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.