The Tudor Consort opens season at the Carillon

Music from the Sistine Chapel

Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652): Missa ‘Che fa oggi il mio sole’
Felice Anerio (c.1560-1614): ‘Regina caeli laetare’; ‘Ave regina caelorum’ Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521): ‘Domine, non secundum peccata nostra’
Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553): Andreas Christi famulus
Palestrina (1525-1594): ‘Assumpta est Maria’

The Tudor Consort, conducted by Michael Stewart

National War Memorial

26 February 2011, 7pm

The National War Memorial is a venue that the Tudor Consort has used a number of times over its 25 years. This concert was a free one for 70 or so subscribers who attended, to open its 25th anniversary season.

While not quite the Sistine Chapel, this little chapel has a handsomely decorated interior, has superb acoustics for unaccompanied voices, yet is not too reverberant, and is an appropriate size for a small choir – though it has to be said that when in full flight, the Tudor Consort was a shade too loud at times. Some choir members wore (subtle) red with their black, in tribute to those who died and have suffered in the Christchurch earthquake. Michael Stewart announced that the choir would put on a benefit concert for earthquake fund soon.

Most of the items were sung with 14 voices, while one (the Josquin) used only eight. Michael Stewart’s short introductions to the items were informative without overloading us with information. The concert lasted approximately 75 minutes – a good length for this sort of music; longer, and the ear might have become wearied.

The Allegri Mass, like most of his extant music written for the Sistine Chapel Choir, of which he was a member, was broken up to be interspersed between the other items in the programme. The Credo was not sung.

Right from the opening Kyrie of the Mass, attack was excellent, phrases were beautifully shaped, and most of the parts were full-toned and wonderfully varied. In the early part of the program there was a rather metallic sound somewhere in the sopranos in the upper register.

The Gloria presented waves of lovely sound washing over us. The tonal and dynamic contrasts included a soft ‘you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us’: exquisite delicacy in contrast with the robust, muscular bass singing that followed. The texture was almost always well balanced.

Anerio was a priest-composer who wrote for the papal chapel. His ‘Regina caeli’ demonstrated a more complex style than that of Allegri. For these two items the choir moved to singing antiphonally, as two choirs facing each other on opposite sides. The music brought out some of the very rich voices in the choir, as it contrasted homophonic with polyphonic passages to give an extraordinary effect.

The Sanctus and Benedictus of the Allegri Mass revealed perfect tuning from the choir, and superb cadences.

Josquin, the Flemish composer, spent many years at the Sistine Chapel, and his music continued to be sung long after he died – not something that was common at the time. His piece performed by the choir was written for Ash Wednesday, and was appropriately pure and subdued. The choir was reduced to eight singers for this item.

‘Domine, non secundum peccata nostra’ opened with only the two altos and tenor, whose singing was very fine. This was remarkably smooth and restrained singing, yet there was plenty of sonority and volume when required.

The ‘Andreas Christi famulus’ of the prolific Spanish composer and member of the papal choir, Cristóbal de Morales, was full of lavish sounds, especially at the cadences. The audience luxuriated in the intertwining chords and contrapuntal lines flowing ever onward.

The Allegri Agnus Dei was exquisite; very dramatic, yet graceful and elegant.

Palestrina’s tenure as a choir member was short-lived; he was married, and a change of pope from Marcellus who appointed him in 1555 meant that the rules were more strictly applied, so he had to go. His hymn to Mary featured wonderful word-painting. It was much the most declamatory, confident and exuberant of the items. The confident music was matched by the confidence of the choir, who produced a full, extravert tone throughout, with florid, contrasted dynamics.

The building’s resonance had a curious effect: the pitch of the reverberation was always slightly sharper than the note just sung – only noticeable at the end of items – rather like the effect when a car, train or other vehicle sounding its horn passes one; the pitch after it has passed is higher.

It was a concert of uplifting music, sung with verve, energy and conviction. The choir reached a high level of achievement and professionalism.

