Organist Elke Voelker in excellent varied programme at the Basilica

Handel: Fireworks Music (transcribed by E. Power Biggs)
Bach: Adagio from Orchestral Suite in D (transcribed by S. Karg-Elert)
Rheinberger: Romanze from 9th Organ Sonata in B minor
Mendelssohn: Prelude and Fugue in D minor
Grieg: Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt Suite (transcribed by E.H. Lemare)

Karg-Elert: ‘Now thank we all our God’, from Chorale Improvisations, Opp.65/59
Vierne: Aria from 6th Organ Symphony
Wagner: Festmusik from Die Meistersinger (transcribed by Sigfrid Karg-Elert

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Sunday, 6 March 2011, 2.30pm

Probably not many people beyond the organist fraternity know the music of Sigfrid Karg-Elert, who lived from 1877 to1933. Elke Voelker is part of the way through recording all the composer’s organ works on CD, and on Sunday she played one of his compositions, plus two transcriptions that he made of famous orchestral pieces.

Poor attendance at the recital may have been due to the inclement weather but also due to the unfortunate but understandable close proximity of another organ recital – that by four organists on the newly-restored organ at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Willis Street on Friday evening, in memory of the staff of the South Island Organ Company who recently carried out the work on that instrument, and who died in the Durham Street Methodist Church in Christchurch, during the earthquake of 22 February.

Elke Voelker herself was very shocked by that event, having played on the Christchurch Cathedral organ in March last year.

The pitiful audience of just 13 people were given a wide-ranging programme.

The Handel music featured robust, detached playing in the Overture and The Rejoicing, with the 4-foot and 2-foot ranks sounding rather shrill in the nearly empty building. The legato Peace movement was most attractive. The Bourée and Minuet movements seemed too fast – it would not be possible to perform those dances at that speed!

The transcription of the Bach Adagio was very tasteful but to my mind the melody’s repeated notes needed to be more detached and it should have been phrased, not played continuously. In the early part the rhythm was not always even.

The marvellous Fantasia and Fugue in G minor forms a very grand and exciting example of Bach’s skill and invention, and is one of the better-known of the composer’s major organ works. The lively opening subject of the fugue is often given the words ‘O Ebenezer Prout, you are a funny man’, thus immortalising an eminent analyst and writer on counterpoint of an earlier age. One writer has said “The subject of the Fugue is one of the finest ever devised. (It was based on an old Dutch folk-song.) …the speed, quantity of notes and complexity of part-writing (all magnificently musically motivated) seem to produce a physical thrill in the player… perhaps the same feeling a racing-driver has when taking a fast car over a tricky but well-known road.”

Voelker’s registration was excellent, and the fugue very clear, resulting in a very satisfying performance of this great work.

The next item was something completely different: Rheinberger’s Romanze was attractive, and lived up to its name in the chromatic manner of its period.

Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue was notable for a thrilling opening with huge chords alternating with runs involving lots of rapid finger-work, but placed alongside Bach, Handel and Rheinberger, was not very inspired – even though Mendelssohn was a great fan of J.S. Bach.

Grieg’s beautiful piece was very pleasingly registered and played, with delightful use of a 2-foot rank.

Karg-Elert’s is a grand piece, played by many organists (including me), and probably his best-known. Volker’s quavers were uneven at the beginning, but lots of accelerando and rubato were certainly acceptable and added to the mood and effect of the music, which includes interesting harmonies.

The Aria from Vierne’s 6th symphony, written in 1930, was the most modern work on the programme. Its intriguing and piquant harmonies and intervals and bright, upbeat mood were echoed in the registrations employed.

As a grand finale, nothing could be more truly festive than the Festmusik of Wagner. It was an excellent transcription, and made a rousing end to the recital.

The programme, combining works written for the organ with four transcriptions, demonstrated well the range of pipes on this first-class instrument. I thought it was a little out of tune in the upper reaches – this may have been due to the weather.

A wonderful new asset to the church, whose forms (rather than proper pews), have provided such discomfort to many of us in the past, so that we have brought our own cushions to concerts, are handsome red seat cushions on the front seven rows of seats. Comfort at last! Let’s hope this welcome development continues to all the seating in the church.

