Owen Moriarty – challenging but rewarding guitar recital

Owen Moriarty solo guitar recital
St. Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series

Carlos Rivera Whirler of the Dance(1970)
Schubert Lob der Thranen arr. Johann Kaspar Mertz (1797-1828)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Nocturnal Op.70
Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) Sonatina Meridional

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

Wednesday 30th October 2013.

This was a rare and welcome opportunity to hear classical guitarist Owen Moriarty in solo performance, as the majority of his Wellington concert appearances are in ensembles. To open the programme he chose two movements from Rivera’s suite Whirler of the Dance. The initial Evocation is a “solemn, personal prayer” (Rivera) whose ambience Moriarty expressed in a reverential and contemplative mood. The following Dance is a complete change, being based on vigorous African dance rhythms, and using tense contrasts between Pizzicato and Ordinario playing. Moriarty did justice to the whole gamut of expression embodied in the two selected movements, but they were not particularly easy listening. Their structure, especially that of the Evocation, was not easy to grasp, and at first listening their wandering tonalities never seemed to be quite adequately established.

The second item was a Schubert song Lob der Thranen (In Praise of Tears) arranged by Mertz, a C19th guitarist and composer.  Its melancholy mood, artistic melodic writing and subtle chromaticism were given a beautifully poetic reading, with a real sense of authenticity. This was enhanced by the smaller period guitar that Moriarty used for this number – apparently a fortuitous discovery in Alistair’s Music in Upper Cuba St!

2013 is the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, and the next item was his Nocturnal Op.70, the only work he wrote for the instrument, and now a bulwark of the classical guitar repertoire. It comprises eight short movements in which Britten uses as the main theme Dowland’s song “Come, heavy Sleep”. Each is a variation which develops a unique character, representing a different phase of sleep. It is a very evocative work which tellingly expresses the elusive and ambiguous sensations of human sleep – the melodies often incomplete, the tonalities barely defined, often with wide contrasts from one mood to the next. This is not a work that the listener can readily “grasp” as a musical experience, and that is doubtless its genius, given the theme and nature of its founding document.

The final work was Manuel Ponce’s Sonatina Meridional, written at the prompting of his friend Andres Segovia. It embodies a variety of Spanish idioms in the composer’s characteristic way, and comprises three movements: Campo (country), Copla (a popular Spanish song) and Fiesta (festival or party). The idioms were a little more accessible and the tonalities more familiar than in the other modern works played earlier: its two outer movements are vigorous and energetic, the central one a gentle contrast, with the character of each being clearly captured in this performance.

Moriarty gave some relaxed and interesting commentary about the works he had chosen, their context and background, and made one particularly interesting observation – that he preferred to avoid playing works that others frequently performed. It’s not hard to see why a creative and innovative musician like Owen Moriarty might feel this way, but the performer is only half the equation in a concert. Particularly in solo recitals, there needs to develop a close rapport between audience and player which is key to an enjoyable musical experience. That can be promoted by apposite commentary, but of equal importance is the programme selection. It is not an accident that even the most avant garde concerts often include at least one familiar and well loved work.

Wellington has enjoyed all too few guitar concerts till recent times, and players like Owen Moriarty and his various ensemble groups have done wonders in redressing the imbalance. But there is still a way to go in attracting a healthy following, and there is no shame in re-playing some of the great classics that most educated listeners would recognize. The aim of music making is surely to broaden the experience of listeners by leading them to discover a new area of musical enjoyment, but I suspect the content of this recital was somewhat uncompromising for many. The classical guitar repertoire is so rich that it deserves wider acceptance, and a little give-and-take in the selection of works can only assist that process.

That said, it was a privilege to be at this recital, and to have one’s mind prised open by the musicianship and technical command that Owen Moriarty brings to all his work. I hope there will be more opportunities in future to hear him in solo mode.

Intelligently constructed programme exquisitely sung by Lisette Wesseling

TGIF lunchtime recitals at the Cathedral
Lisette Wesseling – soprano, with Richard Apperley – organ and Michael Stewart – piano

Music by Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Glanville-Hicks, Finzi and Sondheim

Cathedral of Saint Paul

Friday 25 October, 12:45 pm

The Anglican Cathedral is now running two classes of Friday lunchtime recitals. The monthly organ recitals are ‘Great Music’ (even if they are played on the Choir or the Swell manual) and there are others, just called ‘brief recitals’, which are also often at the organ.

I’ve heard Lisette Wesseling several times over the years, though I seem not to have written reviews of the performances. As well as singing in the Cathedral Choir she has, I imagine among much else, sung solos in Bach’s B Minor Mass and a concert that included both Bach’s Magnificat in D and Jesu meine Freude.

Lisette is blind and you will find material on her website and other websites which also discuss what she feels is a much more troubling burden – stammering. Her degree in psychology (as well as music) no doubt helps to make her comfortable in openly exploring her difficulties and her continuing efforts to deal with the stammering; blindness is an affliction for which there are well understood ways by which a ‘normal’ life can be led. But look at the BSA website (www.stammering.org/stammeringblindness.html‎), where she writes in answer to the question which is more difficult: “The answer I give usually surprises people: stammering is much more difficult to live with than blindness.”

Last year, at the production of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, I was not amused at the depiction of Vašek as a figure of fun, inept and stammering. But that’s how librettist and composer conceive him: what should a director today do with the role? Much like directors’ dilemma with roles like Monostatos who was treated in 1791 by Da Ponte and Mozart very differently from the way he might be today.

Thus she reads both the notation and the words in braille as she sings; though it struck me that with the enhancement of other faculties that blindness develops, her memory would have made reading the score unnecessary.

Here is a bright, accurate, distinctive voice that was demonstrably at home in all the musical style that this short recital covered, from late baroque to Broadway musical. She began with two early 18th century pieces by Vivaldi and Handel. The programme leaflet gave no details of the pieces beyond the bare name of the song or aria.

Both the first pieces were accompanied beautifully by Richard Apperley at the chamber organ. The Vivaldi, the first movement of a sacred motet, Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV 630 (“In this world there is no honest peace”) is a delightful aria in an almost dancing rhythm, light and high, seeming to be written for her kind of voice, and, as with so much Vivaldi, one is astonished that earlier generations ignored the huge quantity of his music that is so rich in melodic invention.

The same goes for the Handel  aria, Süsser Blumen Abaflocken, one of his German songs (Neun deutsche Arien), HWV204, called in Hyperion’s CD note, “a sensual evocation of the scent of Amber flowers, in which the middle section describing the soul soaring heavenwards bears a resemblance to Cleopatra’s ‘Piangerò’ from Giulio Cesare”. Lisette’s high notes truly relished the range she was called on to inhabit, and I loved the cathedral’s long echo here, giving me more of the voice than she was actually producing.