Further to the review of Lewis’s Winterreise in Nelson: surtitles

My review of the recital at Nelson at which Keith Lewis and Michael Houstoun performed Schubert’s Winterreise had overlooked what I felt at the time to be a major innovation: the use of surtitles. I have now inserted the following paragraphs in my review of 9 February.

“First, I should note an innovation that sets an admirable precedent for voice recitals: the projection of surtitles. Occasional whines are still heard about them in the opera house though I have been a wholehearted supporter from their first appearance in the late 80s. If there are plausible objections to their use in opera, however, there can be none in the recital. The decision was made to not include the words or translations in the programme, to avoid the interrupting rustle of collective page turning and the dispiriting vision, for the artists, of audience heads down during the performance. In recital, eyes do not need to be constantly on the stage watching movements, gestures, expressions; nothing is lost by raising the eyes to read the words. And the surtitle screen was of ideal size, allowing easy reading of full translations in images that were very clear.

“At the end of the concert booklets containing full German and English texts were distributed. The whole process was handled with great care and thoughtfulness.”

NZSO Soloists wind players delight

R. Strauss: Serenade in E flat major, Op.7
Josef Bohuslav Forster: Quintet in D major, Op.95
Beethoven: Octet, Op.103
Franz Krommer: Partita in B flat major, Op.78
R. Strauss: Suite in B flat, Op.4

‘Wind Power’: NZSO wind soloists, with Gordon Hunt, oboe and conductor

Michael Fowler Centre. Saturday 19 February 2011, 8pm

It was delightful to hear unusual music from the wind ensemble made up of players from the wind sections of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.  Flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons (including contra-bassoon) and French horns all had their spot in the limelight.  To hear ensembles varying in size from five to thirteen players was also a novelty. This was quite a light programme, suitable for a warm summer evening.

Yet while this concert was not symphonic, it also was not chamber music in the ordinary sense.  Some of the music played was designed for performance outdoors, while some would be more suitably performed in a smaller venue than the Michael Fowler Centre.

The mixture of well-known and lesser-known composers was interesting, but it would have been more so if, instead of two works by Richard Strauss, there had been some other work from a different period.  Or we could have had an airing of some New Zealand composer’s music for small wind ensemble  Ken Wilson’s quintet, for example.  My colleague Peter Mechen discovered that there are 47 wind ensemble works by New Zealand composers.

Strauss’s Serenade features beautiful sonorities.  The opening is Mozartian, and there are many memorable melodies.   The work employed 13 players: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, one contra-bassoon and four horns.  It was conducted by Gordon Hunt.  Quite light in tone, the piece could have been the overture to an opera.

Forster was not a familiar name to me; his dates of 1859 to 1951 make him an almost exact contemporary of Strauss, but his music is quite dissimilar.  The four movements produced delightful timbres and interweaving parts.  The ensemble was excellent in this quintet  one player each of the instruments employed in the previous item, with the exception of the contrabassoon.

This was not profound music, but entertaining, and skilfully set to provide good balance and contrast between treble and bass instruments.  A sprightly opening allegro, an uncomplicated and folksy third movement scherzo and a jolly ending were features.

Beethoven came next  not his Septet, although only seven chairs and music stands were provided, making bassoonist David Angus feeling he was optional extra, when he had to hustle up the necessary furniture, so as to provide the Octet with its full complement: two oboes (one was Gordon Hunt in both this and the Krommer after the interval), two clarinets, 2 bassoons and two horns.

This was uncomplicated music written to accompany meals; in other words, tafelmusik (table music).  It was tuneful, cheerful and charming, and was performed superbly.  The third movement, minuet and trio, featured lovely pianissimos; one hopes the diners’ conversation and their wielding of cutlery were not too loud for them to appreciate them.

The presto Finale was fast and lively, and quite taxing on the instruments.  It would have been even more so on the wind instruments of Beethoven’s day.

Following the interval there was a surprise additional item.  Gordon Hunt played a solo oboe piece, written for him by British composer Andrew Jackman.  Google reveals little about this composer: he was born in 1946 and died in 2003, and featured mainly in the popular music scene.  This composition was highly entertaining, indeed amusing.  It was called ‘Circus’, and its three sections (played continuously) were Ringmaster, Elephants, Clowns and Acrobats, as Gordon Hunt explained prior to his performance.  The last section was the longest, and was marked by obvious ‘wrong’ notes  apparently the clowns would not learn to play their parts properly.

