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


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