NZSM string players mark 10th anniversary of Lilburn’s death: ambient problems

Remembering Lilburn: String quartet in E minor; String Trio; Violin Sonata

New Zealand School of Music Students and Staff: Martin Riseley, Jun He (violins), Donald Maurice (viola), Inbal Megiddo (cello), Jian Liu (piano)

Ilott Theatre, Wellington Town Hall

Friday, 10 June 2011

This year marks ten years since the death of leading New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn. As part of commemorations, the School of Music arranged this concert to remember a long-serving former staff member of the Victoria University School of Music.

The quartet in E minor, published in 1946, includes plenty of virtuosic material; the players more than rose to the challenge – they played well, with facility and commitment, including the School of Music’s new cellist, Inbal Megiddo from Israel.

The quartet contains many felicities, yet endless repeated notes and phrases, and repeated rhythmic figures. Martin Riseley’s programme note says “…the Quartet carries a new kind of optimism, one rooted firmly in the past, quasi nostalgically, but which senses hope for what is to come.” What with the sombre nature of the work, the young children in the row behind me, the coughers and someone’s cellphone ringing loud and clear in my ear towards the end, I can’t say that I found this a major musical experience. A move to another seat improved things for the rest of the concert.

The trio, published a year earlier than the quartet, begins in a dour vein, progressing to sombre and even to mournful, despite the first movement marking of allegro non troppo. The programme note by Martin Riseley says “…the Trio carries the bitter presence of the unendurable loss of life from the war,…” There is more variety in the writing here than in the quartet. To my mind it is a
much more appealing and accomplished work. It develops to a charming mood, and its allegro finale has a delightfully optimistic ending.

The violin sonata is written in one movement with five contrasting sections. It is more animated and upbeat than the other two works. It is innovative and lively. Much of the writing is extremely taxing for both players, but they brought it off, through all the changes, splendidly. The peaceful ending finished the concert on a calm note.

Lilburn’s position as a composer, teacher and promoter of New Zealand composers and  compositions is admirable and unassailable. However, the music we heard in this short concert was not, in my opinion, among his greatest.

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