Mozart’s Idomeneo is no doubt more familiar to opera-lovers than to those who may have come across the previous two songs. ‘Zeffiretti lusinghieri’ (‘Pleasant Zephyrus’), sung by Ilia in Act III. This too revealed a happy, summery atmosphere as Ilia, the daughter of Priam, the defeated King of Troy, sends her love to Idamante, son of Idomeneo the King of Crete. It was yet another song brimming with hope and joy which Lisette obviously relishes and performs in a voice coloured with happiness. The accompaniment here was by Michael Stewart at the piano.

Frühlinsglaube, Schubert’s setting of a harmless lyric by Ludwig Uhland, is also filled with the delights of Spring (‘Faith [or belief] in spring’), one of the best-known, happiest, most guileless songs.  Here her voice floated easily, revealing an instinctive affinity with the Lieder genre.

Next was a song by Gerald Finzi: ‘It was a lover and his lass’ from As You Like It. This was perhaps the only song in the programme that suffered a little from the acoustic, calling for faster speed and given more to harmonic variety which a reverberant acoustic tends to muddy.

But it provided a nice link with the next song, in imitative Tudor/Stuart style.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990) was one of Australia’s earliest woman composers (along with Margaret Sutherland and Miriam Hyde) and her music has found its way into the mainstream of Australian music. Her music is accomplished and attractive, demonstrating an approach that owes much more to contemporary European models than to anything that might suggest Australia.  You can find this song on You-Tube: ‘Come Sleep’ is a setting of a poem by playwright John Fletcher (of ‘Beaumont and Fletcher’, and a collaborator with Shakespeare in Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen) and the setting suggests the style of the Tudor/Stuart composers.

Finally, a song from one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular works, Into the Woods, which inter-twines Grimm fairy stories. ‘No one is alone’ presents a comforting message along the obvious lines, at the end of the musical. There’s a gentle swing as the melody moves easily in short phrases which Lisette sings with all the clear unpretentiousness that is Sondheim’s secret.

This series of concerts hasn’t yet taken off in terms of audience support. The Cathedral does not have quite the convenience and welcoming atmosphere that St Andrew’s does.

But we should hope that the attention given to the series over the years by Middle C might eventually persuade Wellingtonians whose Fridays weigh heavily on their spirits that here is the answer.


String students from the School of Music gain public performance experience

Undergraduate string students of the New Zealand School of Music:

Music by Bach, Beethoven and Shostakovich

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 23 October, 12:15 pm  

Even when great music is not played by top musicians with immaculate technical skill, it can be warmly delightful.

Regulars who enjoy Wellington’s various free (or nearly free) lunchtime concerts are not simply those who can’t tell the difference between the good and nearly good. They just love the music. This was one of the occasions when almost all the playing was both technically accomplished and, more importantly, played with love and understanding.

Caitlin Morris opened with the Prelude to Bach’s First Cello Suite. Her playing tended to lengthening of certain notes to a slightly exaggerated degree, but her handling of dynamics was careful and sensitive to the inner spirit of the music.

Violist Aidan Verity played an adaptation for her instrument of the Allemande and Courante from the Fourth Cello Suite, in E flat. Not quite as well mastered (there was a wee stumble in passing from the one movement to the next which clearly affected her confidence), she made a convincing case for the work’s performance on the viola, and her programme note points to a recent scholarly view that Bach may have been writing for the slightly smaller violoncello da spalla.

Most impressive, perhaps of the three solo performances was Julian Baker’s playing of Sarabande and Gigue from Bach’s solo Violin Partita in D minor. The Sarabande was spacious and well paced though some of the rhythmic ornaments might not have been handled with perfect elegance, but the Gigue was confident and fast, impressing with the confidence with which it maintained its speed, and managing very well the ticklish decorative rhythms.

The two other items involved more than one player. Beethoven’s Romances are not, I suspect, as familiar today as once they were. (My early acquaintance with the F major Romance, Op 50, may not have been typical. I indulge a reminiscence…  In my upper sixth year (now year 13) year I had an August holiday job with the late and lamented Wellington Competitions (1970s R.I.P.), part assistant stage managing and part assisting the adjudicator in the gallery of the old, upstairs Concert Chamber of the pre-rearranged Town Hall. He was John Longmire, minor English composer and pianist, and friend and biographer of John Ireland. This Romance was performed more than once by competing violinists and I was in love with it.  Anyway…)

Violinist Alina Junc and pianist Choong Park did a charming job with it, occasional slips in the violin’s handling of ornaments and intonation notwithstanding. The pianist maintained her partnership in sympathy with the violin; it was not altogether clear to me why the slightly enigmatic end missed its mark, but let me hope that this performance might encourage its resuscitation in general affection.

The last movement, Allegretto, of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio, Op 67, was played by Junc and Park together with cellist Xialing. As other performers had done, Alina spoke helpfully about the piece before starting with the staccato and pizzicato gestures, sensitively and confidently.  It became a highly impressive demonstration of the three players’ grasp of the work’s background and inspiration, the lamenting Slavic melody becoming a powerful climax expressing pain and grief.  The audience were in no doubt that they were hearing a performance of great conviction and power, and the trio were loudly applauded.


Momentous first Wellington concert by 40-year-old Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars conducted by Peter Phillips

Tallis: Loquebantur variis linguis; Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli; Allegri: Miserere; Arvo Pärt: Nunc dimittis; John Tavener: The Lamb; Byrd: Ave verum corpus and Laudibus in sanctis; Tallis: Spem in alium (with 30 local singers)

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Wellington

Monday 21 October, 7:30 pm

Some interesting facts have emerged with the first visit to New Zealand in the forty years of the Tallis Scholars’ existence. Even though director Peter Phillips was married in Wellington (at Old St Paul’s as he told Eva Radich on RNZ Concert’s Upbeat programme on Monday), as a result of his friendship with distinguished Wellington musicologist John M Thomson, the choir never visited New Zealand. Yet this will be its seventh visit to Australia and it has toured Japan 14 times. How can we manage these things better?

New Zealand has a particularly strong choral tradition and its youth choirs have toured with great success, winning in international competitions. But it seems to be no one’s brief to get overseas choirs or vocal ensembles here. The same is true for orchestras large and small, unless they initiate a tour themselves. The New Zealand International Arts Festival, in its great early years, has been almost the only body to fulfil this role (recall the Hilliard Ensemble and I Musici, in recent years).

Evidently, this tour by the Tallis Scholars was inspired by John Rosser, director of Auckland’s Viva Voce choir, and was brought to fruition through Chamber Music New Zealand in partnership with the New Zealand Choral Federation and support from the Deane Endowment Trust. CMNZ has from its beginnings in the late 1940s collaborated with its sister Australian chamber music organization to get world-class chamber groups here. But there has been no comparable organization whose concern is to bring choirs, or even individual singers here.

