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.


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