Two varied lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s

1.  Mozart: Sonata for violin and piano in G major K.301
Fauré: Sonata for violin and piano in A major Op.13
Rupa Maitra (violin) and Kris Zuelicke (piano)

2.  Operatic arias, and lieder
Vocal Students of the New Zealand School of Music, accompanied by Mark Dorrell

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Wednesday, 4 April 2012, 12.15pm

Perhaps it was an excess of riches, or simply that people are ‘programmed’ to attend a lunchtime concert at St. Andrew’s on a Wednesday, but not on another day.  Whatever the reason, the Tuesday concert was not well attended compared with that on Wednesday.

Mozart’s sonata begins in a sunny mood, with a jolly melody (which always makes me think of the Scottish song “Maxwelton braes”, otherwise known as “Annie Laurie”), alternately presented by piano and violin.  The second movement (there are only two) was also allegro, but quite different in metre and character.  The G minor middle section gave a pleasing contrast, with some passionate moments.

These two extremely competent musicians had it well under their fingers.  However, I found the violin tone sometimes a little harsh; the acoustic was partly responsible for this.  There was a brief lack of synchronisation in the closing moments, at the repeat of the opening section.

The second work, with which I was not familiar, was a more difficult and demanding one, besides being much longer.  The composer communicates many musical ideas, with an exuberant allegro first movement containing a great deal of variety.  I found the piano over-pedalled for my taste.  There were soaring phrases, especially for the violin, but intonation was not always spot on, and again I found the tone not always mellow.

The andante second movement was solemn, with some lovely moments, especially in the middle section.  The third movement, allegro vivo, was faster than the final one (allegro quasi presto).  It was jaunty in mood, on both instruments, with frequent pizzicato on the violin.  The slightly slower final movement featured beautiful smooth melodic lines, while the piano part was full of notes.  The ending was very busy for the violin, with chords on the piano.

Throughout, the piece was played in a musical and sensitive manner.

Wednesday’s concert involved a lot more people: seven singers, plus the imperturbable Mark Dorrell accompanying all of them.  Most of these singers I had not heard before, and wonder if they are first and second-year students; the programme did not tell us.

Nearly all the singers sang two arias, or an aria and a lied, separately in the programme, but here I will group each singer’s items together.

Robert Gray had the unenviable task of opening the programme.  His ‘O del mio dolce ardor’ from Gluck’s opera Paride ad Elena revealed his pleasing voice, and he conveyed the mood of this most attractive aria well.  However, his tone in top notes was not well supported, and intonation was suspect on lower notes.  He did not seem confident.

How differently he presented the Count’s aria from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro!  The opening was strong, and the singer more confident now.  His Italian was enunciated very well, and the characterisation convincing  While Mozart’s forte passages for the orchestra, or piano in this case, do not coincide with the voice too often, nevertheless I found Dorrell’s piano a little loud for the singer in places, though wonderfully rhythmic and Mozartean.

Daniel Dew is a young tenor, who sang first ‘Every valley shall be exalted’, from Handel’s Messiah.  As the programme note said, the aria is full of word painting, and Dew’s clear voice and words made this amply obvious.  Runs were executed well, and there was good control on the high notes; elsewhere, the tone and expression were just a bit raw around the edges.  His second piece, ‘Wohin?’ from Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin was engagingly sung, but more tonal control was needed on the low notes.  Dew’s German was very good, and well enunciated.

Rossini’s famous aria, the ‘Willow Song’ from Otello was the choice of Rebekah Giesbers, a soprano.  She has a clear, pure voice with attractive tone.  The runs were not sufficiently agile, however, and there was insufficient variation in the performance.

Two lieder (‘Ständchen’ and ‘Lievesbotschaft’ from Schubert’s Schwanengesang) were chosen by Fredi Jones.  He has a light but very pleasant tenor voice.  At times I found the accompaniment a little too loud for his voice.  He evinced great breath control, and the mood of the second song particularly came over well.  Later in the programme he sang in very good French: ‘En fermant les yeux’ from Massenet’s Manon.  It was delightful singing, with expressive phrasing, but he could do with a little facial expression to help convey the story.

The latter characteristic was a strong one for Esther Leefe, soprano, who performed first ‘Batti batti’ from Don Giovanni by Mozart.  Her silvery voice was mostly accurate; the facial expression needed to be backed up with more vocal expression here.  Her second item was the lovely Samuel Barber song ‘Sure on this shining night’.  The sound was good, but I did not find that she really conveyed the song convincingly.

Angelique MacDonald did not sing the programmed Alban Berg song, but Mozart’s beautiful aria for Pamina, in The Magic Flute: ‘Ah, ich fühl’s’.  This was a very touching rendition, with plenty of dynamic variation.  The tone was a little harsh on the higher notes sometimes, when singing loudly.

In her second aria, a metallic tone seemed present in the middle range, while the top was secure and sweet, and the lower notes were fine.  This was in her very dramatic performance of ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ from Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti.  There were plenty of gestures and facial expression as well as a good range of dynamics in the voice; this aria suited her agile voice.  It was an accomplished performance.

Another soprano, Awhina Waimotu, followed, with a song by Respighi: Tempo assia lontani’.  This gave the impression of being quite difficult, for both singer and accompanist.  Despite a few insecurities for the singer, this was an impressive performance: a lovely expressive voice with warm tone, beautiful vowels, and a strong upper register.

This impression was confirmed in her second song, the enchanting Chanson triste of Henri Duparc.  After a slightly hesitant start, she gave a fine performance.  The French language was good, but the song needed slightly more subtle phrasing – however, that can come.  I have to confess to being very familiar with an old recording by Gérard Souzay, in which he lingers before the high note to give it extra emphasis, and varies the dynamics more than Waimotu did.  Otherwise, this was a splendid performance of this exquisite song.

Mark Dorrell deserved warm thanks for the huge amount of very accomplished playing he did.



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