Violinist Blythe Press delivers fine Artist Diploma recital at the New Zealand School of Music

Artist Diploma Recital

Mozart: Violin Concerto no.4 in D, K.218 (first movement, allegro)
Tchaikovsky: Sérénade mélancolique, Op.26
Wieniawski: Polonaise de Concert in D, Op.4
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47

Blythe Press (violin) with Emma Sayers (piano)

Hunter Council Chamber, Victoria University

Sunday 22 September, 12.30pm

It seemed an odd time for a recital, but perhaps the timing was dependent upon those grading the performance.  A mere handful of people attended apart from staff and students of the School of Music.  A lack of publicity was probably as much
responsible as was the awkward timing.

Nevertheless, those who heard Blythe Press and Emma Sayers were well rewarded, by fine playing and an interesting and wide-ranging programme, all played from memory.  While the programme of the recent soprano recital I reviewed was also performed from memory, I do think it is harder for instrumentalists: longer works, so many notes, and no words to hang them from.  The sound in the Chamber was excellent – clear and sympathetic, and resonant without being reverberant, such that the piano was played with the lid fully up, but it never became too loud for the soloist.

I was interested in Blythe Press’s style of holding the instrument; he holds it quite high, the scroll usually being significantly higher than the chin rest.  It reminded me of Francis Rosner, an early member of the then National Orchestra, who was German.  Perhaps this is a central European style?   Blythe Press studied for five years in Graz, Austria.

Mozart’s violin concertos are all quite lovely, but the fourth is particularly delightful.  My ancient Menuhin recording is still a firm favourite.  Blythe Press made a strong start, with warm tone. There were a few slight intonation inaccuracies, but there was no doubt about the skill of the playing.  The cadenza was approached gently, but later became challenging, with double-stopping and fast bowing across all the strings.  It was an enjoyable performance.

The piece by Tchaikovsky could hardly have been more different.  The nineteenth-century style of lyricism was well conveyed.  There was big tone from the lower strings in the early part of the work, which then became more animated and exciting.  Press obtained a great variety of tone from his instrument, and communicated the contrasting emotions extremely well.  As the programme note stated, it was “lyrical and haunting”.

Wieniawski was a noted virtuoso violinist himself, and his compositions are of the same ilk.  It is quite often played, demonstrating the performers’ range of technical skills – but it is not without tuneful, rhythmic and lively qualities.  Again, there were one or two pitch wobbles, but Press had the piece well under his bow and fingers.  Harmonics were used regularly, in the midst of phrases normally fingered, and the melodies leapt swiftly round the fingerboard.  Press’s playing certainly brought out the poetry as well s the bravado.  What a wild dance this was!

The pièce de resistance was Sibelius’s violin concerto, an absolute favourite of mine.  It was more strange to hear the orchestra replaced by a piano in this work than in the Mozart, since of course Sibelius employs a much bigger orchestra and a wider range of instruments and therefore the textures are much thicker.

The wind gusting outside the venue lent verisimilitude to the stormy, wintry first movement with its bleak opening, and orchestral ostinato sounding like snow falling.  The cadenza was a fabulous piece of playing: strong, sustained and seductive.  Press rose magnificently to the many technical demands.

The second movement was not blithe, but bliss.  I adore the climactic discords and their resolution that feature in this movement.  The emotional tension and passion are incomparable.  It is also very lyrical, and was played with smooth, rich tone, but those climaxes were given full weight.  It was strange that this movement was not given any attention in the programme notes.

The third movement had great vigour, yet fine definition of the notes.  Plenty of variety and nuance were bestowed on it, despite the technical difficulty.  It was a fine performance from Blythe Press, and from Emma Sayers too, having to represent an orchestra in such a long work.
All praise to her for her highly musical part in proceedings.


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