Adventurous performances of testing and witty music by a dead composer

A Mews Celebration, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Dr Douglas K. Mews 
Music by or arranged by Dr Douglas K Mews
Bach Choir, conducted by Douglas Mews, with Eleanor Carter, cello

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday, 28 April 2013 5pm

Dr Douglas K. Mews was Associate Professor of Music at theUniversityofAucklandfrom 1974 until his retirement in 1984.  He was also Director of Music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland from 1970 to 1982.

He was a composer, and a lively, instructive and entertaining broadcaster on what was then the Concert Programme, his soft Newfoundland accent being very easy to listen to.

There is a complaint that the general view is that ‘the only good composers are dead ones’, in terms of programming and public appreciation, in New Zealand we seem almost to have the reverse view: contemporary composers such as Anthony Ritchie, David Hamilton and Gareth Farr are frequently performed, less so dead composers.  I  do not imply that those named should not be performed – of course they should.  But, apart from the Dominion String Quartet’s exemplary promotion of Alfred Hill, there is not enough music heard from our past.

The concert began with two motets and a mass.  First, ‘A sound came from heaven’, which has been heard from the National Youth Choir of New Zealand. Unaccompanied, as were all the items in the first half of the concert, it proceeded well – a very effective piece and performance, aside from the lack of unanimity on the opening note.  The final sentence, ‘Come, O Holy Spirit’ suffered the same fate as the beginning.

The Mass’s opening, ‘Lord have mercy’ had a much better unison start. The setting interspersed Latin with English.  ‘Gloria’, was highly musical, varied and enjoyable.  The section beginning ‘For you alone are the Holy One’ was positively jolly in its setting.

‘An Introit of Beatitudes’ followed.  Here, particularly, was Douglas Mews’s fine and inspiring word-setting, the music following the natural speech rhythms.  Plainsong basis it might have had, but there were lovely harmonies, as well as much unison singing – always difficult, as the tenors found, introducing extra notes, and not sustaining repeated notes on pitch.

‘Holy, Holy’ was loud and joyful.  While the music was largely in an English tradition, it was not reminiscent of any other composer. It was complex in places, with cross-rhythms and crossings of vocal parts.

From unaccompanied voices to unaccompanied cello: Eleanor Carter, now a member of the NZSO (and Wellingtonorganist), was a student of Professor Mews at AucklandUniversity.  She played Five Melodies of Passion and Dispassion.  The first piece began with a big sound.  It was interesting to hear how resonant the solo cello was in St. Andrew’s. 

The piece suggested anguish, concern, anxiety, and ended with pizzicato, but no feeling of resolution.  The next piece was soft and mellow, in the form of question and answer between treble phrases and bass ones.  This questioning continued through much of the piece, followed by a more affirmative section, with a question at the end.

The third part began with some rough stuff – many short notes, and a querulous, even cross, argumentative tone.  One could almost hear words in this conversation, especially the expletive at the end.

Piece number four was all calmness again (dispassion?), with long sustained notes.  It seemed to be the calm of resignation rather than of happy repose.  Gentle pizzicato preceded a solemn ending. 

The final piece began with rapid pizzicato, then turned to powerful passion.  These features alternated, incorporating anguished outbursts.  There were cries from both extremes of the instrument’s range, and running pizzicato before an ending which incorporated the opening phrase of Saint-Saëns’ ‘Swan’ from The Carnival of the Animals – perhaps the most well-known cello solo there is.

The second half began with settings of two poems by Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II.  He worked in a quarry during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and wrote a cycle of poems entitled The Quarry; we heard them in English translation. 

The first “Hands….. are a landscape” began in unison (again, the pitch was a little wayward) then went into close harmony.  The words about the physical effects of labour included “shoulders and veins vaulted” at which point the music had a vaulted sound: multi-part writing, as the words are “For a moment he is in a Gothic building”.  These and other words were first spoken and then sung.  At the final line “Some hands are for toil, some for the cross”, the interval of a second was held well, with a low bass ending. 

Eleanor Carter played percussion in these songs – large stones at two different pitches, used sparingly.  This was most telling at the end of the first song, where they doubtless represented the hammering of nails into a cross.

The second song, ‘In memory of a fellow-worker’, used not only the stones, but also two different bells, which chimed three times at appropriate intervals.  The setting featured sprechstimme, a cross between speaking and singing, and some awkward intervals, all of which were managed well.  The men were accurate and characterful on the whole.  Angular phrases contrasted with legato ones.  The whole was wrought, and performed, with sombre effect.

Douglas Mews played his father’s Sesqui Suite for solo piano (no prizes for guessing the year in which it was written) of three sections: ‘Auckland Awakening’, in which bass notes intoned, with a gentle phrase at the top of the treble that gradually opened out to a mainly quiet awakening; ‘Auckland Awhiowhio’, in which the spritely wind (no, that’s not a misspelling) was all over the place – will-o’-the-wisp, some of it very high at the top of Mt. Eden, other gusts at ground level; ‘Auckland Awash’ with a surging sea, featuring ripples and crashes of waves.  This was scene-painting, impressionistic music.  It was played with great accomplishment and sensitivity to the varying moods and subtleties.   

The lighter part of the programme began with an original Mews setting of Lear’s well-known ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’.  More delightful word-painting, especially the spoken “Dear Pig, are you willing…” followed by a high squeak “I will”.  The choir demonstrated precision and good tone.

Arrangements followed: of Simon and Garfunkel’s version of ‘Scarborough Fair’; where the men lost pitch to some extent; the spiritual ‘Little David’, which featured a semi-chorus of sopranos, and excellent contrast in dynamics.

Finally, arrangements of three Maori songs: ‘Hoki hoki’ (which I always find a tear-jerker), ‘Akoako o Te Rangi’, which began effectively with men and altos humming while sopranos sang the melody line, and finally that most often sung song, ‘Pokarekare ana’.  This was a superb arrangement beautifully sung, with good consistency of pronunciation, despite the pitch dropping.

This was evocative music and both entrancing and interesting to hear.  Some of it should certainly be heard more often.  The range of genres of music and of invention was impressive; the whole was a magnificent tribute to an importantNew Zealandcomposer.  For the choir’s part, there was much that was difficult without the support of accompaniment, and all members acquitted themselves well.



