Two masterpieces of the violin repertoire at Old St Paul’s

Valerie Rigg (violin) and Mary Barber (piano)

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 1 in D, Op 12 No 1
Brahms: Violin Sonata No 2 in A, Op 100
Sarasate: Malagueña 

Old Saint Paul’s, Mulgrave Street

Tuesday 13 August, 12:15 pm

Wellington’s music scene is generously endowed with musicians young and old who are prepared to give their time and devote some effort to enriching the lives of those disposed to be enriched by good music, music that had stood the test of time (which I think is the best way of defining the meaning of ‘classical’).

Though, as the education system no longer regards the furnishing of young minds and souls with music of this kind, as one of the most important functions, those who can tell the difference between the lasting and the ephemeral are disappearing.

I recently came across a quote that is pertinent: “Few people mind saying they have a bad memory but no one admits to having bad taste.” Guess that’s a bit meaningless to most of the educational and political establishment.

Valerie Rigg and Mary Barber know, however, and the few score who come to sit under the beautiful gothic timber arches of this most beautiful of New Zealand churches probably know why they’re there too.

In the past Valerie Rigg has explored some of the less familiar masterpieces of the repertoire such as violin sonatas by Janáček and Prokofiev. This week she and Mary Barber chose to get back to the very heartland of the violin repertoire, with Beethoven and Brahms, as well as a classic of the ‘encore’ variety by Spanish virtuoso Sarasate.

The first movement of Beethoven’s first violin sonata seems designed to provide the violinist with plenty of arresting, exhortatory pronouncements, much given to scales and arpeggios, and Rigg entered its spirit wholeheartedly. In the slow movement, an Andante and not an Adagio, in Theme and Variations form, the violinist’s playing matched the wide range of expressive variety, and the charming episodes for the piano were handled gracefully by Mary Barber. A similar spirited and confident tone brought the last happy, lyrical movement to life, with little sign of declining facility on the part of the violinist.

In Brahms second violin sonata there was a tendency for the violin to drive a bit hard though it never risked overwhelming the pianist’s part, which itself is so rewarding.  What was always clear was the
enjoyment felt by both players, perfectly self-effacing in their exploring the gentleness and modesty of the music.  What touched me particularly was the readiness of this retired, fine professional violinist to maintain her facility in the challenging music she tackles, and to perform freely in these enterprising
concerts for the edification of the faithful audiences. Many of her orchestral colleagues retire from their posts and abandon music almost entirely.

The players explored sensitively a certain hesitant air in the second movement, punctuated by sudden impulsive Vivace moments, which created a feeling of simplicity and affection; and again in the Allegretto last movement, a contemplative approach at the beginning was never quite banished. Even though there were blemishes in the piano part, rather more than one might have expected, the technical assurance and spirit of the violin carried it to happy conclusion.

The recital ended with the Malagueña of Sarasate, not one of the dances of huge energy from Andalusia, but one rather irregular in rhythm, though it does permit touches of flamboyance. So it began, decorously, but I had a 1pm date and had to leave after a minute or so.

The major pieces in the programme had been enough to make the journey worthwhile, and I look forward to Valerie Rigg’s next recital with whichever of her repertoire of pianists she invites to join her.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *