Mendelssohn: Symphony in C minor (two movements)
Dvořák: Serenade for Strings Op.22 (four movements)
New Zealand School of Music String Ensemble, conducted by Martin Riseley
Expressions, Upper Hutt
Tuesday, 24 July 2012, 1pm
This was a good-looking ensemble, all players were smartly dressed in black, hair just so, and all standing to play (except for the cellos), and an attractive programme had been chosen. The ensemble comprised four first violins, four second violins, three violas, three cellos and one double bass; 12 women and three men. Some of the audience seats were close to the players; people sensibly steered clear of the danger of sitting in those seats that might have resulted in their becoming bow-legged (aren’t cellists anyway?) from having a cello bow thrust into their legs.
The Mendelssohn work was written for strings alone, when the composer was only 12 years old, one of a number of works written in his childhood to which he never gave opus numbers. Two movements were played: the short slow movement marked grave, and the allegro finale.
The players were all highly competent, and played well together. There was a strong sound from them in this happy piece; an astonishing composition for a 12-year-old.
The violinists rearranged themselves for the second work. The first movement, moderato, I thought was a little pedantic, and could have done with more phrasing – not to say that there was none. However, things improved as the movement went along. Like so much of Dvořák’s output, this work is wonderfully cheerful and tuneful. A serenade was originally a work played out-of-doors; one could imagine having this played while strolling in a garden, or while eating a meal outdoors on a warm evening.
The wooden floor and mainly wooden walls and ceiling in the large foyer space at Expressions made for a good sound on the whole, but sometimes it was somewhat harsh or shrill. This effect may have depended on where one was sitting.
In the second and third movements, tempo di valse and scherzo, the slower passages were played with a rich timbre; the faster ones suffered from rather too frequent intonation discrepancies. The lively, dry acoustic may have shown these up more than would be the case in some venues. Nevertheless, I was surprised at their number.
However, there are some very fine players here, notably the leaders of each of the four main sections of the ensemble.
The final movement played (the fifth, allegro vivace) featured delightful cello and double bass pizzicato, which I’m not sure I had been sufficiently aware of before. Sitting close to the cellos revealed how enchanting this part of the music was.
The last quiet section began rather out of kilter – no-one appeared to be watching the conductor. The return of the robust main theme terminated the work happily.
The concert was well-attended; over 100 people came to hear the young musicians.