The Bach Project splendidly under way on the St Paul’s Cathedral organ

The Bach Project at Saint Paul’s

Michael Stewart and Richard Apperley (organists)

Programme No 6 – played by Richard Apperley

Organ chorale: ‘O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross’, BWV 622
Concerto in D minor, BWV 596
Sonata III in D minor, BWV 527
Partita diverse sopra il corale ‘Sei gegrusset, Jesu gütig’ BWV 768

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Wellington

Tuesday 31 March 12:45 pm (330th anniversary of J S Bach’s birth)

Middle C’s neglect so far of this momentous project, the performance of all, yes all, of Bach’s compositions for the organ is regrettable: caused by absences from Wellington, conflicting obligations. In my case, the Nelson Chamber Music Festival, Napier’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, escapes to sun on the Horowhenua coast, and the past fortnight in Auckland and the far North.

Most of the musical fraternity know something of Bach’s huge output of music for the organ, though I imagine it’s rather confined, as is mine, to the ‘pure’ organ pieces – the preludes, toccatas, fantasias, passacaglias and fugues bearing BWV numbers in the 500s. But the scores of pieces based on chorales and other vocal music are perhaps too varied and numerous for the non-specialist to focus on.

My first reaction to the project was, ‘is it really possible, to play all the organ works in a series of 28 ¾ hour recitals’? If you look at the BWV catalogue (for example in Wikipedia) the organ works number from BWV 525 to 771, and there are later additions to the catalogue of organ pieces listed as Neumeister Chorales, BWV 1090 to 1121, which are also programmed throughout the series. That’s about 270 pieces. But if Stewart and Apperley play an average of ten or so each time, they make it.

This recital was a bit special as it was on Bach’s birthday.

The programme notes are written in a personal manner, a certain amount of musical learning, but a good deal of comment on the way the organist, here Richard Apperley, feels about the music and why it was chosen for the birthday.

The first piece was an organ chorale on a Lutheran Passion Hymn, for Lent (which is now), included in Bach’s Orgelbüchlein – Little Organ Book – composed during Bach’s years at Weimar (1708 – 1717). The notes quote Charles-Marie Widor’s judgement of it as ‘The finest piece of instrumental music written’, and Apperley adds that it’s one of the few chorale preludes to which he finds it possible to resist adding ornamentation. Indeed, as he played it, Bach’s own ornaments are elaborate enough, particularly given its chromatic character and richness of the counterpoint and fugal writing. Though generally it was an interesting illustration of the tastes of the period.

The general mood is lamenting, calm and heartfelt; and the tasteful registrations chosen allowed it to be heard clearly in the big space.

The Concerto in D minor is a transcription of one of Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico set, Op 3 No 11, which was for two violins. The Vivaldi is in three movements while Bach divides the first movement in two, separating its fugal section, so making it a four-movement work (Bach marks them: I. Ohne Bezeichnung (without indication), Grave; II. Fuga; III. Largo; IV. Finale). Though, before reading the notes, I had thought the fugal passage was, indeed, simply part of the opening Allegro.

The Vivaldi is a splendid work, but as the notes remark, Bach’s account is even more exciting. This had the effect both of demonstrating Bach’s genius as well as that of the commonly under-estimated Vivaldi who was after all responsible for the basic music and its shapes.

There were many delightful elements in the work, the varied registrations, the tempo contrasts, the beautiful Siciliano middle (third) movement, and the racing Finale of great virtuosity.

Richard Apperley wrote that the Sonata III, also in D minor, was his favourite of the six sonatas in the set; sometimes referred to as Trio Sonatas, they require the right and left hands to play distinct melodic lines on separate manuals, as if a violin and cello, while the feet play the basso continuo part on pedals, calling for considerable skill. The Trio Sonatas for organ seem to have been composed in Bach’s first years in Leipzig, from 1723; an early biographer stated that Bach wrote them as practice for his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann.

Apperley gave clarity to the sonata’s distinct parts, displaying his own mastery of its challenges which encouraged the listener to hear them again in order to grasp better the sense of the counterpoint and strongly contrasted lines.

Finally the Chorale Partita, ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’, which was perhaps written very early, at Arnstadt where Bach worked between 1703 and 1706, that is, aged 17 to 21. It would explain the feeling I had as it was played, that its variation form – eleven of them – somewhat disguised an unsophisticated, apprentice composer. It was very listenable music, but the short, not organically connected variations sustained the attention only through their vivid contrasts, of mood, of registration, of tempo and all the multitude of devices available to a gifted young composer and a skilled player.

