Ecstatic applause for Freddy Kempf’s first three Beethoven concertos with the NZSO

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with Freddy Kempf, Piano/Conductor

Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op.15
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op.19
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op.37

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday 28 February, 7:30 pm

The NZSO undertook this programme with significantly pruned string resources, making a nod towards  the size  of orchestra Beethoven would have performed these works with himself. The balance and sympathy between the sections was, as always, exemplary and the concert was marked throughout by superb solo playing from wind and brass principals alike, and the impeccable string work that audiences never fail to hear from the NZSO.

Born in London in 1977,  Freddy Kempf made his first solo appearance with the RPO at the age of eight. In the intervening thirty years he has forged a reputation as an outstanding musician who performs to a punishing schedule all over the world.  His formidable dexterity at the keyboard encompassed the composer’s demands with complete aplomb and accomplishment, yet it was Beethoven’s  contemplative writing where, for me, Kempf’s talents most sang. He shaped the opening bars of the first concerto with great delicacy, which made the following tutti outburst a contrasting tour de force that was quite riveting. Likewise the Largo second movement opened with great tenderness that blossomed into a conversation of complete understanding with the orchestra. The Rondo finale was taken at breakneck speed, but both piano and orchestra imbued it with playful lightness, delicacy and clarity.

The pinnacle of the second concerto was again the beautiful central Adagio movement, whose melodic nuances were expressed with exquisite artistry in both phrasing and dynamic. The Rondo finale burst into life with its puckish syncopated rhythms almost gleeful in their exuberance. Despite the breakneck
tempo there was not the slightest loss of clarity or precision from either keyboard or orchestra.

The third concerto was likewise highlighted by the beautifully crafted melodies of the central Largo,
imbued with a clear sympathy of vision between solo and orchestra. The Rondo finale took off at an attractive bouncing tempo that concluded by catapulting headlong into a bold and hectic coda.

Despite the quality of the music, however, and moments of sublime stillness in Kempf’s slow movements, the performance was marred overall for me by the constant intrusiveness of Kempf’s conducting. In theory he was “conducting from the keyboard” as Beethoven was in the habit of doing. But in practice he was constantly leaping up and down between seated and upright, and sometimes
playing high speed runs with one hand while waving the other about in the air.

Nevertheless, the climax of the Final of No 3 brought ecstatic applause from the large audience, many of whom got to their feet. Kempf rightly acknowledged the various section leaders  and instrumental groups, all of whom had contributed so outstandingly to the music making.


Opera Boutique with a boisterous Pergolesi double bill

Pergolesi: Livietta e Tracollo and La Serva Padrona

Boutique Opera, Directed by Alison Hodge, with Musical Director, piano accordion and keyboard, Jonathan Berkahn.  Performers: Barbara Graham, Roger Wilson, Charles Wilson, Stacey O’Brien, Alix Schultze and Salina Fisher (violins)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Saturday 28 February 2015, 7.30pm

Boutique Opera has not performed for a number of years; it was pleasing to see them back, with light-hearted material as last time – though Edward German’s Tom Jones was very different from the current offering.

Giovanni Pergolesi had a short life: 1710-36.  He wrote a number of operas, some more successful than others.  Both the works performed in this programme were written as Intermezzi, the light-hearted works performed as interludes in more serious operas by the same composer. Obviously the opera-goers in Italy at this period had the appetite for quite a long evening out, since each of the Intermezzi was approximately three-quarters of an hour long.

The first of the two has an alternative title, La contadina astuta, and was an intermezzo for Pergolesi’s opera Adriano in Siria.  The piece was new to me, whereas I have heard the second offering before, and it is relatively well known.

Jonathan Berkahn played the piano accordion for the overture and throughout Livietta e Tracollo as the ‘orchestra’.  It seemed an odd choice of instrument, and it is not one of which I am a fan, but one had to admire his multiple skills.

The operas were sung in English.  Barbara Graham (soprano) took the female lead roles in both, and she was in fine voice.  Her foil in the first was Charles Wilson, who began as Tracollo in disguise as a woman.  His father, Roger Wilson, and Stacey O’Brien both had non-singing roles – but they contributed substantially to the drama, especially the latter, as Fulvia, a friend of Livietta.  Roger Wilson was designated as a servant to Tracollo, but his old crone did not appear capable of much activity!

I found that I had written about Charles Wilson in Tom Jones (2011), the following, which with adaptation of the character’s name, fitted exactly this time around too: ‘Charles Wilson made the most of his role as Tracollo, his acting exactly fitting for a farce, and raising many a smile.  Vocally, too, he was more than adequate, characterising his voice appropriately.’  However, he did have difficulty in that numbers of notes were set too low for his voice.  But his presentation of his role in the drama was realised with great feeling, appropriately overplaying the melodrama of the story of Livietta’s and Tracollo’s tortured relationship.  All ends well, however.

The disguise of Livietta as a French boy was very apt for Barbara Graham, who has won awards for French song; she got an opportunity to exercise that language.  Just as Charles is the son of a very experienced singer and singing teacher, so Barbara is the daughter of Lesley Graham, similarly qualified.  She sang and acted with great assurance; her voice was a delight to hear.

It was a pleasure to hear the two violins and pseudo-harpsichord accompanying the second opera, which was a much livelier work than the previous one – though that, too, had its moments.  Nevertheless, it must be said that Jonathan Berkahn performed wonders of tone and dynamics in the first opera.

A remarkable feature was the clarity of Roger Wilson’s words in La Serva Padrona, which had not always been the case with the characters in the previous piece.  His singing was strong and the voice was produced with full tone and great expressiveness; his acting, too, was convincing and full of amusing detail.

Director Alison Hodge can be pleased with her efforts in both works. There was plenty of amusing stage business in both operas. Costumes for Livietta e Tracollo would pass as eighteenth century, whereas those for La Serva Padrona were 1930s-1940s.

Simple props were adequate and appropriate.

Barbara Graham made a luscious maid on the make.  Hers was quite a demanding role. Her acting was lively and funny, while her singing in the many florid passages was lovely.  Her demeanour was perfect for the part of the devious servant.

Pergolesi’s music was full of energy and wit, and provided a fine vehicle for Graham’s talents as an actor as well as a singer. Instrumental parts underlined the solos deliciously, especially in Roger Wilson’s (Umberto’s) soliloquy in which he contemplates whether or not to marry his maid Serpina (her aim all along).  His low notes were meaty and meaningful.  The mock serious music was fully realised by the soloists, and Pergolesi must have had fun writing the charming final scene between master and maid.

The bright and humorous music and story, and the quality of the singing and acting created a most entertaining evening for the rather small audience – no doubt the entertainment coinciding with the NZSO and Freddy Kempf at the Michael Fowler Centre deprived Boutique Opera of potential audience members.

The season continues on Sunday 1 March at St. Andrew’s on The Terrace at 2pm, on Sunday 8 March at Expressions in Upper Hutt at 2pm, and on Sunday, 22 March at 2pm at Te Manawa Gallery Palmerston North.


Violin and harp in enchanting lunchtime concert at St Andrew’s

Tabea Squire (violin) and Ingrid Bauer (harp)

Massenet: Meditation from Thaïs
Saint-Saëns: Fantaisie for violin and harp, Op 124
Mozart/Dittersdorf/Eberl/Thomas: Air with Variations and Rondo Pastorale for solo harp
Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 25 February, 12:15 pm

The harp seems to be asserting itself at present. Though it’s been a pretty standard orchestral instrument since the early 19th century, and a much loved solo instrument both in its many ethnic forms as well as in its larger, more sophisticated character, there doesn’t seem to be a very large body of chamber music involving it.

This recital may well have been inspired in part by the presence of Helen Webby’s harp at the Adam Chamber Music festival in Nelson in January-February. For both the Massenet and the Saint-Saëns were heard there. The transcription for the harp of the Meditation from Thaïs was played in Nelson by Helene Pohl, leader of the New Zealand String Quartet, and Helen Webby. It is particularly beguiling, and while there might have been a difference in the level of experience and sophistication between the performances in Nelson and here, Tabea brought a big romantic sound to her playing, while the harp seemed to be a perfect medium for such a quintessentially emotional piece, a more natural partner than a piano perhaps.

Saint-Saëns was drawn to the harp, I suspect by the same factors that drew both Debussy and Ravel to it, respectively, in the Danse sacrée et danse profane and the Introduction et Allegro. This Fantaisie was played in Nelson by the first violinist of the Ying Quartet, Ayano Ninomiya and Helen Webby; it is hardly in the same class as the pieces by his younger colleagues, yet there is enchantment and variety in its four fairly distinct sections; it lies beautifully for the two instruments and both explored its interesting emotional states with sensitivity.

The next piece was a real curiosity, put together by 19th century Welsh harpist, John Thomas, from pieces by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Anton Eberl and most importantly, Mozart. The process was clearly one that would be abhorred by today’s scholars and many musicians schooled in doctrines of historical authenticity, but if the test is simply the agreeableness of the result, condemnation would be hard to justify.

In any case, the first part, the Air with Variations, offered the harpist scope for a variety of diverting techniques, strongly contrasting dynamics and what seemed to be a muted passage. The second part, the Rondo Pastorale, was the last movement of Mozart’s great Divertimento in E flat for string trio, K 563: one of his most beautiful compositions. Here was pure enchantment; it’s hard to imagine that Mozart would have disapproved of such an enchanting adaptation , so beautifully played.

