Israeli cellist with a short programme in the Hunter Council Chamber

Inbal Megiddo – cello and Diedre Irons – piano


Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, Op 40;  Brahms’s Piano Trio No 1 in B Major, Op 8 – first movement, with Martin Riseley (violin); Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Op 73; Popper: Hungarian Rhapsody


Hunter Council Chamber, Victoria University


Wednesday 27 October, 7pm 


A century ago, perhaps, a player with the talent of Inbal Megiddo would have been a household name by now – she’s 33 and her early career was phenomenal. She was born in Israel and is now resident in the United States. Picking up on the example of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, her regular recital accompanist is Palestinian Saleem Abboud Ashkar.


After a prodigious rise to youthful eminence, however, her career has settled into something a little short of that of an international star; she appears to have played with none of the top symphony orchestras, and has recorded with none of the major labels. Yet she has played at the Lincoln Centre and at Carnegie Hall, New York, and in the Kennedy Center in Washington. She played recently with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and in recital at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin; with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, and with the Lithuanian Philharmonic Society. She has toured and recorded with The Yale Cellos and recorded with the Yale Philharmonia.


That famous orchestras do not feature on her CV is much more a commentary on the bewildering numbers of brilliantly gifted musicians competing in a frighteningly crowded profession, than on her musicianship.


For the evidence offered at this recital at Victoria University was of a mature cellist whose technical prowess, in Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody for example, is prodigious, and whose interpretive powers are guided by a profound feeling for the composers’ nature and intentions.


Shostakovich’s only cello sonata makes huge demands of both technical and intellectual resources, even though a relatively early piece; yet it seems not to be unified by a particularly coherent structure: the normal disparate character of the four movements are without the feeling that they are inevitably parts of a whole.


The performance, by both pianist and cellist, was full of dramatic variety, thrusting and energetic, agitated at the start and melodious later in the first movement; particularly arresting was the music’s rallentando and transformation into a sort of intermezzo before the second movement starts. Again, in this triple-time Allegro, the sense of unity between the instruments, supported by Diedre Irons’s astringent piano and the big robust sound of the cello with its ostinato motifs, was a hard-hitting experience. The Largo was the main opportunity to enjoy Megiddo’s rapturous, deeply expressive playing, particularly as the movement ended in beautiful calm, and she repeatedly sought out Diedre Irons’s eyes to ensure an ideal rapport.


One has always to regret the truncating of great music, and even if Brahms’s first piano trio, its first version written aged 20, is not one of his greatest works, the end of the first movement left us up in the air, waiting for the staccato, mephisto-dance of the Scherzo. But that wasn’t the main problem.


Martin Riseley, the head of string studies at the school of music, took the violin part; perhaps I was not sitting in an ideal position, but the balance of the three instruments was defective. Riseley’s sound was not the equal of either cello or piano, though when I made an effort to exclude the other instruments, his playing was unexceptionable, even if not as voluptuous as it is in my head.


My colleague Rosemary Collier recently lamented the frequency with which cellists put Schumann’s Fantasiestücke in their programmes. Though I have a special love of Schumann and also of the cello, I have to agree. There were dozens of pieces in her repertoire, to be seen on her website, that I’d have been delighted to hear. The duo made a nice job of the Schumann, but it was not a highlight.


David Popper is one of those composers known mainly to cellists, for that was the tool of his fame in the late 19th century. His Hungarian Rhapsody, drawn from several of Liszt’s eponymous pieces, was great fun as well as the predictable opportunity to demonstrate a lot of hair-raising pyrotechnics, brilliantly supported by the pianist whose task was hardly diminished as a result of the limelight being removed from her.

Wind and water in accomplished concert from the School of Music

Frank Martin: Ballade for flute and piano; Giovanni Bassano: Ricercata Quarta and Frais et Gaillard; Saint-Saens: Sonata for bassoon and piano; Ryo Noda: Improvisation 1 for solo alto saxophone; Telemann, arr. H. Roud: Fantasie for solo contrabassoon; John Steinmetz: Fish Phase for 2 contrabassoons and goldfish; Brahms: Scherzo from Trio in E flat, Op.140, for violin, horn and piano

Woodwind Soloists from the New Zealand School of Music

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 27 October 2010, 12.15pm

The players were accomplished performers, though whether the two (?) goldfish (complete with bowl and water) in the New Zealand premiere of Steinmetz’s work were moved by the music, we could not tell; they certainly could be seen moving. I’m not sure how often animals are involved in music-making (though in opera they sometimes are – many years ago I saw Bizet’s Carmen at the Paris Opera, and counted 13 different horses in the production – though not all on stage at once!). But I would be fairly certain that Steinmetz’s work was the first involving goldfish on stage.

Steinmetz, I gather from a brief Internet search, is an American bassoonist and composer who specialises in comic works; the work with goldfish is listed on his website as one of these.

However, the concert began in more serious vein, with a brilliant piece by Martin, played by Chloe Schnell, accompanied by Douglas Mews on piano. A clear spoken introduction preceded a work full of dynamic and mood changes, with many technical demands on both soloist and accompanist. It was executed very well, and set a very high standard.

Following that, we travelled back several centuries to hear two pieces for recorder, played by Brendan O’Donnell, with the versatile Mews now on the stool of the chamber organ, for the second; the first piece was unaccompanied. The spoken introduction stressed again that the students need to be taught to speak loudly and slowly enough to be heard in a large and resonant auditorium, and not to say ‘um’.

These were attractive pieces, superbly well played. Recorder and organ were in absolute accord in the second piece, and the playing was uniformly clean and articulated well.

Saint-Saens’ late sonata was performed by Kylie Nesbit, bassoon, with the ubiquitous and highly competent Douglas Mews, back at the piano. It was a delightful and charming work, tuneful and interesting, in Late Romantic style. A lilting accompaniment in the first movement (allegro moderato) contrasted with long melodic notes from the bassoon, at times reminiscent of the composer’s much earlier opera, Samson et Dalila.

Nesbit is a superb and experienced player, and like the composer, knew how to make the most of her instrument. The second movement, allegro scherzando, was very fast, with all notes articulated well – as was the performer’s clear (an sufficiently loud) spoken introduction. The final movement, molto adagio leading to allegro moderato, featured lovely variation of tone and dynamics.

What would Telemann have thought? A Fantasie for solo bassoon, originally written for the flute! I can’t say it improved in the transcribing – but what is there to play as a solo on the contrabassoon? Hayley Roud deserves marks for transcribing the piece.

The Fish Phase was performed by Hayley Roud and Oscar Laven, on two instruments constructed differently; Laven’s had a long extension on the top ending in a small horn, while Roud’s was more conventionally given an extra turn to make the greater length in more compact form. Unfortunately, the full spoken introduction was spoken too fast and too quietly for most of it to be heard. I gathered that there were alleged to be shades of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka in the piece, but I couldn’t really confirm that at this profundity of pitch. The piece was rather repetitive. Whether this reflected the behaviour of goldfish, I do not know.

The Brahms Scherzo took the concert considerably over the normal allotted time for these concerts. In this resonant acoustic, the horn was often too loud for the violin; the latter’s intonation was sometimes off-centre. However, the lyrical middle section of the movement was very well played.

A very varied programme displayed the considerable skills of NZSM students on a variety of instruments and from a huge range of composers.