It is natural, of course, that in presenting the entire oeuvre of any composer, the masterpieces must take their place along with juvenilia and music that lacks strong character or inspiration. However, this does not detract from the importance of this brave adventure on which these two musicians have embarked.


Ambitious and satisfying concert from Wellington Chamber Orchestra

Wellington Chamber Orchestra conducted Rachel Hyde with Helene Pohl (violin) and Rolf Gjelsten (cello)

Overture to Der Freischütz by Weber
Concerto for violin and cello in A minor, Op 102 by Brahms
Symphony No 3 in F, Op 90 by Brahms

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 29 March, 2:30 pm

One could argue that the first concert in Wellington Chamber Orchestra’s 2015 season was devoted to the very centre of the classical music repertoire: the blending and conjunction of the classical and romantic eras.

Orchestral performances between the hard surfaces of the typical church are not easy to bring off; and over the years I have often commented on the delicate matter of positioning timpani and brass so that their impact is not too distressing. Conductor Rachel Hyde arrayed the orchestra forward in the church, placing timpani at the side near the chamber organ, and the brass out from the sanctuary which tends to amplify the sound.

Nevertheless, in the gallery, where I sat in the first half of the concert, the four horns, at that stage exhibiting a degree of unsteadiness, were loud. The typical opera orchestra which, even in Germany, might not be as polished as one might imagine, is modified by being in a pit so that rough patches are obscured. Here, the splendid overture to Der Freischütz had to survive full exposure. It was taken fairly slowly which probably improved accuracy but, on the other hand, offered more time to perceive weaknesses. Its dramatic character, and its supernatural touches did not suffer through the slow tempo, and the surprisingly long pause before the attack of the Coda gave it real impact.

A great idea to programme Brahms’s not very often played Double Concerto, giving Helene Pohl and Rolf Gjelsten, first violin and cello in the New Zealand String Quartet, an opportunity to shine individually (they told me that they’d recently played the same piece with New Plymouth’s Civic Orchestra). I was still reeling from the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto by Janine Jansen the previous evening; yet the utterly different Brahms concerto in the hands of two gifted chamber musicians created a most satisfactory experience. Perfection in the orchestral playing was neither expected nor delivered, but the whole, especially in the second movement’s lyrical passages, was no disappointment.

Performances by amateur orchestras can be an excellent way for those without wide or deep musical experience to make discoveries, and all three works in this programme might well have been overlooked by the professional orchestras, which tend to deprecate the old pattern of overture – concerto – symphony that used to be the staple orchestral pattern. Its abandonment now means that the novice concert-goer never hears the scores of wonderful overtures, both opera and stand-alone, that the tyro of my generation came to love.

Finally, the symphony – neither the more played first or fourth of Brahms – but perhaps the most sanguine of the four, came off better than the earlier pieces on the programme. That may have been partly the result of my moving downstairs to the back seats where the sound is filtered somewhat, kinder to amateurs. The brass sounded in better control, the essential beauty of the lyrical second movement was captured, and the strings produced an almost Wagnerian silkiness (hints of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Götterdämmerung), though tricky cross rhythms in the last movement sounded a bit awkward. The tempi were admirable, calm and unhurried, yet energetic where that was required.

I hope that this performance will have won a few more friends for Brahms, for it was a worthy achievement by a non-professional ensemble. In all, in spite of the reservations mentioned, inevitable for such an orchestra which inevitably spends more rehearsal time on certain works than on others, this was a satisfying concert.


Spectacular NZSO concert with violinist Janine Jansen in the Tchaikovsky

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Blendulf with Janine Jansen (violin)

Liadov: The Enchanted Lake
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major
Prokofiev: Symphony No.5 in B flat Major

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday 28 March 7:30 pm

Liadov’s atmospheric painting The Enchanted Lake was a great choice to open an evening of wonderful music, rich with the delights of that fantastic orchestration which marks the pens of the Russian greats in an abundance matched by no other race. There was the opening mystery of the dark, rumbling bass entry, the dreamy lilting melodies that floated in and out from the woodwind, and the clear crystal notes from the harp falling like raindrops into the shimmering, surging waters of the strings. The orchestra crafted this work with wonderful artistry, culminating in dying phrases that simply evaporated into the hanging silence of the auditorium.  Superb.

