Inspiring concert by young students of Donald Armstrong

Lunchtime concert at Old Saint Paul’s

Andrew Kelly – Brahms: Violin Sonata No 3 – First movement
Claudia Tarrant-Matthews – Elgar: Violin Sonata, Op 82 – First movement
Melanie Pinkney – Bruch: Violin Concerto No 1 – First movement.  François Schubert: The Bee
The Elegiac Trio (Andrew Kelly, Josiah Pinkney – cello, Claudia Tarrant-Matthews – piano) – Rachmaninov: Trio élégiaque No 1, in G minor
Catherine McKay was the accompanying pianist for the three violinists.

Old Saint Paul’s church

Tuesday 29 July, 12:15 pm

This concert, in the regular Tuesday lunchtime series in the former Pro-cathedral, was the last appearance of The Elegiac Trio before they took part in the final stage of the Schools Chamber Music Contest, held this year in Christchurch on the coming Saturday. It proved a remarkable exhibition of young talent by the three members of the Trio as well as the 12-year-old violinist Melanie Pinkney. All three violinists are tutored by NZSO associate concert-master Donald Armstrong.

Andrew Kelly established at once what could easily be felt as the prevailing quality in the violin playing: a warm and even tone that provided the foundation for playing that was rich in dynamic subtleties; in which the central section of the Brahms sonata was so magically hushed, demonstrating the composer’s essentially romantic and emotional character, though cast within broadly classical shapes. It prepared the audience thoroughly for his role in Rachmaninov’s elegiac trio at the end of the concert.

Claudia Matthews, 16, is a little younger than Andrew, but showed greater confidence, though their playing was invested with very similar degree of painstaking care and finesse in handling the bow. Elgar’s sonata is not nearly as familiar to most people as Brahms’s three sonatas: perhaps it does not have the same immediate melodic charm and memorable character; it’s one of those works whose beauties are slower to become embedded in the mind. Claudia’s confidence, firmness and accuracy matched her ease in navigating Elgar’s particular way with the notes, bending them secretly, creating an air of remoteness and gentle drifting, speaking of a maturity that seemed well beyond her years.

Melanie Pinkney is only 12, and I imagine I was not alone in feeling that her musical gift was in the class of the musical prodigy. The Bruch concerto in G minor is a truly grown-up masterpiece; it opens with Catherine McKay’s piano, capturing the orchestra’s character hypnotically, drawing the audience mysteriously towards the memorable first theme by the violin.

Melanie planted her notes with mature assurance, giving no suggestion that it presented any difficulties, since it all lay so comfortably under her fingers. She dealt with every musical colouring and decoration as if she was improvising, yet also with beguiling musical feeling that held you spellbound.

The fine Bruch structure was followed by a little Schubert piece that I haven’t heard for many years. Yes, it IS by Franz Schubert, but he goes under the French version, François – and that’s because it’s a fellow born in 1808 in Dresden, not Vienna, and died in 1878 and though he lived more than twice as long as the eponymous Viennese musician, he didn’t gain immortality. Though The Bee, from his Bagatelles, Op 13 (No 9), named in French, L’Abeille, published in the 1850s, survives.

In any case, it offered another display of a wonderfully fluid bowing arm that produced perfect tone.

After all this precocious virtuosity, one might be surprised at nothing, and that was the case with Rachmaninov’ first piano trio – he wrote two, both called Trio Élégiaque. This first is in G minor while the second in D minor, which is much longer, was inspired by the death of Tchaikovsky.

The tremolo opening of the piece seemed to emerge mysteriously from the dim timber recesses of the church, as the arrival of each instrument each seemed in turn to pick up the same emotion and tonal character of the previous one. They seemed to have paid scrupulous attention to each other’s sound; as the violin took up the theme from the cello it seemed simply to be an extension upward of the latter’s sound, not a different instrument.

Admittedly, this is a gorgeous acoustic for chamber music, but the raw material needs to be there for it to flourish. These musicians seemed not only to have worked together to integrate their sound but also to have judged successfully how their playing needed to be adapted to the space.

Much credit is due to the teacher of the violinists, Donald Armstrong, who oversaw the concert as a whole, but also to Andrew Joyce who coaches cellist Josiah Pinkney and Claudia Tarrant-Matthews’s piano teachers.


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