Diverting wind trio in delightful programme at St Andrew’s

Rameau: Gavotte et Doubles
Françaix: Divertissement
Beethoven: Variations on a theme ‘La ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni
Schulhoff: Three movements from Divertissement for oboe, clarinet and bassoon

Wild Reeds: Calvin Scott (oboe), Mary Scott clarinet), Alex Chan (bassoon)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 2 May 2012, 12.15pm

The playing of the ‘Wild Reeds’ was wonderfully uplifting right from the start of their programme.  It may have been a wild wind with rain outside, but this ensemble, far from being wild, was precise and euphonious.

The Rameau work was delightful in its several contrasting movements that contained solos, with mainly harmony on the other instruments.  The pieces were an arrangement of a Rameau keyboard work.

The printed programme had excellent notes on the works, and on the history of this combination of instruments.  The Trio des anches de Paris was evidently formed in 1927 by a bassoonist; he and his colleagues believed that the flute and horn did not blend well with reed instruments. It was good, too, to have the dates of composition of the works.

The Françaix piece featured tricky timing in places, especially in the second movement, but these players were always together; their expertise as performers was not in question at any point.

This was quite unconventional and quirky music, reminding me of the writing for woodwind of Françaix’s fellow-countryman and near contemporary, Poulenc, not to mention the slightly earlier Ravel and Satie.

The third movement, Élégie, of this four-movement work was not as peaceful as one might expect a work having this title to be. The Scherzo could have been depicting birds having a squabble, at the start.  Then they make up, yet there was still the odd disagreement before they went their separate ways and did their own thing, stopping just to say a spiky ‘good-bye’.

Beethoven’s Variations reveal masterly treatment of this great melody from Mozart.  The first variation gave the solo writing to the oboe, the second to the bassoon – who would have imagined that this instrument could be so rapidly talkative?

The third was slow and harmonic, while the fourth provided rapid passages for all three instruments at first, followed by some that were mainly for oboe.  The fifth was a contrast, being in a minor key, while the sixth had the clarinet leading the variation.  Variation seven had the lower tones on the clarinet playing along with the bassoon, which had solo sections, while rapid passages were played by the clarinet.  Finally, we had a slow, languid ending restating the theme.

The last item on the programme consisted of three movements (Charleston, Florida and Rondino) from the Schulhoff Divertissement.  The lively Charleston had the instruments sometimes almost seeming to be at one another’s throats!  Florida was a more lyrical piece, with a surprise ending, and Rondino was fast – a sort of perpetuum mobile, with a few stopping places along the way, and a sudden ending.

This programme seemed slightly short, but the players obliged with an encore: a trio that follows a soprano solo in J.S. Bach’s Cantata no.68.  The original instrumentation was violin, oboe and bassoon. The instrumentation of Wild Reeds sounded quite spiky, but very effective.

The delight the audience obviously had in this highly skilled group’s performance demands that St. Andrew’s must schedule them again.  Its programme selection was interesting, and the combination of instruments refreshing; the players were expert musicians indeed.

Halida Dinova – Russian Soul from Tatarstan

HALIDA DINOVA – Piano Recital

Chamber Music Hutt Valley


Little Theatre,Lower Hutt

Wednesday, 2nd May 2012

It seemed as if I had barely recovered my poise and equilibrium in the wake of Sofya Gulyak’s stupendous recital at the NZSM’s Adam Concert Room in Wellington not a week beforehand, before encountering another wonderful pianist from the Russian Federation.

This was Halida Dinova, originally from Tatarstan, and currently living and teaching in Cleveland, USA, where she studied at the Institute of Music. From these somewhat far-flung worlds she had come here, and was giving a recital under the auspices of Chamber Music Hutt Valley at the Little Theatre in Lower Hutt.

I neither understand, nor wish to question whatever constellations in the firmament whose movements shape and influence our musical lives conspired to bring such an overwhelming juxtaposition of pianistic talent within our spheres. But all I know is that, within the space of a few days we had been presented with two opportunities of directly experiencing a “grand manner” of piano-playing one can normally only read about or experience second-hand through recordings.

So, at this point in my review, I propose to declare my intention to write about Halida Dinova’s playing as a “stand-alone” experience, and not get bogged down in a morass of comparisons between her and her compatriot, Sofya Gulyak – suffice to say that, as with Gulyak, Dinova had only to play a phrase for the listener to fairly guess that she had been brought up in a pianistic environment which favored a distinct style of playing and attitude towards interpretation.

This was playing in that “grand manner” I spoke about earlier – playing which demonstrated whole paradoxes of intensity and imagination, focus and colour, sharply-drawn edges whose parameters took in what seemed like limitless possibilities of fancy. Dinova’s sound seemed at once to speak to us directly, and yet suggest much more than what we heard – as if the music she made was presented as sound and then turned into poetry.

Her opening measures of the Bach/Busoni transcription of the Adagio from the C Major Toccata and Fugue BWV 564 which began the recital said it all, really – big, resonant, long-breathed playing, both disciplined and romantic, superbly coloured and finely nuanced.

Dinova’s own transcription and playing of the well-known Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 was what the French call a “tour de force” – I scribbled in my notes “Stokowski on the piano!”, so orchestral and impactful was her playing. For some reason she omitted Bach’s notorious “horror arpeggio” on both of its scheduled appearances in the introduction, but her playing was of an order that swept away any such incidental considerations in a torrent of sound-impulse which broke over the listener like oceanic waves. Her playing of the fugue stupendously achieved with two hands and the pedal what organists normally need their two feet for as well!