Janine Jansen is an on-stage tour de force in every way. She proved a spectacular “soloist” but not because she attempted to grab the limelight; rather she shaped the score in a completely mutual conversation with the orchestral players, and whenever her part paused briefly you felt she couldn’t wait for the chance to engage again in the privilege of making music together. She captured the contrasting moods of the opening Allegro moderato to telling effect, and delivered the spiccato episode with masterful grace and clarity. You could have heard a pin drop in the central cadenza. The following flute re-entry was very special, as was the later bassoon countermelody to the solo line. She pulled off the coda at breakneck speed yet somehow with complete clarity – clearly she was excited to be playing this work, and she conveyed her delight without reservation.

The central Canzonetta: Andante opens with a wistful pianissimo phrase which comes and goes throughout, and Jansen presented each appearance with the freshness of first discovery. She and the orchestra wove in this movement a tapestry of wonderful melodic exchanges and a mood of gracious calm. This made all the more dramatic the catapult of sound that launches the Allegro vivacissimo finale. It was taken at incredible speed, yet again with total clarity in each rondo appearance. The stamp of Cossack boots thundered out, interspersed with beautifully languid playing from the woodwind in the contrasting melodic episodes. The whole concerto was performed with consummate musicianship, and the runaway freight train of the closing coda brought a stampede of audience appreciation – amply rewarded with an exquisite encore, an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher.

What could possibly follow this riveting Tchaikovsky? A Prokofiev reading that was positively mind blowing.  Blendulf made the most of the huge percussion, brass and string bodies right from the sweeping grandeur of the opening to the last dramatic chords of the finale. The massive demands of this score were embraced by the players with total commitment, huge passion, and the exemplary musicianship and technical mastery that mark all their work. Yet somehow they found an even higher notch than usual in this Prokofiev, emerging at the end with a clear glow of fulfilment on faces that should, by rights, have been etched with exhaustion after such a programme.

Daniel Blendulf’s conducting style was a pleasure to observe. His was an entirely unassuming manner, directing the orchestra with complete economy of gesture. He obviously recognised that no more was needed, given the wonderful resources and musicianship of the NZSO players, and their exemplary ensemble skills. They were the stars of the evening no less than the spectacular soloist, and he rightly called each section to its feet, giving the audience ample opportunity to express their appreciation for an amazing night’s music making. Bravo!


St.Matthew Passion rich and dramatic from Wellington’s Bach Choir

The Bach Choir of Wellington presents:

Richard Greager (Evangelist) / Simon Christie (Jesus)
Nicola Holt (soprano) / Maaike Christie-Beekman (alto)
Lachlan Craig (tenor) / David Morriss (bass)

Wellington Young Voices (Christine Argyle, director)
Douglas Mews (continuo)

Bach Choir of Wellington
Chiesa Ensemble (Rebecca Struthers, leader)

Peter Walls (conductor)

Metropolitean Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
Hill Street, Wellington

Sunday, 29th March 2015

When looking through various articles in search of a thought-provoking quote with which to begin this review, I found a number which set me upon my ear! – or perhaps that should be my eye! – of course I had to choose only one, for fear of being accused of using other people’s words to write most of the review for me! After some soul-searching, my choice was a statement from the 89 year-old Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher György Kurtág:

“Consciously, I am certainly an atheist, but I do not say it out loud, because if I look at Bach, I cannot be an atheist. Then I have to accept the way he believed. His music never stops praying. And how can I get closer if I look at him from the outside? I do not believe in the Gospels in a literal fashion, but a Bach fugue has the Crucifixion in it — as the nails are being driven in. In music, I am always looking for the hammering in of the nails.”

The performance of JS Bach’s St.Matthew Passion at which we were present on Sunday afternoon at the Metropolitean Cathedral of the Sacred Heart seemed to me such an act on a communal scale, presenting a work of art that simply invites humanity to believe in itself and partake in its capacity to act as human beings might do when showing love and compassion for one another.

That same belief in an essential humanity informed not only the music we heard but its performance. In terms of intent, commitment and insight it was one that, in Kurtág’s words, “never stopped praying”, mirroring the actual music and presenting it in human terms through singing, playing and conducting. At every point I felt the musicians were fully taken up with the composer’s inspiration and belief, and the music’s intellectual and emotional power.

