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.

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