Hunt proved to be an immaculate and amazingly flexible musician on this instrument, not the easiest to play well.  He demonstrated the great range an expert player can coax from the instrument, and was able to communicate the humorous, piquant fun of the piece.  His breath control was, well, breath-taking.

Franz Krommer was a contemporary of Beethoven, and if the Partita was anything to go by, his music is well worth hearing.  It was scored for 9 players: two oboes, two clarinets, 2 bassoons and contra-bassoon, and two horns.  The work opened with a charming dance-like allegro. The third movement adagio was most attractive, with its melodies and harmonies, especially those for oboe. Here and elsewhere one was aware of the astonishing variety of tone that Gordon Hunt achieved on his oboe.

The presto Finale was notable for the clarinet writing.  It was lively, even bucolic.  However, by this stage I was beginning to tire somewhat of the sonorities and timbres of the wind instruments, and could have used some strings to provide contrast and subtlety.

The final item was a Suite by Richard Strauss, for 13 players; the same configuration as in the first Strauss work.  It was conducted by Gordon Hunt.  I did not find this as attractive a work as the opening Serenade.  It was certainly more complex and intricate than that piece, and more of a concert work.  Horns were prominent, but all the instruments’ tonalities were splendidly exploited.

After quite a lengthy Praeludium, the second movement was a gorgeous Romanze, with many dynamic changes.   As happened a few times elsewhere in the concert, initial entries were not always absolutely together.  However, it would be difficult to find any other failing in the playing of this or any other of the works.

The fourth movement was dense and not, for the most part, melodic.  Perhaps its exuberant mood made up for this.
The worst thing about the concert was the small size of the audience.  Do people not like chamber music or wind music?  Was the programme too unfamiliar?  Perhaps a Mozart Serenade or some other more familiar work might have attracted more people.  Though the NZSO has ceased providing senior rush tickets, there are concessions for Gold Card holders, and also for those aged 30 and under, so one hopes that many more people will be attracted to the rest of the year’s concerts.

Though not large, the audience greeted the music enthusiastically.

Joanna Heslop re-establishes in Wellington with a Schumann recital

Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 39; Frauenliebe und Leben

Joanna Heslop, soprano; Sarolta Boros Gyeve, piano

National Portrait Gallery; 16 February, 2011, 6pm

It was a delight to hear Joanna Heslop again, with her Serbian-born accompanist. Schumann’s exquisite songs were in safe hands with these two accomplished women.

Heslop’s German pronunciation and faultless diction conveyed the songs so clearly. Her variety of tone and timbre to suit the nature of each individual song, demonstrated the value of the time she has spent studying in St. Petersburg and elsewhere, and her accompanist matched her at every point with playing of clarity, accuracy, and sympathy. Never was she too loud, too soft, or at any place other than exactly where the singer was.

The varying moods of the words were always portrayed superbly – though it would have been good to have had all the words in the (undated) printed programme, instead of just the titles and the first lines (in English). However, that would have added cost to what was quite a short recital.

We need more recitals of this sort, and a sizeable audience proved that point, as indeed does the number of discs of songs that come up on Radio NZ Concert’s ‘Top of the Charts programme.

I’m sure we will hear more of Joanna, and from our point of view, it is great that she is back in Wellington. Her voice is attractive, well-produced and used intelligently. Perhaps it is not a distinguished voice, or one with outstanding characteristics, but it is thoroughly pleasant to listen to, and was ideal for this repertoire in a relatively small venue.

Winterreise at Waikanae

SCHUBERT – Winterreise D.911

Keith Lewis (tenor)

Michael Houstoun (piano)

Waikanae Music Society

Memorial Hall,

Sunday 13th February 2011

The last five songs of this performance in Waikanae by Keith Lewis and Michael Houstoun of Schubert’s song-cycle Winterreise brought us right to the heart of this great work – that numbed, essential bleakness of spirit was tellingly conveyed by both singer and pianist, not with histrionics or gloom-laden darknesses of tone, but with a kind of other-worldliness symbolized by the traveller’s “passing-over” into the realm of the ghostly organ-grinder, a state of being completely removed from “this worlde’s joye”.