Uncovering the fullness of Monteverdi – Baroque Voices

THE FULL MONTE – Concert Four

MONTEVERDI –  Madrigals Book 4 (1603) – complete

Selected Duets from Madrigals Book 7 (1619)

Baroque Voices : Pepe Becker, Jayne Tankersley (sopranos)/ Andrea Cochrane (alto)

Christopher Warwick (countertenor) / Jeffrey Chang (tenor) / Simon Christie (bass)

Continuo: Jonathan Berkahn (virginals) / Robert Oliver (bass viol)

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill St., Wellington

Sunday 28th April 2013

On the face of things, this was another expertly put-together and engagingly-performed concert in Baroque Voices’ Monteverdi series, with pretty much the same underlying features as in previous concerts. But the ensemble has now reached Book Four of the composer’s nine separate madrigal collections, one which represents a crisis-point in the series.

Monteverdi was to thenceforth embark on a new path, what he called his “Seconda Pratica”, moving away from traditional unaccompanied polyphonic modes in favour of freer and bolder uses of harmony and ornamentation,including the use of continuo instruments. He announced his intentions in his written preface to the Fifth Book, published in 1605, declaring that he would make “the words the mistress of the harmony and not the servant”.

So, the music of parts of this concert represented a kind of summation of an era, given that we as listeners following the series had already been well-and-truly initiated into the new age! Thanks to the group’s alternation of madrigals from both of the stylistic eras in every concert thus far, we’ve enjoyed and already marvelled at some of the expressive possibilities of the composer’s “Second Practice”. Though this may have “muddied the waters” for those wanting clearly-defined divisions in performance, for me the presentations have, in a different sense, been enriched with the use of these contrasts in the music as renaissance turns into baroque.

In any case part of the fascination for me of having the two “practices” presented cheek-by-jowl was, as with other concerts in the series, having those “window-in-time” opportunities for registering how the younger Monteverdi was always straining at the leash of compositional convention, and occasionally (to quote Franz Liszt’s famous words) “hurling his lance into the future” with unexpected and scalp-prickling emphases and irregularities which earned him the ire of him more conventional colleagues and rivals.

There were far too many moments of sheer musical illumination to catalogue adequately during the course of this concert – of course, we have become thoroughly accustomed to, indeed spoilt by the “moments per minute” nature of the presentations thus far – and so it proved here. I shall content myself with recounting my impressions of some of the more “stand-out” realizations achieved by the group, while noting the presence of a few moments which seemed to me to be less successfully achieved than the group might have wanted.

The concert began with the first madrigal from Book Four Ah delete partita (Ah, painful departure) – a spectacular unison soprano line began the piece, subsequently cleaving into two a tone apart, creating enormous intensity which was, I thought, beautifully sculptured by the singers, though Pepe Becker’s normally secure tones seemed to me a little strained and perhaps “unwarmed”, the effort more than usually noticeable.

Pepe’s and fellow-soprano Jayne Tankersley’s very individual timbres always delight in combination, their differences illuminating the lines and, by nature, the texts. The following Book 7 madrigal, featuring both singers Non è di gentil core (No-one has a gentle heart) brought out these features, the beautiful descents at “e nel foci d’amor lieta godete” (“who revel gladly in the fire of love) and the variation of impulse at “Dunque non e di gentil core” (This proves that no-one has a gentle heart) giving the more impulsive passages a wonderful “quickened by love” aspect.

Two Book 4 settings which then followed, both texts beginning with the words “Cor mio…” served to demonstrate the composer’s inclinations towards more overt expressivity and volatility than was accepted as the norm within the framework of the “old rules”. Especially the second of these, Cor mio, non mori? (My heart, will you not die?) contrasted a charged stillness at the opening with an impulsive leap forward at “non mori?”, employing volatilities and richly-wrought harmonies hand-in-hand, seeming to look forward as readily and uncannily as our sensibilities as listeners were drawn back in time as well.

The contrasts between the two styles did tell splendidly in places, such as in Book 7’s O viva fiamma (O live flame of love) with its excitable exchanges between the sopranos – Jayne Tankersley’s expression vibrant and pulsating, Pepe Becker’s more contained and poised – and its sorrowful and pitiable conclusion at “pieta vi prenda del mio acerbo pianto” (take pity on my sorrowful lamentation). The two altos, Andrea Cochrane and counter-tenor Christopher Warwick made much of their first-half Interrotte speranze (Hopes shattered) from Book 7, conveying the intense pain of unrequited love, underpinned by some deeply-felt tones from Robert Oliver’s bass viol. I enjoyed the deep, rich vocal unisons breaking into thirds, perhaps symbolizing the text’s parting of love’s way. However, in the second half I didn’t feel that the same two singers quite nailed another Book 7 madrigal,Vorrei baciarte (I’d like to kiss you) to the same extent, the piece requiring more vocal “ring” than these two pleasing, but rather soft-grained voices could muster.

There’s a barely-concealed eroticism in a good deal of Monteverdi’s music (including parts of his Vespers for the Blessed Virgin) which here bubbled to the fore in a number of places, such as Book 4’s Si, ch’io vorrei morire (Yes, I want to die of love), put across by the ensemble with great relish. Sequences like the suggestive ascending intensities of “Ahi, car’e dolce lingua” (Ah, dear, sweet tongue) and moments such as the fully-flowering “Ahi, vita mia, a questo bianco seno” (Ah, my love, to this white breast) would possibly have earned censorship strictures at less permissive stages of human history. As for the effect, visceral or imaginative, of the repeated exclamations of “Ahi…”, either way the intention could hardly be more explicit.

Rather less evident as soloists throughout, both tenor Jeffrey Chang and bass Simon Christie made exemplary contributions to the ensemble, especially prominent in Book 4’s Voi pur di me partite (So, you really are leaving me), with its male-only middle section at “Ardo d’amor, ado d’amore!” (I burn with love – I burn!). Tenor Jeffrey Chang made a good fist of stirring the emotions in Book 4’s Anima dolorosa, with his anguished tones at “Amor spire? Che spire?”  (Love, what hopes have you?) in the midst of more dignified mourning and sorrow. And Simon Christie’s rock-steady “anchoring”of the ensembles showed impeccable judgment and sensitivity in every case, his lines coming to the fore when appropriate, as in the eloquent Book 4 Longe da te cor mio (Distant from you my dearest).

Incidentally, this madrigal occasioned the only real “glitch” of the concert, Pepe Becker stopping the singers after a few measures, and starting again, presumably to “retune”. The only other untoward things were those previously mentioned very brief instances of voices sounding insufficiently warmed when straining for high notes (both sopranos and the counter-tenor), and a couple of tiny delays due to outside aeroplane noise. The rest was unalloyed delight – and with the next concert, we will presumably get the composer’s “Seconda Pratica” in full candlepower, music’s history in its making.
















