Adventurous and rewarding recital by Richard Mapp and Donald Maurice

Boris Pigovat: Prayer and Botticelli’s Magnificat (world premiere)
Georges Enescu: Sonata in the Romanian Folk Character (transcription by Donald Maurice)

Donald Maurice (viola) and Richard Mapp (piano)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 4 July, 12.15pm

Students at New Zealand schools of music, and those at the school in Wellington in particular are fortunate in working in an environment that both encourages original composition and its performance, and encourages the exploration of not so new music.

Obviously, that is not at the expense of furnishing students’ memories with the great music of the past, though many will have come from secondary schools where exposure to very much of the wealth of music of earlier times has been patchy.

Certain of the teachers at the school have developed a reputation for unearthing music of unfamiliar composers as well as unfamiliar music of quite famous composers.

Donald Maurice has been prominent among them. Apart from being a leading figure in the international viola scene – he inspired the hosting of the International Viola Congress in Wellington a decade or so ago, for example – he has done very significant work in promoting the work of certain composers.

He published his own completion of Bartók’s unfinished viola concerto. With his colleagues in the New Zealand String Quartet he has committed to CD all 17 of Alfred Hill’s string quartets. And a couple of years ago, Maurice conducted the Wellington Chamber Orchestra in a concert of music by Bartók, Gary Goldschneider (a Romanian-inspired piece), Alfred Hill (one of his symphonies), Enescu and Pigovat (In Arentinian Style).

Mapp’s career has followed a more traditional, pianist’s path in terms of repertoire, returning to New Zealand after a lengthy career around Europe; and now lending his talents generously to accompany a great variety of musicians, students as well as distinguished professionals, in wide-ranging repertory; his much praised CD of piano music by Granados also indicates an exploratory disposition.

So this was another case of discovery. Maurice made a mark in 2011 with his recording with the Vector Wellington Orchestra, under Marc Taddei, of The Holocaust Requiem by Boris Pigovat; that followed the orchestra’s concert in 2008, with the first performance of Requiem outside Europe, as well as Prayer (which was played at the present recital), a piece for viola and harp, and a string quartet.

The Requiem was performed again, in September 2011, by Kenneth Young conducting the New Zealand School of Music Orchestra with Maurice playing viola.

Clearly he is attracted to the Israeli composer whose Prayer and Botticelli’s Magnificat he played at this concert.

Prayer is a slow, elegiac piece written during the composition of the Requiem, and breathing the same air; it too seems perfectly conceived for the viola which took charge of the emotional flavour of the piece, even though the piano’s role, when I could turn my attention away from the beauty and intensity of Maurice’s playing, was an essential participant, and handled with the utmost sensitivity by Mapp. Inevitably, I suppose, I also detected the accents of Ernest Bloch, particularly in the piece’s later phases.

Botticelli’s Magnificat was almost the work of another composer entirely, inspired by the famous painting in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, placing the Medici family in a religious context. It is coloured in light tones, treating the two instruments in somewhat unusual ways, in which the piano is accorded greater prominence much of the time; it carried an open, clear melody while the viola played a sustained single note, a pedal, though in the treble register; however, the viola soon picked it up and elaborated it.

If our experience of Pigovat had been moulded so far by that Requiem and the Prayer, here was a more gracious, gregarious and peaceful fellow, though no less able to express emotion. It was a spirit that both players had no difficulty in communicating.

The sonata by Enescu was an even more interesting discovery (for me). An arrangement by Maurice of Enescu’s third violin sonata in A minor (Op 25), titled ‘dans le caractère populaire roumain’, as is the transcription. He has played it in the United States and Australia, as well as previously in New Zealand.

It struck me that one could approach it from one of two quite different standpoints: one, as a misalliance between generally lively folk music and its enforced conformity with formal classical composition styles; two, as offering a useful and imaginative model for the reassertion of the most common source of inspiration for serious composers over the centuries – popular music which is assimilated into interesting formal structures, as with the last movements of the third Razumovsky Quartet or Brahms’s Piano Quartet Op 25, or Smetana’s Ma Vlast.

I incline to the latter view, hearing it as arising from the same source as his two wonderful Romanian Rhapsodies, only here employing more refined resources. It starts with themes that are distinctly gypsyish in both instruments, with the piano often assuming a rather more important role to begin with, divertingly decorative against the viola which is confined for a while to sustained bowings that are in the nature of pedals.

The note about the second movement suggested a sinister mood, darkness, but I did not sense nocturnal terrors or the presence of anything supernatural, though the piano was given to darting about unpredictably. The third movement too was characterised in the notes in highly fanciful terms, and again my fears were not realised, but the character of the music and the highly accomplished playing convinced me that their pains with its performance had been justified and that more of Enescu’s music deserves a regular place in concert programmes.

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