The last item was one which, like a lot of Arvo Pärt’s music, seems to invite adaptation for different instruments: his Spiegel im Spiegel, which may be the equal of his Fratres in popularity and affection. As with her other introductions, Tabea Squire spoke with careful precision and sensitivity about its basically simple character, a study in triads in various inversions and keys, at each stage of which the home key seemed to be imminent but elusive. The violin carried long sustained notes while the harp suggested that here was the sound that Pärt had really been searching for.


St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts resume for 2015 with a piano quintet

Xing Wang and friends

Schubert: Sonata for piano and violin in A, D.574, “Grand Duo”
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44

Xing Wang (piano), Xin (James) Jin and Haihong Liu (violins), Zhongxian Jin (viola), Robert Ibell (cello)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 11 February 2015, 12.15pm

An attractive programme brought a good-sized audience to the first St. Andrew’s lunchtime concert for 2015.  Many people are grateful to the church and to Marjan van Waardenberg, for providing so many
marvellous concerts.

Unfortunately, another engagement meant that I was able to hear only the Schubert in its entirety.  The opening allegro moderato of the sonata featured very lively, bright playing, as did the scherzo: presto that followed.  The andantino slow movement displayed gorgeous tone from the violin, while the allegro vivace finale was executed with brilliance by both performers.

It was pleasing to have very full programme notes for the two works.  As the programme note for the Schubert stated, the sonata exhibited ‘…rich and beautiful melodic inventions, subtle harmonic colourings, and Viennese dance elements.’  There was much hard work for Xin Jin to do in this work, but all was carried off with accuracy and sureness of intonation and expression.

The Schumann piano quintet promised much from the robust, joyful opening of the allegro brillante first movement that I heard. Later I was told that it continued in the same warmly expressive vein, and that the cello playing of Robert Ibell was particularly noteworthy.

The concerts now continue on Wednesday lunchtimes without a break; much interesting music is promised over successive weeks.  Look up St. Andrew’s website,, and go to the ‘Coming Events’ listings.


Days Bay Opera in great success with early opera, La Calisto

Opera in a Days Bay Garden presents:
Cavalli: La Calisto

Conductor/Keyboards – Howard Moody
Director – Sara Brodie
Producer – Rhona Fraser
Opera in a Day’s Bay Garden Orchestra

Cast: Jove, King of the Gods – Robert Tucker
Mercury, his Messenger – Fletcher Mills
Calisto, A Nymph in Diana’s band – Carleen Ebbs
Endymion, a love-struck Shepherd – Stephen Diaz
Diana, adored Cult-Leader – Maaike Christie-Beekman
Linfea, one of Diana’s Maidens – Imogen Thirlwall
Satirino, a Satyr – Jess Segal
Pan, desperately seeking Diana – Linden Loader
Sylvano, one of Pan’s People – Simon Christie
Juno, Queen of the Gods  – Rhona Fraser
Juno’s Furies – Katherine McIndoe / Rose Blake
Satyr Dancers – Christopher Watts / Jack Newton

Canna House, Day’s Bay, Wellington

Wednesday 11 February, 2015, 6:30 pm

Review modified and edited by Lindis Taylor from Peter Mechen’s notes for his on-air review for Upbeat!)

In Days Bay Opera’s growing record of enterprising opera productions, this one was perhaps the most adventurous yet; it was certainly the earliest. La Calisto was first performed in Venice in 1651 – the composer was Francesco Cavalli and the libretto was written by Cavalli’s most frequent collaborator, Giovanni Faustini. For the story of Calisto he had woven together two myths – the story of the nymph Calisto and her seduction by Jupiter, and of the shepherd Endymion and his love for the goddess Diana.

Francesco Cavalli was born in Lombardi in 1602, which places him between Monteverdi, whose extant operas appeared between 1607 (Orfeo) and the early 1640s (Ritorno d’Ulisse and Poppea), and the more-or-less-known names that appeared later in the 17th century, like Cesti, Steffani (who was featured in a Composer of the Week programme last year, the hero of Cecilia Bartoli’s Mission CD), Stradella, Alessandro Scarlatti (strange that the French opera composers Lully, Charpentier, Campra, get ignored in this context), and later, Vivaldi, Porpora and many others including of course, Handel, an Italian opera composer par excellence.

Cavalli wrote forty-one operas as well as a lot of other music – church music for performance at St Mark’s in Venice, where he was organist and choirmaster until his death in 1676 at the age of 73.

A surprising number of his operas have been staged in the past half century, including Australia. This seems to be the first in New Zealand.

La Calisto wasn’t one of Cavalli’s great successes; a revival at Glyndebourne in 1970 put it on the map. Accepting the conventions of the time, the opera has proved popular: the story is by turns erotic and savage, silly and profound, the music is catchy, and the action is swiftly-moving and filled with interest.

That was certainly the case at Days Bay – the action never flagged, but was kept nicely spinning, the story of a bunch of gods behaving badly – in fact, behaving like the human beings they’re supposed to be setting an example to. The director Sara Brodie achieved a balance between music, drama and setting – no one thing dominated, which was extraordinarily satisfying.  Entertainment rather than profundity was the main concern of conductor and director, though there was a level at which serious issues were well handled; the emphasis was on communication with the audience.

Given the open air performance, diction was generally clear. Characters were sharply-drawn and entirely convincing, and an ear for wit and a lightness of touch enhanced the buoyancy and energy of it all. There were no stage designs or sets – the house, the decks and the environment served excellently – but the costumes were amusing and suggestive.

There was very fine singing from local singers and the instrumental playing – a mix of violins, cello, double-bass, harpsichord, organ with two recorders, dulcian (an early bassoon) and a theorbo, under the lively and sensitive direction of English conductor and early music specialist Howard Moody who had been a colleague of Rhona Fraser’s in England – produced textures that were coloured with a keen sense of the period.

Duets and ensembles were as important as solo moments so that no one singer dominated, least of all the lead role, Calisto. Nevertheless, from her first entrance, Carleen Ebbs as Calisto made a richly sonorous impression, producing tones that illuminated the words’ intention – for example she contrasted nicely her chaste rejection of Jove’s initial advances, with her besotted acceptance of the bogus Diana as her lover (Jove in drag and singing falsetto). Ebbs is a voice to listen out for.

Another to impress was the Jove of Robert Tucker, whom I’d seen previously as Noye in the Festival’s production of Noye’s Fludde. His rich voice was matched by wholehearted acting as Jove, the characterization thrown into bold relief by his portrayal of Diana, sung in a falsetto voice, but with irruptions of male testosterone fuelling both the excitement and the tensions of possible discovery by Calisto of the deception.

As the lovesick Endymion, counter-tenor Stephen Diaz was magnetic, with a deportment allied to a voice which occasionally generated a kind of unearthly angelic quality. The object of his desires, Maaike Christie-Beekman’s Diana beautifully and convincingly maintained the balance between public disinterest while privately besotted with her handsome shepherd, her diction allowing the words their full expression.

Imogen Thirlwell always commands attention on stage as a fine actress, and her voice has such lift and energy, galvanizing any role she takes on. Here Linfea’s thoughts ran the full gamut of the lovesick maiden’s thoughts and feelings in a totally convincing fashion. And Rhona Fraser as Juno was just wonderful – properly imperious, implacable and vengeful – a force to be reckoned with (as a hapless young male audience member found out to his embarrassment, though he didn’t entirely panic at being suddenly thrust into the limelight!).

Simon Christie and Linden Loader gave characteristically solid performances as Sylvano and Pan respectively, as did Fletcher Mills as Mercury, Jove’s occasionally libidinous sidekick!

But it was the teamwork which impressed as much as anything, the ensembles, the co-operative dovetailing of tones, the delight in gaging exactly what and how much was needed in any given situation.


Great New Zealand tenor Keith Lewis in rare recital

Fundraiser for The New Zealand Singing School (Hawke’s Bay)

Songs by Scarlatti, Caccini, Durante, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Bellini, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Guridi and Piazzola, aria by Cilea and aria and duet by Puccini

Keith Lewis (tenor) with Susan Melville (piano) and Tania Dreaver (soprano)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Tuesday, 10 February 2015, 7.30pm

Keith Lewis presented the audience with an evening of great artistry, ably accompanied by Susan Melville, a Hawke’s Bay musician.  Current doyen of New Zealand tenors, he is little heard, or even known, in his own country.  He gave lovers of the singing voice much to enjoy.  The word ‘mellifluous’ was invented for voices like Keith Lewis’s.

Right from the outset, in Scarlatti’s appealing song Le Violette, Lewis impressed with his enunciation of the words (in six different languages through the course of the recital) and his supreme control and beautiful tone on soft, high notes.

Although the church was fairly well filled, it is a pity that there were not more people present to hear this marvelous singer.  A side benefit of more audience would have been to absorb some of the resonance, which for me was a little too much at times.  Not that Lewis sang too loudly, but the acoustic of the church enhances the sound of the singing voice.

In Amarilli by Caccini (1546 – 1718) Lewis told the story of the love song beautifully, with top notes ‘to die for’, exquisitely projected in the softest of pianissimi. Francesco Durante (1684 – 1755) wrote Danza, danza fanciulla.  It was sung energetically, but tone never suffered.

