Enchanting concert by Antipodes Trio at Waikanae

The Antipodes Trio (Christobel Lin – violin, Nicholas Hancox – viola, David Requiro – cello)

Dohnanyi: Serenade in C, Op 10; Lilburn: String Trio; Handel/Halvorsen: Passacaglia in G minor on a Theme by Handel (from Harpsichord Suite HWV 432); Schubert: String Trio in B flat, D 471; Beethoven: String Trio in C minor, Op 9 No 3

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 13 March 2.30pm

One of the reasons for going to this concert was the patriotic impulse to hear a Wellington musician who’s making good in Europe. Nicholas Hancox took his B Mus (Hons) at Victoria University and has now completed a master’s at the University of Michigan. Learning never ends: he has moved to Munich for post-graduate work at the Hochschule (Academy) für Musik und Theater. The group’s violinist Christobel Lin is from Auckland and studies four hours away by train, in Vienna. Their cellist derives from a New York connection; he’s appeared as a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington and the Tokyo Philharmonic, and is now artist-in-residence at the University of Puget Sound in Washington State.

The subsidiary reason for going to Waikanae, really just a big bonus, was the pleasure of going all the way by train which discharges you about 100 metres from the hall. Even without a Gold Card, the journey would be so infinitely more enjoyable than sitting behind a car wheel: the commuter queues on the roads north leave me incredulous.

Finally: the concert. They confess that their ensemble is not of long standing, but I needed to be told that as it would not have occurred to me. Individually they play with great accomplishment; it may well be perceived that the cellist has a slight edge in terms of finesse in articulation and tonal variety, but the excellence of their musical togetherness kept me from observing significant differences in their levels of artistic attainment. Critics often make a display of perceiving such niceties; the truth is that only the players themselves and perhaps their tutors can really notice the almost imperceptible nuances.

The string trio is a much less common creature than either the string quartet or the piano trio and its repertoire is much smaller. Two of Beethoven’s early opus numbers comprise string trios, usually seen as rehearsals for his graduation to the string quartet; we heard the third of the Opus 9 group. With its C minor key, it has the outward signs of seriousness and it was the second movement where both the music’s quality and the players’ understanding became evident, taking their time through its spaciousness and imposing, slow tempo. That was the last piece in the programme.

The concert had begun with Dohnanyi’s now rather familiar Serenade (it was played in the recent Chamber Music Festival at Nelson), written with an ear touched by the Beethoven model (his Serenade, Op 8, in D and the Serenade for flute, violin and viola, Op 25, which the Elios Ensemble played two days later in the St Andrew’s season of concerts ).

The Dohnanyi was handled with vivacity, with striking attention to the detail of dynamics even to the detailing of individual notes. that could be compared not unfavourably with its performance by the Hermitage Trio in Nelson. The serenade form here seems to be shorthand for a series of short movements that avoid the sonata form’s succession of themes and their development and elaborate recapitulations. There was no time to become impatient of slender ideas, no matter how charming. Interest was maintained through sharply contrasted movements: a Romanza that took us on a light-hearted journey, diverting through the varying roles given to the three instruments and their playing techniques: each had its turn in the limelight. A Theme and Variations had ever-changing tempi, and allusions to the most serious devices employed by serious classical music.

Lilburn’s string trio from the mid 40s, when he was about 30, is a fairly insubstantial piece. Any kind of criticism of Lilburn is comprehensively outlawed in this country, but I have to confess to finding this piece so generally uneventful, the melodic fragments insipid and so tentatively handled that it is hard for me to say much apart from remarking its sympathetic and idiomatic performance.

After the interval, the trio played the Passacaglia for violin and viola that Norwegian composer Halvorsen based on theme of Handel (the Harpsichord Suite No 7, HWV432). A tune that lends itself to variations, it is treated with little reference to its origin, handled with imagination and variety in the sequence of variations that such a theme often invites. Being something of a virtuoso showpiece (though it is rather more than that) it was just one occasion that I was highly impressed by the performances by Lin and Hancox. Both combined bravura and artistry, nowhere better displayed than in a beautiful, breathless, pianissimo passage played at the octave. It was as satisfying an experience as anything else in the programme.