Such was the focus and concentration of singer and pianist that the performance even transcended intrusive rumblings from a nearby train, noises whose elongations did their best to spoil Im Dorfe (In the Village), shortly after the interval. But by the time Der Wegweiser (The Signpost) was reached, we listeners in the hall had ourselves gone into those “grey havens” where earthly considerations seemed no longer to matter. Lewis and Houstoun caught this particular song’s almost pre-ordained fatalism, every utterance and every note suggesting the individual’s progression from that bitterness of heart to a numbed resignation in the face of what must be.

From the start this wasn’t a reading of the cycle that sought to plumb the depths or wring out the emotions too early – Houstoun’s chordal introduction to the opening Gute Nacht (Good Night) moved at an easy, almost brisk pace, and Lewis’s singing, if strongly-declaimed in places, kept feelings on an even keel, though with sufficient tender contrast at the major-key change for the last verse’s opening, to make the moment of farewell sufficiently heart-rending.

For all that the emotions were never over-wrought in this performance, the cumulative effect of such an approach had a magical effect upon irruptions of light among the prevailing gloom, such as the sweet remembrances of happiness prompted by Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree). Houstoun’s introduction to the song rippled, but the echoes had little resonant warmth, in keeping with the simple, ballad-like treatment of the first verse – however, the interplay between singer and pianist throughout Verse Two, with its minor-key modulations and care-worn accompanying figurations, was most affecting, as was the recalling at the end by the singer of the leaves’ rustling, with the words “Du fändest Ruhe dort” (There you would find rest).

The following song, Wasserflut (Torrent), though in places underlining the singer’s unsteadiness on sustained notes, featured an even more heartfelt and theatrical realization, Houstoun capturing the “tolling bell” aspect to perfection, and Lewis coloring his voice exquisitely in places, nowhere more beautifully than when addressing the snow, at “Schnee, du weisst von meinem Sehnen” (Snow, you know my longing), then rising to a passionate declamation with the final “Da ist meiner Liebster Haus” (There will be my beloved’s house).

Though there were too many other instances in this performance of these kinds of interpretative insights to do justice to, here, what delighted me were the unexpected moments of frisson – such as in the deceptively straightforward-sounding Die Post, which usually trips along almost vacuously, as if the composer felt the need to lighten the prevailing gloom of the journey at this point. Lewis and Houstoun, by dint of their awareness of possibilities for contrasts of colour and rhythmic impulse, made the “scene” into a miniature tone-poem, setting the traveller’s immediate exhilaration of encountering the sound of the posthorn against a more ruminative and inward world of past remembrance, beautifully pointed for maximum effect. And if the transcendent nature of the music over the last five songs cast, as here, a mesmeric spell over both musical and metaphorical elements, there were sufficient  moments of breath-catching beauty and arresting power throughout for the performance to constantly lead the ear of the listener onwards, giving a palpable sense of Schubert’s and his poet Müller’s visionary journey.

All credit to the Waikanae Music Society for organizing such a splendid concert. A well-appointed printed programme, including texts and translations of the songs, added to our pleasure, even if it meant that the “rustle of page-turning” in places was more than palpable – though sensibly, none of the texts were printed in a way that caused a mid-music irruption – such things, albeit very briefly, were left to the Railways!

Climactic finale to a splendid festival

Adam Chamber Music Festival: Grand Finale


New Zealand String Quartet, Alexander Zemstov (viola) and Leonid Gorokhov (cello) of the Hermitage String Trio, Hiroshi Ikematsu (double bass), James Campbell (clarinet), Edward Allen (horn), Robert Weeks (bassoon)


Beethoven: Duet in E flat (‘Eyeglass’), WoO 32; Vieuxtemps: Capriccio in C minor for solo viola; Weber: Clarinet Quintet in B flat, Op 44; Schubert: Octet in E, D 803


Nelson Cathedral, Saturday 12 February 7.30pm


The last concert in this compressed festival brought most of the players in the two string ensembles together plus other prominent soloists. It was an odd-looking programme, but anything goes at a farewell party, and this certainly did that.


