Five violinists and a cellist at student recital at St Andrew’s

String Students of the New Zealand School of Music

Brahms: Sonata no.1 for violin and piano in G major, Op.78
Mozart: Violin Concerto no.5, K.219; 3rd movement
Bach: Sonata no.1 in G minor, BWV 1001: Fuga; Sonata no.2 in A minor, BWV 1003; Andante
Bloch: ‘Prayer’ from Jewish Life,  Suite no.1
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64, 3rd movement

Annabel Drummond, Lydia Harris, Julian Baker, Hester Bell Jordan, Kate Oswin (violins), Alexandra Partridge (cello), Rafaelle Garlick-Grice, Matthew Oswin (piano)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 17 October 2012, 12.15pm

The lunch-time concert was more than usually dramatic, with an earthquake occurring while Julian Baker was playing his Bach, but he carried right on, and showed no sign of discomposure.

First on the programme, though, was Annabel Drummond, a first-year student, playing the Brahms movement.  This is a long movement, marked vivace ma non troppo.  There were a few slight intonation glitches, but the expressive playing and superb tone Annabel gained from her instrument made these of no significance.  The sparkling piano part complemented the mellow, lyrical violin part, and had the limelight itself at times.

The gently melancholy character of the sonata, particularly the funeral march section (which belied the tempo marking) was conveyed beautifully, while the more rapid sections were fine too, despite a very brief lapse into harsh tone from the violin.  A splendid technique contributed to a wonderful performance in which Brahms’s work was played with feeling.

Lydia Harris gave us the third movement of Mozart’s concerto nicknamed ‘Turkish’.  Her violin had a strong sound, and she played with clarity, but not the sweetness of tone of the previous player, some stridency, even abrasiveness at times, on the upper strings, and not enough delicacy.  The intonation was occasionally awry.  There was too much pedal used in the piano part for Mozart.  The whole movement was, to my mind, played a trifle too fast, though it was not without character.

Next up was J.S. Bach, in the capable hands of Julian Baker, who played the unaccompanied fugue from memory.  His spoken introduction was good, and very clear.  The difficult music was executed very competently on the whole, despite a number of lapses in the double-stopping.  For a first-year student, this was very fine Bach playing; he had the audience totally absorbed (well, some of us lost concentration briefly, but not the performer) with idiomatic Bach, and a rich tone.

A cello followed, by way of variety.  Ernest Bloch’s piece was a shorter work than others on the programme, but of considerable interest.  Playing from memory, Alexandra Partridge proved to be a confident cellist, and one able to produce a lovely sonorous tone from her instrument.  There was plenty of subtlety and a range of dynamics in her performance; the excellent empathy between cellist and pianist was noticeable.

Hester Bell Jordan, playing the Bach Andante, seemed rather tentative.  Maybe it was nerves, but her tone was not consistent.  While there was care with the baroque style of phrasing away the second of each pair of notes, the performance came over as rather hesitant, with insufficient flow.  Certainly, the amount of double-stopping made this a difficult piece to bring off.

The last performer was Kate Oswin, whose brother Matthew accompanied her in the piano reduction of the orchestral score of the third movement of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, probably the most frequently performed of any violin concerto.  It was a challenging role for both players, the violinist playing from memory, not made easier by being played a little faster than the marking might suggest.  The violin part was well under Kate’s fingers.  However, she does not have a big sound, and the piano sometimes had too much volume in comparison.

I felt the performance was a little too glib.  All the notes were there, but there was a lack of expression or dynamic alteration – indeed, the tempo made it more difficult to convey feeling and nuance.  It felt a little like a race of technical brilliance, rather than music.  There is no doubt that this 3rd-year student was more advanced technically than the first year students – but musically?  It needed to be more winsome.

A couple of people remarked to me how lucky we are to have these lunch-hour concerts (free, with opportunity for koha), in which we hear superb music from accomplished musicians.  I strongly echo that.