Switching from Italian to German-Austrian repertoire, Keith Lewis began by singing in English.  The words of Shakespeare from Twelfth Night ‘She never told her love’ were delightfully set by Haydn.  Like so much of Shakespeare, the words ‘like patience on a monument’ have become a frequently used expression.  Here, every word was sung expressively and with meaning.

Beethoven followed, with the wonderful, varied song Adelaide (not with the Australian pronunciation).  The romantic poem was by Friedrich von Matthisson.  Another love song was the well-known Im
(In Spring) by Schubert.  The gorgeous, lilting piano part added immeasurably to the effect of the song.  The sentiments were beautifully conveyed.

With a return to the Italian language, we heard three Canzone from Sei Ariette by Bellini.  After a robust, spirited opener Malinconia, ninfa gentile, Vanne, o rosa fortunata had the singer varying voice and words enchantingly.  The soft tones were more supremely lovely than I have heard from other tenors.  Following the third song, Ma rendi pur contento we turned to French songs by Bizet, which the singer told us he felt particularly close to; they were ‘like little jewels’.  La chanson du fou (Song of the clown) employed  considerable vocal range that was readily encompassed by Lewis.  The language was projected with model enunciation. The song had much character in both the vocal and piano parts.

The second Bizet song, Ouvre ton coeur (Open your heart), was in the style of a Spanish serenade; Bizet’s fame rests largely on the opera Carmen, set in Spain and employing much Spanish idiom.  This song, too, was full of character.

After the interval, we moved to Russia, with Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin.  Susan Melville did her best to be an orchestra, and in the main she succeeded.  Lewis gave us much feeling and expression of Lensky’s thoughts and the drama of his situation, facing a duel with his old friend.

Still with opera, we then had two arias from soprano Tania Dreaver, a participant in last year’s New Zealand Singing School.  She sang, from memory, an aria from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, then
Mimi’s aria from La Bohème (‘They call me Mimi’), which was succeeded immediately by her singing the following duet with Rodolfo (Keith Lewis).  While Dreaver’s vocal technique seemed good on the whole, some of her top notes were slightly metallic and strained, and there were occasional lapses of pitch.  She has plenty of power to deliver the notes and words, but needed more variation of timbre and volume, in what is admittedly a difficult aria.  The duet was sung by a meltingly gorgeous Rodolfo, but again, Dreaver seemed to be straining and forcing at the top, and again there was variation of pitch.  Susan Melville’s accompanying in the Puccini items was particularly fine.

The Spanish song, no.4 of Canciones Castellanas by Jesús Guridi (1886-1961), demonstrated Lewis’s marvellous projection, and also what I was once told: “Do something with every note”.

Another Spanish song followed, by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992): Milonga Carrieguera, from  an operetta of his.  The emotions of the song came over clearly, and there was much lilting light and shade.  The bitter-sweet mood was perfectly conveyed.  Lewis’s amazing breath control was particularly apparent in this song.

As an encore, Lewis sang an arrangement by Susan Melville of Pokarekare ana, in which birdcalls featured.  It was certainly a different, and attractive, arrangement.

A few criticisms of the printed programme: a few composers’ names were misspelt, and none of their dates were given; it is always helpful in placing lesser-known composers in historical context.  Also, I always appreciate being given the names of the poets whose words the composers set.  After all, songs are a marriage of poetry and music.  The one inspires the other, so it is good to know who has written the former as well as who has composed the latter.

The recital tour continues in Nelson (16 February), Christchurch (22 February), Hastings (27 February) and Auckland (3 March).


Unorthodox organist Christopher Hainsworth with brilliant late trumpeter Nicolas Planchon

Chris Hainsworth, organ, Julien Hainsworth, cello (1) Nicolas Planchon, trumpet (2)
Two recitals, the first supported by the Maxwell Fernie Trust

Charpentier: Te Deum (1&2);
Torelli: Concerto in D (2);
Handel: Uncelebrated Largo (1);
Albinoni: Other Adagio (1);
Purcell: Not Famous Trumpet Voluntary (1);
Fauré: Pavane (1);
Anderson, George: The Battle of Waterloo, 1815 (1);
Verdi/Arban: Fantasy on La Traviata (2);
Takle, Mons: Power of Life (1)
Cool Selection: ‘In umbral colours’ (including theme from Lord of the Rings, Monti’s Czardas; 1); Tribute to Wellington Weather (‘Summer Time’ from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; 2)
Other items introduced to the programme are mentioned in the text below.

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Sunday, 8 February 2015 (1), 3pm, Monday 9 February, 1pm (2)

A concert of two halves, the result of trumpeter Nicolas Planchon being held up, courtesy of airlines, in Dubai.  The outcome for the sizeable audience on Sunday afternoon was a recital that included the organist’s cellist son playing a borrowed cello and downloaded music.  A free concert was announced for the following lunchtime, by which hour the absent trumpeter would have arrived.  Inevitably, not so many people could avail themselves of this opportunity, which was a pity.

The Sunday recital supported the  Maxwell Fernie Trust, which assists young organists.

It began with Charpentier’s Te Deum, the only piece to be played on both days.  If we couldn’t have a real trumpet on Sunday, we nevertheless could have the trumpet stop on the organ, which sounded very fine, and the playing produced lovely contrasts.  Some of the tuning of the reed pipes was a little bit out; perhaps due to the humid afternoon.

Jean-Baptiste Barrière (1707 – 1747) was a French cellist and composer.  In place of the prescribed trumpet concerto, on Sunday we had a Larghetto for organ and cello by the French composer.  A solemn piece, it was beautifully executed.  The gallery was surprisingly resonant for the stringed instrument; Julien Hainsworth made a delightful sound.  The accompaniment was a very simple affair.

After a spoken introduction, Chris Hainsworth played a Handel Largo from one of the organ concertos; he labeled it the “Uncelebrated Largo”, with his usual ironic sense of humour.  The Fagotto pipes seemed to have some extraneous vibrations going on, alongside the low notes.  Though uncelebrated, the piece eminently justified its place in the programme.

The “Other Adagio” followed, this time in fact by Albinoni, and not a doctored later construction as was the famous one.  It proved to be a charming and appealing piece of baroque music.   Purcell’s “Not famous Trumpet Voluntary” was a lively addition to the programme, that gave the trumpet stop a good roll.

Staying with the baroque, Julien Hainsworth played the well-known Prelude to J.S. Bach’s first cello suite, demonstrating lovely tone.

For something completely different, we had, for the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, the piece of that name.  Despite neither Wikipedia nor Grove listing any compositions by this nineteenth-century Master of the Queen’s Music, Chris Hainsworth described and produced for us one of the most bombastic, patriotic, rumpty-tum pieces of music I’ve ever heard, complete with aural descriptions of battle between the British and Prussians against Napoleon’s French’ rejoicing, lamentation for the slain (this section very ‘churchy’), complete with cannonade and appropriate vocal interjections.

Another import to the programme necessitated by circumstance was a Vivaldi cello sonata.  Despite the exigencies of their situation, the performers played the gentle, slow opening with great delicacy and accuracy.  The fast second movement featured the same characteristics, despite the tempo, and the final movement, again slow, had quite a wistful or even lamenting air to it.   The cellist gave very clean execution of the ornaments.

The fast finale demonstrated very fine, accomplished and musical playing from both performers, especially noteworthy considering the almost impossibly short notice; Chris Hainsworth told the audience that they had last played the Vivaldi 10 years ago!

“Mons Leidvin Takle. born: 1942. country: Norway … ‘He brings enthusiasm and boundless energy to whatever repertoire he tackles.”  I couldn’t resist copying this Internet entry.  I had never heard of the
composer before.  This piece was written for the fortieth wedding anniversary of his sister, we were told.  It was a rumbustious organ piece, a forte both in dynamics and performance.  There was plenty of vigour, and dynamic variation.

I’m giving way to temptation to say “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’  It reminded me of the
hurdy-gurdy my friends and I had heard played the previous day, at Pataka in Porirua, as part of the Festival of the Elements.

For the ‘Cool Selection’ Chris mentioned ‘umbral colours’.  Some of the themes he played were familiar to me, others not.  Vittorio Monti’s Czardas was an appropriately jubilant way to end the recital.

Next day, the diminished audience heard in a little over half-an-hour those works from the original programme that had to be postponed on Sunday.  The Charpentier now featured live trumpet, and what a player! Not only could the organ open up more with the trumpet as soloist, but what a great sound Nicolas Planchon produced!

The Torelli concert (allegro-largo-allegro) was a jubilant piece, with much brilliant work for the trumpet.  The slow movement opened with what initially sounded like that used by Barber in his famous Adagio for Strings.  The lively, even bouncy, finale complete a most satisfying work.

Cécile Chaminade (1857 – 1944) is one of the few women composers to be heard reasonably often.   Her Pastorale for organ employs rather conventional nineteenth-century harmonies, but is attractive nonetheless.

Fauré’s well-known Pavane received a most beautiful rendition on trumpet and organ.  The arrangement (by one of the performers?) began with the muted trumpet, with which Planchon made a most beautiful sound.  The middle section was sans mute; the last part again with mute.
The result was magical.

The major work was Fantasy on Verdi’s La Traviata by Joseph Jean-Baptiste Laurent Arban (1825 –1889).  To say that this was très difficile for the trumpeter, is an understatement.  He revealed wonderful control of his instrument.  I’ve never thought of the trumpet as subtle, but here is was. After the statement of several themes from the opera, the virtuoso stuff started – variations putting great demands on the player, all of which he fully met.