The task of gathering thirty additional voices and rehearsing them for the performance of Tallis’s Spem in alium was in the hands of John Rosser, Karen Grylls and Timothy Noon.

In the good old days the NZSO used not only to bring its soloists to play with the orchestra, but saw to it that they gave solo recitals where they could be fitted in to the orchestra’s schedules. That, sadly, seems to have stopped: no doubt they don’t pass the cost/benefit test, now that price rather than value is the criterion. (One of the enlightened measures of the former communist regimes was the maintenance of a state organisation to manage cultural visits in both directions, even though usually with a heavy political hand).

Is it too much to hope that, since private initiative is not working, such a body, arms-length from, say, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, might be set up to perform this important role? Or to encourage the Choral Federation to undertake these activities with the promise of Creative New Zealand grants such as provided to Chamber Music New Zealand?

A comment from Chamber Music New Zealand
After sending this piece to CMNZ, Chief Executive Euan Murdoch has replied, enlarging on the extent to which they already promote singers and vocal ensembles. We confess, while recalling the performances by each of the named groups and singers, that we had not put the picture together, as Euan has now done, pointing out the way CMNZ has been casting its net more widely in recent years.

Here is Euan Murdoch’s comment: 

“Regarding your comments about a CMNZ-type organisation to tour singers and vocal ensembles, it’s not really necessary. That’s what we already do. If we had more resources, we’d do more! I am a firm believer that chamber music encompasses instrumental and vocal ensembles. That’s why over the last five years or so we’ve toured The Song Company twice, Voices NZ chamber choir, Jonathan Lemalu, the Pierards, Jenny Wollerman and Anna Leese. Many of these artists have been supported by the Deane Endowment Trust who share our vision for showcasing the best NZ has to offer alongside the best that the world has to offer. The 40-part motet project with the NZCF was a prime example of this.”  

The Concert
The Cathedral of Saint Paul was sold out for this second concert in the New Zealand tour: Christchurch on Saturday, Auckland and Napier in the following days. I had a seat in the Choir gallery above the west door and it was a splendid position both visually and aurally.

It was a very well thought-out programme: three of the best-known renaissance choral pieces and other pieces that were sung so clearly and dramatically that the audience was no less engrossed and enraptured by the less familiar. The first sounds of Tallis’s Loquebantur variis linguis, (‘The Apostles spoke in many languages’) voices weaving polyphony, expanding in the long echo of the cathedral, were awesome. Though there were only ten voices, and one focused at times on individuals even when many were singing, the combined effect was balanced, in beautiful accord and giving an impression of a strong and weighty choir of much greater size.

Palestrina’s great Missa Papae Marcelli (dedicated to Pope Marcellus II who reigned for a mere three weeks in 1555) was a marvellous study in the refinement of choral writing; without overstatement, each part of the mass was characterized with subtle attention to the sense of the text. A tenor opened the Gloria with its first exclamatory words to be echoed by the full choir; understated dynamic shifts kept the ears and mind alert to what was going on. The ‘Qui tollis’ verses were a contrast (though the words were fairly clear even when the whole choir was singing energetically, it might have been helpful for those not familiar with the Catholic liturgy, especially in Latin, for the drift of the text to have been summarized in the programme notes), soft and prayerful, words enunciated with clarity, and ending with richly textured male voices.

Such emotional expressiveness kept the liturgical drama alive, especially in the Credo where the words ‘Crucifixus est’, were illustrated poignantly in slow and lamenting phrases. Voices inhabited a disembodied, airy space, less varied dynamics and with legato lines in the Sanctus. In contrast, hushed women’s voices brought an ardent quality to the blessing expressed in the Benedictus.

Finally, in the Agnus Dei, gentleness pervaded, leading to full polyphonic richness in the near ecstatic tone of the sustained harmonies that ends the movement, somewhat echoed in the repeat that served to enrich the whole experience.

After the interval Allegri’s Miserere offered an interesting disposition: a solo tenor in the pulpit, four singers at the rear of the sanctuary and the other five at the front of the choir stalls. Even at the distance I was from the singers, the acoustic contrasts so presented seemed to add to the spiritual significance of the piece. The phrases of the high soprano that seem to yearn heavenward as it reaches top C, had a singular intensity that was as moving to a non-believer as to a traditional worshipper.

There followed a pair of contemporary pieces: Arvo Pärt’s Nunc dimittis, (‘Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine’, or ‘Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, Lord’) written to sound well in an acoustic such as this, was expressed initially in phrases of small range, spiritual, but soon intensified with some urgent exclamations at triple forte in more complex harmonies.

John Tavener’s The Lamb, his setting of the Blake poem, was a good companion piece, from a composer commonly linked to Pärt by the title ‘holy minimalist’. Women’s voices opened in unison singing and then in piquant harmony; men’s voices join half way through, bringing the scene down to earth somewhat, with its steady line of undulating crotchets: one of his most popular and delightful works, this exquisite singing was a shift to a beautiful pastoral view of religious belief.

Two short motets by William Byrd (Tallis’s pupil) brought us back to the choir’s home ground; the Ave verum corpus (‘Hail, true body’ [of Christ]) uses the voices in alternating phrases to create a peaceful interlude, a genre known as a ‘gradual’, between parts of the Ordinary of the Mass. Dynamics rose and fell, rarely departing from the steady four-part writing throughout.

Laudibus in sanctis Dominum celebrate supremum (to give the first line in full; it’s a paraphrase of Psalm 150, ‘Praise the Lord’ or, to connect with familiar Latin versions, ‘Laudate Dominum’). More upbeat than the previous piece, the ensemble, starting with sopranos, and adding altos, tenors and basses one by one, sang with a certain grandeur and joyousness as conveyed in the repeated little five-note up-and-down motif, and making much of the complex rhythms.

The Forty-part Motet
The singers went off so that arrangements could be made for the arrival of the thirty additional voices to sing Tallis’s 40-part motet, Spem in alium (or in full, ‘Spem in alium nunquam habui praeter in te’ = ‘I have never put hope in other than you’).  Peter Phillips had told Eva Radich about the hazards of having to rely in the countries they visit on extra singers having been well coached, confessing to several minor catastrophes over the years. But he’d said he had no misgivings here, and indeed, apart from some quite expected a lack of complete clarity of diction, nothing went wrong. Here, much more than usual rests on the conductor in giving cues and keeping things in line; his task was relatively free of stress.

