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The Beethoven duet was an unpublished piece, unfinished, in only two movements, but a highly entertaining one.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.