Inspiring lunchtime performances from NZSM string players

St Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series

Undergraduate Strings of the NZSM

Caitlin Morris (cello), Laura Barton and Julian Baker (violins), accompanied by Rafaella Garlick-Grice (piano)


St Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

It was nothing short of astonishing to hear the level of musicianship and accomplishment on their instruments that these students demonstrated. As an undergraduate concert it was quite staggering.

The concert opened with the cello of Caitlin Morris, playing a section from Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1, Op.33. Hers was dynamic and exciting playing. The tempo was quite fast, despite the ‘non troppo’marking of the opening. It was a little too fast, in my view, to bring to life some of the quick passages and figures in both the cello and the orchestral parts (the latter on piano, of course). Nevertheless, melodies were brought out well, and Caitlin’s playing produced excellent tone and subtlety of phrasing and shading of dynamics.

The double-stopping was executed seamlessly, while the accompaniment was at all times clear but never overwhelmed the soloist. The lyrical passages were very fine on both instruments, and Rafaella rendered the orchestra superbly – perhaps even Saint-Saëns would not have missed the full band if he had heard this excellent performance. The players were rewarded with warm applause from the audience.

Laura Barton played next – three items, all from memory. Bach’s unaccompanied Preludio in E from Partita no.3 BWV 1006 was first. This popular solo piece has its difficulties; there were some intonation inaccuracies, particularly at the beginning. Things improved as the piece proceeded. There was great clarity in Laura’s playing (and in her speaking voice introducing her programme, too); this was a very competent performance.

Saint-Saëns returned, in completely different mood, in the form of the well-known Havanaise, Op.83. It was played with panache and expressiveness. Technically demanding, it produced a few slight fluffs in pitch, but it was played with flair and musicality. Again, the sensitive accompaniment provided all the notes and moods that the orchestral score would have. As well as songs and dances, the music seems to have an element of bravado about it.

The third movement of Mendelssohn’s well-known Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64 followed. It was played with skill and flourish. While the Latin word ‘dexter’ means the right hand, Laura’s left hand was in no way sinister, and in fact was extremely dextrous. I would have liked a little more articulation and phrasing from both instruments at times. However, Laura’s tone was for the most part warm and radiant.

After this considerable contribution, came Julian Baker. He played from Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto no.1, Op.99, the third and fourth movements: Passacaglia: andante, and Burlesque: allegro con brio. The complex and demanding music was played from memory. This violinist makes a lovely sound. The contemplative, sombre mood at the commencement of the Passacaglia was a great contrast to the Mendelssohn we had just heard.The playing was strong and incisive when required; light and shade and a variety of tonal colours contributed to the satisfying interpretation.

Julian was secure technically, including in the extended sequences of double-stopping. The cadenza at the end of the Passacaglia and the solo first two-thirds of the Burlesque were played with consummate skill. Amazing glissando flourishes and the speed that became not merely allegro con brio but furioso seemed to hold no fears for the violinist.

This was an absolute tour de force, and the audience showed their appreciation by demanding that Julian Baker come on for a second bow.

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