Probably the reason that what I’ve written so far sounds more like an article of humanist faith than a music review is that the work, one of the mightiest that has come out of Western civilization, made such an overwhelming effect through its performance on this occasion. György Kurtág’s comment regarding the crucifixion having “the hammering in of the nails” could have been applied in metaphorical terms to other Gospel account imagery in a hundred such places throughout the narrative, in this deeply-committed rendering.

Before the performance began, conductor Peter Walls talked about the work and some of its detailing along similar lines – he pointed out some of Bach’s particular placements of instrumentation and how they reflected the content and mood of the words. Though Bach was often criticized for what some people considered over-dramatisation of the text (“Opera in church!” one distinguished lady was heard to declare disapprovingly at the end of one of the Passion performances), he actually broke with a trend that favoured sentimental verse settings of the Gospel stories, by restoring the actual Biblical texts, sung in recitative by a tenor as the Evangelist, and by other soloists as the main characters  in the story, with the choruses representing the crowd.

Walls drew our attention to the special character given to recitatives performed by the singer representing Jesus, – how Bach underlined the idea of the character’s divinity with string-accompaniment, except for the latter’s final outburst – “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, signifying a kind of divine abandonment. The conductor also drew our attention to Bach’s frequent use of chorales which in effect represent the congregation. Their melodies would have been familiar to Bach’s congregants, who would probably have joined with the choir in singing them – the most often-recurring chorale (sung five times throughout the work, with different words and slightly varied harmonisations each time) uses a melody actually adapted from a popular song of renaissance times, an organic, if somewhat whimsical connection between great art and everyday life!

The work’s very opening made here a deeply-felt and richly-sounded impression, with both chorus and instrumentalists divided into two groups alternating with descriptions of the scene where Jesus is carrying his cross, over the top of which sounded voices belonging to a children’s choir (Wellington Young Voices) intoning the words of a gentle chorale, “O Lamb of God”. The choirs were secure and full-throated, while in support the instrumentalists enabled an enticing accompanying texture, a sea of buoyancy on which the voices sailed safely and soundly.

As the Evangelist Richard Greager brought to bear on his recitatives all of his dramatic skill at making the words leap from the page of score and take on all the elements of the drama. I was worried after listening to the opening lines that the voice might not be steady enough for the more sustained notes, but as the work proceeded and things warmed up, I found myself increasingly relishing Greager’s vivid and varied story-telling with each phrase of the text. Among the most telling moments was the Evangelist’s recounting of Judas’ appearance with the priests to betray and capture Jesus, a moment which brought forth impassioned, ringing vocalizations!  – another great sequence was Greager’s expressive retelling of the story of Peter’s denial of Christ, bringing out the disciple’s horror and shame when he realized what he had done.

Central to the drama was, of course, the character of Jesus Christ, whose words were sung by bass Simon Christie – at first I found his tone gruff and a touch abrasive around the edges, qualities which he gradually relinquished with each of his subsequent utterances. His voice’s dark quality certainly suited the story’s subject-matter, and he was able to “pull rank” with some authority, such as when he delivered Jesus’s rebuke to the apostles for their objections to Mary Magdalene washing and anointing his feet.  He also paced and inflected Christ’s  “trinket alle daraus” (Drink from this, all of you)  beautifully and sensitively, and, of course, he had the expressive power to do justice to moments like “Mein Vater”, Jesus’s supplication to His Father to spare him the oncoming agony of his prophesied death.

The other singers of course delivered all the non-Biblical recitatives and associated arias which Bach interpolated into the narrative. Written by a poet known as Picander, these meditations comment introspectively on the meaning of the Gospel events, inviting the listener to become emotionally involved with the drama, personalizing key moments in the work and giving it incredible depth of feeling. First of the quartet to appear was the alto, Maaike Christie-Beekman, who brought her richly-wrought but finely-gradated tones to both recitative “Du lieber Heiland du” (My Master and my Lord) and to the aria “Buß und Reu” (Penance and remorse), each beautifully accompanied by the flutes, with solo ‘cello enriching the aria, the instrumental figurations vividly illustrating the “Tropfen meiner Zähren” (teardrops) of the text. Throughout the whole of the work, Christie-Beekman’s voice and way with the text took me to the heart of whatever she sang, such as with the heart-rending “Ach Golgotha, unselges Golgotha!” (Ah! – Golgotha, unholy Golgotha), the oboe-playing heartfelt and stricken, and with the recitative followed by a most touching aria (“Sehet, Jesus hat die hand….ausgespannt”) (See, Jesus has stretched out his hand) with poignant chorus interjections.

