Wellington Chamber Music Trust
Dalecarlia Clarinet Quintet (Anna McGregor, clarinet; Sofie Sunnerstam, violin; Manu Berkeljon, violin; Anders Norén, viola; Tomas Blanch, cello)
Anthony Ritchie: Purakaunui at Dawn (2014)
Ross Harris: Fjärran (2012)
Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Sunday, 13 July 2014, 3.00pm
Two New Zealanders resident in Sweden and three Swedes made up the unusual complement of this quintet, come together pretty recently to replace the programmed Antithesis Quintet.
Before we could assess whether this had any effect on the quality of performance, we were treated to a prologue from the Glazunov Quartet, made up of four young people from Hutt Valley schools, who were runners-up in the Wellington Regional final for the New Zealand Community Trust Schools Chamber Music Contest. These fine young performers (two girls and two boys) played two of the eponymous composer’s ‘Five Novelettes’.
The first was slow and meditative, while the mood of the second was fast and spirited, very rhythmic, featuring pizzicato, but then reverting to the modal tonality and themes of the first piece. The playing was cohesive, warm, and yet sad. The players exhibited good tone and balance. There were a few aberrations of intonation and attack, but nevertheless, the performance was very fine. I was particularly struck by the splendid viola player. Variations of dynamics were executed confidently and well. These young people have a bright future ahead of them if they choose to continue with music, and chamber music’s future is in good hands.
Anthony Ritchie’s work was commissioned for this tour. It describes dawn at Purakaunui, a seaside village near Dunedin and was most effective, especially for the clarinet; the strings were sotto voce much of the time. It was an evocative and pleasing short work, the clarinet in splendid form playing the part of a bellbird.
Ross Harris’s work, whose title means ‘something far away, elusive, to be understood only in fragments’ was a little more problematic. The very fact that the musical fragments were not connected made the work so elusive and apparently without shape or structure that it made me think of Yeats’s words “…the centre cannot hold…”. The composer explained before
the players began that the work used the opening bar from the Brahms quintet. This link seemed to survive only briefly.
The opening featured lots of disconnected melodic fragments, and plenty of prominence was given to the clarinet, which was beautifully played by Anna McGregor. The work was much more sombre than Ritchie’s, and more angular, but exploited the agility of the clarinet. As with much music (not only contemporary), one would need to hear it more than once to fully appreciate it. It was played with commitment, and absolute rapport between the players. The tempo was slow in the main, but there were a few quick sections.
There were many interesting phrases and passages, but it was hard to get an idea of structure, or where the music was going.
I felt that the piece was rather too long; the lack of tonal security and structural shape palled for me. A loud section preceded the pianissimo ending.
What immediately struck me at the opening of Brahms’s wonderful quintet was that this was a performance in which each part could be clearly heard. The smaller venue than that to which we have been accustomed made this truly chamber music. The delicious harmonic twists had full impact in St. Andrew’s.
Although this is a familiar work, the performance was never predictable; nuances passed between the players, and the gorgeous tone of the clarinet was produced with much subtlety – indeed, this factor was true of the other instruments too.
The opening allegro was robust and spirited, and, in the words of the programme note, was ‘notable for its blending of the instrumental sounds’. The adagio was rendered in a somewhat more solemn manner than I have sometimes heard it; i.e. slower, and with much delicacy.
The andantino was joyful and sparkling, while in the finale, drama interspersed the beautifully modulated quieter variations
Piquancy gave way to the final variation’s haunting nature, the mood built up by subtly varying dynamics.
Considering that the group have only been together as a chamber music ensemble for a short time, the blend and unanimity were most commendable. The audience showed high appreciation at the end of the concert.