Music for Strings – Students of the NZSM
Music by Bloch, Penderecki, Stamitz, Schumann, Bach, Walton
Instrumentalists: Alice McIvor, Vincent Hardaker, Megan Ward, Leoni Wittchou (violas), accompanied by Douglas Mews (piano)
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday, 12 October 2011, 12.15pm
Despite its billing, this was a concert comprising only viola students – those studying with Gillian Ansell, violist in the New Zealand String Quartet.
It began with an additional item, not in the printed programme: Rhapsody by Ernest Bloch (which I conclude must be a movement from his Suite of 1919). It was played by Alice McIvor, with Douglas Mews accompanying. This was quite a passionate work, and the performers gave it plenty of expression. There was strong bowing, a few intonation lapses, but splendidly rich tone. This was a very accomplished performance, played from the score.
Next to perform was Vincent Hardaker, whose piece was Penderecki’s Cadenza per Viola Sola of 1984. It was unaccompanied, and played from memory – a considerable achievement, given the complexity and idiom of the music. Techniques included double-stopping and harmonics played alongside ‘straight’ notes. The fast middle section provided contrast, before the return to the falling motif and sadder mood of the opening. As well as being demanding, the performance was thoughtful, competent and convincing.
Megan Ward’s dark-coloured instrument produced a dark sound, though not as rich in tone as McIvor’s. She gave a very persuasive performance of Stamitz’s Viola Concerto in D major. Her technique was good, but this was not so difficult a piece as those played by the two previous violists.
She followed it with two pieces from Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Fairytale Pictures): 1. Nicht Schnell, and 3. Rasch.
Like the Stamitz, these were accompanied, but the score was used, whereas the Stamitz was played from memory. These song-like pieces suffered quite a few minor intonation wobbles, especially no.3. The playing did not have the tone or the accuracy to bring me completely into the pictures implied by the programme note (the first movement “…dark and mysterious, perhaps set deep within an enchanted forest…”; the second: “…fast and …possibly a dance featuring sprites or pixies”), despite their being played with considerable facility.
Next up was Leoni Wittchou, with Douglas Mews providing impeccable accompaniment. Leoni played (on the viola) the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite no.4, BWV 1010. The piece began a little slower than is usual, and there was suspect intonation at times, but the player had a good, full tone. Playing from memory, she gave an excellent account of this classic piece.
She continued with the Andante first movement from Walton’s Viola Concerto, but unfortunately another engagement prevented me from staying to hear it.
Programme notes were good, notwithstanding a couple of careless spelling errors in composers’ names, and a horrendous multiple misspelling of ‘mischievous’ in the description of the second Schumann piece.
To have four viola players at this level of accomplishment bodes well for the future of chamber music particularly.