Chris Hainsworth announced the last item as a tribute to Wellington’s weather.  What was our surprise on hearing Gershwin’s Summertime, elegantly and artistically played, again with the initial announcement of the theme by the muted trumpet.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances, those of us lucky enough to attend on both days heard a great variety of music superbly performed.


Last three days of the triumphant 2015 Chamber Music Festival in Nelson

Adam Chamber Music Festival, Nelson 2015
29 January to 7 February 

Part Three

The Nelson Cathedral and Old St John’s church

Thursday 5 to Saturday 7 February

Thursday 5 February

For the first time, at this festival, two trips out of Nelson were organised, primarily as part of the full festival pass package; on Tuesday it was St Arnaud on Lake Rotoiti; today, to Upper Moutere to visit Höglund’s glass studio, the Neudorf Winery and a concert by The Song Company in a beautiful country church.

I decided to remain in Nelson in spite of that meaning foregoing the concert which included songs from the late Middle Ages – the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The song, Crist and Sainte Marie by St Godric, is one of four, ‘the oldest songs in English for which the original musical settings survive’, according to Wikipedia. I will record a personal reference, that Godric spent many years in the famous Lindisfarne Priory (indirectly giving me my name), where the beautiful illuminated eponymous Gospels were probably written in the early eighth century.  There was also a song by the enlightened Castilian King Alfonso X (13th century), English madrigals by Tomkins, Morley, Gibbons and Weelkes; and then a song cycle by Gareth Farr, the Les Murray Song Cycle, and modern madrigals from Australia and Denmark.

In Nelson the concert by the Ying Quartet that I heard on Tuesday at the lake was repeated.

French piano music
Thus there was only the 7:30 pm concert at Old St John’s, entitled Joie de vivre. That was on account of the full programme of French music in which Kathryn Stott was the still point of the turning world.

The earliest piece was five dances by Marin Marais (recall the film, Tous les matins du monde). Phillip Ying took Marais’s viola da gamba part on his viola which might not have altered it materially, but did remove the music from a particularly idiomatic 1700ish sound, partly the effect of a piano in place of a harpsichord or similar instrument of the period. The dances were varied and charming.

A Ravel rarity, which I’d not heard before: Trios beaux oiseaux du paradis, was sung by the Song Company, a cappella.

Kathryn Stott returned to join Rolf Gjelsten’s cello to play first, Fauré’s Après un rêve and then Debussy’s Cello sonata. Rolf read us a translation of the poem by Romain Bussine, a poet and singer who co-founded, with Saint-Säens, an important society in Paris, the Société nationale de musique, for the promotion of French music in the face of, mainly, Germanic influence. It included Franck, Fauré, Massenet and Duparc and several others. The former is very well-known and its performance was enchanting, not at all sentimental (which it rather lends itself to). The Debussy sonata may not be quite as assured a work as the violin sonata but this was a most attractive performance that both distinguished and brought together the distinct lines of the two instruments.

The New Zealand String Quartet joined Stott in César Franck’s Piano Quintet, in a performance whose spirit was very much guided by Stott’s playing, poised and restrained, with space between the phrases, her chords lean and clear. These remarks were true for the first two movements, following the composer’s indications, but in the third, Franck’s marking ‘con fuoco’ was licence for the release of the feelings it was rumoured that Franck had for a particular student at the Conservatoire. The big throbbing melody seemed steadily to increase in speed and dynamics, to quite a climax.

This most welcome performance added to the little effort initiated with Stott’s performance on Tuesday of the splendid Prelude, chorale and fugue, no doubt driven by the pianist, to pay attention to Franck’s unjustly neglected masterpieces.

Friday 6 February

Waitangi Day has usually fallen during the festival and offers an obvious excuse to explore New Zealand music, familiar and unfamiliar.

Nicola Melville remembers Judith Clark and shared friends
The 1pm concert served to showcase former Wellington pianist Nicola Melville who now teaches at Carlton College Minnesota, in music associated with her teacher and mentor at Victoria University, Judith Clark who died last year.

The programme note explained that the pieces were by composers dear to Judith’s heart. And there was a second set of pieces by composers who are among Nicola’s favourites.

The first played was Lilburn’s Three Sea Changes, the first two written in 1946 and the last in 1981. They have become familiar through the sensitive performances by Margaret Nielsen of 40 years ago, and it was good to hear them played by a pianist with a couple of generations’ longer perspective, of their acceptance as among the most characteristic of Lilburn’s piano music.

Then followed a new commission called simply, Gem, by Gareth Farr, a kaleidoscope of shifting tones, sentiment and sparkle. Its performance was full of affection and delight.

Ross Harris recorded in note about his offering, In Memory – Judith Clark, which was written for her 80th birthday, that she addressed him ‘you flea’. In it there was an immediate feeling of sadness, the notes spaced in a gentle and thoughtful way. It seemed to touch a deeper vein, especially in Nicola’s delicate and sensitive performance.

Eve de Castro-Robinson marked her tribute to Judith, “free, capricious, whimsical”, and that was the case. It might have been a characterisation as much of Eve as of Judith, with its scampering, quirky wit, that may well have enlivened the meetings between the two.

Jack Body’s offering was changed from the advertised Five Melodies to two pieces labelled ‘Old Fashioned Songs’, in Body’s inimitable treatment of them: Silver Threads among the Gold and Little Brown Jug. The expected and the unexpected in ‘Threads’, diversions from cadences that the ear and mind might have expected, yet enough of the original remained to tease. The ‘jug’ was treated to semi-staccato, spaced plantings of notes, it increased steadily in complexity, liveliness and interest, and Melville played them both with clarity and a keen sense of their wit and eccentricities.

Nicola in America
The music then moved abroad, to the United States. The first composer was an avant-gardist with wit and a mind to entertain: Jacob TV which is the American version of his Dutch name, Jacob ter Veldhuis. The Body of Your Dreams is a scathing look at the mindless world of TV advertising, using tapes and loops, rock idioms, of an advert for an electronic weight-loss programme, using repeated words a few of which I could pick up like ‘fat’, ‘press the button’ ‘no sweat’, ‘amazing’, the language of the bottom end of youth culture, advertising and the electronic media.

The piano was very busy in collaboration with the junk-burdened noises on the tape, good for a moment’s contemplation of the meaning of music, satire and what passes for culture.

And finally, a return to a composer I think ranks high in Melville’s pantheon: William Albright who wrote a number of rags, among much else. These two were entitled: Dream Rags, comprising The Nightmare Rag, with the parenthesis suggesting Night on Rag Mountain (though I detected no hint of Mussorgsky) and Sleepwalker’s Shuffle. They were, I have to confess, closer to the idiom of ragtime than the pieces by Novacek heard a few days before. In any case, Melville was very much at home with them and they delighted the audience.

Verklärte Nacht in the evening
The 7:30pm concert called on The Song Company and both string quartets. The Song Company sang songs from the 14th and 16th centuries. William Cornish’s ‘Ah Robin, gentle Robin’ with the singers taking varied roles, the men first and then the women while conductor Peelman accompanied with a drum; voices and the drum steadily rose in pitch and intensity, as the words revealed the singer’s despondency at the realisation of his lover’s likely faithlessness.

‘Where to shud I expresse’ possibly by Henry VIII followed, along with the anonymous, c1350 song ‘The Westron Wynde’, each a lament on a lover’s fickleness, or at least, absence. Here was the style of singing that best suited The Song Company, capturing lovers’ troubles with individual voices most advantageously on display, between their coming together to create beautiful vocal fusion.

Two New Zealand pieces were Lilburn’s Phantasy for Quartet, and John Cousin’s Duos for violin and viola of 1973. The Lilburn was a 1939 exercise written at the Royal College, for Vaughan Williams, winning the William Cobbett Prize. Here was a nice link with the previous song bracket, as Lilburn used the tune from The Westron Wynde, at first with restraint, and then increasingly energetic. The New Zealand String Quartet gave it a sweet, loving performance; apart from an early performance in Christchurch, I think it was said to be the near premiere in New Zealand.

Cousin’s three duos were Waltz Lee, Lullaby for Peter and Polka for Elliot, very much a family affair. These early examples of the composer’s work are charming, characteristic, offering a nice opportunity to hear other than his more commonly encountered electro-acoustic music. They were played engagingly by Janet and Phillip Ying.

The Ying Quartet returned in full to play their own arrangement of an Alleluia composed by Randall Thompson in response to the early years of the Second World War. There were hints of Samuel Barber sure enough, but its somewhat incongruous lamenting character in contrast to its title, led to an interesting, quite complex contrapuntal piece; the quartet may well have made it something of a personal utterance.

Which left the rest of the concert to Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night (Verklärte Nacht). The programme note described it rightly as ‘his glorious Sextet’, and this performance by the New Zealand String Quartet, plus the violist and cellist from the Ying Quartet, made a wonderfully rich and emotional job of it.

Saturday 7 February

Cornerstone Classics – Haydn and Mozart
Here, on the festival’s last day, was the chance to hear three New Zealand players not otherwise represented. Their style however, conformed with the approach to early music that was one of the hall-marks of the Song Company. Douglas Mews at the fortepiano and Euan Murdoch on the cello are well-known exponents of ‘period performance practice’; the violinist replacing the advertised Catherine Mackintosh, Anna van der Zee, is a regular member of the NZSO’s first violins, but proved to be fully sensitive to the playing style considered appropriate for the ‘classical’ period.