The Beethoven duet was an unpublished piece, unfinished, in only two movements, but a highly entertaining one. The players were from the Hermitage Trio who may well have made it something of a trademark, such was their conspicuous flair with it. Written for a patron, an amateur cellist, with whom Beethoven (a violist) had a particularly jocular relationship; presumably for them to play together. So it is a delightful piece, playful, witty and rather lovely in its melodies and the spirit of friendship which is not hard to discern. Needless to say, the performance was brilliant, witty as far as music can be witty, and immaculate.


Gillian Ansell got a solo slot in the last concert, playing a rarity by great Belgian violinist Vieuxtemps. Tuneful and quite challenging, it offered a good opportunity to hear the fine violist of the New Zealand String Quartet on her own; she proved a most worthy candidate for such exposure.


James Campbell also had another chance to play. As chamber music Weber’s clarinet quintet hardly meets some of the tests, for it is a rather shameless show-piece for the instrument and the four strings (the NZSQ) merely accompany as if in a very routine classical period concerto. Campbell made the most of its beauties and its brilliant writing however to produce an extremely entertaining performance.


Finally, the piece for which all this had really been merely a curtain raiser: Schubert’s Octet. It’s one of those pieces the needs an unusual variety of musicians: a string quartet, a double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn. This time it was an entirely New Zealand affair apart from the clarinet, never mind that almost all the others were foreign-born New Zealanders.


And so it proved an extremely lively, immaculate performance, a first movement setting out confidently with an air of high expectancy, as if on a big journey. There was something about the spirit of the playing that seemed to announce the size and range of this unique masterpiece right from the start, which would have made it hard to imagine its stopping for example at the end of the fourth movement, which would not be improbable given its extensive theme and variations form. The soul of the piece might well be the Adagio second movement which expressed a marvelous relaxation, fielded a blend of strings and wind instruments that was rapturous in the rich and voluptuous blend. That fourth movement offered lovely opportunities for all the players, exceeding expectations of mere perfection, in ever-changing combinations and solo episodes through the way Schubert uses the variations pattern. The last movement began with foreboding tremolos and steady-paced mystical passages before upping the tempo for the coda that seemed unable to bring itself to an end. Few in the audience would have been hoping for that for it also meant the end of the festival; there was a long, rowdy ovation for this performance and for the festival as a whole. 


It had been a festival made more full-on for the audiences who in a few days could have heard more music than previously, but imposed greater demands, with less leisure time, on the players. I hope the effect of that does not discourage visiting musicians in the future from what has become quite famous as a time of bacchanalian relaxation as well as companionable music making. 


It had been a wonderful festival. 

Last day at Nelson. Bickerton with kids and Riseley with Paganini

Adam Chamber Music Festival. Saturday Music at Nelson. Bob Bickerton with Kid’s Concert; Riseley plays Paganini Caprices

Nelson School of Music and St John’s church


Saturday 12 February 10am and 1pm


Bob Bickerton is a multi-talented musician, a composer as well as a versatile, gifted performer on many instruments, he has been heavily involved in bringing music to children and young people over the past couple of decades. I went along to see him in action on Saturday morning. He and his boxes of instruments were on the stage while his audience was on the tiers of seats behind the stage.  


Naturally, he has an engaging personality, likely to catch and hold children’s attention. And he did – most of the time; though in spite of what I thought were entertaining anecdotes and observations, quite a few of the children were inattentive. Might one suppose that the floods of highly coloured, endlessly energetic, violent, visually exciting stuff on television and DVDs has so inured them to ordinary people telling them things without high-speed histrionics, that it fails to engage them.


Bickerton began by demonstrating how blown instruments produce their sounds, starting with a milk bottle and progressing to pipes and flutes and reeds; then the effects of causing taut strings to vibrate when plucked or stroked with horse hair. Then he played examples of music from various countires, on various instruments, with humour and considerable skill.  