Cantoris takes on The Armed Man

Cantoris Choir: The Armed Man

Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace

Cantoris Choir, Ensemble and Karakia

Director: Brian O’Regan

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Friday, 26th April, 2013

Cantoris are to be congratulated on a very good performance of Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man, as is their new director, Brian O’Regan, and accompanying musicians. As soon as the first drum tattoo echoed through St Andrews, I was glad to be there. The choir made a wonderful start as well, producing a rich and full sound that filled the church. Indeed, it was the warmth and depth of the choir that most stood out for me, carrying the performance through what were occasionally rather banal words (ring out the old, ring in the new/ ring happy bells across the snow). Reading through the programme beforehand, I had wondered how they were going to pull off some of the lyrics, particularly those of the last section, ‘Better is Peace’. The performance stood as a testament to how music can elevate less than astounding words.

The second section, traditionally an islamic call to prayer, was replaced by a karakia, beautifully performed by Wairemana Campbell. The substitution worked well, making this a distinctively New Zealand performance, something that was particularly fitting the day following Anzac Day. The next section, the Kyrie, again showcased the choir’s rich sounds. This part also contained a haunting cello solo by Margaret Guldborg.

The section that was the most striking, however, was section five, the Sanctus. It began quietly, with the underlying menace of the percussion (wonderfully played by Thomas Guldborg and Hazel Leader) belying the sweetness and serenity of the choir. When they reached the Hosanna the audience was rocked by an overwhelming and climactic wall of sound. In a way this made it difficult for the choir in the Charge section, which should logically be the climax of the mass. So much sound and energy had already peaked during the Sanctus that the music struggled to gain enough for the Charge. Although they rallied in the end, for me it lacked the drama of the Sanctus.

After the Charge came the unremitting grimness of the Angry Flames and Torches. It was a relief when the Agnus Dei arrived and the piece began to move away from the horrors described in the middle sections. The choir was particularly soft and sweet during the Benedictus, which also featured some lovely work from the ensemble, although the background organ was perhaps a little overbearing. In the final section, Better is Peace, the choir captured the hope and excitement of the ending, bringing the piece to a spectacular finish.

Stroma’s second Mirror of Time – a “Rogues’ Gallery” of Music


Music by: Michael Norris, Jean-Féry Rebel, Thomas Adès,  Anthonello de Caserta, Heinrich Biber,

Louis Andriessen, Carlo Gesualdo, Philip Brownlee, Josquin des Prez, Arvo Pärt,

Thomas Preston, Erik Satie, Matteo da Perugia, Mieko Shiomi, Anon (14th C.)

(all arrangements by Michael Norris)

Stroma: Vesa-Matti Leppänen, Rebecca Struthers (violins) / Andrew Thomson (viola) / Rowan Prior (‘cello)

Kamala Bain (recorder(s) / Rowena Simpson (soprano)

Hamish McKeich (conductor)

Artistic Director: Michael Norris

St.Mary of the Angels, Wellington

Friday 26th April, 2013

With some surprise I read in the Stroma program booklet that this was in fact the SECOND “Mirror of Time” Concert presented by the Ensemble, following on from an occasion in 2012 – had I recently awakened from a kind of “Rip Van Winkel” sleep, or something? I had been to and reviewed a couple of Stroma concerts that year, but I couldn’t remember a “Mirror of Time” title, or a similar theme, even thought the expression dégustations rang a bell. Furthermore, if the first of these explorations of short but visionary, ground-breaking compositions from the Middle Ages to the present day had been as entertainingly assembled and characterfully performed as this present one, then I had indeed missed something special, while in my “sleepwalking” mode.

Having the beautiful and old-worldly church of St.Mary of the Angels available for music performance is invariably a kind of “added value” for performers and audiences alike – and so it proved on this occasion. From out of the ambience of this most atmospheric venue came the first notes of this concert’s music, the quartet of performers antiphonally placed for maximum effect, playing a twelfth-century plainchant theme “O igneous Spiritus”, written by Hildegarde of Bingen, and arranged here by Michael Norris.

Each player gave us his or her own particular variation of the plainchant tune, the effect being an awakening a kind of “music of the spheres” fancy, or, in Hildegarde’s own, if differently-contexted words, sounds “on the breath of God”. The playing, too, had a kind of other-worldly quality, heightened by drawn-out harmonics and occasionally tempered by exotic, vocal-like slides between the notes. I liked Michael Norris’ likening of the effect to “stained-glass” encapsulations of past echoes, preserved for all time. As the musicians finished playing, each one came up to the platform in front of the audience – a nice, ritualistic touch.

From then it was delight following upon delight, really, though one was never sure exactly what shape or form the delight would be presented in (which are the most exciting kinds of delights – as everybody knows!). Having properly gotten an ecclesiastical version of Michael Flanders’ famous “pitch of the hall” (from his and Donald Swann’s show “At the Drop of a Hat”), the musicians (strings joined by a recorder – well, two recorders, more of which in a moment) then proceeded to “let ‘er rip” with a shocking discord made up of a tone cluster, written two hundred years ahead of the likes of Henry Cowell and Penderecki. This came from the pen of French Baroque composer Jean-Féry Rebel, whose dates (1666-1747) make him a near-contemporary of JS Bach, though the former’s innovative experiments with rhythm and harmony put some of his music light-years apart.

As Michael Norris pointed out in the program, this and many of the pieces in the evening’s concert were arrangements of originals, rather than being “authentic” realizations, the intention being to emphasize for listeners the music’s more innovative content. Rebel’s work “Le Cahos” comes from his ballet “Les Élemens”, the full score of which has been lost in any case, leaving a “performing edition” put together by the composer for amateur use at home – so tonight’s performance was perfectly in scale with the composer’s intentions. Strings were partnered by a recorder, firstly a sopranino, whose piercing tones could be heard through the discordant opening, and then a treble instrument taken up as the music increasingly featured solo lines – it was all a bit like a rather more elemental manifestation of Vivaldi.

Leaping forward in time to the music of Thomas Adès from such radical expression suddenly didn’t feel so big a deal in this context, though in other ways Adès’ work “Lethe” made a marked contrast to Jean-Féry Rebel’s chaotic seismic irruptions. Here, Rowan Prior’s beautiful solo cello suggested the Lethe River, interwoven with eerie harmonics from the other strings, the effect not unlike a slowly revolving kinetic sculpture, or else movements from an age-old windmill out of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”. Such antiquities used by a contemporary composer helped bridge the gap to the music of one of the concert’s earliest featured composers, Anthonello de Caserta, a 14th century song “Dame d’onour en qui” featuring the soprano voice of Rowena Simpson. De Caserta’s rhythmic configurations were a delight and a tease for the ear in this sparkling performance.