Two Haydn piano trios (Hob.XV/18 and 19) enclosed Mozart’s violin sonata in C, K 403. The feathery decoration applied to Haydn’s G minor trio enhanced the fortepiano’s lightness of sound, which in turn coloured the playing by the two stringed instruments. Even for one who is perfectly used to music played in accordance with historical practice, the first impression when a new and, I must confess, unfamiliar piece is played, is of a touch of the insubstantial. But the ears quickly adjust. Haydn’s trio in A (No 18), played after the Mozart, was as full or ornaments as was No 19, but more lightened with wit, and quirky gestures as well as the modulations that even one quite used to Haydn’s behaviour finds surprising.

I really enjoyed Mozart’s violin sonata, played in comparable, genuine style, it sounded closer to the Romantic era than Haydn, even though written ten years earlier; it’s part of an incomplete set that his friend the clarinettist Anton Stadler tidied up/completed. The first movement is marked by a strong rhythm, with an unusually emphatic first note in the bar, or at least that is the way it was played (I hadn’t heard it before). It seemed that the Andante might have been marked molto andante on account of its rather imposing slowness. I found the whole thing very attractive and so it did surprise me that I hadn’t come across it before.

Grand finale –cries of the cities
No doubt the big crowd at the final concert in the cathedral was there mainly for the Brahms Sextet. Yet there may well have been a good deal of curiosity about the set of seven ‘cries’; they filled the first half.

They involved, again, both quartets and the Song Company. The order departed from that in the programme. First came not the earliest, but the Cries of London by Orlando Gibbons, inspired by the earlier Cries of Paris. It’s a far cry from Gibbons’s familiar madrigals and keyboard pieces with its colourful and probably sociologically interesting words and atmosphere.

Louise Webster’s Cries of Kathmandu succeeded in using music of a generalised Indian character embroidered with Hindu religious imagery to paint an intriguing though on balance, distressing picture of a once charming subalpine city largely ruined by capitalism and mass tourism.

It was a short step to Jack Body’s Cries from the Border, a piece typifying the composer’s profound human and political concerns, now coloured by his own imminent mortality. The tale of the fate of German-Jewish philosopher, Walter Benjamin, trapped on the French-Spanish border attempting to escape from Vichy France and the Nazis in 1940. Body wrote: “Unlike Benjamin, I am a traveller reluctant to transit. But the sentence has been pronounced…”. Musically it expressed these complex emotions committedly and convincingly.  Jack Body was there to stand for the applause.

The Cries of Paris of c. 1530 by Clément Janequin was a predictable sequel. Like that of its imitator Gibbons, it did contain the cries of the city’s street vendors, which were no mere medieval phenomenon, but petered out only around the First World War. The performance left no doubt about the reason for their survival and now renewed popularity.

Then came two New Zealand latter-day efforts: Cries of Auckland by Eve de Castro Robinson which dealt with the anti-Springbok Tour and the cries of the protesters throughout the country, still vivid in the memories of all of us who were involved: “1 2 3 4, we don’t want your racist tour! … Shame! Shame! …Amandla, Amandla”  and hints of later protests about asset-sales and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

And Chris Watson contributed a comparable political offering from Wellington. More words, and a wider lens: the morning commuter trials (cries of frustration?), the dramatic revealing of Wellington Harbour at the bottom of Ngauranga Gorge (cries of spiritual uplift?), but then the realities of political Wellington at the time of the negative, dirty politics, election campaign – the cries of debate, perhaps the cries of hopelessness, from the victims of the victory of inequality.

Brahms Sextet
The Ying Quartet plus the violist and cellist of the New Zealand String Quartet had the last word, with the glorious second string sextet by Brahms (Op 36). Reference is usually made, and was here, to the belief that it contained hidden reference to Agathe von Siebold with whom he had been in love with a few years before, encoded in the first theme of the first movement. Typically, Brahms shied away from commitment, which he apparently later regretted. The work’s high emotional intensity, especially the Adagio, slow movement, can colour the listening experience, but it hardly matters what specific narrative the listener allows to accompany a performance, for it is such a transcendent experience from the young composer, aged 33.

These festivals have often succeeded in bringing things to a conclusion with a musical creation of unusual splendour and emotional power. This one achieved that very movingly.


Nelson chamber music festival: the second three days, with a trip to St Arnaud

Adam Chamber Music Festival, Nelson 2015
29 January to 7 February 

Part Two

The Nelson Cathedral and Old St John’s church

Monday 2 to Wednesday 4 February

Monday 2 February

PianoFest I: Dance
Sunday’s rain which had been threatened to continue today, disappeared and there was sun first thing, but clouds soon returned and umbrellas reappeared as we set off for the 10.30 PianoFest I: Dance.

It featured four prominent New Zealand pianists: David Guerin, Jian Liu, Stephen de Pledge and Sarah Watkins. ‘Dance’ was a rather approximate term as the first piece, Ravel’s Mother Goose, in the original piano duet form, was not designed for dancing; though Ravel’s later orchestration was in fact expanded into a ballet in 1912. I don’t know how successful it was or how much it is performed today. But predominantly it consists of charming, quiet depictions of some of Perrault’s (and others’) famous fairy stories. It was played by Jian Liu and Sarah Watkins, who brought to each scene a wonderful delicacy, precision, an awareness of the spirit of each tale and the pianistic colours demanded by that character. There were vivid revelations in each of the five movements – a special finesse in the depiction of the Beauty and the Beast (Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête).

There were three pieces by New Zealand composers: David Hamilton’s Three Rags were genuine dance material, closer to the Scott Joplin originals than the elaborate and over-sophisticated rags by Novacek, heard the day before. These were for eight hands at two pianos, positioned face to face, Watkins and de Pledge on the Steinway on the left and Guerin and Liu at the Yamaha on the right. Lilburn’s rather untypical Tempo di Bolero written when he was flatting in his twenties in Christchurch with Leo Benseman and Lawrence Baigent, both pianists. So it was for three pianists, in very close proximity; the three this time were, treble to bass, Guerin, Liu and Watkins. It was an energetic piece, that rather burdened the bolero rhythms with complexity, but nevertheless made one rather wish that Lilburn had been drawn into the business of composing for the theatre, to find the sort of popular success that Farquhar found with his Ring round the Moon music. Though the three Canzonettas, that were played on Wednesday in the Stabat Mater concert were teasing hints at what might have developed if the climate had been different.

The last piece in the programme was an extended exploration of Bottom’s characterisation in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘A Tedious Brief Scene: Bottom’s Dance’ by Leonie Holmes. The employment of all four pianists (left: Watkins, Guerin; right: de Pledge and Liu) imposed a certain chaos on the music that depicted Bottom, the butt of jokes and teasing, through rhythms and in the handling of musical ideas.

Also in the hour-long programme was the third Slavonic dance from Dvořák’s first set, in the composer’s original piano duet form. It occurred to me that we could use a couple of nationwide recitals featuring the two pianists, de Pledge and Guerin, doing the entire two books of these small masterpieces.

The only music by Scharwenka that I knew till a few years ago was this Polish Dance (Op 3 No 1) that both my wife and I were surprised to confess to have played, after a fashion, in our youth. The programme note explained how commonplace our experience was, noting that it had been one of the ‘greatest hits’ of its time, the sheet music selling in millions.

Prokofiev’s own piano arrangement of parts of his Romeo and Juliet ballet is for one pianist – here, Stephen de Pledge alone. The Lily Dance of the Maidens: curious and careful, contrasting with the heavy, confrontational Montagues and Capulets.

In the afternoon we got PianoFest II
It was advertised as ‘World Voyage’, for the usual reason of widespread composer birthplaces, though the distribution was pretty normal: France and Germany, the United States and a couple of pieces by New Zealanders.

This festival has been given a certain quirky interest by pairing music that has been transformed, generally by the composer from the original instrumentation to something else.

Beethoven featured twice. Late in his life, he had rewritten his third piano trio (heard on Sunday), as a string quintet (heard on Saturday); and on Monday we heard his Piano Sonata in E, Op 14 No 1 which he later transcribed as a string quartet to be heard on Wednesday from the young Nelson quartet, The Troubadours.

The Piano sonata was the first piece in the PianoFest II programme and it was played by Jian Liu.

I was enchanted by Liu’s playing of this unpretentious sonata, evincing a very carefully considered, understated performance of beautiful delicacy, with fleet little decorative passages, that, again, made me long to hear Liu in performances of a lot more Beethoven.

The contribution from France was Messiaen’s Regard du silence from the huge canvas, the Vingt regards sur L’Enfant Jésus, played with enormous authority by David Guerin. From the United States: John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction for two pianos, from Stephen and Sarah who exploited the interesting sonic possibilities that Adams wrote into his boisterous piece.

New Zealand composer Sarah Ballard wrote a set of four pieces representing the four medieval elements: earth, air, fire and water, and here we heard the four pianists (treble to bass, left to right: de Pledge, Guerin, Watkins and Liu) in two that portrayed an ancient Mexican cave and Mount Erebus.

A different disposition of the four pianists then played Gareth Farr’s Bintang, probably danceable enough, but a stimulating and impressive listen.

Bach by Candlelight
The evening concert was the focus on Bach which has become a key element in the festival. It was made particularly distinguished as the first appearance of The Song Company; and the forces also included both resident string quartets Douglas Mews (organ), Robert Orr (oboe) and Loan Perernau Garriga (double bass).