The remaining piece was the single movement String Trio in B flat, D 471, by Schubert. A simple utterance based on charming themes, it gains its place more through that melodic simplicity than through any interesting evolution and development. The players had all the musical resources to make it a wholly enchanting performance.

Paekakariki’s ‘Classics for Christchurch’ with the Kapiti Orchestra

A reflective musical event in support of the Christchurch Earthquake Relief Fund

Music by Albinoni, Mozart, Fauré, Barber, Michelle Scullion, Lilburn, Poulenc, Haydn and John Dankworth; poems by Apirana Taylor, waiata sung by Hinemoana Baker

Kapiti Concert Orchestra led by Douglas Beilman, Mary Gow (piano), Moira Hurst (clarinet), Erica Challis and Kirsten Sharman (horns), Janet Holborow (flute, piano), Kate Lineham (soprano), World of Flutes, conducted by Michael Joel; presenter, Lee Hatherly

Paekakariki Memorial Hall

Sunday, 13 March 2011, 2pm

A well-filled Memorial Hall proved both the level of interest in music in the community, and its willingness to support such a worthy cause. There must have been around 100 people present.

The orchestra, led by Douglas Beilman, a member of the New Zealand String Quartet, had a good sound, and its level of accuracy and versatility, based, I understand, on one rehearsal, was most commendable. Janet Holborow and the others involved in quickly organising this concert are to be thanked for their work in getting together such a diverse and enjoyable programme.

It was pleasing to see numbers of children present, and their level of attention and behaviour was excellent, aside from rather a lot of chair-scraping towards the end of what proved to be a long concert. Many were sitting on the stage (the performers were at the other end of the hall) from where they could see well.

It may have been decided that the number of separate items and the nature of the concert, made it desirable to have a compère, but this undoubtedly contributed to the great length: two hours and 40 minutes, which is rather long for adults who are seasoned concert-goers, let alone for children. A late start, due to people dribbling in late, did not help. The printed programme contained adequate information, so the talking could have been abbreviated.

However, this was an appreciative audience, as the standing ovation at the end proved, and the breadth of music performed was wide. The wooden floor and walls (up to window height) made for a bright sound.

Albinoni’s Adagio suffered from a little untidiness in rhythm, but on the whole was smooth and euphonious. Douglas Beilman’s solos in this item were strong, and superbly played.

Continuing the theme of reflective music, the next item was the Adagio from Mozart’s piano concerto in A, K.488, played by the orchestra with Mary Gow as a sympathetic, restrained and highly competent soloist. While the orchestra was a bit insecure in places, especially in the woodwind, this didn’t apply to the marvellously flexible clarinet playing. The ensemble was good, and the mood was conveyed well.

Apirana Taylor read some of his poems, and played the putorino (?) most evocatively. His loud utterances of ‘Mauri ora’ were most appropriate to the occasion, while his striking short poems were mainly in a delightful combination of te reo and English.

The slow movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A, K.622 was quite sublime. The bright sound suited Mozart, though of course the instruments in his day were quieter. This was very fine music and very fine playing from both the orchestra, and especially from soloist Moira Hurst. While the orchestra played extremely well for a small, mainly amateur group, the playing of the soloist would have stood up in any company. I found it very moving.

Next was Fauré’s Dolly Suite, for piano duet. The pianists were Mary Gow and Janet Holborow. The lively ‘Kitty Valse’ and ‘Berceuse’ gave a welcome lighter touch between more sombre works.

Following this, a poem was read by Lee Hatherly. It was written by Pam Vickers, a Sumner resident, on her experiences during and after the earthquake. It surely expressed what many residents of Christchurch must have been feeling, and probably still are.

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is somewhat of a cliché for this sort of occasion, and did not show the orchestra at its best, intonation-wise. Because the work is slow and so well-known, it demands to be played more expertly.

