Interesting assortment of arrangements for viola ensembles from the New Zealand School of Music

Viva Viola – the next generation (from the New Zealand School of Music)

Viola: Annji Chong, Vince Hardaker, John Roxburgh, Alix Schultze, Alexa Thomson, Aiden Verity, Megan Ward

High Noon Quartet (in Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D, K 285): Michael McEwen – flute, Jun He – violin, Andrew Filmer – viola, Charles Davenport – cello

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 9 May, 12.15pm

Viola students at the New Zealand School of Music have formed this group which has given several concerts in Wellington as well as at the International Viola Conference in Sydney.

The programme listed seven players who took part but not identified in each of the trios, quartets, quintets and the final sextet; plus one, Andrew Filmer, who played in the Mozart. Their programme was, of necessity, rather odd-ball, for not a lot of music has been written for groups of violas. Thus it consisted, apart from the first piece, entirely of arrangements of music originally written for different instruments.

The first was played as written: one of Mozart’s flute quartets, which of course included only one viola. The result was probably the most generally popular piece on the programme, and it was indeed delightfully played. It was the only piece whose players were listed individually. Michael McEwen played a particularly stylish and confident flute and the three string players matched him in the feeling of gaiety that Mozart wrote into his D major quartet. The whole performance was charming, with just a few minor smudges in the last movement.

Then followed a short suite of early baroque pieces, by one Johann Groh, arranged by Australian composer Paul Groh (no note about the strange coincidence). The composer died at the beginning of the terrible Thirty Years War. Five violas performed the four small pieces that were quite characterful if unexciting; perhaps the harmonies employed in the arrangement made me suspect tuning flaws.

Dido’s Lament, ‘When I am laid in earth’ from Dido and Aeneas could have been more effective if played a bit slower to linger a little on the despair. But the piece was played very well.

An arrangement for four violas of a fugue from an organ work by Domenico Scarlatti was a thoroughly engaging piece, in which the fugue was cleverly visited by another unrelated theme that increased very significantly the complexity and pleasure derived therefrom. Bach himself might have been impressed by it, and by its playing.

A Viola Terzett (three violas) by an Israeli composer, Boaz Avni, was brought forward in the programme next: a well-honed performance of a perfectly competent piece that didn’t leave an especially deep impression.

Another minor piece arranged for viola trio by a much greater composer followed: one of Tchaikovsky’s piano pieces, Aveu passione (variously: passionné, passioné, passioni). It began on the lower strings but soon moved, rather effectively up the A string. I do not know the piano original and so cannot tell whether this might have been a good rendering of it.

The first viola led quite strongly an anonymous Galliard arranged for five violas by one Sancho Engano, but otherwise the piece seemed rather pedestrian.

And the concert finished with a curious musical skit, Bartosky, described as ‘tongue-in-cheek’,  by Julien Heichelbech, starting with the opening phrase of Bartok’s unfinished viola concerto into which were injected a couple of familiar tunes including the waltz from The Sleeping Beauty. A performance by less skilled players on You-Tube is furnished with a sudden scream in the middle which was funny and struck me as the main point of the music which in truth had little other purpose. I wonder why The Next Generation decided against it.

Though most of the music was not hugely entertaining, the playing by the various configurations of violas was in itself admirable and very agreeable (I have an especial affection for the sound of the viola), and confirmed the excellent musical level achieved by these (I assume) students.



One thought on “Interesting assortment of arrangements for viola ensembles from the New Zealand School of Music

  1. Paul Groh says:

    I arranged the Intradas of Johann Groh for five violas. There’s nothing especially “strange” about the coincidence of my having the same surname as the composer, any more than the coincidence of having a violist named Andrew Filmer performing on a concert at St. Andrew’s on the Terrace. Old Johann may have been a relative of mine, or he may not; I can’t prove it, and I can’t rule it out. My earliest known Groh ancestor was my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, also named Johann, who lived about a century after the composer, just across the border from Saxony in Upper Franconia. Most earlier church records in that part of Germany no longer exist, having been destroyed in the Thirty Years’ War — which was indeed a terrible war, but it began with the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 and had long been under way by the time Johann Groh died in 1627. Having had the pleasure of hearing these talented musicians perform in Sydney last March, I suspect that many of the comments in this review (“rather odd-ball,” “a few minor smudges,” “unexciting,” “could have been more effective,” “didn’t leave an especially deep impression,” “cannot tell whether this might have been a good rendering,” “rather pedestrian,” “not hugely entertaining”) are likewise at variance with the facts.

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