NZSM showcase for viola and violin students

Bartók: Viola Concerto – movements II and III; Rebecca Clarke: Viola
Sonata – movements I and II; Glinka: Viola Sonata – first movement; Reger: Solo
Viola Suite No 3 in E minor – fourth movement; Khachaturian: Violin Concerto –
first movement

Gillian Ansell and Douglas Mews and students from the New Zealand School
of Music

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 6 October 12.15pm

There was a relatively large audience at this concert that featured two
violists and a violinist and they were rewarded both with some out-of-the-way
music and by hearing some talented players.

Though it was advertised as a concert of violists, it was, rather, a
showcase for three students of Gillian Ansell, violist in the New Zealand
String Quartet, at the New Zealand School of Music, one of whom, Karla Norton,
was a violinist. She, with the buoyant support of Douglas Mews at the piano,
made Khachaturian’s splendid violin concerto sound almost as if he’d written it
as a sonata for violin and piano: she played the brilliantly tuneful first
movement with accurate intonation, its phrases confidently shaped and polished.
Though a violinist, she is a pupil of Gillian Ansell’s; as a third year
student, her performance stood out as a little more accomplished than her two
violist colleagues who were in their second year.

The pieces
played by Leoni Wittchou and Megan Ward were, like so much of the viola
repertoire, unfamiliar. Leoni played two movements from Rebecca Clarke’s Viola
Sonata, a most rewarding piece by this British violist and composer, written in
1919. Though not tainted by serialism, it sounded absolutely of its age,
speaking in a voice that sounded authentic and individual. Leoni had absorbed
its idiom and managed to unravel its dense harmonies and rather complex
rhythmic character, conveying a confidence and assurance that was rather
impressive. After playing the first movement, Impetuoso, (it alone was
scheduled) she played the short allegro second movement, which was playful and

Megan Ward was the second violist: she chose the first movement of an
unfinished, early viola sonata by Glinka that bore hardly any of the Russian characteristics
for which he was later renowned. It had little to recommend it: sentimental in
tone, uncertain in the handling of its themes, like a struggling pupil of
someone like John Field. Megan made a sterling effort with it, but her playing
was marred by intonation flaws and the insecurities of a student at her stage
of development.

She followed the Glinka piece with the fourth movement of a solo viola
suite (No 3) by Max Reger, and she succeeded in creating from this Bach-like
piece, musical shapes that could easily have remained sterile strings of notes.

Behind all the performances, save the Reger, was the piano support from
Douglas Mews which provided interesting textures and sustained interest where
the viola might have sagged. Nowhere
was his part more arresting than in the first piece in the programme: the
second and third movements of Bartok’s Viola Concerto (in the completion by
Csaba Erdelyi). Here was the chance for the teacher, Gillian Ansell, to be
heard in a role not normally available to her. Viola and piano were in
wonderful accord: the piano providing almost all the harmonic interest that one
would expect of an orchestra, and the viola demonstrating a mastery of this
difficult work that one would expect only from a seasoned solo musician. It was
a simply splendid performance, making me wonder when an orchestra
might engage her to play the entire concerto.


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