After the interval, following a few words from MP Kris Faafoi, the World of Flutes played pieces by Michelle Scullion. The first, ‘For Ike in memory of Snoo’ was for five players, including a bass flute. It was an enchanting piece, especially for the juxtaposition of bass flute and sopranino recorder. Next we heard ‘Arabian Reverie’ for two alto flutes. I found this rather dull at first, but it developed into being quite a lively piece. The third piece was entitled ‘A crumpled town to return’, written for four flutes (including bass and alto) as a tribute to Christchurch, a city Scullion said in her introduction that she knows well.

Hinemoana Baker sang a waiata by Hana O’Regan, then the well-known lullaby, ‘Hine e hine’. She used an interesting contrast in styles and tones. The first was sung in a traditional Maori style, from the throat, barely using the breath, whereas the second was in a more European manner, singing on the breath. Both were telling, in their very different ways.

The piano returned, with Mary Gow playing first a charming, simple prelude by Douglas Lilburn, then a Novelette by Poulenc – an interesting and satisfying piece, and a Nocturne by the same composer. The harmonies in this were more conventional than I expected from Poulenc. Both pieces were somewhat improvisatory in nature; the nocturne was certainly reflective.

Haydn’s Double Horn Concerto is seldom heard; the Romance from that work featured two consummate soloists, though the orchestra was not at its best.

Moira Hurst played again, with Kate Lineham this time. John Dankworth’s ‘Thieving Boy’ was rather too low in the voice for Kate Lineham (she’s not Cleo Laine), and thus she did not project enough to prevent the clarinet being too loud and bright as an accompaniment. In between the two programmed items, Shona Holborow read the poem ‘Death and the Nightingale. An Estonian folksong (sung in English) was in a higher register, and suited Lineham’s voice much better.

The final item was another Mozart Adagio, this time from his Flute Concerto in G major. The solo flute was played by Janet Holborow. It was a very peaceful and reflective piece to end the concert with, featuring not only beautiful flute playing, but lovely muted violins.

Altogether, this was a fine musical experience, and should have raised a substantial sum for the relief of those badly affected by the earthquake in Christchurch.

Diabolically fine fiddling from Martin Riseley

St.Andrew’s on The Terrace Season of Concerts 2011

Martin Riseley (violin)

JS BACH – Sonata in C BWV 1005

PAGANINI – Introduction and Variations on Nel cor più non mi sento (from Paisello’s La molinara)

YSAŸE – L’Aurore

BARTOK – Sonata for Solo Violin (1944)

St.Andrew’s on The Terrace, Wellington

Sunday 13th March 2011

The trouble with the kind of jaw-dropping musical virtuosity demonstrated by the likes of Martin Riseley is that it can for some people obscure the actual substance of what’s being performed – since the time of the master-fiddler, Paganini himself, this “circus entertainment” aspect demonstrated by skilled executants has frequently bedeviled their musical efforts. Paganini recounted how, on one occasion, he was approached by a gentleman who claimed to have discovered his “secret”……

One individual…affirmed that he saw nothing surprising in my performance, for he had

distinctly seen, while I was playing my variations, the devil at my elbow

directing my arm and guiding my bow.  My resemblance to him was a proof of my

origin.  He was clothed in red–had horns on his head–and carried his tail

between his legs.  After so minute a description, you will understand, sir,

it was impossible to doubt the fact–hence, many concluded they had

discovered the secret of what they termed wonderful feats.”

It may come as a disappointment to some readers of this review that I’m not going to swear to having seen a similar apparition at Martin Riseley’s shoulder during his St.Andrew’s on The Terrace recital – but there was nevertheless plenty of sulphurous wizardry about his playing, albeit placed entirely at the service of the music throughout. When one encounters, as here, a fusion of virtuoso skill and musical sensibility, the results can be overwhelming. The programming judiciously underlined this marriage of technique with substance – and I recall being delighted by a previous solo violin recital of Riseley’s in which he presented the complete Paganini Caprices as a set of musical treasures, not mere virtuoso show-off pieces.