Heinrich Biber’s music is better-known, of course, and we enjoyed his “Mars”, an exerpt from Battalia à 10, with the ‘cello using a sheet of paper inserted between the strings for a “snare” effect. A different kind of unorthodox instrument use was employed by the Dutch contemporary composer Louis Andriessen in his “Ende”, requiring the player to use two recorders simultaneously, Kamala Bain rising spectacularly to the occasion, tossing the pitches between instruments and giving us an exciting acccelerando at the end.

The work of another contemporary composer, Wellington-based Philip Brownlee, followed that of Carlo Gesualdo, the latter’s music employing chromatic shifts to wonderfully haunting effect, in the madrigal “Io puri respiro in cosi gran dolor”, some sequences having an almost Gothic feel to them. Rowena Simpson’s bell-like voice both enriched and wrestled with the parallel string lines throughout, voice and instruments then “finding” one another at the end of the piece’s dying fall. Not Gesualdo, however, but Giovanni Gabrieli provided the Kiwi composer with his starting-point for “Canzona per sonare: Degraded Echoes” (a world premiere), the opening tones “summoned” as it seemed from faraway places, a sombre medieval sound made of long-held lines from strings and recorder, the lines and harmonies vying with the actual timbres, giving we listeners the opportunity to think spatially, or else indulge our preoccupations. An agitated middle section, aleatoric in effect, underlined rhythmic and pitching gestures, encompassed by piercing tones from the recorder, and took us at the end to edges of known territories, where wonderment begins.

Josquin Des Prez’s brief but beautiful “Agnus Dei” from his “Missa l’homme arm super voces musicales” threw some light upon Arvo Pärt’s following Da Pacem Domine, the latter inspired by medieval plainchant, and saturating our sensibilities with its wonderful drawn-out timelessness of utterance. And to draw us briefly from these and following enchantments came a brief soupcon from the little-known 16th-century English composer Thomas Preston, an organ piece with a strangely bitonal bass-line, strings and recorder simultaneously following separate harmonic pathways, and creating lines whose relationship sounded oddly and ear-catchingly ambivalent.

Ambivalence of various sorts certainly hovers about many of the works created by the uniquely fascinating Erik Satie. We heard an arrangement of the Prelude to his incidental music to a play “Le Fils des Étoiles”, one whose use of an offstage soprano voice and muted strings underlined the general exotic mysticism of the music and its context. Throughout I kept on thinking of Shakespeare’s “Tempest” – soundscapes of air and water created from those disembodied tones were added to Satie’s preoccupation with harmonies based on the interval of a fourth. All of it made for ambiences “rich and strange”, and had a utterly captivating aspect.

The rest brought us back to solid earth with plenty of sheerly visceral fun, Italian composer Matteo da Peruglia’s fifteenth-century 3-part canon given the “treatment”with two more parts added and the original tempo given a turbocharged “take two”, and an arrangement of the anonymous 14th-century song “Cuncti Simus Concanentes”, an energetic homage to the Virgin Mary with bells and hand-clapping thrown into the festive mix. This was after the string-players had picked up and rearranged their music on the stands from which they had been ignominiously blown by a hand-held hair-dryer, Kamala Bain employing a different kind of wind instrument to disruptive effect in Japanese composer Mieko Shiomi’s “Wind Music”. Of course, had it been Stockhausen’s music, helicopters might have arrived, and there would have been an awful din – so we were grateful that the turbulence created here, though annoying for the musicians trying to make sense of their written parts, was more-or-less containable.

All in all, a terrific assemblage of inventiveness on the part of artistic director Michael Norris, and of performance skills from the members of Stroma.










ANZAC affords occasion for an arresting New Zealand and a moving Australian work from NZSO


New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Tecwyn Evans with baritone James Eggelstone and narrator Peter Elliott

Reading from letter from Private Roy Denning, WWI; Ross Edwards: Symphony No 1, Da pacem Domine
Reading from John A Lee’s ‘Civilian into Soldier’; Christopher Blake: Till Human Voices Wake Us
Elgar: Enigma Variations 

Michael Fowler Centre

Wednesday 24 April, 6.30pm

Musical recognition of ANZAC Day (apart from ritualised hymns) has not been a common thing, as far as I can remember. And looking back over the record of reviews in Middle C, I can find no significant concerts, at least since 2008, that attempted to mark the day. The last with any sort of connection was a small chamber music concert that accompanied an exhibition of Gallipoli paintings by artist Bob Kerr, at Pataka Museum in Porirua in 2010; they in turn were inspired by Kerr’s coming across a diary of soldier at Gallipoli, in the Turnbull Library; in addition the words of a Turkish soldier offered what has become a common way of expressing today’s attitude to war: the soldiers of neither side as other than tragic victims of mindless rulers.

Thus it struck me that, if the first two works were by a New Zealander and an Australian, the second half might interestingly have included a piece by a contemporary Turkish composer.

Instead Elgar’s Enigma Variations ended the concert. It was hard to perceive the relevance of a piece written fifteen years before Gallipoli in a country whose leaders were among those who might have stopped the mad slide into the war itself and were responsible for the monumental blunder of the ill-planned and wretchedly equipped landing on Turkish soil in 1915. 

The variations include moments of sadness and some kind of mourning, but so do scores of compositions by composers in every country, though before the 20th century, war was more glorified than deplored.

But that aside, this was a very human, sympathetic performance that seemed to focus on feelings of affection, sometimes wry, sometimes amused, sometimes simply expressing the depth of Elgar’s feeling for his friends, his wife, and perhaps a former, even unforgotten, love.

My earliest memory of Elgar was hearing this work, in the fifth form, on 78s, played by our music master; I particularly remembered his saying that Elgar was one of the greatest orchestrators. Whenever I hear the Enigma it is still the facility with a symphony orchestra, of a largely self-taught composer that strikes me. And conductor Tecwyn Evans exploited the NZSO’s riches of opulent string choruses, scintillating woodwind passages, the dynamic, argumentative timpani in Troyte, the trembling grandeur of the brass in Nimrod and the delicious woodwind and viola solo that describes Dorabella.  

Evans left the audience in no doubt that this remains a masterpiece and that the orchestra has more than enough resources to demonstrate all its colour and emotion.

We are assured that Christopher Blake’s Till Human Voices Wake Us had been scheduled before his appointment as the orchestra’s chief executive. Whatever, it was a very appropriate choice for the occasion, though the title has little enough to do with the tragedy of war apart from its use as the title of Ian Hamilton’s book of the same name about the treatment of a pacifist during World War II.