My first hearing of this, as well as, for example, the Missa Papae Marcelli, was from The Tudor Consort under Simon Ravens, whose inspiration for establishing his choir, which still flourishes, was undoubtedly the Tallis Scholars. At their concert in March 1992, I think in the context of the New Zealand International Arts Festival, it was in this cathedral, also jam-packed, the choir was driven to sing the entire work a second time as encore. It remains a moving and vivid memory.

(An aside: you’ll be fascinated to look at The Tudor Consort’s website which lists a complete archive of their performances since 1986).

I think I have heard at least one other performance in the intervening years but I cannot trace the choir or the time.

For the present Wellington generation however, Spem in alium became familiar to hundreds through the audio display at the City Art Gallery a few years ago when 40 speakers were arranged in a circle, each carrying one voice, though with slightly recessed sounds of all the others within range.

In addition to those performances, Wellington has been fortunate in having a sufficiently big population of knowledgeable music lovers to maintain several choirs that have made all the important renaissance music familiar to us.

So this audience knew what they were going to hear and were suitably enraptured. They clapped and stood, refusing to leave till the choir returned for a third time and repeated the last phase of the piece (from bar 104). Searching afterwards for somewhere to have a drink, at the only watering hole open nearby, Rydges Hotel, I ran into several people who’d been there; recognizing each other by programme in hand: all sharing Cloud Nine. This momentous experience was perhaps the most memorable musical event of the year.


Fine artistry and insight by Duo Cecilia, cello and piano duo

Duo Cecilia (Lucy Gijsbers – cello and Andrew Atkins – piano)

Beethoven: Seven Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ from The Magic Flute
Rachmaninov: Cello Sonata, Op 19, Third movement – Andante
Paul Ben-Haim: Canzona
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op 73
Debussy: Cello Sonata

St Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt

Wednesday 16 October, 12:15 pm

Lucy Gijsbers is in her master’s year and Andrew Atkins the third year of his B Mus at the New Zealand School of Music. Both have already distinguished themselves in competition and academic achievement. Lucy has played as soloist with orchestras as well as being principal cello in both the NZSM and the National Youth orchestras.

Each took turns introducing the pieces they played: both needed to be more aware of the need to properly project their voices. But they had little to learn about projecting the music they played. Their launching the recital with Beethoven’s delightful variations on ‘Bei Männern’ was a coup, as it offered the audience the chance to hear both their mastery of the notes, as well as expressive niceties. The opening was a display of darting, varied dynamics, changing with delightful aplomb from bar to bar.

The duo created the impression of playing the parts, each entirely engrossed in their own view of the music and what they were doing with it. Yet when I paid attention to the combined sound, the ensemble was excellent, listening to each other and responding to each other’s accents and turns of phrase; nothing uniformly bland.

The slow 6th variation revealed the players’ beautifully controlled tone with restrained vibrato, and the last variation announced the imminent ending by giving special emphasis to principal phrases.

On 4 October in the Adam Concert Room of the New Zealand School of Music I heard Inbal Megiddo and Jian Liu give an illuminating performance of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata. These players played the slow movement of it. To focus on a single movement is often a quite different experience: it opens with a long, seductive piano introduction, a beautiful melody, intensely meditative; Rachmaninov gives quite a lot of solo playing to the piano and that, far from seeming to obscure the cello’s significance, drew
increased attention to its more sparingly expressed contributions. Gijsber’s playing was exquisite.

Paul Ben-Haim was a leading Israeli composer of the earlier 20th century. The single movement, which I think Atkins said (both he and Lucy spoke too quietly) came from a cello concerto, which is listed in an internet site as having been written in 1962. It speaks in a coherent tonal language, though its character struck me as having emerged from the climate of the second half of the 20th century, as well as containing well integrated marks of Middle Eastern sounds. I’m not aware of hearing Ben-Haim’s music before and this induces me to explore.

Schumann’s three Fantasy Pieces, Op 73 are among the most played cello pieces; if played as they were here, by musicians who approach them with liveliness and without any sense of having to justify over-familiar music. They are delightful, spontaneous pieces, far from easy to bring off. Most effective were the charming narrative sense of the first movement, Zart und mit Ausdrück, and the third movement Rasch und mit Feuer which opened with almost frightening attack, typical Schumannesque impulsiveness with a calmer middle section where the cello called attention with her well-chosen stresses on certain notes at the top of phrases. The piano’s role was distinguished throughout the recital but seemed to rise to special heights in the formidable accompaniments of these pieces.

A couple of weeks earlier I’d heard Andrew Joyce and Diedre Irons play Debussy’s Cello Sonata in a Wellington Chamber Music concert and here it was again. Debussy told somebody that he was dissatisfied with the work, his second to last as he struggled with cancer during the First World War, but I doubt whether many of today’s listeners find it unsatisfying. It’s short and compressed and unsentimental; and while it’s a work that could hardly have been written a decade earlier, it does not pay direct attention to the radical innovations that the Schoenbergs and Stravinskys were introducing. These young players approached it as if they’d been living with it for years in their technical mastery and ease with the musical idiom, but judging by the spontaneity and freshness of the performance, it sounded as if they’d just discovered it.

Once again, here was evidence of the wealth of wonderful music-making to be enjoyed for free (or nearly) in many parts of greater Wellington.


NZSO’s “Tall Tales and Tangos” musically resplendent but dramatically inert

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra presents:

Tall Tales and Tangos

Tchaikovsky:  Selections from The Nutcracker
David Farquhar: Suite from Ring Round the Moon
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf

Tecwyn Evans, conductor
Anton Oliver, narrator
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Sat.12th October 2013 

This was a matinee concert devised specifically for children, and it was great to see so many of them at this well attended event. Rugby legend and classical music enthusiast Anton Oliver introduced the programme, giving a particularly warm welcome to the under-tens with his assurance that ”this concert is for you”.

The orchestra comprised some fifty players, probably a bit of a squeeze in many theatre pits, but eminently suited to the larger Fowler Centre for the scale of works selected. Tecwyn Evans exploited the size of this ensemble to wonderful musical effect, and elicited clean, clear playing of great finesse and warmth.

The Nutcracker highlights opened with magical delicacy from the strings, where every note of the chattering rhythms was crystal clear. This precision and clarity typified the work, which Tecwyn Evans proceeded to build with wonderful control: there was an ethereal lightness of touch for the Sugar Plum Fairy; a colourful, galloping Trepak yet clean and never rambunctious; veiled evocative suggestiveness in the Arabian Dance; and lively, gracious waltz music that built to a surging conclusion while never being overplayed. It was a most satisfying musical experience which maximized the rich contrasts and masterful orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s writing.