New Sounds – SMP Ensemble, Magda Mayas, Tony Buck and Hermione Johnson



Mitchell McEwen (flutes), Andrzej Nowicki (clarinets), Dylan Lardelli

(guitar), Carolyn Mills (harp), Claire Harris (piano), Antony Verner

(violin), Andrew Filmer (viola), Charley Davenport (cello), Jeremy

Hantler (taonga puoro).

DYLAN LARDELLI: “Musical Box”;

PHILIP BROWNLEE: “He rimu pae noa”; “As if to catch the fleeting tail of time”;

SUN-YOUNG PAHG: “ThresholdIng”,



Adam Concert Room, Wellington.

Saturday 26 February 2011


St Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

Saturday 26 February 2011


Two Works

Adam Art Gallery, Wellington

Sunday 6 March 2011

After funding was withheld from leading NZ contemporary group Stroma

for this year, the senior-student/recent-graduate ensemble SMP was

left to carry the torch for new “concert” music – at least for
Wellington. Thankfully, some money was made available by Creative NZ
for “Interiors I”, the first of two presentations exploring subtleties
of tone colour and aspects of player interaction.

All but one piece featured the versatile Dylan Lardelli on guitar, and
all but one (a different one) were written by recently-emerged New
Zealand composers. Lardelli himself is one such: he starred in his own
2009 “Musical Box”. This delightful dance of harmonics from guitar,
Carolyn Mills’ harp and Andrew Filmer’s unexpectedly resonant viola,
was joined by Jeremy Hantler on taonga puoro: soft contrabass-clarinet
kakapo booms blown across the hue gourd, mouth modulated infrasonics
from the spinning porotiti, and (in a change of mood at the end) the
piccolo register of the bone koauau. There was a sense of timelessness
here, which Lardelli has evoked before, nowhere more successfully than
in “Aspects of Theatre”, premiered by SMP Ensemble under Lucas Vis in
March last year. There was an absence of development, which was not
however a deficiency: as also in Holloway’s “Sillage”, the sounds were
sufficient unto themselves.

Lardelli seamlessly integrated the traditional Maori instruments into
the world of western classical ones. So too did his fellow graduate
from Victoria University (NZ School of Music), Philip Brownlee. The
2009 “He rimu pae noa” began with Jeremy Hantler whirling the
dove-voiced poi-a-whio-whio gourd, while simultaneously playing the
nguru (with mouth). The albatross bone putorino, heard first in flute
mode, announced the climax with its trumpet voice, while Claire
Harris’s brittle, sparkling piano displaced Lardelli’s otherwise
ubiquitous guitar. Hand cupped “speaking stones” (Phil Dadson style)
led this well-shaped piece back to its beginning.

I found Brownlee’s “As if to catch the fleeting tail of time” (also
from 2009), less successful, despite the precision playing from SMP.
Here Lardelli’s guitar solo (and it can be played as a solo) was
magnified by the ensemble: blended tonally with the harp, its attacks
extended by Charley Davenport’s cello. I found the succession of
separated events overlong, compounded by the lack of the sense of form
and direction found in Morgan’s “Unfold” and Brownlee’s own “He rimu
pae noa”.

I had a similar feeling about the only work not written by a New
Zealander. Sun-Young Pahg is a Korean living in Paris, and her
“ThreshholIng” (2007) was an alternation of slow, spacious passages
with more agitated sections.

Rachael Morgan’s “Unfold”, on the other hand, unfolded, simply and
beautifully. Another graduate of VUW/NZSM, Morgan has been a recipient
of the Edwin Carr Foundation Scholarship which has taken her overseas.
Beginning with the guitar softly bowed (yes, bowed) near the bridge,
“Unfold” grew gradually with string tremolandi and flute pitch bends
to an understated climax (where the guitar strings were struck with
what appeared to be a dulcimer hammer), before returning to the sotto
voce opening.