But it’s the last line of TS Eliot’s early poem, The Love-song of J Alfred Prufrock, a poem full of phrases that have entered the language almost invisibly and, judging by the absence of reference to its source in the programme note, unknown to the programme writer. (“Let us go then, you and I, /When the evening is spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherised upon a table”, “In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo”, “Is it perfume from a dress/That makes me so digress?”, “Should I say, ‘ That is not what I meant at all/That is not ir at all’”,  “I grow old … I grow old … /I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled”, and the last lines: “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea … /Till human voices wake us and we drown”.)

The piece was commissioned for broadcast by the NZSO on New Zealand Music Day in 1986; Blake linked it too to the International Year for Peace, and used an invocation derived from Philippians 4:7, in both French and English to connect with the recent Rainbow Warrior bombing by the French secret service.

Thus there are extra-musical meanings, which can easily get in the way of the music and its impact on the listener; but it does not. Though I don’t recall hearing it when originally broadcast in 1986, I have the seminal 1995 double-CD on the Continuum label (NZSO under Kenneth Young, with Christopher Doig singing the words of the Blake piece; so this present performance was offered in Doig’s memory) containing a number of significant New Zealand orchestral works; I have always felt that Blake’s piece was one of the most arresting and important works on that compilation.

The performance was introduced again with a reading by Peter Elliott of an extract from Archibald Baxter’s memoir of his terrible treatment as a conscientious objector in the first World War. The work itself contains settings of two Dreams from Baxter’s book, sung by Australian tenor James Egglestone; he sang all three texts with conviction. For me, it was the orchestra that spoke with greatest power and meaning, in scoring that was epochal; sudden explosions from brass and timpani, then trumpets crying out in martial fifths. He scoring, though relatively light on percussion apart from conspicuous timpani and later, an insistent side drum, might sound fairly dense in places by today’s standards.

But regardless whether one can find evidence of Prufrock or of musical connotations of the title, this was a highly persuasive performance of a well-crafted work that could well have come from a respectable central European composer of the past few decades.

Finally, Ross Edwards’ Symphony, subtitled Da Pacem Domine. Edwards is one of Australia’s most approachable composers; many will be familiar with his hauntingly beautiful violin concerto, Maninyas, recorded by the Sydney Symphony under Stuart Challender; it appears on the same ABC Classics CD as this symphony, there conducted by David Porcelijn after Challender, its dedicatee, had died.

It’s a disc I got in Sydney in the mid 1990s and treasure.

Not far into the elegiac symphony one is strongly reminded of Gorecki’s Third Symphony; again, it is scrupulously, delicately scored, the evocative monothematic substance endlessly repeated in subtly, ever-changing forms, with occasional full-blooded tuttis, moments of sunlight breaking through pervading darkness and clouds. .

Edwards is quoted in the CD booklet, describing his work as “a massive orchestral chant of quiet intensity into which my subjective feelings of grief and foreboding about some of the great threats to humanity: war, pestilence and environmental devastation, have been subsumed into the broader context of the ritual”.

It is refreshing to hear music that has its origin in important issues, which transmutes the matter into artistic forms that are moving and beautiful rather than portraying the topic in a determinedly brutal, literal way.

It is likely that Edwards had heard the Gorecki symphony when he composed his work, and that its patterns lingered in his head as they did with almost all who heard it after it hit the charts in Dawn Upshaw’s momentous recording in 1993. For me, that vitiates it as little as does the kinship between Brahms’s first symphony and Beethoven’s ninth.

I found it powerful and moving and it prompted me to delve into my quite big collection of recordings of Australian music which I have always felt deserves much more attention in New Zealand for perfectly objective reasons.

So, though another hearing of the Enigma is never likely to be a problem, the other two works in the programme held my attention and moved me far more.




Delightful concert by guitar quartet at Lower Hutt

New Zealand Guitar Quartet (Chris Hill, Jane Curry, Tim Watanabe, Owen Moriarty)
Chamber Music Hutt Valley
Music by Paulo Bellinati, J S Bach, Craig Utting, De Falla, Carlos Rafael Rivera, Leo Brouwer, Rimsky-Korsakov

St Mark’s Church, Woburn Road

Wednesday 24 April, 7.30pm

St. Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt, was a venue perfectly suited to a delightful concert by an ensemble such as the New Zealand Guitar Quartet. The warm, yet clear, acoustics showcased the players’ complete technical mastery of their instruments, and enhanced the musical sensitivity of the recital. The relatively intimate scale of the space supported the informal rapport with the audience that the players developed by their commentary on the various works.

They selected a varied and colourful repertoire for the event: the South American, Cuban and Spanish works were all played with a brilliance that conveyed the passion of their folk-music origins, while still exploiting a wide dynamic range that could drop to the most evocative pianissimo of a single raindrop (Cuban Landscape with Rain). Rivera’s colourful Cumba-Quin highlighted the guitars in percussive mode, imitating such instruments as claves, palitos and conga drums, in Rumba forms played with great gusto.

The New Zealand work by Craig Utting was a perfect gem, where two beautifully played melodic outer sections contrasted with a strident middle one. If this movement is typical of the composer’s output he is sadly under-represented in the usual concert repertoire, and it is to the Quartet’s credit that they are giving it some exposure.

In Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol the composer asked various instruments to imitate the guitar in some sections of the work. This would suggest that the suite is ideally suited to transcription for four guitars, yet it proved less than satisfactory, simply because guitars alone cannot capture the amazing range of colours tailored to each instrument in the original. The composer was annoyed by the narrow critical focus on the “quasi guitara” marking, and fired back a lengthy riposte including the comment that “The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for the orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and figuration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for instruments solo, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition”.

The Bach Brandenburg no.3 was originally written for three each of violins, violas and cellos, with basso continuo. It proved, however, to be the least satisfactory item in this outstanding recital, for two reasons. Firstly, guitar timbres simply cannot offer the same range and complexity as the original string ensemble version. Secondly, the tempi selected were frankly a disservice to an opus which is widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era.

The hectic gallop of the first movement was upped to breakneck speed in a frantic finale. This ensemble does not need to prove its technical competence and mastery. It could have allowed the intricate Bach polyphony to speak as it should at appropriate tempi. In a less clean acoustic than St. Marks the result would have been a distressing muddle of indistinguishable lines.

