St. Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series:
Cellos of the NZ School of Music
St. Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington
Wednesday, 21st August 2013.
This was the debut performance of the NZSM Cello Ensemble, a group of eight women students directed by Inbal Megiddo, cello lecturer at the school. It offered a new sound to Wellington concert goers, and the opportunity to hear both familiar and new works arranged for this interesting combination.
The opening item was the Prelude from Bach’s solo cello Suite no.5, played by Lucy Gijsbers, principal of the Ensemble. The thoughtful and lyrical opening section led into the lively and demanding fugue where her technical mastery of the instrument was immediately apparent. Unfortunately, however, the brio of the delivery was such that the shape of the phrasing and the intricate fugal patterns tended to get obscured in the rush of hectic passagework. Lucy has no need to prove her obvious technical competence; however, that competence must always be the servant of the music, particularly a masterpiece of such stature as this. The musicianship displayed in the opening simply needed to be extended right through to the powerful ending of the Prelude.
Next was Corelli’s well known Christmas Concerto Op.6, no.8 in a surprisingly successful realization for cello ensemble by Claude Kenneson. It largely overcame the limitations of an unrelieved cello palette – the stylistic contrasts between the alternating slow and fast movements were well highlighted, with warmth and sensitivity marking the wonderful melodies, suspensions and rhythmic syncopation that distinguish the lyrical sections. Inner voices spoke well through the rich texture and highlighted the players’ clear emotional engagement with the work.
The spirited delivery of the contrasting fast movements was invigorating in all but the last Allegro – it was in fact played at an exaggerated vivace that muddied the exciting passagework whose clarity is quintessential to these early concerti. However this, and the occasional patch of rocky intonation, were really the only drawbacks in this felicitous reading.
For the Requiem Op.66 by David Popper, the cello ensemble was joined by Jian Liu, piano lecturer at NZ School of Music. Popper was a Bohemian virtuoso cellist and prolific composer for his instrument, and this 1891 work was originally scored for three cellos and orchestra.
However, it came across very successfully in this piano-plus-cello-octet version, which gave ample opportunity for the players to relish its luscious romantic lyricism and brooding reflections.
The tonal contrast and clarity of Liu’s contribution from the piano was exquisitely sensitive to the mood of the ensemble and the nuances of the writing. He facilitated a wonderful conversation where all the players clearly revelled in the aching suspensions and dynamic shifts that particularly marked the central section. The audience was rapt from first note to last.
The final work was Bach’s Air on a G String, in an arrangement for cello ensemble by Aldo Parisot. The famous lyrical melody that is the lynchpin of this piece was beautifully expressed by the upper voices, but the supporting lines from the bass voices were sadly, barely audible. Even the middle parts were underpowered, leaving a serious imbalance in the acoustic. This was most apparent in the timid pizzicato of the lowest cello lines which cried out for the rich resonance of the contrabass that normally plays this part. The sensitive dynamic contrasts offered by the upper voices were so emasculated by the absence of bass support, that the beauty of Bach’s writing was badly let down. If this arrangement is to work at all, it needs a lot more thought given to the balance of the ensemble.
It was a pity to end the recital with this sense of incompleteness, because the concert offered Wellington listeners an enriching experience in the chamber music medium that they have not enjoyed before. Inbal Megiddo is to be congratulated on establishing and nurturing the group, and I very much hope we will hear more of it in the future.