For a watching youngster, however, hearing it perhaps for the first time, it represented a sadly lost opportunity. Nobody explained to the young listeners that this was music composed for a company of ballet dancers. The movements were not identified in the programme notes, to provide guidance about the characters and settings. And despite the enormous talent that Wellington boasts in the dance world, there was no glittering sugar plum fairy seen shimmering to the ethereal music, no fiery jack-booted Cossack leaping across the stage, no veiled dancer insinuating her hips through the Pasha’s chamber. This claimed to be a concert for children, yet no effort had been made to provide a minimal connection between the notes and their intentions. The NZSO has done many “semi-staged” performances, there was plenty of spare room on stage with the smaller orchestra, yet sorely absent was the little lateral thinking and coordination with the dance fraternity that could have lifted a child’s experience from bewilderment to enchantment.

David Farquhar’s Ring Round the Moon suite is theatre music at its most beguiling, and it was a great choice for this programme. There is a freshness and transparency that permeates every dance and plants the epithet of “easy listening” firmly in the classical arena. Tecwyn Evans and the NZSO showed off the suite to great effect – they executed with wonderful clarity and drama the many tricky rhythms in Farquhar’s clever creation, and explored its wide range of dynamics and instrumental colour with vivacious enthusiasm. But again the music’s wonderful potential was hamstrung by the missing partner in the marriage – the dance – which could have brought its meaning and intentions so brilliantly to life. I could picture Sir Jon Trimmer and his dancer wife Jacqui stepping out with the suave Two Step, the steamy Tango, the seductive Waltzes to stunning effect at front-of-stage – but nobody had thought to invite them…………… another sadly lost opportunity for adults and youngsters alike.

Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf is a wonderful choice to introduce children to the realm of dramatic music and orchestral colour, where surely the great C19-20th Russian orchestrators must remain unchallenged. Tecwyn Evans and the NZSO gave a wonderful reading of the score which maximized the drama and highlighted its key moments with great clarity and panache. The joy of the light tripping strings was almost palpable as Peter bounded out the gate into the sunlit meadow in search of adventure; so was the menacing warning of the horns as the wolf circled under the cat and bird in the tree above. As the duck was consumed the dread oboe call wailed out across the auditorium with hideous finality, and the ferocious horns blasted forth with their fantastic dissonances as the wolf tried to wrest his tail from Peter’s noose. The final victory march was all it could have been to swell a child’s heart with pride at the hero’s triumph against all odds, and it capped off a superb performance from instrumental soloists and orchestra alike.

Despite that however, this work fell well short as a dramatic production for children. The tunes belonging to each character in the story were played one by one at the start, but the wind and brass players should have been brought to the front where small children could get a clear view of their instruments. Also, Prokofiev clearly considered that the narrator’s role was key to the work, and he rejected another writer’s text in favour of his own, remarking that “the balance between words and music in a work like this is very delicate..”. Anton Oliver was put on the back foot from the opening sentence, having been provided with a lapel mike that could not produce adequate speech clarity even for listeners very familiar with the work, let alone youngsters coming to the story for the first time. What happened here to Public Address Systems 101 and the broadcaster’s obligatory voice test?? Also, the boy hero’s magical story calls for a lot more than a straightforward recital of the text – its drama was left crying out for the gestures, voice production and body language of a seasoned actor with the consummate artistry of someone like Wellington’s Tim Spite. While Oliver is doubtless a wonderful choice to pull in the reluctant Southern Man to NZSO concerts in Southland, he was placed in a most uncomfortable position for a children’s concert in the urban capital.

This was an audience liberally endowed with tiny tots in glittering tutus and sparkly shoes who deserved to be transported into that world where music, drama and dance make the magical connections that can capture a child’s loyalty for life. But the outstanding performance from Evans and the NZSO could not provide this experience unaided; it was up to the artistic management to create the other half of the equation.


Remembering Katherine Mansfield 125 years on


Katherine Mansfield and Arnold Trowell

A concert to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Katherine Mansfield’s birth

Music by Dvořák, Popper, Goltermann, Trowell and Boëllmann

Martin Griffiths (‘cello) / Eleanor Carter (piano) / Fiona Oliver (speaker)

Saint John’s in the City

Te Aro, Wellington

Friday 11th October 2013

Music and Friendship was a commemoration of the 125th anniversary of author Katherine Mansfield’s birth, an evening of music and recitation, held at St.John’s Church in Wellington Central. Welcoming people to the event was Marion Townend, whose obviously sterling efforts regarding the funding, organization and promotion of the concert had brought it all about. Joining her in the venture were two talented musicians, Martin Griffiths (cello) and Eleanor Carter (piano), along with Alexander Turnbull Library curator Fiona Oliver, who read exerpts from Mansfield’s letters, journals and stories.  As Mansfield was also a keen amateur musician, it seemed appropriate to intermingle music and words by way of commemorating the anniversary.

Further linking Mansfield with music was her friendship with members of the Trowell family, prominent in Wellington music circles at the time of the author’s early years – as seemed to be the norm with Mansfield’s interactions with people in general, the picture is a complex one. Mansfield’s ‘cello teacher in Wellington was Thomas Trowell, whose sons, Arnold and Garnet, the impressionable and impulsive Katherine became variously involved with. Arnold, the younger son, left New Zealand when aged sixteen, becoming a successful ‘cellist and teacher in Europe – he seems to have rejected all of Katherine’s advances towards him, eventually marrying someone else.

On first going to London Katherine became involved with Arnold’s elder brother Garnet Trowell, and the pair planned to marry, though parental opposition helped put a stop to their plans, despite Katherine becoming pregnant – an attempt by Katherine to “normalize” her pregnant state by marrying someone else also failed the last minute, and Garnet by this time had rejected her (as a commentator remarked, “Never trust a man whose name resembles a bejewelled garden utensil”)!

A recently-discovered story by Mansfield, “A Little Episode” actually mirrors the tragic triangle Mansfield had constructed around herself at the time, Garnet Trowell characterized as “Jacques St.Pierre”, a musician with “a pouting, eager mouth”, and herself as “Yvonne”, self-characterised as “a bruised, trembling soul”. At this point I forget who first observed that “truth is stranger than fiction”, but the lives of people such as Mansfield certainly bear this observation out.

Anyway, to the concert! The music consisted of pieces that either Mansfield herself or Arnold Trowell had played at various times. Trowell himself built up an enviable reputation in Europe as a performer, his ‘cello-playing having been described by one critic as comparable “with the greatest virtuosos of the present time”. Consequently some of his own music makes exacting demands upon the soloist, evidenced by the occasional rawness of the ‘cello-playing in places tonight,  such as throughout the difficult Waltz-Scherzo – which, incidentally, sported the impressive cataloguing legend Op.52 No.1.