I would be surprised if a higher proportion of children than of adults become really engrossed by music. Nevertheless, I’m sure that in

the climate in which most children find themselves today, it is easier for most to escape any real exposure to ‘good’ music than ever before. As with many things, most significantly languages and poetry, unless minds and memories are furnished with music by adolescence, it might escape them altogether.


Paganini Caprices Op 1
Martin Riseley played the entire 24 of Paganini’s Caprices at 1pm. Always a formidable task, this was a very considerable feat. He had decided to take his time with them by pausing for applause after each and by talking briefly about each beforehand, and he took short breaks after each six. This probably added fifteen or twenty minutes to the recital. There were a few departures after the halfway mark.


It is easy to hear them as mere displays of bravura and party tricks. But in reality the tricks are modest and limited in comparison to the hair-raising stunts that became common later in the 19th century. It’s not profound and soul-searing music such as might be found in the Bach solo sonatas and partitas, but I believe that if you listen open-eared without letting comparisons with his contemporaries like Beethoven or Weber, Schubert or Rossini distract you, there is musical substance and an inventive musical mind that has created interesting and enjoyable music. Some do seem somewhat empty, but far more seem to have considerable merit, such as numbers 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 18 and 24 of course.


His performances were not flawless, but it was an enjoyable if unnecessarily long recital of one of the more uncommon chefs d’oeuvres in the violin literature.


Fun, virtuosity and the hugely popular Vivaldi at Nelson

Adam Chamber Music festival. Four Seasons

Boccherini: String Quintet in C; Rossini: Duo for cello and bass; Paganini: Introduction and Variations on ‘Nel cor piu non mi sento’ from La Molinara by Paisiello; Motoharu Kawashima: Paganigani (1999); Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagione), Op 8, Nos 1-4

Nelson Cathedral, Friday 11 February, 7.30pm

The penultimate evening concert from this splendid festival moved into the large territory of very popular, and very funny, and very extraordinary music. It was a brilliant success.

There was a surprise at the beginning. The artistic directors had realised that the Boccherini quintet that was played at the opening gala dinner and concert should be heard by more than those who were there (I was one of those not there), and perhaps heard again by the latter.

Boccherini is a composer whose music depends somewhat on the spirit and skill of the performers to reveal its real worth. There is huge scope for musicians of that calibre and who care to explore, for the Yves Gérard catalogue of Boccherini’s music lists some 140 string quintets and almost 100 string quartets, masses of other chamber music, some 10 cello concertos and 30 symphonies and so on to over 600 works. There are probably a couple of dozen quintets in C major.

Though I haven’t been able to identify it in the catalogue, the one they played is distinctive because its last movement was used by Jean Françaix in his ballet based on Boccherini’s music, Scuola di ballo of 1933; its Allegro con moto is indeed a rhythmically striking piece. The ballet suite used to frequent the Dinner Music programme on 2YC, the predecessor of Radio New Zealand Concert and I was happy to discover there was more to Boccherini than the Minuet.

The quintet was played by the musicians of the Hermitage String Trio plus Helene Pohl and Rolf Gjelsten, in the additional violin and cello parts, and the opulent tone they all produced and the careful handling of its subdued and charming accents awakened the audience to this composer’s importance.

Rossini’s Duo for cello and bass was introduced by Hiroshi Ikematsu, principal bass player of the NZSO, in a mixture of fact and facetiousness. The latter was the right manner for it proved one of Rossini’s incomparable masterpieces in the field of almost impossibly difficult as well as comic creations. Ikematsu ended by adding that it was worth noting that it was written for an amateur cellist but a professional bass player, grinning superciliously at Rolf Gjelsten. Along with the music itself, there was a stand-up comic routine comprising alarming difficulties, riotous musical juxtapositions and absurd virtuosity. I doubt that the piece has ever had such an exponent as this; and Gjelsten wasn’t too bad either..