These drawbacks, however, did not dim the audience’s enthusiasm and appreciation. At the finish they applauded till they were granted a fiery Tarentella encore, composed by an exiled Chilean group after the Pinochet coup. It was a fitting end to a wonderful evening’s music making by and ensemble that is a huge asset to the Kiwi music scene.

Admirable performances of Fauré requiem and other French music from Kapiti Chamber Choir

The Romantics presented by the Kapiti Chamber Choir
Director: Eric Sidoti; organist: Janet Gibbs
Fauré: Requiem, Cantique de Jean Racine and Les Djinns;
Four motets by Bruckner: Locus Iste, Virga Jesse, Christus Factus Est and Afferentur Regi
Saint-Säens: Calme des Nuits; Rhapsodie I and Rhapsodie II for organ, Opus 7

St Paul’s Anglican Church, Paraparaumu,

Sunday 21 April, 2.30pm

The members of that musical gem of the Kapiti Coast, the Kapiti Chamber Choir, have reason to be well pleased with their new conductor Eric Sidoti. His debut concert with them at St Paul’s church in Paraparaumu on Sunday, April 21 had everybody, singers and audience, smiling. They presented a well chosen and balanced programme entitled The Romantics, a pleasing mix of the familiar and the unknown. The delightful first half consisted of relatively short pieces contrasted with the dramatic Fauré Requiem of  the second half. Opening with Calme des Nuits by Saint-Säens was a brave move but an enchanting one in which Sidoti introduced himself as a master of the atmospheric. Shimmering sounds and beautiful dynamic shaping of phrases were established and continued throughout the programme. A little uncertainty in the sopranos did not last long and they went on to really distinguish themselves. Two short motets by Anton Bruckner followed, Locus Iste and Virga Jesse, where we first heard a really big sound from the choir and where the baseline came through very strongly. Gabriel Fauré ‘s contribution to the first half, Cantique de Jean Racine, is beautifully melodic, rich in sounds and showed how suitable the French language is to this type of romanticism. Two more Bruckner numbers followed, Christus Factus  Est and Afferentur Regi. In the first of these the lack of male tenors showed up. Three of the five tenors in the choir are women, all of whom sing very well  but the sound is not as robust as it should be. In the second the choir seemed less secure than in the rest of the programme.

Slotted in between these were organ solos presented by Janet Gibbs. Janet has been in Melbournefor 10 years and it is a real delight to have her back. It was great to hear really good and hitherto unknown organ music so capably performed. Rhapsodie I and Rhapsodie II for organ, Opus 7, by Saint-Säens contained beautiful single line melodies, a well voiced fugal section and rich organ harmonies.

The first half ended with a piece that surprised and delighted both the choir and the audience.. Les Djinns by Fauré is an eerily dramatic depiction of the Djinns of Islam: full of fear, infernal cries, ghostly sounds and terror. It begins spookily, quietly, rises to a crescendo of fear and dies away to the faintest of sounds. The accompaniment to this was very ably played on the piano by Janet Gibbs and it is a pity that the piano tone did not do justice to her performance.

Mark Sidoti gave brief, interesting, informative and audible introductions to some of the music in a manner which established good rapport with the audience.

The Fauré Requiem is a gentler requiem than many others. It has been called “a lullaby of death” with death as a rest and deliverance rather than pain. Fauré said of it:
“…perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what was thought right and proper after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.”

This is an elegant and subtle Requiem, possibly the most widely loved of all and Sidoti with the Chamber Choir did it full justice. A particular feature of Sidoti’s work was the use of dynamic contrasts and in particular the attention paid to crescendi and diminuendi. He had changed the placing of the choir for the Requiem and this resulted in a rich and more homogeneous sound. The two  soloists were taken from the choir. This was an excellent decision on the part of the soprano, Shirley Gullery, who gave the well-known Pie Jesu all it requires in sweetness of sound whereas baritone Stuart Grant sang musically but lacked tonal quality. Both the soprano and the alto sections of the choir really distinguished themselves in this work with the chorus of angels ending the work most beautifully.

Janet Gibbs handled the organ reduction of the orchestral score with great sensitivity and musicality.

With Eric Sidoti the Kapiti Chamber Choir looks set to continue the high standard of performance established by its founder Peter Godfrey.


Homage to Britten from the Aroha Quartet


with CATHERINE McKAY (piano)

BEETHOVEN – String Quartet in B-flat Op.18 No.6

BRITTEN – String Quartet No.3 Op.94

SCHUMANN – Piano Quintet in E-flat Op.44

Aroha Quartet: – Haihong Liu, Blythe Press (violins), Zhongxian Jin (viola), Robert Ibell (‘cello)

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday 21st April, 2013

For some reason I hadn’t really registered before this concert just how big a space at St.Andrew’s Church a small ensemble has to fill with sound, both behind the musicians and above them. It seemed to my ears when the Aroha Quartet began their Beethoven which opened the concert that everything was set back, as opposed to “being in one’s face”, and that the instrumental timbres were more than usually “terraced’. Once my ears got used to this, I enjoyed the extra spaciousness of it all, even if some of the solo lines sounded a bit removed, and some of the ambiences in the more rapid concerted passages were as rushing winds, having a slightly disembodied effect.

Probably the reason my ears were receiving these sounds in this way was that I had been listening to some chamber-music recordings that morning which had been given the “full-blooded” treatment, the instruments closely recorded, and with what sounded like plenty of reverberation – all a little too much, in my opinion, as if the ensemble (the Amadeus Quartet, recorded by Decca) had swelled into chamber-orchestra proportions in certain places.

Once my listening-palette had been re-aligned, I was able to appreciate the lean, lithe and joyously physical energies of the performance of the Beethoven work. These players always generate plenty of  élan in such music, and this quartet’s first movement positively bristled in places. Though intonation wasn’t absolutely perfect, the spirit of the composer leapt at us from the notes. In the second movement I loved the different voicing from first and second violins, the first silvery, the other golden-toned, both displaying heart-warming teamwork. What beautifully-tailored dynamics throughout the hushed central part of the movement – those awed, withdrawn tones! – and what light-as-feather playing throughout the lead back to the opening’s reprise!

I enjoyed the players’ joie de vivre in the scherzo, the syncopations encouraging wonderful stresses and parallel energies. The trio carried the momentums onwards, with the violin skipping among the notes out at a great rate and galvanizing the ensemble’s return to the mainstream. The finale’s introduction, “La malinconia” brought down upon the sound-world a properly sobering and despondent air before swinging into an elegant round-dance, the quartet rounding off the music’s curves with relish. We got the merest foretaste of the “Muss es Sein” of Op.135 with an exploratory interlude, before the players adroitly steered the lines back to the rounds, slowing things romantically and wistfully, before exploding with exuberance and drive over the last few bars – great stuff!