Beside Trowell’s music there were pieces by other composers – first of the musical contributions to the program was Léon Boëllmann’s Variations Symphoniques Op.23, a rhapsodic work with some lovely Elgarian-like sequences and a juicily Edwardian “theme”, though with some tiresome “standard-variation” note-spinning passages as well, and plenty of tremolando passages for the pianist (who coped splendidly, incidentally)! There was a polka by a Georg Goltermann, which seemed to try and be a polonaise for most of the time, and then Dvořák’s haunting Silent Woods, the score of which was given to Mansfield as a present by a member of the Trowell family.

Another piece was by David Popper, one with the Schumannesque title “Warum?”, a piece that Mansfield had played while studying at Queen’s College, London in 1904. Difficult for the ‘cellist at the outset, with the music in the higher reaches of the instrument, the piece”settles down” and provides the player with some lovely, flowing runs, and a beautiful harmonic note at the end, which Martin Griffiths played to perfection. In places, as with Trowell’s Op.20 Barcarolle, the piano part sounded more interesting than did the ‘cello writing – and in the latter work Eleanor Carter readily demonstrated her fluency and poetic touch at the keyboard, for our delight.

The pair finished the musical part of the evening on a high note, with what I presumed to be a relatively early work by Trowell, his Op.3 No.2 Le Rappel des Oiseaux – a piece framed by exciting and restless molto-perpetuo writing underlined by constant piano tremolandi, with a salon-like middle section complete with sentimental melody – in places I thought of Rimsky-Korsakov, which probably tells the reader more about me than about the piece!  The duo made a great fist of it, bringing out plenty of colour, energy and, in places, sentiment.

In between these glimpses of a musical world there were readings which focused and intensified the character of the evening’s subject – frequently music was mentioned or characterized, either by the writer herself or by those writing about her, as in an obituary called “Broken Strings” written by a friend, Millie Parker, in 1923, and which was read by Fiona Oliver.We got an exerpt from an early novel, “Juliet”, written when eighteen, and on which Mansfield herself scribbled when twenty, “foolish child”!

Some journal entries, made in 1907, vividly described her understanding of and love for music, a well as describing her disengagement from Arnold Trowell and her passion for the voice of a singer she had recently heard. Finally, we heard “Mr Peacock’s Day” a story from 1917, in which Mansfield mercilessly lampooned her music-teacher husband George Bowden, the scenario, complete with disapproving wife, producing a kind of paean to the “marry in haste, repent at leisure” principle. The story deliciously exposes the fragile vanities and insecurities of a music teacher who considers himself a success from a society point of view and yet seems out-of-sorts with his wife.

Fiona Oliver’s readings drew us nicely into this unique and idiosyncratic world of a great and complex creative spirit, amply colored and flavored by the musical performances. Though I felt the presentation probably needed a theatre rather than a church, to have a more “focused” impact, the evening’s happenings made a warm-hearted and occasionally piquant tribute to Mansfield’s memory on her anniversary.

All the guitar students from NZSM prove more is more

New Zealand School of Music Classical Guitar Concert

Music by Jorge Cardoso, Maximo Pujol, Stephen Goss, Peter Warlock, Antonio Ruis-Pipó and Vivaldi

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 9 October, 12:15 pm

Three weeks ago I heard some of these student guitarists at Old St Paul’s (17 September). This time all twelve students in the classical guitar department of the school contributed to a mainly different programme that was, if anything, even more interesting and more accomplished.

The Suite of Latin American pieces by Cardoso that had me a bit confused last time was the last work in the earlier programme; here it was first. Perhaps because of that, the trio (Jamie Garrick, Christian Huenuqueo and George Wills) sounded more practised than before. Nevertheless, Samba d’Ouro (Ouro is evidently Portuguese for Gold, as well as being a place name in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Caterina) might have been lifted by a little more rhythmic sensuality.  Camino de Chacarera (which is a folk dance typical of north-western Argentina), was sensitive and nicely articulated. From the next piece, Zamba de Plata, much longer than the first two, there was more movement, along with charm and delicacy in its syncopated rhythms.

And the last two pieces, both evidently from across the Andes, built on the players’ growing confidence: Polca Peruano, elusive but quite melodious, and Vals Peruano, in a triple time slightly disguised by cross rhythms which made it teasing and delightful.

Fin de Siglo (‘End of the century’) by Maximo Pujol, from Buenos Aires, seemed less concerned with visceral pleasures and more with drawing attention to interesting textures and moderately complex shapes: the first part, Andante Tranquillo, and the second, Allegro, a post-Piazzolla, tangoish rhythm. In the middle of the Allegro there’s a nice contrasting, melancholy section which the players captured with grace and feeling.

The same selection as in the last concert from Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes, arranged by American guitarist Stephen Goss repaid a second hearing. These were for guitar quartet (Jake Church,, Cormac Harrington, Emmett Sweet and Cameron Sloan). While the two Gymnopédies are the more familiar, the Gnossiennes, forming an entity so successfully, lent themselves to more interesting colourings and a hint of mystery. The main impression of the playing was care, thoughtfulness and writing that was beautifully adapted to the guitars.

Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite might have seemed an unlikely case for guitar adaptation, but then it’s based on Renaissance musical ideas which were naturally disposed to the lute and the quartet handled their dance rhythms firmly and gracefully.

The last two pieces involved the full guitar orchestra, twelve in all, with Owen Moriarty conducting. Ensemble was admirable and the variety of sounds and dynamics made these thoroughly entertaining, even if the price was some lack of spontaneous rhythmic lift. The first was Américas by Antonio Ruis-Pipó, actually written for eight guitars, with contributions in the form of clapping and finger-clicking, all generating a convincing orchestral feel.

The last work was an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso, Op 3 No 8, the set entitled ‘L’estro harmonico’. Here the concertino, for two guitars, was shared by two players taking each of the two parts: Christian Huenuqueo and Cameron Sloan in the first, and George Wills and Nick Price in the second part. Vivaldi survives almost any sort of arrangement and here the disposition of the parts through the several groups created a really full orchestral sound, with varied dynamics and changes of plucking techniques between each section. Maybe they didn’t take the word ‘spiritoso’ in the second movement quite seriously enough, but there was little to carp about in the entire, most delightful performance.


NZSM Orchestra serves composers well, with a star cello soloist

Te Kōki New Zealand School of Music : Contrasts

Jason Post: Noumena (world première)
Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85 (adagio – moderato; lento – allegro molto; adagio; allegro ma non troppo)
Shostakovich: Symphony no.9 in E flat, Op.70 (allegro, moderato, scherzo: presto, largo, allegretto)

NZSM Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Young, with Heather Lewis (cello)

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Tuesday, 8 October 2013, 7.30pm

A demanding programme proved to be well within the capabilities of the NZSM orchestra, which included only a few ‘guest players’ (though all four horn players were guests).