Ikematsu was back on his own later with a piece by a Japanese colleague (Motoharu Kawashima), bearing the name Paganigani, which when translated phonically into Japanese ideographs contains the word ‘crab’. It combined a great deal of game playing with a gloved hand that I eventually understood to be the crab, that caused him a good deal of trouble, interfering with his attempts to play what he confessed was impossibly difficult music. He said he’d spent hundreds of hours on it, but it had all been a waste of time.

In somewhat the same class was an almost as extraordinary piece by the real Paganini, based on an aria from an opera of Paisiello, played by Martin Riseley. It contained every trick the book, at least up to his time, and the performance was highly accomplished, delivered with apparent ease, though the price one pays for such speed and dexterty is often some loss of tonal richness.

The crowd was there for The Four Seasons however, and I saw no glum faces at the end. It was a nice idea to have Danny Mulheron’s recorded voice reading the little poems with which Vivaldi had prefaced each concerto. Most of the players from the two string ensembles formed the ripieno group, one to a part, and the soloists formed part of it when they were not playing the solo.

Helene Pohl played Spring with shining tone, great brilliance, and the entire sound was so fine that one was delighted that Radio New Zealand Concert had managed to find funds from their ever-tightening budget to record this and the most important concerts in the festival. After the boisterous applause, she smiled as broadly as any in the audience. Douglas Beilman took the next concerto, Summer, which features the famous summer storm. He produces a much more velvety tone from his vintage violin and it generated a splendid dark colour for the hail and destruction of the crops.

From the Autumn concerto Rolf Gjelsten took over the cello part from Leonid Gorokhov while the soloist here was Martin Riseley, delivering the peasant style harvest jollity with tugging down-bows and strong rhythms. Finally, Hermitage Trio violinist Denis Goldfeld was the soloist in Winter, which gave him the privilege of playing the beautiful second movement. He used short chilling strokes with shivering irregular rhythms, enhanced by playing sul ponticello – close to the bridge – at one point.

There was a great outburst of applause at the end with many on their feet.

Rare and beautiful trio explores its repertoire for Nelson’s festival


Adam Chamber Music Festival. Fairytales: Schumann: Märchenerzählungen, Op 132; Brahms: Intermezzi, Op 117; Bruch: Eight Pieces, Op 83, Nos 5, 2, 6, 7.


James Campbell (clarinet), Gillian Ansell (viola), Martin Roscoe (piano)


Nelson School of Music, Friday 11 February 1pm


The festival’s artistic directors, no doubt always in close rapport with the artists concerned, have had an unerring ability to fit the music together in contexts that were coherent but also fitted the time of day and the venue.


That has been so true of the midday concerts in the charming church of St John.


Schumann’s Fairy Tales were among the last pieces he wrote before his mind collapsed, and it is possible to suggest that the quality of melodic inspiration has declined. But the spirit of whimsy and playfulness remained, clearly enough here. Nevertheless it is true that the weaker the music, the more dependent it is on loving and inspiring performance. The four pieces here, melodically not very memorable, came to life with these players who could invest them with such affecting charm and colour.


Though nothing much came to mind when I tried to conjure up images or fairy tales to accompany the pieces, no visual support was really needed to accompany this delicate music.


Martin Roscoe then played comparable, though one must admit, much more inspired and imaginative music – Brahms’s Three Intermezzi of Op 117. They were the kind of performance that one imagines might reside in a Platonic heaven of Ideals: absolutely immaculate, richly expressive in their nostalgia or gaiety, full of life, so natural and simply beautiful in pace, articulation and dynamics.


Then there were four of Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces for this trio of instruments, his Op 83 – the combination that exists because Mozart wrote the only truly great music for it in the Kegelstatt Trio, K 498. One or two groups have lighted upon these Bruch pieces recently, but none had convinced me of their charm and sheer musical worth as much as this performance has. The tunes were clear and memorable and the balance and ensemble of the trio brought them to life in the most beguiling way, with some quite beautiful clarinet playing. Hearing such attractive pieces always induces me to explore more of the neglected Bruch, but one is usually a little bit disappointed; I shall keep exploring.  


This was the last performance by Martin Roscoe in the Festival; other concert promoters could do worse than invite him back soon.