After these musical avalanches, it was somewhat ironic that we found in the music of Liszt some lighter contrast – though Dinova’s birdsong at the opening of the first of Liszt’s Two Legends, during which we heard St. Francis of Assisi preaching to an avian audience, was more than usually forthright – obviously there were skeptics in the feathered ranks, needing all the Saint’s powers of eloquence and persuasion to put across his message of love and salvation for all creatures.

For a piano supposedly on its last musical legs, as we were told by Chamber Music committee member Mike Rudge in his welcoming speech, the instrument was nevertheless made by Dinova to tingle with whatever life its strings, mechanism and frame still possessed. In fact, after the recital, she told me that she thought the society ought to get the piano reconditioned, rather than purchase a new instrument, as she really liked what it did for her!

To reproduce all the notes I scribbled while listening to Dinova play would be to try readers’ patience – enough to say that she brought to a wide-ranging program this distinctive “way” with piano-playing alluded to earlier, while realizing all and more of what one thought of the possibilities suggested by the names of these pieces and their composers.

Only during the bracket of Debussy that she played did she seriously part company with my feelings about the music – her performance of the admittedly difficult “Poisson d’or” from Book Two of Images I found oddly “rubbery” and unatmospheric, as though she was suddenly a child playing with toy fish in a bath. Doubly odd, because she had just given us a “Reflects dans l’eau” from Book One which was purely magical evocation, as watery a texture as could be imagined, but with plenty of glint and sparkle in the flourishes, a wonderfully iridescent sound-picture, at once warm and transparent. And I have never heard anybody lavish so much love and care on the salon-like Waltz La Plus que Lente, enough to transform it into something that sounded like a masterpiece (as well, Dinova was completely unfazed by a door noisily opening and shutting at one point in the proceedings!).

Dinova gave us a sharply-etched, glint-eyed Mendelssohn E Minor Scherzo, the music tripping deftly between faery and demonic mode, the pianist surviving a ‘splash” at the end of one of her runs which occasioned a wry, self-deprecating look at the keyboard from the pianist at the end of the piece, something which mattered not a whit in the context of such amazing overall dexterity. By contrast, the Scriabin left-hand Nocturne conjured up whole worlds of enchantment, the playing without smudging or clouding, but resonating beautifully throughout.

One expects, not unreasonably, to hear Rachmaninov from a Russian pianist, and Dinova’s way with two of the Op.23 Preludes reminded me of the composer’s own sharply-etched playing on his recordings. In reverse order to the programme’s listing she played the well-known G Minor with plenty of impulsive thrust, spiking the rhythms with accented notes in a way that added an element of menace to the momentums. And (bless her!) she played the throwaway ending, instead of the loud concluding chord that the composer unaccountably put into a later edition of the score! The E-flat Major she adroitly wove into a seamless surge, the central climax melting into delicacy at the end, the line, as always, both intensely-focused and pliable.

As for Balakirev’s notoriously challenging Islamey, which closed the first half, Dinova engaged with the piece on all fronts, relishing the rapid-fire toccata-like passages, whirling figurations, fistfuls of chords and sudden changes of rhythm, texture and dynamics than make this work one of the showcases for virtuoso pianists strutting their stuff. But nowhere did Dinova make us feel she was simply displaying her pianistic wares – she was too intent on bringing out the character of the different parts of the music, my favorite moment in her performance being the reprise of the toccata-like rhythms after the more lyrical central episode, where her out-and-out keyboard physicality took both music and listeners for an exhilarating bucking bronco ride – a breathtaking experience!

Being a sucker for Liszt’s Schubert Transcriptions, I enjoyed Dinova’s playing of them unreservedly, the beautiful Auf dem Wasser zu singen contrasting most tellingly with the spooky Erlkönig. In the context of this recital they made a fitting introduction to the remainder of the second half, which was taken up with Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op.28.

Pianist and pedagogue Hans Von Bulow (whom history unfortunately remembers most readily as the man whose wife Wagner stole) famously wrote a “program note” for every single one of these preludes, some of which are fanciful to the point of surrealism. His actions,of course, reflected the desire of musicians of his age to characterize the music that they played, for the benefit of their listeners. To my delight, Dinova’s programme printed Bulow’s titles for each of the Preludes.

One wasn’t aware of a specific program as such while listening to Dinova’s playing of these pieces, but such was the power of her musical “imaging” one could without too much trouble bring to mind pictures or words or both in response to what she was doing and how. They weren’t, I felt, offered by the pianist as abstracted pieces, though one could undoubtedly treat them as such if one wanted to, and resist the blandishments of the extremely vivid playing. As with nearly everything she gave us throughout the recital Dinova’s identification with Chopin’s sound world seemed at the time entirely appropriate as a synthesis of mind and heart, intellect and feeling.

Throughout the recital, but especially throughout the second half, Dinova proclaimed her allegiance to an older, more traditional manner of playing by consistently allowing her left hand to rhythmically anticipate the right, as many of the generation of pianists who made the earliest recordings known did as a matter of course. Also, from the outset the depth of tone and sense of “communing” with each of the Preludes added to a sense of their integral power – here they seemed more than usually “knitted together”, each one greater for the company of its fellows. Having said this it seems hypocritical of me to single out any for special comment – but I particularly loved her light, airy, out-of-doors way with the Lisztian No.23, which Bulow called “A Pleasure-Boat”, here, sounding like something out of the first Book of Liszt’s  “Annees de Pelerinage”  (Years of Pilgrimage).

As if she hadn’t done enough to satisfy, Dinova generously gave us both Scriabin and Rachmaninov as encores, setting the seal on what was a recital to remember. And, as with Sofya Gulyak, let’s sincerely hope we in New Zealand haven’t seen the last of her.