The work by graduate student (studying for Master’s) Jason Post was titled ‘Noumena’, meaning ‘an object beyond our phenomenal experience of it’ according to the programme note by the composer.  It opened with a quiet flute that gradually became louder, and was joined by harp, bassoon and percussion.  Then the other strings arrived, with some playing ponticello (very close to the bridge), while the double basses played very low.  They were quickly followed by overblown flutes, all the while the music becoming louder Some brass joined in, while the percussionist played glockenspiel and then xylophone, the glockenspiel returning again later.  The various orchestral sounds, many of them unusual, made for music that was effective in its own way, but it would be difficult to see the piece receiving multiple performances.

Despite the technical and ideological aspects of the work, it reminded me most of a howling southerly storm, such as we experienced on 20 June this year, and then again, to a lesser extent, as I typed up this review the morning after the concert.  There was a build-up of sound, intensity and texture, then an unleashing, with many wind-like ululations.  The tempo was pretty regular, and the playing intense and on-the-ball.

Elgar was well served by the performance of his cello concerto.  This soulful, even romantic work is different from most of his other compositions.  Heather Lewis, in a gorgeous green dress, made a very strong and incisive opening, playing without the score, and immediately gave us a wonderful range of tone and dynamics.  Right from the outset, the orchestral cellos were very fine, too.

While the sound in Sacred Heart Cathedral is very good, there were times in all three works when the fortissimos were somewhat overwhelming, due to the acoustics, and the size of the building being much smaller than a concert hall.

Nevertheless, both orchestra and soloist made the most of the sublime melodies with their poignant resonances.  I could not see the soloist properly – but there was no doubt about the sumptuous, lyrical and passionate sounds she produced.  The orchestra did its part splendidly, but the focus was definitely on the soloist.  She had the work thoroughly at her fingertips, with all its technical, interpretative and  expressive demands, but made it her own.  The emphasis for both soloist and orchestra was on interpretation.

The lento opening of the second movement had both soloist and orchestra performing wonderful singing lines, filled with romantic longing.  These long lines and their phrasing were beautifully managed by Heather Lewis, and there were delicious pianissimos.  The allegro molto section provided a greater variety of temperaments.

The adagio continued in a similar mood to the lento, except perhaps for a greater degree of sadness, with the soloist virtually continuously involved, while the final movement also had a mixture of emotions, right up to its almost abrupt ending.

Shostakovich’s ninth symphony is possible his shortest and his most jolly – and the first for which I owned a recording.  It starts with plenty of gusto, and a delightful piccolo playing above syncopated pizzicato on the strings, with many interjections from brass and percussion, giving almost a fairground atmosphere.  The lively, quirky theme is thrown around the instruments as well as being played by the
full band.

The second movement starts in complete contrast; it is quiet, slower, and features a lovely clarinet solo, with woodwind chorus to back it up.  The strings enter, with a slow build-up of a surging theme that has a mocking character.  It is overcome for a time by gorgeous flute solos.  This movement was beautifully played.

The third movement went back to a quirky, lively mood.  It was exciting, with a plethora of notes, timbres and rhythmic figures.  Early on, the trumpet and trombones featured in fine form.  They returned later in stentorian style, to signal the largo, which featured a superb extended bassoon solo.  The player had great tone and phrasing; it was a delightful but somewhat sombre interlude between scherzo and finale.

The allegretto starts quietly, but the excitement builds to a climax, relieved by much drumming and rhythmic playing from the wind instruments.  Changes of key added piquancy to the repetition of the theme.  When the full orchestra play it forte there is a definite air of mockery about the rendition.  Many sectional variations ensue, before a quite sudden ending.

This demanding programme deserved a bigger audience.  However, the church was close to being packed.  Perhaps some potential audience members do not realise that the New Zealand School of Music is a university-level institution, and that many of the players are post-graduate music students.  The level of competence is extremely high.

The entire programme received spirited, committed and accomplished performances.
Kenneth Young brought out the best from the players.  His programme notes for the Elgar were elegant: I enjoyed his saying about the first movement “The violas then introduce an elegiac theme, long and flowing, which the cello cannot resist.”  I would need to hear Jason Posts’ piece several times to be able to relate the programme notes to the music, while those for the Shostakovich by Mark Wigglesworth (written in 2007) were very informative about the composer and the history of the work’s performance, but said little about the work itself.



Brilliant and rousing finale to Wellington Chamber Music’s 2013 concerts

Wellington Chamber Music Sunday Concerts:
Vesa-Matti Leppänen (violin) / Andrew Joyce (‘cello) / Diedre Irons (piano)

BEETHOVEN – Piano Trio in E-flat Op.70 No.2
DEBUSSY – Violin Sonata / ‘Cello Sonata
SCHUBERT – Piano Trio in E-flat  D.929

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

 Sunday 6th October, 2013

I’m sure that one of the most effective advertisements for a symphony orchestra is when its principal players appear in other spheres as soloists or chamber musicians and nobly aquit themselves. A week before at St.Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace concertgoers had the good fortune to experience the wonderful playing of Hiroshi Ikematsu, section leader of the NZSO double basses, performing a Bottesini concerto . Now, here in the same venue were not one but two more principals from the orchestra joining forces with one of the country’s finest pianists to present a programme featuring both instrumental sonatas and piano trios.

Even though the term “luxury casting” normally refers to the phenomenon of gifted artists taking supporting rather than leading roles in performances, it was the phrase that came to my mind most readily when considering who was playing in this concert – none other than Vesa-Matti Leppänen, the NZSO Concertmaster, and Andrew Joyce, the orchestra’s principal ‘cello, along with the highly-regarded Diedre Irons at the piano.

There’s a feeling that an “ad hoc” group of musicians joining forces to play chamber music might not have the innate teamwork and long-established understanding of each other’s playing needed to fully explore whatever repertoire is presented. Countering this is the idea that one-off partnerships such as these create “sparks” by dint of the creative spontaneity of it all, and bring a newly-minted sense of discovery to the music and its interpretation.

It seemed to my ears that this combination had the best of both worlds – the give-and-take between the players in both the Beethoven and Schubert piano trios was such which one might expect from a well-established combination. On the other hand there was nothing of the routine, nothing glib or mechanical about the playing – instead, a sense of wonderful spontaneity, everything sounded by the musicians as if being heard and sounded out for the very first time.

As one might have expected, St Andrew’s Church was well-filled, with no seats to speak of near the front (my preferred place for reviewing). Boldly and resolutely I decided to go up to the choir-loft for a change, as I’d previously heard fellow-reviewer Lindis Taylor speak favourably of the acoustics from that vantage-point. His judgement was proved correct, as, to my surprise, the sounds of the instruments had plenty of  clarity, amplitude and tonal warmth.  At first I found myself missing something of the visceral contact with the music-making one gets from sitting  somewhere in the first few rows –  but in its place was a kind of all-encompassing sense of  the music, more of an overview, if you like, of the proceedings.

