Students explore viola repertoire at St Andrew’s

Viola Students of the NZSM

Hindemith: Sonata for viola and piano in F major, Op.11 no.4, movements 1 & 2
Schumann: Märchenbilder (Fairytale Pictures) for viola and piano, Op.113, movements 3 & 4
Bloch: Suite for viola and piano, movements 2 & 3
Walton: Viola Concerto in A minor, movement 1

Vincent Hardaker, Alice McIvor, Megan Ward (violas), Rafaelle Garlick-Grice (piano)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 10 October 2012, 12.15pm

These major twentieth-century viola works (excluding the Schumann) made an impressive muster.  The latest composition was Bloch’s, dating from 1958 (and the most modern-sounding it was); 1928-29 was the period of Walton’s concerto, though it was revised in 1961, and Hindemith’s was the earliest, composed in 1919.

The Hindemith was the first work played, by Vincent Hardaker.  The composer was himself a violist.   The work opened with low-pitched notes for the viola; this was a gorgeous sound, but there were a few hiccups soon after, and some coarse tone, particularly in the middle register.  A challenging and interesting piano part was very able played.  Excellent programme notes assisted the audience’s appreciation of the music, particularly the second movement, with its theme and variations.

Schumann wrote a considerable amount of programme music, that is, music telling a story or illustrating an extra-musical theme.  The third and fourth movements of the Märchenbilder were played by Alice McIvor.  ‘Rasch’, the third movement, depicted Rumpelstiltskin; like the character, it was tricky music!  The ‘Langsam’ final movement was in complete contrast.  It brought out all the richness of the instrument; serene and nostalgic, it was a true Romantic piece.

The pianist handled her material in a most sensitive fashion, her gentle rubati emphasising subtly the romantic nature of the music.  Alice McIvor proved to be a very competent performer, and together with Rafaelle Garlick-Grice, provided a consummate, very accomplished performance of both movements.

Megan Ward impressed by playing the second and fourth movements of the difficult Bloch Suite from memory – the only one of the performers to abandon use of the score.  How different this music was idiomatically from the previous item!  Megan Ward proved to be a very proficient player.  She and the pianist both handled a considerable amount of rapid gymnastics with aplomb, although the sound from the viola was rather more abrasive than that of the preceding violist – but that probably suited this music quite well.

The music had considerable interest, because Bloch sub-titled the movements: the second, “Grotesques: Simian Stage”, making it, as the programme note said, “one of extremely few pieces of classical music to be indisputably about monkeys”; the fourth movement, “Land of the Sun”, depicting, according to the programme note, “early society in China… described by the composer as ‘probably the most cheerful thing I ever wrote’”.

One could almost see the monkeys leaping around – probably those I saw on TV the previous night, in David Attenborough’s programme made in India.  The latter movement was bright, but rather more conventional.  Again, there was much complexity in the piano part, which was brilliantly played.

William Walton was a viola player, like Hindemith.  Alice McIvor returned to play the first movement of his Viola Concerto.  Of the three viola performers she had the most consistently good tone throughout the range.  She made a very fine performance of the movement, double-stopped melodies and all.  It was unified playing that interpreted the music coherently and gave the audience the good grasp of it that Alice obviously had.  Rafaelle produced beautiful tones from the piano.  It was a pity that the printed programme contained no biographical notes for her.

Perhaps a smile or two from the players at the end of the concert would have conveyed a feeling of pleasure in performing, and also would have recognised the audience’s applause.


School of Music guitar students delight Lower Hutt lunchtime audience

New Zealand School of Music Guitar Ensemble, conducted by Jane Curry

Music by Gibbons, Dowland, Bach, Andrew York, Piazzolla, Brouwer, Carulli

Church of St Mark, Woburn Road, Lower Hutt

Wednesday 10 October, 12.15pm

Two distinct ensembles took part in this delightful recital, some of which was to contribute to the final semester assessments of senior students. Eight players formed the ‘ensemble’ while four of them – the more senior students – formed the quartet. The Ensemble started and finished the programme.

Two pieces by Elizabethan/Jacobean composers opened it. Orlando Gibbons Fantasie for keyboard was very short but demonstrated, in this most accomplished arrangement by one of the guitarists, how effective it could be made to sound in another medium that involved the creation of far more notes.

John Dowland’s The Frog Galliard was written for the lute and arranged for an ensemble by his contemporary Thomas Morley; a more elaborate, courtly affair, in slow ¾ rhythm, it was played fluently with only a few missed notes, leaving an excellent impression of the musical talent within the ensemble.

The fourth of the Preludes and Fugues (in F major) from Bach’s Eight Preludes and Fugues, BWV 553-560, followed (it is now believed they were written for pedal clavichord, not organ); I don’t think that, knowing of the earlier doubts about its being by Bach, affected my impression that it did not display a very typically Bachian character. The Prelude moved along fluently and interestingly with its nods at different keys while the Fugue made use of rocking series of thirds that did rather call for a bit more elaboration.

These three pieces and the later ones played by the Ensemble were conducted by Jane Curry.

The next two pieces were played by the Quartet (Nick Price, Jamie Garrick and Cameron Sloan and Mike Stoop). Andrew York is a prominent American composer for guitar, and his Quiccam sounded a very formidable challenge for the players, required to produce a considerable variety of awkward effects that were rather better than mere devices for idle bravura display, and they handled its complex, varied parts with skill and a good sense of where the music was going.

A rather gruesome piece by Argentinian tango exponent Piazzolla was La muerte del Angel, about the death of an angel in a typical Buenos Aires knife fight. The slashing of the knives was audible as were various unusual effects and articulations. Again, this was a credit to the accomplishment of the students and the adventurous guidance by their teachers.

In Cuban Landscape with Rain the full ensemble took over again. By Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, it was accompanied by a sudden rain squall that descended on the church, to general wonderment. The piece featured impressionistic effects such as very fast repeated notes simulating tremolo, and chaotic, percussive effects that rattled like the rain.

There were two famous guitarists at the turn of the 19th century: Ferdinando Carulli and Mauro Giuliani. Carulli was born in the same year as Beethoven (and Wordsworth); he settled in Paris and it may well have been his playing that prompted Chopin, who was also in Paris during the last decade of Carulli’s life there, to remark that there was no more beautiful instrument in the world than the guitar, save perhaps two guitars.

This Quartett, Op 22, would readily support that opinion, with its formal opening, as if for a concerto, and its tuneful, operatic style that sounded very much of its time, the opéras-comiques of Grétry or Boïeldieu. So ended a concert before a moderate sized audience who would have been unlikely to have been very familiar either with the classical guitar or with its repertoire. The School of Music is doing an admirable job with its sustained policy of getting talented students out into the community, with great mutual benefits.