Though soprano Nicola Holt was less vocally consistent, occasionally singing a tad sharp under pressure, her line nevertheless had a purity and steadiness in most places, which gave the text an almost instrumental strength, as in her opening “Blute nurd, du liebes Herz” (Bleed now, loving Heart), words chillingly and pitilessly addressed to the mother of Judas the traitor, who nurtured at her breast one who became “a serpent”. Then, immediately following Jesus’ invitation “trinket alle daraus”, came a difficult, cruelly high entry to the recitative “Wiewohl mien Herz” (Although my heart) for the soprano, which she managed with great credit, supported ably by an oboe and lower strings, though in the aria which followed “Ich will dir mein Herz schenken”  (I will give my heart to you) came one of the few passages in the work which to my ears needed more judicious balancing, where the oboes were too insistent in places for the singer’s lines to be clearly heard.

A highlight of the performance was the duet with chorus for soprano and alto “So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen” – the two soloists lyrical and sorrowful, their voices set against the anger of the chorus’s cries, the latter representing the fury of the apostles trying to resist Jesus’s capture, the choir spot-on with their entries under Peter Walls’ direction, and with the help of irruptive figurations from the bass instruments working up to and achieving a positively seismic outpouring at the climax of the chorus “Sind Blitze, sind Donner in Wolken verschwunden?” (Have lightning and thunder vanished in the clouds?) – a stirring effect!

Tenor Lachlan Craig was given his first opportunity at the point of the story where Jesus and his apostles go to the garden at Gethsemane to pray – firstly a kind of “word-melodrama”, shared by the soloist and the choir, “O Schmerz!” (O sorrow!), and then an aria whose words are also shared by the tenor and the choir, “Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen” (I shall keep watch with Jesus). This was a very bright voice with an intense, almost “pinched” tone, not unlike fellow new Zealander Simon O’Neill’s voice-quality, accurate and intense. At one or two places in the aria the solo voice was put under strain, the awkwardness of some of the writing indicating that Bach was thinking in instrumental, rather than vocal terms when writing much of this music. However, Craig made a good fist of the extremely demanding recitative “Mein Jesus schweigt zu falschen Lugen stille” (My Jesus is silent in the face of lies) and the following aria “Geduld!” (Patience!) after the first of the confrontations between Jesus and the High Priest The tenor had to work to phrase his lines at the brisk tempo set by the conductor for the aria, straining some of the highest notes in the process, but on the whole keeping his pitch steady.

Last of the singers was the bass David Morriss, whose well-rounded tones throughout his range and sense of theatrical variation of emphasis and tone-colour added a dimension of interest to everything he sang. He began with the recitative “Der Heiland fällt vor seinem Vater nieder” (The Saviour falls down before his Father), whose sinister, slithery string accompaniments well reflected the bitterness and rancor of the imagery chosen by the poet – and continued with the aria “Gerne will ich mich bequemen” (Gladly will I bring myself ), which the singer began softly, subtly varying his delivery of the repetitions of the word “gerne” and making something grow from out of the beginning’s darkness of despair, so that the words countering Christ’s suffering and death become gentle, even sensual – “his mouth, which flows with milk and honey” – words that the singer delivered with the utmost relish.

Later, in the wake of Judas’s despair and suicide, came the bass aria “Gebt mir meinem Jesum wieder!” (Give me back my Jesus) the singer’s tones soaring as the line rose, beautifully supported by the solo violin. And as Jesus was forced to carry his cross, helped by a bystander, Simon of Cyrene, whom the soldiers dragged from the crowd to assist, Bach’s bitter-sweet music consoled us, the bass recitative “Ja, freulich” (Yes, truly), accompanied by the beautifully pastoral sound of flutes, reminded us that life is a cross we must bear sooner or later; while the aria “Komm, süßes Kreuz” implored Christ to help us with carrying our own burdens of suffering – organ, bass viol and cello all supported the singer nobly, Morriss for his part handling the long vocal lines with great poise and dignity.