To start, Ying Quartet’s leader Ayano Ninomiya gave an impressive performance of the Prelude from Bach’s Partita No 3 for solo violin, and followed with Eugène Isaÿe’s astonishing treatment of the music  in his second sonata for solo violin. The performances of both pieces were distinguished by extremely high technical brilliance and artistic integrity.

The first of Bach’s vocal pieces on the programme was Jesu meine Freude. This is one of Bach’s real masterpieces and demands exquisite balance and blending between parts and both richness and dramatic characterization. Inner parts sounded too prominent, and though each voice was technically assured, the tone was not uniform; I am not bothered by vibrato in baroque music, but here it obtruded occasionally. Here was an example, I felt, when the possibly authentic use of one voice to a part made it very hard to meet achieve a simple, beautiful, dramatic performance.

Hannah Fraser sang the best-known aria from the St Matthew Passion, ‘Erbarme dich’. I’d loved her Brahms songs the night before, but was not so convinced by this, perhaps on account of a voice that was so warm and emotional, beautifully adapted to the 19th century, but didn’t meet the stylistic expectations that have become normal for Bach today. Her lovely accompaniment was from a blend of players from the two quartets plus bassist Joan Perarnau Garriga and organist Douglas Mews.

Soprano Mina Kanaridis sang the gorgeous aria, ‘Mein gläubiges Herze’, from Cantata No 68, with a real sense of ecstasy and conviction. But the real triumph of the concert was the performance by bass Alexander Knight of the cantata Ich habe genug (Cantata No 82), with a simply superb voice, and a stage demeanour that commanded the entire space both by means of his penetrating gaze at his audience and the sombre expressiveness of his singing. He was supported admirably by oboist Robert Orr, and again bassist Perernau Garriga and Mews at the chamber organ, all three of whom had given comparable backing to Mina Kanaridis.

A second instrumental piece was the third of Bach’s not often played Gamba Sonatas (BWV1029): on Gillian Ansell’s viola, accompanied by Douglas Mews, it was modest and unpretentious, and free of artifice of any kind.


Tuesday 3 February

To St Arnaud on Lake Rotoiti
This was the day of the lake: when the music and the pass holders go to St Arnaud on Lake Rotoiti where the Ying Quartet play in the lovely little chapel whose windows give on the beech forest and to the distant mountains. We walk to the School of Music where the bus will depart at 9.30am. The uncertainty of the weather, though the sun was shining then, means there is a wide variety of dress, from optimists to pessimists: I was in the middle with a light jacket and proper shoes.

Most of the way in through varied farmland and the series of villages south of Nelson till we turn off after about half an hour; the road becomes more winding and we travel through more plantation forest; almost no native trees apart from occasional patches of totara till within about five miles of St Arnaud. Why did the State allow land sales and native forest felling to make way for exotics so close to this beautiful lake? However, the immediate environment is largely beech.

After morning tea at the Visitor Centre we go to the little chapel where the Ying Quartet is already seated, backs to the windows, while the audience gets lovely views of close kanuka and more distant beech.

Quartets by Haydn and Tchaikovksy and a trio by Anthony Ritchie
The acoustic is gorgeous in the small timbered space with its curved laminated beams that create the feel of a vaulted gothic crossing; and the first few minutes are spent wallowing in the immediacy of the individual and collective sounds of the Haydn first movement. Better than at earlier performances we could here enjoy the quartet’s elegant and sensitive playing, Haydn’s wit and teasing, all with such care for the ebb and flow of phrases and dynamics.

The programme is Haydn, Op 20 No 4, Tchaikovsky, Quartet No 1 and a trio by Anthony Ritchie, entitled Spring String Trio. The Tchaikovsky drew more power and drama from the players, their painstaking attention to fluctuating dynamics and rhythmic effects more exploited.

In introducing Ritchie’s little piece, in which leader, Ayano Ninomiya stood down, giving the violin part to second violin Janet Ying, Phillip Ying referred to the piece as Spring String Ying Trio. Though commissioned as a birthday present, its tone was initially serious though quite brisk: getting older is no laughing matter.

But it was a delight to hear Janet Ying’s fine, confident violin playing, unobscured by her leader’s dominance, which is the common fate of the second violin. Its slower second section cemented its place as a small but substantial work.

Helene Pohl talks with the four PianoFest pianists
Back in Nelson later in the afternoon, it was the turn of the four pianists participating in the PianoFest, to chat with Helene Pohl. As well as exploring each pianist’s early experiences, and how a commitment to a professional career emerged, there was interesting discussion on the sense or otherwise of multi-pianist performances such as we had at the first and second ‘PianoFests’: the consensus was that it was fundamentally an eccentricity and perhaps stupid, except for Schubert’s which were justified as a means of getting very close to members of the opposite sex.

Kathryn Stott
Kathryn Stott’s major piano recital was in the evening. It demonstrated her special interest in French music with Ravel’s Sonatine, a nocturne by Fauré, L’Isle joyeuse by Debussy and Franck’s formidable Prelude, chorale and fugue. Their variety, and the rare hearing of the splendid Franck made it a memorable and, for the many probably unfamiliar with Franck, a revelatory event. The second half was dominated by Stott’s illuminating playing of the original piano version of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, too rarely heard, that restored Grieg’s place as a great piano composer; the rest was from South America, Villa-Lobos’s Choros No 5, Guanieri’s Danza negra and Ginastera’s Dance No 2 from Argentinian Dances. It ended terrifyingly with a rather extended, killer piece she had commissioned from Graham Fitkin called Relent, evidently a mark of his sense of humour since its speed, ferocity, complexity and sheer impossibility for anyone less than a Stott, was utterly unrelenting.

Wednesday 4 February  

The anchors of the festival
Three main groups provide the backbone of this year’s festival. The New Zealand String Quartet of course; the Ying Quartet from the United States; and the Song Company from Australia. Some festivals are very particular in the range of musical genres, but most like to include players that lie perhaps a little apart from the popular central element of a festival’s character.

Several times it has been a singer or singers. That is excellent because the world of chamber music tends to give rise to somewhat narrow areas of acceptability for quite a few, who might just surprise themselves if they ventured out of their narrow comfort zone.

So the Song Company had an important role to play in a festival like this, and they tackle it on several different levels: inserting a couple of Brahms Lieder in a chamber music programme; doing several of Bach best loved choruses and arias alongside violin pieces; testing the water with a wide variety of styles and musical periods – Medieval and Renaissance polyphony and madrigals, the Baroque, the classical and the romantic periods, the modern or twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

And of course, there are factions within each of those categories, those who turn off early music, or scorn romantic music, or art songs, or opera but love religious choral music, find English music boring, and so on.

Roland Peelman and The Song Company
A challenge to all these limiting fads and fashions was offered on Wednesday morning in the vigorous and wide-ranging discussion between Rolf Gjelsten and Roland Peelman, the director of The Song Company.

As with all these sessions designed to shed light on the making of a musician, this began with Peelman’s description of the unmusical life in a small Flemish town in Belgium where, from nowhere, a strong musical impulse arose, that sought out a music teacher at about age eight and induced the family to buy a piano. Then a quite rich musical life at a boarding school, a useless year at a local conservatorium (he mentioned almost no Belgian place names apart from Ghent), but more fruitful general education at university.

His learning went on to Cologne, the base of the post-Darmstadt, avant-garde school led by Stockhausen, and it included the important (for Peelman) teaching of Alois Kontarsky (you’ll remember him from a chamber group at one of the very early New Zealand Festivals in Wellington in the late 1980s).

Insights into conducting came mainly from those with almost no standing as a conductor but with a flair for giving invaluable guidance and inspiration. One had said he could tell him everything about conducting technique in an hour but it would take a lifetime to learn.

While he had initially said that the impression of Australasians that Europe was seething with culture was delusional, his later account of rich and flourishing arts and music scenes in at least the main centres of Europe, hardly supported his argument. Much of what he said seemed to place high value on wide general cultural awareness and knowledge instead of on narrow, music-only, highly technical, and detailed analytical study.

His own wide exposure to literature, several languages, history, the arts generally and music in particular was enviable, especially in a country with steadily narrowing cultural and intellectual horizons.

Peelman was interesting about the close relationship between musicians who inhabited the avant-garde and those who explored early music performance practice from the 1970s. The one had spawned and informed the other; especially the realisation that one could not live on the former but there were growing audiences for the latter.

To Australia
His account of his shift to Australia in 1982 was fascinating. His contact with Aboriginal ‘Dreaming’ music at Waggawagga left a mark on his brain; his first job was at Mt Gambier on the South Australia/Victoria southern border teaching keyboard and singing and conducting the brass band.

Life became serious when he was appointed assistant chorus master at Australian Opera in Sydney, in the far-off days when the company had 22 productions in its annual repertoire (now about half that in a good year; it was the late 80s when I started going to Australia to make wonderful opera discoveries). Though he allowed himself reservations about aspects of opera as spectacle and its perception as amusement for the wealthy (“music takes second place”, he said – maybe, but not for me), he gained varied and valuable skills, describing the hectic, non-stop life as intoxicating.

Then in 1990 came an offer of appointment with The Song Company, Australia’s only full-time professional small choir. He had much to say about its evolution, about the fundamental contrast between four and six voices. A finally he disclosed that, after 25 years, he’s ready to take on something else.

