July.  As part of Winter @ Wesley, there is an art exhibition (mainly painting and photography) in the foyers connecting the church with the hall.