How often does one get to enjoy a Britten String Quartet live? – and if not this year, will there ever be more chances? We’re in debt to the Quartet for not only playing the work at all (à la Dr.Johnson and his “dog on its hind legs” analogy) but for giving it such a cracking performance. Here, it was nicely prepared before a note was played, with ‘cellist Robert Ibell telling us about, among other things, the links between the work and the composer’s opera “Death in Venice”. The work, cast in five movements, opened with a sequence called “Duets” reflecting the writing in pairs of instruments throughout, often haunting, ambient-toned writing creating plenty of “atmosphere” through resonating, overlapping tones, and undulating lines.

The second “Ostinato” movement had a more abrupt, machine-like character, derived from definite, energetic movements – at one point an evocative “road music” sequence forwarded the argument through unfamiliar territories, until skittering cross-rhythms from the violins contrived to bring things to a stuttering stop. Then, the succeeding movement “Solo” featured a gently-singing violin counterpointed delicately by the other instruments. Beautiful soaring lines suggested in places the violin itself in ecstasy, underpinned by atmospheric pizzicato and glissandi from the other instruments, giving a haunting kind of Aeolian Harp effect. After this, what a contrast with the earthy, vigorous “Burlesque”! – its angular effect was readily captured and confidently delivered by the players, the music in places reminiscent of the more quirky parts of the ballet “The Prince of the Pagodas”.

Britten concluded the work with a Recitative and Passacaglia, the instruments in the introductory measures quoting themes from “Death in Venice”. We heard spare, stepwise pizzicati and oscillating violin lines leading to an eloquent ‘cello solo, and thence to strangely compelling twilight-world explorations culminating in the instrumental unison “I love you” cry of the opera’s central character Aschenbach. The players then took us strongly and surely on the passacaglia’s journey, during which the ensemble seemed to me to glow increasingly with lyrical fire, as the music developed thematic material from the Recitative over a ground bass. I felt we were being presented with a world of creative sensibility which here seemed to gradually drain away with the sounds, as if it was all part of the natural order of things.

Still more treasure came with the performance of Schumann’s well-known Piano Quintet after the interval, for which the Quartet was joined by pianist Catherine McKay. I had previously heard her perform both a concerto and some chamber music with other ensembles, finding her always a positive and responsive player. Here, I wondered whether the piano was too recessed in relation to the quartet, whose members seemed “bunched together” right in front – irrespective of the sound quality, the visual effect was of a supporting instrument rather than an equal player, the latter needing to be the case in this work.

Pianos can certainly be awkward things to set among ensembles, and the situation varies from venue to venue – I would have thought a slightly more antiphonal arrangement feasible, either with the piano to the left and turned slightly backward, which would have instigated a kind of half-circle that the quartet-members could have completed, or with the quartet slightly “parted’ in the middle and the piano brought slightly forward, and “into the loop”. Further forward on the St.Andrew’s platform, such an arrangement would have been possible.

Either layout would, I think, have better integrated the sound, and possibly the performance. My ears occasionally imagined a kind of “delayed” interaction between piano and strings in some of the exchanges – this was especially noticeable in both middle movements in places. During the second movement’s central agitations, when the gothic mystery and drama of the ambience is suddenly hurled to one side, and the piano takes the lead with a number of accented entries to which the strings respond, I wanted more incisiveness from the piano, and more “schwung” in the cross-talk between the players. The same went for the roller-coaster flourishes in the third movement (Mendelssohn could have written the piano part in places!) – they were excitingly played as such, but I wanted more piano, more presence and bite given to the syncopations!

With more even balances, the performance would have, I though, really taken wing, as there were so many felicities in any case – though the first movement was more tightly-conceived in general than my excessive romantic sensibilities usually crave, I thought the players still gave plenty of heartfelt voice to the composer’s uniquely poetic outpourings. There was sensitive duetting between violin and ‘cello and some lovely, yielding, liquid tones from the piano, contrasting nicely with those swirling undercurrents of the more agitated sections. And the slow movement’s somewhat sinister footfalls made both the lyrical yearnings and the irruptions of the middle section all the more telling.

Both muscularity and delicacy were made ours to relish throughout the finale, the strings digging into the part-writing with gusto, and the piano incapable of giving us a mechanical or unfeeling phrase – in fact, such were the mid-movement excitements generated that a fire-engine turned up in the street outside to see what was going on! I especially liked how the ensemble’s full-blooded playing made the composer’s rather engagingly gauche way of reintroducing the opening theme of the Quintet work so well at the end. Despite my few reservations regarding the balances, full credit to the musicians for giving us an experience which for me underlined what live music-making is all about.














Konstanze Eickhorst – recital from Vienna

New Zealand School of Music

Mozart: Sonata in A minor, K.310 (allegro maestoso; andante cantabile con espressione; presto

Schubert: Fantasy in C, Op.15 (D.760) “Wanderer” (allegro con fuoco; adagio; presto; allegro, played without a break)

Mozart: Fantasia in C minor, K.475

Schubert: Sonata in C minor, D.958 (allegro; adagio; menuetto: allegro; allegro)

Konstanze Eickhorst

Adam Concert Room

Thursday, 18 April 2013 at 7.30pm

Recitals by visiting instrumentalists are not nearly as frequent as they were when the old Concert Section of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation promoted recitals by artists who were here to play concertos with the Symphony Orchestra.  So it is gratifying that the New Zealand School of  Music has taken up some of the slack in Wellington by bringing overseas musicians to conduct master classes for the students and perform for the public.

Konstanze Eickhorst was here in Wellington both to give a master class and to perform a recital (and she has a cellist sister here), but her principal occupation will be to play in the New Zealand International Piano Festival, in Auckland.

Her all-Viennese programme was different from the typical piano recital programme that begins with Bach and ends with a contemporary composition.

The Adam Concert Room was virtually full.  A pleasing feature was that the lights were left on, so that it was easy for audience members to read the notes and check the tempo designations for the movements.  Other promoters, please note!  It is a strange New Zealand aberration to lower the lights at concerts, so that the programme the punter has just bought cannot be read in the auditorium.  A recital, particularly, is not a stage spectacle, so there is no need for the lights to be lowered.

The opening Mozart sonata began with a bold attack.  I noted what very flexible fingers, hands, wrists and elbows Eickhorst possesses.  Of course, the differing kind of concert dress worn by male versus female artists makes this easier to observe in the case of the latter.