PianoFest IV
After lunch on this fine day, when the rain had gone, the fourth in the series of PianoFests, which had been planned and organised by Stephen de Pledge as a mini-festival-within-a-festival, took place in Old St John’s, as its deconsecrated embodiment is now known.

More multi-pianist performances, this one subtitled ‘Opera’. Official participants were: David Guerin, Jian Liu, Stephen de Pledge, Sarah Watkins.

The first, played by De Pledge by himself was Liszt’s transcription of Isolde’s ‘Liebestod’ from Tristan und Isolde. Liszt had the taste to ensure that Wagner’s scoring did not lose anything in the process, and the piano version moved just as ecstatically from calm grief to necro-erotic frenzy.

Nor did the transcription of the prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg suffer with four hands at two piano (Stephen on piano A, left, and David Guerin on piano B, right); in the transcription by Max Reger, its lines were if anything etched with more clarity than in the original.

But the real revelation was the fantasia drawing melodies from Bellini’s wonderful opera, Norma, by Czerny, a contemporary of Bellini, as well as of Rossini and Schubert. He was a piano teacher and composer of piano etudes and impossible exercises: this one for six hands at one piano. The emotions remained alive and well, and the rhythmic pulse under the final heart-rending melody, rather undid me.

It lay in the way he spread the melodies to the very limits of the keyboard, with not inappropriate adornments; inter alia, it called for De Pledge, in the treble position, to reach repeatedly with his right arm across Sarah Watkins to plant notes outside of his own territory; Sarah was wedged between, with David Guerin at the bass. The combination, towards the end, of exciting, pulsing bass rhythms and gorgeous, heart-rending melody, rather undid me. As I remarked yesterday, I felt, as the result of the glorious music that Bellini wrote for this great opera, and Czerny’s sensitive and exciting treatment, that this piece had a serious independent existence, vindicating the genre of six or more hands at one piano.

Then came another kind of novelty, though it was not altogether clear whether Double F for Freddie, had another life as some kind of opera, it was, as described, a humorous romp at the very limits of one piano: viz. four at one keyboard – from top to bottom, Guerin, Watkins, Liu, with de Pledge offering, as far as I could see, just the final deep bass note at the end.

Carmen for the madhouse
Then came an indescribable, extraordinary party piece devised by De Pledge for all four pianists in riotous disarray. It’s mainly Carmen, but there are other impertinences: Die Fledermaus, and Sarah suddenly interrupting Stephen doing Micaela’s act 3 aria with the opening of Grieg’s piano concerto, which was the signal for the arrival of other players, of growing chaos, of shifting piano stools, of forcible position changes at different keyboards, some corruptions like the Habanera delivered by Jian with feminine delicacy.

Carmen herself arrives (Rae de Lisle), tosses the rose to the pianists and then joins the riot. Five at two keyboards is unbalanced however, and De Pledge set out to find another pianist in the audience, and finally forcibly arrests Kathy Stott; she puts up a considerable fight to avoid this unseemly press-gang musical recruitment but joined the chaos of six at two keyboards with gusto to deliver the coup-de-grace to Carmen.

The third event of the day was at 6.30pm in the Cathedral, restoring a more orderly and civilised tone. The Troubadours, the noted student string quartet, who have been spotted around the city during the week, playing at schools and charities, were here to play Mozart’s Divertimento K 136, and the old filmic hit, Over the Rainbow. In particular, they played Beethoven’s own arrangement for string quartet of his piano sonata in E, Op 14 No 1.

These players, students variously at Auckland, Waikato and Victoria universities, were Julian Baker, Hilary Hayes, Jin Kim and Heather Lewis. Their playing was stylistically idiomatic, beautifully articulated, nicely phrased and judged for gentle rhythmic and dynamic variations.

Stabat Mater
This title referred of course to the great Pergolesi cantata that filled the second half. Sung by two sopranos from The Song Company, Mina Kanaridis and Anna Fraser, it was accompanied by the Ying Quartet, minus Janet Ying, plus Donald Armstrong and Douglas Mews at the chamber organ.

For a work that is so famous and so well-loved, I have heard it too few times, more in other countries than in New Zealand. I think it is no longer spoken of as it once was, with a degree of scorn or superciliousness, the result of a piece of music being too much loved on account of its beauty, not a virtue in mid-20th century avant-garde circles.

This performance was truly beautiful, fully justifying the employment mainly of the festival guests from Australia and the United States. The voices expressed the overwrought religious grieving that lies at the heart of the medieval poem, with sobriety and restraint, as well as extraordinarily sensitive control of tempi and expressive gesture. Led by Ayano Ninomiya’s strong but scrupulously handled violin, the ensemble gave a performance that would have impressed the most discriminating audiences anywhere in the world.

The earlier part of the concert had comprised a lovely Song without Words by Gillian Whitehead from Rolf Gjelsten’s solo cello. Donald Armstrong and Gillian Ansell played Lilburn’s entrancingly lyrical Three Canzonettas for violin and viola. Ayano Ninomiya delivered a Kreisler piece of high virtuosity and musical interest, breathtakingly.

Then the Song Company appeared to sing El fuego by Mateo Flecha, a 16th century (and so, contemporary with Tudor England) Spanish (Catalan) ‘ensalada’, in five parts, or was it six?  Vividly Hispanic, it and its performance were a delight.

All this highly heterogeneous material made it one of the most unexpected and delightful programmes of the festival.


Thirteenth Nelson chamber music festival better than ever: the first three days

Adam Chamber Music Festival, Nelson 2015
29 January to 7 February 

Part One

The Nelson Cathedral and Old St John’s church

Friday 30 January to Sunday 1 February


Coverage of this year’s Adam Chamber Music Festival (the 13th) will be divided into three parts. This first part covers the concerts, ignoring the Gala Dinner on Thursday the 29th at which an ad hoc variety of music was played, from Friday 30 January to Sunday 1 February. Parts 2 and 3 will follow.

Readers who have been drawn to the website of Chamber Music New Zealand will recognize among the following reviews of this year’s festival, texts that appeared under a pseudonym in the former source. Readers will notice that the style for the CMNZ website was rather more casual that has become the pattern in Middle C, and perhaps it is a style that we should adopt.

The aim of CMNZ was to create a lively impression of the whole environment of the festival – the geographical and cultural setting, and the weather, for those who don’t know Nelson; after all, it is by far the largest and most varied chamber music presentation in New Zealand. The atmosphere created by the artistic leadership and management which was so inclusive and welcoming, peripheral activities that audience members might have enjoyed.

The key players of the festival were: Colleen Marshall, the longstanding chair of the Nelson Music Festival Trust; Bob Bickerton, the ubiquitous manager, multi-instrumentalist, trouble-shooter, master 0f ceremonies and introducer of many of the concerts; the artistic directors, Helene Pohl and Gillian Ansell, who double as the first violinist and violist of the New Zealand String Quartet.

The New Zealand String Quartet has been the musical anchor of the festival from the beginning in 1992, and they gave many performances on their own and shared the stage, individually and as a whole, with many of the other performers including, most importantly, the Ying Quartet.

From Wellington to Nelson
We took the long road to Nelson as we’ve often done before: across the Strait in magnificent weather from that foreign country, the North Island, leaving the stark, dry, Brent Wong hills of Cape Terawhiti, to reach the dramatic, green and delightful Marlborough Sounds. Coffee at Blenheim’s well-preserved railway station, overnight at Kaikoura with the looming, jagged Seaward Kaikouras to westward, then inland by the Leaders Road to Waiau and Hanmer Springs, which becomes more Swiss alpine with every passing year.

I never tire of the Lewis Pass, first cycled in my teens over unsealed roads, memories still clear, of heat, very rare traffic, dips in the rivers, and the arrival of sandflies with the beech forests around the pass.

It’s a long, still largely uninhabited drive, through 33 degree Murchison, to Nelson, spotting traces of the sadly aborted Railway, victim of faint hearts, north from Gowan Bridge.

Our favourite back-packer’s awaited us in Nelson – we’ve stayed there for more than ten years; mainly young, foreign visitors, German, French, Dutch, occasional Swedish, Japanese, Italian and Spanish, generally much younger than us: intelligent, well-read, liberal – even radical, with refreshing, unclouded views about New Zealand. After coming back late evening from a concert, there’s still time to fix the world.

Ah, yes – the concerts.

Changes in 2015
There are still opinions about the benefits of having compressed the former 17-day festival into 10 days, which was a change at the 2013 festival. It somewhat reduces flexibility for excursions like to Golden Bay, but you can get more music in a shorter time.

The big change at the 2015 festival is the sad closure for strengthening of the Nelson School of Music (whose example of the European pattern of music conservatories in every town failed to take root here) and its replacement by St John’s church on Hardy Street. At least, the church was designed by the same architect as the School of Music, and the sound is lovely.

We were assured by Bob Bickerton that the strengthening and improvements to the school of music would be complete for the next festival in 2017: improvements will include air conditioning and better facilities for the audience and performers.

Friday 30 January  

The Grand Opening Concert, however, was as usual in the Cathedral. They wheel in some of the festival’s main performers: the New Zealand String Quartet of course, whose initiative the festival was back in 1992, the New York-based Ying Quartet, clarinettist David Griffiths and harpist Helen Webby. Greater variety of music and means would be hard to devise, no doubt opening ears for many in the
audience. As ethnically mixed as our hostel: French, Russian-Jewish-Argentinian, Hungarian, German and New Zealand. The only ‘main-stream’ piece was one of Schumann’s rather neglected, but highly rewarding, Quartets (in F).