Aucklander Samuel Holloway is one of our most exciting
recently-emerged composers. In his somewhat Webernian 2005 trio
“Stapes”, he managed to make a piano sound microtonal by using quarter
tone pitches on the violin and cello. The long-held tones of “Sillage”
(2010) belong to the time-suspended world of his recent string quartet
“Domestic Architecture”, which made a feature of the pulsing beats
between sustained micro-intervals. These scores are dangerously close
to minimalism – dangerously, because Holloway has publicly expressed a
distaste for minimalism. However, his idiom here is far removed from
the frenetic repetitions of Philip Glass (which, I think, Holloway had
in mind), and more akin to the “holy minimalism” of Aarvo Part, and
the prolonged soundings of LaMont Young. In “Sillage” (the word means
a wake in water or a waft of perfume) Lardelli’s bowed guitar
established a harmonically rich tambura-like drone (unobtrusively
detuned over the course of the piece) above and around which the
timbres of alto flute, clarinet, viola and cello merged and emerged.
Atmospheric as this realisation was, the instrumentation (apart from
guitar) is variable: a different version will be heard in SMP’s next
concert (“Interiors II”, Adam Concert Room, Friday March 11, at 7pm).

Interiors (in this case the inside of the piano) was very much the
theme of the recital by German musician Magda Mayas. Perhaps
paradoxically, there was greater ebb and flood of tension in these
extrovert, improvised interactions with percussionist Tony Buck, than
in many of the  more fully composed offerings from SMP. I caught only
the last one-and-a-half sets (and missed the contribution from Sound
and Light Exploration founder Daniel Beban altogether) because –
crazily – there were two concerts of enterprising new music scheduled
for the same evening.

Sound and Light Exploration member and regular performer at their
Frederick Street venue Fred’s, Hermione Johnson, had two works played
at the Adam Art Gallery. The reprise of a  multi-instrumental piece,
originally premiered in October to open the Designs for Living
exhibition, took advantage of the disparate spaces of the Gallery:
violinists Chris Prosser and Tristan Carter on different floors, Jeff
Henderson on sax in a side room, Nell Thomas on the mezzanine with her
theremin, Gerard Crewdson prowling with spooky unpitched staccatos on
the trombone, and Johnson herself barely audible on accordion in a
distant corner. The second item was rather more, well, dramatic.
“Drama Studies” was improvised – brilliantly – by Johnson, on a
spectacularly prepared piano (not only the classical Cage bits of
metal and wood, but also a network of wires strung from the ceiling).
After a long first half that was like Stockhausen on speed – something
of a marathon for both pianist and listeners – the rewards came as
Johnson began to use varying slabs of texture and changes of tempo,
culminating in a galaxy of attacks  mixing standard and altered tones.
A tour de force, never to be heard in quite the same way again.

VECTOR WELLINGTON ORCHESTRA – whatever the weather……

Vector Wellington Orchestra Summer Concert

Soloists: Aivale Cole (soprano) / Benjamin Makisi (tenor)

Footnote Dance Company

Kate Mead (Radio New Zealand Concert) – presenter

Marc Taddei (conductor)

Vector Wellington Orchestra

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Sunday 6th March, 2011

As comedian Michael Flanders, of “At the Drop of a Hat” fame, might have said, “If the gods had intended us to listen to music outdoors, they would never have given us weather!”. Such was the case on the weekend, when, to the intense disappointment of all concerned, the Vector Wellington Orchestra’s annual family concert sortie to the grounds of Government House had to be relocated to the Michael Fowler Centre. The smaller indoor venue meant that many ticketholders had to get their money refunded, although those of us who were lucky enough to have a transferable seat found ourselves still able to collect our picnic hamper, whose contents we sampled while pretending to be enjoying a beautiful day, sitting on dry grass, in the sun or under trees, watching the rest of the company doing the same. The ritual enabled something of the occasion to be salvaged (everything incredibly well-organised, I thought), while the wonderful music-making generated by singers, orchestra and conductor did the rest. So, despite the privations, it was a great success.

Again the Wellington orchestra’s management was able to demonstrate that, when something special was required to fit an occasion, it was delivered with aplomb (by contrast with some of the promotional efforts from the “other” orchestra in town, whose energies seem hardly to spill over from concert platform activities), inviting the Governor-General and the Wellington Mayor to speak at the concert, and properly “place” the event , albeit in its amended form. There might, actually, have been one speech too many, at the start, with the event’s raison d’être – the music – being, as it were, kept waiting in the wings a little too long. But the show’s compere, Kate Mead, of Radio New Zealand Concert, quickly put us at our ease and prepared each item with whimsical descriptions of the music’s contexts, and “humanizing” figures like the all-too-fallible Antonio Vivaldi of the “Four Seasons” fame, with stories of his being censored by his superiors for his “unpriestly” activities (some things never change…..).