I would have liked a slightly gentler approach to Mozart, remembering the pianos of his period.  The treble of the piano had my ears ringing at times.   However, the pianist did vary the tone and touch of her playing.  The problem is the small size of the venue and the bright, reflective, varnished wooden floor; performers need to take this into account.  The brittle, hard-edged sound was commented (without any remark from me) by my neighbour at the concert.

The programme notes spoke of the suspensions ‘that wail unhappily throughout’ in the first movement; indeed they were most apparent.  This sonata has much depth, and although a relatively early one, shows emotional and musical profundity not always true of the later ones.

The slow movement featured a singing melody, and the playing truly lived up to the composer’s designation for it.  Phrasing was superb and there were appropriate rubatos.  The third movement was almost playful the speed demonstrated Eickhorst’s sturdy technique.

Of all Schubert’s compositions for piano, the ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy is one of the longest and most demanding technically.  As the programme note said “[it] is Schubert’s most challenging and flamboyant composition for the piano.”  Following the busy opening movement, we were straight into the slow movement, which is based on Schubert’s song of the same name.  The movement proceeds as variations on the song’s theme.  The opening was very telling, pensive, inward, and expressive.  The slightly ominous undertone and a furious middle section rounded out a highly varied and interesting movement.

What a complete change of mood there was for the scherzo!  The emphasis here was on rhythm.  The pianist exhibited fantastic finger-work in the fast figures.  There were some wonderful sonorities in the final movement and the pianissimo passage was played with great feeling, while the last section was sheer bravura.

I found the first movement somewhat over-pedalled at times, and some chords hit a little too hard for this small, very resonant auditorium.  Nevertheless, this was a tour de force indeed.  It was a virtuosic performance of this showpiece, by a formidable pianist.  A little memory lapse here and one in the Mozart hardly mattered in the midst of such prodigious feats as these.

Back to Mozart after the interval, and one of his three Fantasias.  It is notable that there were only two composers represented in the recital, yet we were treated to a great variety of music.

A slightly curious comment in the notes implied that this work and the composer’s C minor sonata, published together with the same opus number, had also the same Köchel number, but this piece is K.475 while the sonata is K.457.

This is a quite gorgeous piece of music, and I found the playing more to my taste than that of the Schubert Fantasy.  There was lovely variation of touch and subtle changes of dynamics; in my view, more true resonance is obtained from the piano, as opposed to getting it from the room, when the playing is not too loud.  Not that this was a gentle, relaxing piece; it, like the other works on the programme had changes of character, and stormy passages.  Again, the character was not such that one normally associates with Mozart’s piano music.

Schubert’s sonata in C minor, another lengthy work, was striking in its shifting keys and switches between lyrical passages and more dynamic, declamatory ones.  The prestidigitation required to obtain these dramatic contrasts of tone and texture was remarkable.

In the adagio, the lines were sometimes muddled a little by the pedal again.  Elsewhere there was considerable clarity and weight.  The third movement was unusual for a minuet, with its interruptions.  The finale was again a technically demanding movement; it returned to the lyrical before the end, in episodes.

Although the programme was by well-known composers, the music played was not ‘run-of-the-mill’, and did not conform to what one might think of as typical of these composers.  This made it interesting, and despite my quibbles, it was superb recital of relatively little-heard music of great brilliance, drama and passion, played by a pianist with formidable skills.  Apart from anything else, the recital demanded great stamina on the part of the pianist.

It was refreshing to find that Eickhorst did not feel it necessary to sweeten the programme with some lighter works or encores.

Agreeable recital of music for flute, cello and piano from the US

American portraits with music by Copland, Schocker, Still and Martinů

Ingrid Culliford – flute, Kris `Zuelicke – piano, Rhiannon Thomas – cello

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 17 April, 12.15pm

The music of theUnited States, in the common perception, is so dominated by jazz, spirituals and various other kinds of popular music, that I have to confess to a degree of surprise to encounter music that might have been written in Europe. And that, in spite of my perfectly decent familiarity with a lot of the classical music of theUnited States.

The first two pieces were for flute and piano. Copland’s Duo had a spacious character and the sounds of Appalachia were not hard to pick up. Its movement titles were appropriate: the first marked ‘Flowing’, was slow and peaceful, both instruments in sympathy. But it became more animated, in triple time, as the piano provided a syncopated rhythm which gave rise to some curiosity about the nature of the substance that was flowing. The second movement was described as mournful though its mood, for me, was not too tragic.

If Copland was here writing carefully to provide a piece that would be easily grasped by an audience and enjoyed by players, he discovered the right recipe. The last movement was an even more conspicuous off-spring of his Appalachia ballet, with a hoe-down rhythm, which got increasingly complex and seemed to be employing more than merely two instruments. The two players did an excellent job producing sounds that were happily idiomatic – Kris Zuelicke was born in the US after all.

Gary Schocker was born in 1959 and is a flutist – a pupil of James Galway. His piece for flute and piano, American Suite, in four movements, was a sequence of impressions; the first was a meditative ‘Incantation’ in which the flute suggested something of the spirit of the shepherd of ancient Greece, though there seemed little sign of an object of prayer; then came a ‘Spirit Dance’ that was not especially ethereal. The third section depicted a ‘Hidden Spring’ which revealed itself rather brazenly to find itself at the fourth section, ‘Harvest Time’, where a familiar folk song was successfully introduced. It was a well written piece for the instruments, played with enthusiasm.

William Grant Still, born in 1895, is believed to have been the first African American to become a successful composer in the classical genre. Flute and piano were now joined by cellist Rhiannon Thomas in two of five Miniatures by Still. The cello alone opened the piece, in attractive and tasteful playing with discreet touches of vibrato and expressive gestures. When the flute entered, in a folk song that was famailiar, though I could not claim to know it, the music found a very agreeable instrumental blend. In the fifth part of the suite, the cello again took the lead; though it was attractive enough, the music seemed to call for a little more energy and abandon, even, than the players delivered.

The most substantial piece in the programme was the Martinů trio for these instruments, a piece that I suspect might have been the rationale for their getting together. Martinů has melodic and harmonic fingerprints that are almost immediately recognisable and not many notes had been played before they came to the surface. I have long been somewhat devoted to the composer and this performance, even though short of the ultimate degree of delight and elegance, carried me along very happily. My only reservation derived from the balance between the instruments. Particularly in the last movement, I became aware of the flute’s dominance, rather at the expense of its partners both of which were making interesting and engaging contributions.

Though it had been the Martinů that drew me particularly to this concert, and which gave me the most delight, the supporting programme, though uneven, was definitely worth listening to.