For most, there was no familiar piece, yet the audience seemed delighted: at the beguiling opening section of the violin and harp Fantaisie by Saint-Säens (played by Ying Quartet first violinist Ayano Ninomiya and harpist Helen Webby); then a sonic adventure in Florence by Hamilton composer, Martin Lodge, played by the cellists from the two string quartets, one the observer, the other the manifold sounds of the city and its people.

The New Zealand String Quartet and David Griffiths played a three movement piece by Osvaldo Golijov whose opera, Ainadamar, on Garcia Lorca astonished last year’s New Zealand Festival in Wellington. Based on writing by an early Jewish rabbi, The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind mixed hypnotic Klezmer rhythms with the outlandish sounds that came from Griffiths’ five clarinets (hardly knew there were so many models), and he followed with a brief solo clarinet piece by Béla Kovács.

The main course in the second half was the little-known Schumann quartet, in F major, Op 41 No 2, played by the Ying Quartet. A highly persuasive performance, revealing a beautiful slow movement and highly inventive Scherzo.

I bought the Ying’s CD of the three Schumann quartets.  What greater endorsement could there be? 

Saturday 31 January 

It rained lightly overnight and was a bit cooler. A late start? But the temptation of hearing Gillian Ansell talking with Kathryn Stott at 10 am abbreviated breakfast rituals. It was in St John’s church.

Kathryn Stott
She proved a thoroughly unpretentious virtuoso star, born in a town called Nelson in Lancashire of working class parents with musical interests if not great accomplishment; but enough to detect and encourage piano learning aged five which led at eight to her applying for and being accepted in the Menuhin school. Though her first years were productive and contented, by her teens she had fallen into the hands of an unsympathetic teacher, chronically embittered in Kathryn’s opinion, and she left to enter the Royal College of Music. Things went well there, encountering both Nadia Boulanger and Vlado Perlumuter who gave her deep sensibility into French music. She did not disgrace herself when, perhaps prematurely, she entered the Leeds Piano Competition; it led to an agent and sudden demands for a much bigger repertoire than she commanded. Her career seemed to be spinning out of control and before long she withdrew entirely.

But after picking herself up, she had an unusual and fruitful encounter with Yo Yo Ma and success came quickly; finally, at the peak of her career, she finds herself in a Nelson on the other side of the world.  A real insight into her talent and naturalness, and determination to hear everything she will play here.

Lines from the Nile
After lunch, a small musico-dramatic show took place in the church hall. A piece called Lines from the Nile, recreating a musical soiree in colonial Nelson, in a hall such as we inhabited. Soprano Rowena Simpson graduated from Victoria University before heading for the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague to study early music practice. That was more than 15 years ago.

Back in Wellington she puts her training to excellent use; this time, in a satirical piece that purported to celebrate Queen Victoria’s wedding with Prince Albert: soprano Mrs Garratt with her compliant accompanist, Mr Hammersmith (Douglas Mews). A text by Jacqueline Coats, who also directed, it uses music by Haydn, who had been appropriated by the English – the couple performed, with hilarious histrionic flair, jingoistic piety, several pieces with an English connection, glorying in British naval supremacy, expurgated references to Nelson and Lady Hamilton, his naval victories at the Nile and Trafalgar, and the glories of Empire.

Quintessence = quintets
The daily swim at Tahunanui was fitted in before the evening concert, again in the Cathedral, entitled Quintessence, a careful distortion to mean music for five. The quintets were delightful rarities: the first, Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Piano Trio, Op 1 No 3, which utterly removed any sense of its origin through the use of a second violin and two violas. Joining NZ String Quartet players were the Ying’s leader, Ayano Ninomiya and violist, Phillip Ying. Emphatically, it deserves to be ranked equal with the original.

The second was Bruckner’s little known quintet, again employing two violas (this time, Ying players Janet Ying – violin and again Phillip). Bruckner is a bit of an acquired taste: I have acquired it chronically and incurably, though it’s a long time since I aired my recordings of this quintet. The Scherzo is entertaining and the Adagio rather beguiling, though undoubtedly needing two or three hearings for it to take root.

Along with those two biggies, Helen Webby returned with her harp (and charming comments about its origin) to play a piece written for her by Pepe Becker, better known as a fine early music soprano, and then a gorgeous performance with Helene Pohl of the famous Meditation from Thaïs.

Sunday 1 February

It had rained overnight and there was still rain in the air on Sunday morning. I woke at 9am but before I could have breakfast I went to the ‘Conversation’ this time between Helene Pohl and members of the Ying Quartet.

Helene Pohl talks with the Ying Quartet
Helene got them talking about their family and how each became musicians. They were a Chicago family, father a doctor, I inferred, clearly well off, who might have wished them to have pursued a more serious profession, but was supportive of their choices. At first there were four Yings in the quartet but the first violin left about five years ago, and they described the difficult process of finding a substitute; Ayano Ninomiya was the result, with whom the Yings are clearly very happy.

The two men, Phillip and David Ying, tended to talk most and were very articulate, told amusing anecdotes, particularly about their time under a National Endowment for the Arts scheme (the United States equivalent of an arts council) in a very small town in Iowa. It lasted for two years after which the NEA decided to divert the funding to an entirely different purpose. There was clear implied criticism of the ridiculously small federal budget for the arts.

It was an illuminating view into the richness of the US musical world, but also of its relative financial poverty in relation to the size of the country and its enormous wealth and ability to spend hugely on the military and related activities.

Kathryn Stott solo piano and in piano quartet
The 1pm concert at St John’s began with two New Zealand piano pieces played by Kathryn Stott: Waiting for the Aeroplane and Dance Fury by Gao Ping. It was good to hear the early Psathas played by such a gifted pianist who could plumb the emotional qualities that the music touches. Dance Fury was an extraordinary piece of ferocious virtuosity, which she played with tremendous energy and apparent enthusiasm.

The main item was Dvorak’s Piano Quartet in E flat. I had misgivings about it, as it was generally stronger in intensity, dynamic extremes, percussiveness than in delicacy and emotional sensitivity. I’m sure it would have benefitted from longer and less pressured rehearsal. However, this extrovert and flamboyant performance brought a standing ovation.

Conspicuous in the line-up which included Stott with violist Gillian Ansell and cellist David Ying was the second violinist from the New Zealand String Quartet: not Douglas Beilman, but Donald Armstrong who took his place following an injury to Beilman’s arm. Donald Armstrong is associate concertmaster of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra; he was also on hand in the Shostakovich piano quintet in the
evening concert, mentioned below.

Kathryn Stott and Brahms, Beethoven and Shostakovich
At 7.30pm, also at St John’s, Kathryn Stott was again in the limelight. With Gillian Ansell, she accompanied mezzo Hannah Fraser in two Brahms songs, from Op 91: Gestille Sehnsucht and Geistliches Wiegenlied.  They were absolutely beautiful, revealing a voice (she is one of The Song Company) that sounded a perfect fit with Brahms in a characteristic deeply emotional mood. It was mellow and gentle but of wonderful richness and probably one of the finest mezzos in Australasia.

There followed Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C minor, Op 1 No 3 which we heard in its quintet version the day before. It was not just that the string version sounded so perfectly adapted to that medium, as if conceived primarily for it, but for all Stott’s skill and temperament and interpretative powers, there was a sense of not being entirely at ease with each other. I sensed a feeling, mainly on the part of the violin and cello (Helene Pohl and David Ying), that they needed to match each other as well as to balance the vigour of the pianist. But then again, it was a fairly radical piece in its day – the one that Haydn was a bit cool towards.

The first half ended with Three Rags by John Novacek, played by the Ying Quartet. They took the Scott Joplin style of rag to extremes, and especially with the first, The Atlantic Side-step, that the plain sound of the string quartet was so foreign to the style that it really didn’t work. In the slow second piece, The Drifter, the strings did not seem such a bad fit, though the effect for me was still unconvincing. The last piece, Intoxication, was an exercise in pure frenzy and rhythmic and tonal excess, probably capturing a particularly agile and energetic drunk, but far too extreme to call for a second hearing.

In the second half Lilburn’s Inscapes II of 1972 was played over the sound system, confirming even more positively the strange obsession that Lilburn was prey to after about 1960, trying to turn himself into an avant-garde composer with equipment that has become so dated and so lifeless so quickly, though it’s true that musique concrete continues to attract some young composers – and to be employed by a very few more mature ones content to occupy a tiny niche position in music. For me these pieces are simply failed, if worthy, experiments which are dusted off occasionally in obeisance to the near-god-like stature that Lilburn has in New Zealand.

Then, without pause, Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet began: Stott and the New Zealand String Quartet with Donald Armstrong in Doug Beilman’s place. There was no hint in the ensemble that Armstrong had not been a long-standing member of the quartet.

It’s a long time since I heard this played and though I had clear recollections of only the Scherzo and parts of the Fugue and the Finale, its impact was powerful, and its depth of feeling undeniable, ploughing ground similar to that of the Piano Trio and the Eighth Quartet, and this was a performance that understood what Shostakovich faced in 1940 after the worst of the Terror had passed, but as Stalin bought time (to put the best gloss on it) with a strategic alliance with Nazi Germany, aware that war was inevitable.