Messiaen masterpiece a centre-piece of Nelson’s festival

Adam Chamber Music Festival: Messian’s Quartet for the End of Time


Martin Roscoe (piano), James Campbell (clarinet), Helene Pohl (violin) and Rolf Gjelsten (cello)


Nelson School of Music, Thursday 10 February, 7.30pm


Major concerts in the evening slot continued through the week. This one drew on the ?fortuitous? presence of both a top-rank pianist and clarinettist to give us Messiaen’s great Quartet.


Some felt the programme was a little long, starting with Brahms first piano trio, a glorious, youthful (he was 20) work full of melody, optimism and enormous promise. It and the Messiaen would have made for a long enough concert, but three fairly short New Zealand works were added. I heard a few small complaints, but surely in a festival, time is not of the essence, and most of us are keen enough on music to welcome more than we might on a cold winter’s night in Wellington. .


A better line-up of musicians for the Brahms trio would be hard to find, certainly in New Zealand at the moment. First, it confirmed what superb chamber musicians all three were, which is not to denigrate their flair in solo repertoire. The restraint with which Martin Roscoe approached this large-limbed, extrovert work was not necessarily to be expected, but even with the lid on the long stick, it was always a perfect fit with the others. Towards the end of the first movement, which was played with the repeats but at a speed that allowed no one to become bored, the piano has a call to arms which stood out all the better after its earlier restraint. However, it was the slow movement that might have surprised some by its stillness and pensiveness.


The first of the New Zealand pieces played by Roscoe was Ross Harris’s short Study in Blue and Green, a colourful impression of the seascape from Paekakariki, beginning in calm and turning into a Northerly gale. John Rimmer’s portrayal of the endangered kokako from the 1970s, when outrage erupted about the continuing destruction of the small remnants of lowland podocarp forest, the kokako’s habitat; your reviewer was present at Pureora forest during the tree-sitting campaign. The piece is based on single notes that suggested the boom of the bird’s call evocatively enough, and trills in the right hand suggested scampering noises of birds and the wind. Not that far removed from the Messiaen piece that was to follow.


Three of Antony Ritchie’s 24 piano preludes were without any specific pictorial inspiration; the composer bravely but convincingly laid himself open to comparison with the Bachs, Chopins, Debussys and Rachmaninovs of the genre. Roscoe vouchsafed his intention to take the pieces back to the UK.


We came to the Messiaen after the interval. Again, there was a sense of wonderment that such a fine quartet of players was here at this festival.


Campbell talked very interestingly, articulately about the music and its origins; excellently chosen words, with the various players illustrating some of the main features. The ambience of the auditorium was atmospheric, with a candelabra behind the stage and spotlight falling solely on the players; perhaps not quite what a German prisoner-of-war camp was like, Musicians are often not sufficiently attentive to visual matters, but here it was admirable.


The eight widely varied movements held the audience spell-bound; as during the previous night’s Winterreise, silence was total till the breaks between each movement when there were careful stretchings and shiftings. The solo clarinet during the first movement, used simply because there was a clarinet player in Stalag 8, seemed to be speaking to the universe, in tones of profound spirituality, by no means a narrow view of Messiaen’s Catholicism.


There were remarkable features in the performances by all players. The clarinet and violin in bird calls in the first movement; the slow Abîme des oiseaux – the third movement – for solo clarinet, that emerges miraculously from nothing to become an awful scream: such breathtaking(?) control. The fifth movement, Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus, for cello and piano, seems central to the work, the piano’s repeated chords became almost intolerable, giving way to the solo cello. The whole is steeped in Messiaen’s unique, mystical religious belief, but the Danse de la fureur, pour les trompettes, in unison, creating a strong though irregular rhythmic pattern, creates perhaps the most specific religious reference; the last two movements succeeded in expressing an extraordinary spirituality, never sectarian, but of universal force and even relevance to today.


I’ve heard it performed live only about four times, and at the end, I was convinced that none had reached the profundity and degree of spiritual ecstasy that this performance had produced. No one capable of speech afterwards was able to express anything very different from that.