Bowing and blowing – Orchestral Concert from NZSM Orchestra

NZSM Orchestra Series – Concert Five

Strings, Winds and Brass

MOZART – Divertimento for Strings in D Major / JS BACH (arr. REED) – My Heart is Filled with Longing / REED – First Suite for Wind Band

ROSSINI (arr.BRITTEN) – Soirées Musicales / TCHAIKOVSKY – Serenade for Strings in C Major

New Zealand School of Music Orchestra

Conductors: Martin Riseley (Mozart, Tchaikovsky)

Kenneth Young (JS Bach, Reed, Rossini arr.Britten)

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Tuesday 17th August 2010

A lovely concert – framed by two adorable works for string orchestra, with centres spliced by plenty of tangy wind-band textures. One of those tangy centres was a work I had not heard for some years, Britten’s Soirées Musicales (orchestrations of Rossini’s music), and never as a work for winds only, as here (the arrangement made by the composer). Another work, the Tchaikovsky Serenade, I had never actually heard live in concert (hard to believe, really, especially considering how well I know it!). So, there was plenty of interest there for me, and, I would have thought, for others, though, alas, not so!  It’s true that Tuesday evening tends not to be a popular concert-going night; but Wellingtonians were more-than-usually conspicuous by their absence from St.Andrew’s Church, which would have been disappointing for the concert’s organisers. I can only repeat Henry V’s words from Shakespeare, by way of admonishing people for their non-attendance at such an attractive-sounding and enjoyably musical affair – “And gentlemen of England now a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here” (pace Shakespeare, I would amend the admonition to include BOTH sexes, together or separately!).

Martin Riseley, in the relatively unfamiliar role of conductor (at any rate for Wellington audiences), directed the School of Music’s strings in a performance of one of Mozart’s utterly delightful Divertimenti of 1772. written during the composer’s Salzburg years. One would never know from the music that the composer was under the baleful jurisdiction of the autocratic Archbishop Colloredo, who had very little regard for musicians and their works. This particular work, in the sunny key of D major, simply bubbles with infectious energy and gaiety in its outer movements, framing an Italienate operatic-like slow movement featuring one of the composer’s loveliest tunes. Altogether it’s an attractive, if deceptively fluent-sounding work, the opening of which the NZSM string students addressed with bright, rich tones and fluent dynamic shadings. Some of the quicker articulations were a bit blurred, though the music’s inner voicings remained nicely discernable, even if the occasional worried looks on some of the players’ faces while addressing Mozart’s running figurations betrayed the ensemble’s intermittent unease. Generally, the Andante’s slower music brought forth a more sonorous, true-toned response, a lovely violin ascent in thirds characterising the generally sensitive playing throughout. The feathery touch at the beginning of the finale was also beautifully brushed in, and the more brilliant running passages that followed were splendid. The first-time-round six-note ascents in thirds were a shade untidy, the ensemble making a much neater job of the same passage later in the movement, and rounding the exhilarations of the music off with some sharp chording at the end.

Strings made way for winds, including brass and percussion, for the next bracket of items, along with a change of conductor, Kenneth Young for Martin Riseley. Two of the pieces were arranged or written by Alfred Reed, a name new to me, but well-known in the United States for his composing activities, primarily for wind ensembles. Reed’s arrangement of JS Bach’s Organ Prelude BWV 727 “Herzlich tut mich Verlangen” (My Heart is filled with Longing) for wind band brought out a beautiful liquid-toned sound, with enough of a plaintive edge to the tone to give it a most attractive plangency, a very clarinet/saxophone-coloured sound throughout the first refrain. An added array of flutes gave the tune a light, frothy descant the second time through, one or two stumbles of little matter; while the timpani and brass which subsequently joined in sounded amazing! – almost too much so, in those confined St.Andrew’s spaces, which, however, after the deluge of sounds had quietened, imparted a glowing ambience to the hushed postlude.  Reed’s First Suite for Wind Band followed, the four movements vividly played and characterised by the ensemble – the opening march had real bite, everything skirling and stirring, with saxophones adding jazzy impulses, while by contrast the following Melody movement relied on colour and atmosphere to set off the various lyrical solo instrumental lines, with beautiful contributions from horn, oboe and euphonium. Both the Rag and the Gallop were tremendous fun, with some droll percussion touches in the former’s trio section, and Young encouraging his players to abandon caution and go for it in the crackling finale, the building’s spaces rattling and resonating with the riotous sounds.

But for me the real delight from the wind band’s contribution to the concert was Britten’s Soirées Musicales, Kenneth Young communicating to and bringing out a real sense of enjoyment of the music from his players – to begin with, a snappy, cheeky March, with nicely articulated solos, spiced by delightful contributions from piccolo and xylophone, among others. Then came a sweetly-sung Canzonetta, a pastorale with a “yodelling” figure reminiscent of Walton’s”Facade”, with the trumpet adding to the gorgeously sentimental flavour, one which the subsequent “Tirolese” number sought to cheer up with hearty beer-hall oom-pahs, gurgling chuckles and irruptions of semi-intoxicated “frohlichkeit”, impulses that one expects would come naturally to most music students worth their salt. The half-ghostly Bolero, with its opening Schumannesque figures wove a sultry spell, its sinuous exotic strains beautifully ritualised by deftly-applied touches from the percussion; while the concluding Tarantella whirled vertiginously and deliriously – perhaps a trifle too fast for the dance-triplets to properly “tell”? But overall, there were transports of delight for this listener, and reactions along those lines at the piece’s end from others present as well.

Finally, strings again for the Tchaikovsky Serenade; which began with a lovely, rich and full-blooded opening chord from the players, conductor Martin Riseley encouraging a string sound with plenty of body, which eminently suited the work. The allegro wasn’t pushed, giving the music plenty of room to point and phrase, the ‘cello’s articulations particularly eloquent. I thought the playing had an attractive out-of-doors feel to it, the players  “tightening up”, and losing their tone and ensemble only when a degree of anxiety pushed the tempo along a bit too much. The second-movement Waltz sounded gorgeous at the beginning, the music nicely maintaining its poise until those repeated Italienate ascents in thirds were reached, when the ensemble became unstuck – however, the ‘cellos and violas sounded rich and full in their repeat of the big tune shortly afterwards. The beautiful Elegy featured songful violin lines over pizzicati accompaniment, a touch of strain from all departments during the violin’s descant over the lower strings, but a sonorous coming-together for the big tune afterwards, the pleasure disturbed only by a slight scrappiness at the tops of phrases in the movement’s coda. That out-of-doors ambience returned for the finale’s introduction, even if the atmosphere of expectation was slightly sabotaged by players and conductor having to turn over a page of score just before the beginning of the allegro (grins all round from both musicians and listeners). The players generated plenty of energy, their finish a bit raw in places, but perhaps appropriately “pesante” – again, the lower strings shone with the beautiful second subject, encouraging matching fervent tones from the violins. The coda caught the sense of festive closure exactly – Martin Riseley would surely have been pleased with his players’ warmth and energy in realising such an enjoyable performance of the work.

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