Riseley began his recital with an unprogrammed item, an Elegy by Stravinsky, to pay tribute to the people of Christchurch in the wake of the disastrous earthquake of February 22nd of this year. The violinist, himself a native of Christchurch, had already announced that he was donating his fee for the concert to the city’s relief fund. His playing of the music appropriately realized the elegiac nature of the piece, bringing to the textures a sombre, viola-like quality which made one imagine in places that the larger instrument was being used. Riseley requested that there be no applause at the end.

Strong, tensile, detailed and expressive – these words came to my mind as I listened to Riseley begin the Adagio which begins the Bach C Major Sonata BWV 1005. By the end he had managed to give us something both monumental and beautifully crafted at one and the same time. The Fugue astonished, as should be its wont, for the same reason, the player’s mastery evident in his ability to relate such a myriad of detail to a coherent structural argument – a feast for the intellect as well as for the ears. After such far-flung magnificence the Largo was bound to seem almost cowed at first, but the violinist’s lightness of touch found the essential contrast of mood, preparing us for the fleet-fingered concluding Allegro. Riseley told us at the end that he last performed the work in Christchurch’s ill-fated Cathedral, thus investing what we’d just heard with a thoughtful retrospective.

True to expectation, the introduction to Paganini’s Variations on a theme of Paisiello’s (the aria “Nel core più non mi sento”) generated flinted sparks and similar coruscations, after which the actual theme of Paisiello’s was subjected to all kinds of virtuoso “tricks”, including left-hand pizzicati. Paganini never actually published this work, for fear of his techniques being stolen by others – so posterity has had to rely on transcriptions by other people – in this case one Karl Gurh – to convey a sense of what the little wizard did with the hapless Paisiello’s theme. Throughout, Riseley’s playing properly titillated our capacities for sheer pyrotechnic enjoyment, while drawing attention occasionally to the charm and poignancy of this or that poetic turn of phrase. The virtuoso fireworks were properly put in context at the very end of the work by a deliciously throwaway ending, whose creative insouciance and deftness of touch were very much appreciated.

I liked, too, Ysaye’s L’Aurore, an evocation of dawn which gently eased us back into the fray after the interval. The work’s long-breathed lines paralleled plenty of accompanying incident, such as pizzicati and double-stopped figurations. It was as if through great lyrical archways all kinds of ambient detail scampered, the changing moods of the piece including a dance-sequence at the end, the human element in concourse with nature.

Before beginning the Bartok sonata, Riseley talked about the music’s performance difficulties, with reference to the work’s early interpreters, who were faced with what seemed like near-impossible challenges, and contrasted those endeavors with modern-day virtuosi whose technical prowess can seem just as misapplied in a completely different way when the music is made to sound almost “easy”. If the music didn’t sound “easy” under Riseley’s fingers, it was through no lack of skill on the violinist’s part. In the first movement one got the feeling of the lines being pushed to the utmost limits of physical expression, while the Fugue managed to combine ideas whose beauty, angularity and sharply-etched focus create what Riseley called in his programme-note a “tour de force” of concentrated composition. Though the Adagio chartered vastly different contourings, its concentrated mood readily found affinities with what had gone before – Riseley’s playing generated an amazing sense of extra-terrestrial traversal, those long lines and melismatic scale-fingerings together creating an unworldly effect, rich and strange.

As for the finale, Riseley characterized the music’s contrasting modes splendidly, the haunted “flight” music of the opening giving way to folk-idioms suggesting both dance and song, the melodic fragments stretched and intensified, and ever more closely juxtaposed with the urgent scherzando mood of the opening, a fragment of which seemed to become the final upward flourish of the work.

Its triumphant realization by the violinist brought to an end a truly splendid concert, one which amply served to demonstrate the wonder and privilege of having an instrumentalist of Martin Riseley’s talents close at hand to perform such music for our pleasure.