The ear being the infinitely adaptable mechanism that it is, I was soon as involved with the sounds as I’d ever been at a concert – first to be performed was Beethoven’s second  and lesser-known of the two Op.70 Piano Trios (the more famous one being the “Ghost”). This music was a rather more amiable affair than its darker, more intense companion, though its E-flat key gave the music an appropriately romantic ambience throughout.

We got a treasurable moment right at the start –  ‘cello, violin and then piano serenely brought the music into being, creating  a kind of “the gods at rest” scenario at the outset, then rousing themeslves with what seemed like playful Olympian energy through the movement’s  amalgam of  warmth, spaciousness and vigour. I thought the three players seemed like a kind of musical “Trinity” each distinctively individual, but essentially at one with the musical flow – in what seemed like no time at all we were at the movement’s “reprise”, the instruments entering in reverse order to the opening,  glowing with the joy of their interchanges and poised for a final flourish and calm closure to the movement.

The Allegretto’s teasing dance at the opening threw into exciting relief the group’s playing of the stormier minor-key episodes –  in a “Russian” or “Hungarian” mode. At the movement’s somewhat questioning end (a tentative restatement of the opening dance measures) the players took up the composer’s enjoiner to grab those same measures by the scruff of the neck and give them a good shake! I loved the more flowing movement (another Allegretto) that followed – a Schubertian theme (yes, it’s the wrong way round to put such things, I realise) with an oscillating accompaniment and a linking refrain with haunting “flattened” harmonies – here the playing brought out the gentle romance of the music and its reflective, “letting go” of the moment at the end.

After this the finale restored something of the first movement’s sense of energetic fun to the work, the players relishing  both the music’s invigorating forward thrust and the startling sideways modulations at various points, all encompassed within a trajectory of  wonderful natural ebullience, and here brought by the trio to a pitch of effervescent excitement, to which we all responded instantly and whole-heartedly.

Two Debussy sonatas gave the concert variety in both voice and manner,  firstly for violin and then for the ‘cello, both with piano. Debussy had intended to write six of these instrumental sonatas, but sickness and premature death overtook the composer after only three were finished – the Violin Sonata was in fact his last completed work.

Vesa-Matti Leppänen and Diedre Irons were the players – the work began with evocative piano chords, joined by the violin and standing time on its head for a few moments (as certain passages in the composer’s music are wont to do)  before leaning forwards and into the allegro vivo. There were passionate utterances alternated with more veiled sequences, and some magical changes of harmony –  both musicians handled the composer’s many variations of rhythm and dynamic emphasis with completely natural voices. Debussy’s violin played a haunting, chromatic phrase at one point, echoed by the piano as well, and sounding like something heard at an Arabian bazaar –  later, a fuller-throated  variant of this phrase abruptly ended the movement.

Violinist and pianist brought to life the spontaneous, improvisatory irruptions of the second movement’s opening, and then enjoyed the piquant and impish “Minstrels’-like” mood of the succeding sequences – the piano danced while the violin mused, then both rhapsodised and harmonised – such lovely, free-fall playing! The finale’s few “lost in the wilderness” opening bars were dispersed as mists by the violin’s energetic flourishes, though the music’s “anything goes” spirit then  plunged our sensibilities into a sea of languidity –  such suffused richness of tones, here! And then, what elfin dexterities both violinist and pianist summoned up throughout the final pages as the sounds were roused from from their torpor and flung to the four winds as liberated energies – an amazing utterance from a terminally sick composer!

Now it was ‘cellist Andrew Joyce’s turn with the ‘Cello Sonata– in response to Diedre Irons’ opening declamations at the sonata’s beginning, the ‘cello replied in kind at first, then more wistfully – in fact, from both players there came some beautifully-voiced withdrawn sounds.  By contrast, darker, more agitated passages revealed another side to the music, the players switching to and from irruptions of mischief to more melancholy utterances. The pizzicati-dominated opening to the second movement gave a brittle, pointilistic quality to the music, haunted in places by eerie harmonics. The finale maintained the same enigmatic face until bursting into  energetic life with a near manic-dance theme, whose pentatonic character immediately brings to mind Fritz Kreisler’s “Tambourin Chinoise”! Debussy wanted to call the sonata at one stage “Pierrot angry at the Moon” – and certainly the playing of Andrew Joyce and Diedre Irons had that detailed, pictorial storytelling quality which gave the music a  strong theatrical dimension, parallel to its essentially abstract quality – how one hears the work depends upon what the listener is actually LISTENING for…..

Where Debussy’s music was concentrated, volatile and elusive, that of Schubert’s which concluded the concert was expansive, consistent in mood and warm-hearted. This was the second of his two full-scale piano trios, the one which listeners of my generation would refer to by way of differentiation as the “Barry Lyndon” trio, the Andante of the work having been used extensively in the 1970s Stanley Kubrick film of the same name – and extremely effectively, as I remember.

Having dwelt at length on the concert’s other items, I’m not going to unduly anatomise this well-known work or its performance, except to say that the musicians played each and every note as though they loved them all dearly – each turn of phrase, every gradation of dynamics, and each and every tone and colour expressed both individually and together all had the kind of meaningful purpose given by gifted speakers or actors to great poetry or to Shakespearean prose.

And yet nothing was over-laden or emphasised out of context or proportion – both of the middle movements were, for example, rather more dry-eyed at their outset than I wanted them to sound, but in each case convinced through a gradual accumulation of intensities as the music unfolded – the concluding major-to-minor statement of the “Barry Lyndon” theme (excuse my “period” association!) had as much tragic weight and dark portent as that of any performance I’d previously heard, for example.

As for the finale, the music represents Schubert in an ebullient mood, in most places, with episodes of extreme abandonment given to the hapless pianist in particular, who has whirls of notes to contend with in places towards the end, as do the rushing strings at times as well. The return of the aforementioned slow movement theme in the finale allowed the composer to change the expressive outcomes of the music by adroitly reversing previous arrangements and giving the melody a minor-to-major course – a great moment, and a display of optimism and faith in existence wholly characteristic of its composer.

I was going to say it helped “bring the house down” at the work’s tumultuous end, but in fact the house did the reverse, and rose to give the musicians a standing ovation at the concert’s conclusion.  Time was when we would have had to look to visiting artists to give us live performances of such calibre – but here were three local musicians delivering the goods for our delight in no uncertain terms. The response would have gladdened the heart of David Carew, chairperson of Wellington Chamber Music, who had earlier welcomed us to the concert and announced his decision to step down as chair at the end of this year – a most successful concert with which to bow out! This was indeed, for all concerned, a truly memorable occasion.