New Zealand School of Music guitar students’ interesting recital at Old St Paul’s

Guitar students: Jamie Garrick, Nick Price, Cameron Sloan, Mike Stoop

Music by Bizet, Bach, L K Mertz, Daniel Bacheler and Adnrew York

Old Saint Paul’s, Mulgrave Street

Tuesday 5 June, 12.15pm

These students, plus one other, had played at St Andrew’s on The Terrace in the previous week, with a largely different programme. I missed it, as did my Middle C colleagues. I gather that they played mainly as a quartet then; at Old Saint Paul’s they played two ensemble pieces, and four solos.

A suite from Carmen opened the concert. The programme note remarked that the opera had had a rough beginning (actually, the nature of its reception has been rather distorted; it had about 30 performances in the three months between its premiere and Bizet’s death – more than any other opera at the Opéra-Comique that year, 1875; there was a great deal of popular and critical acclamation – just one or two churlish reviews; and already the Vienna Court Opera had made an approach for it to be produced there).

The performance by the quartet here began well, carefully, capturing the Spanish air that pervades it from the start, and the attractive arrangement gave each player bright solo opportunities while the others provided nicely contrasted accompaniments, rhythmically and dynamically acute, and placed on the lower strings of the instruments. However, some of the later dances did not capture quite the same charm or character, and by the time of the Toreador’s song slips occurred more often. But the Entr’acte was well done and the Gypsy Dance  was quite a delight.

The audience seemed unfamiliar with applauding customs, clapping after every section of the Carmen suite, and even more surprising between the two parts of the Prelude and fugue from Bach’s Lute Suite, BWV 997, which was played without the score by Michael Stoop. His dynamics were nicely judged and phrasing expressive. The fugue is quite long and it was no small achievement to have got through it without noticeable mishap.

Cameron Sloan played two pieces, again from memory, by one Johann Kaspar Mertz, a 19th century composer: Fantaisie originale and Le gondolier, from his Op 65; they sounded influenced by the piano music of his age – of Weber, Schubert and Schumann. Though he played these two attractive pieces very well, his spoken introduction had been inaudible. Given a composer probably unknown to most, as it was to me, a few words would have been interesting. New Grove does not list him, but Wikipedia does: named as Hungarian guitarist and composer, born in Bratislava (Pressburg or Pozsony when the city was in Austria or Hungary respectively).

Later players decided against introducing themselves or commenting on their pieces. A little coaching in the art of speaking in a medium size auditorium would be a good idea.

Equally attractive was a piece called Monsieur Almaine by Daniel Bacheler, a theme and variations. Again, I had not heard of him; moderate-sized dictionaries were of no help, though I found him in New Grove, and of course the Internet never fails. It appears that recent scholarship has brought some 50 lute pieces to light and some have been recorded.  He was born in 1572, the same year as Ben Jonson and Thomas Tomkins, around the dates of John Bull, Monteverdi, Frescobaldi. Dowland, Weelkes … With the confidence afforded by using the score, Nick Price played with a good ear for style, phrased and articulated a clearly difficult piece very well, with only minor slips.

The last soloist was Jamie Garrick who played another Bach Lute piece, the Prelude and Fugue from BWV 998; he played thoughtfully, maintaining fluent rhythms in both parts, though with occasional hesitations. The Fugue, with an attractive melody, starts slowly which demanded considerable care in its meandering passages, and in the fast passagework as it accelerated towards the end.

Finally the quartet reassembled to play a rather delightful piece by contemporary American composer, Andrew York, Quiccan. It was fast and rhythmically lively in a gently Latin-American manner. Judging by the adroit fingerwork evident in all players, it was well rehearsed and well liked.

I had not noticed that the concert was running over time, which suggests that, in all, it had proved most enjoyable.

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