Concerts such as these tend to go for the “instant appeal” repertoire, of which, naturally, there’s a marvellous store, especially in opera – interesting, really, that so many people regard the latter as a relatively “closed-book” kind of art-form, yet hugely enjoy the “great moments” upon contact. But also, making a world of difference here, were the singers, soprano Aivale Cole and tenor Benjamin Makisi, both in fine voice and having a wonderful theatrical ease and spontaneity on the stage, separately and together. As for the support from orchestra and conductor, the accompaniments were of a piece, by turns full-throated and exquisitely atmospheric – a particular joy was Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma”, with Makisi’s nicely-focused tones borne aloft on diaphanous veils of floating instrumental sound, everything deliciously delicate and wind-blown. Perhaps the orchestra’s reduced numbers helped, here (I counted just four ‘cellists, for example), of a scale comparable with that of the average orchestral band in the “pit” of an opera house. What these players achieved with conductor Marc Taddei in places was spell-binding, considering they were in the same space as the singers, rather than in the recesses of “the womb of Gaia” (as Wagner called the orchestral pit). Admittedly, the reduced sound-scale didn’t help things like Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours”, which seriously lacked “grunt” during the final Galop, but fortunately this wasn’t typical.

It was a nice idea to run the three “La Boheme” exerpts together from Act One (again, the “big moments” – two arias and a duet, with the only unimportant casualties being the interjections of the offstage Bohemians), allowing Cole and Makisi plenty of theatrical as well as musical expression – while they were both impressive, I thought Cole freer, more easeful vocally, and still with something in reserve, even with the cries of “Amor!” at the end – fortunately, the largely non-opera-going audience broke off their premature applause to allow the singers these final off-stage vocal ecstasies! Earlier, Aivale Cole had demonstrated her versatility in Gareth Farr’s “Aoraki”, contributing a soaring vocal line to the largely traditional ambiences of karanga, were and putatara, supported by a typically rhythmic orchestral background. Apart from one audible Michael Laws-like comment from an audience member at the very end, not far from where I was sitting, this work got an enthusiastic reception, as did the same composer’s “Sea Gongs”, later in the program. Well, as American baseball coach Connie Mack once said, “You can’t win ’em all!”.

Dancers from the Footnote Dance Company contributed to two items. They performed rather more effectively to Tchaikovsky’s lovely Waltz from the opera “Eugen Onegin”, where the ‘ballroom swirling” was nicely captured, than for Vivaldi’s “Summer” from the “Four Seasons” (a brilliantly-played solo from concertmaster Matthew Ross), their movements I thought somewhat out-of-sync. with the music in places. The orchestra generated much more fire with Berlioz’s “Le Carnival Romain” (a nicely-phrased cor-anglais solo) than with Ponchielli, the players inspired by Taddei to produce surges of tone and flashes of brilliance as required. Again, the singers shone, Aivale Cole capturing the magic of a couple more famous operatic moments, Catalani’s Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from “La Wally”,  and “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s “Tosca”; while Benjamin Makisi brought the caddish aspect of the Duke of Mantua from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” to life, tickling the sensibilities of the audience to perfection with his insinuations. And if Cole didn’t quite “nail” the fiendishly difficult penultimate note of the same composer’s “Sempre libera” from “La Traviata”, she could take comfort from knowing that many famous sopranos have also failed to totally convince at that point.  The “Brindisi” (Drinking Song) from the same opera brought the full-throated best out of both singers, a few impromptu waltz-steps from Cole and Makisi throughout the “chorus bits” again delighting the audience, and bringing an immediacy to the music’s context.

It remained for the old warhorse, Tchaikovsky’s Overture “1812”, to round the music off, which was done in quite spectacular, if unintentional fashion, when the second bass-drum player (brought in to simulate the cannon-fire at the piece’s climax) lost his grip on the drumstick at his first thunderous whack, sending it spinning across the back of the orchestral platform, to the risible delight of the audience! Wisely, I think, Marc Taddei had removed the repetitions of some of the music’s material in the middle of the piece, so that the actual battle came sooner than was expected. What astonished me was the weight of tone that the orchestra produced in places, so that nowhere did we feel sonically compromised or sold short in excitement. And the hapless percussionist who had lost his stick made up for the couple of entries he had missed while retrieving his implement by thundering away with extra vim and vigor at the height of the victory celebrations, earning himself a special accolade for his efforts at the music’s conclusion!