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.