With the singers at every step of the way was the sterling support given by both chorus and orchestra, each group often divided, and with individual singers and players at certain points contributing vocal and instrumental solos. From the outer, the chorus’s response to Peter Walls’ direction was whole-hearted, detailed, varied and hugely satisfying. Nowhere was the concentration and focus more evident than with the grave and beautiful “Wenn ich einmal solo scheiden” (When I one day must depart from here), sung by the choir just before the upheaval accompanying Jesus’ death, the voices pointing the contrast with the ensuing chaos most dramatically with the sharply etched emphasis upon the words “Kraft denier Angst undo Pein” (By the strength of your agony and pain”). And when the full-blooded impact of the earthquake had ceased (the orchestra doing a splendidly visceral job with it all), the choir held us in thrall with its beautifully awed response “Wahrlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen” (Truly this was the Son of God).

As one would expect from these players, and from people such as Douglas Mews and Robert Oliver providing superb continuo support, the instrumental playing throughout from the Chiesa Ensemble was a joy to experience, thanks in no small part to Rebecca Struthers’ leadership and inspirational solo playing, with, as one example, lovely violin obbligato support (what one commentator called “virtuosic pathos”) for the contralto in “Erbarme dich, Mein Gott” (Have mercy, My God). All of it was held together with such strength, patience and aplomb by the direction of Peter Walls, whose conducting seemed to me to combine the clarity and precision of recent scholarship concerning early music performance with sufficient weight, gravity and breadth of utterance sometimes given short measure by some of these so-called “authentic” realizations of such music. It made for an extraordinarily satisfying and enriching musical experience – one suspects for both the audience and the musicians, in this case – and an occasion I think the Bach Choir can justly regard as a triumph.



Quintessential music-making from the Brodskys

Chamber Music New Zealand 2015 presents:

Music by Purcell, Britten, Bartok and Beethoven

PURCELL – Chaconne in G Minor (arr.Britten)
BRITTEN – Poeme (2nd Mvt. of String Quartet in F Major 1928)
BARTOK – String Quartet No.5 SZ 102
BEETHOVEN – String Quartet in C-sharp Minor Op.131

Daniel Rowland, Ian Belton (violins)
Paul Cassidy (viola), Jacqueline Thomas (‘cello)

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Thursday, 26th March 2015

Reading about the Brodsky Quartet brings much pleasure and a few surprises: the group was formed thirty-five years ago in Manchester, and was named after Adolf Brodsky, the great nineteenth-century Russian violinist notable for premiering Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in 1881, and whose career eventually took him to Manchester, in England, where he became Principal of the Royal Manchester College of Music. Two of the original Quartet are still with the group, Ian Belton and Jacqueline Thomas – Paul Cassidy joined in 1982 and Daniel Rowland in 2007.

This is the Quartet’s third visit to this country – the group was here in 1994 for the International Festival of the Arts that year, and in 1998 toured the country with Chamber Music New Zealand. After seventeen years it was high time that the group returned – and as a result of hearing this concert I find myself hoping that I won’t have to wait for another seventeen years before encountering these remarkable musicians performing live again.

In this concert the group for me ticked the boxes which defined a well-rounded concert experience for chamber music enthusiasts – two string quartet classics, each with aspects in common, though from different centuries, were presented, along with two lesser-known, but utterly distinctive pieces, again composed in completely separate times, but linked by certain circumstances. It was programming whose connections offset the wide range of differences of the various pieces in term of style and language.

The first “pairing” came with the two opening works on the programme – first was Purcell’s Chaconne in G Minor, played in an arrangement for quartet by one of the composer’s most recent and famous devotees, Benjamin Britten. A Chaconne is a French courtly dance in which the basic harmonic pattern of the piece supports any number of melodic variations, giving rise to wonderful invention on the part of various composers who’ve written examples for various instruments.

The Purcell was followed by – indeed, actually linked to the second work on the programme, with we in the audience so completely spellbound by the music and playing to even think of applauding after the first piece – it was a magical moment when Britten’s music simply grew out of the silence that followed the Purcell. This work was a movement from an early Quartet in F Major by Britten, the material reworked by the composer into one of three Poemes for String Quartet – this movement is marked Andante. I thought it an absolutely stunning piece – a magical sound-world, not unlike the kinds of ambiences the composer created in some of his choral works to create atmosphere, such as the falling snow effect in “A Boy Was Born” – there were equally beautiful equivalents here. The music in fact gave the impression of being refracted through a dream, thanks in part to a wonderfully other-world-like ostinato figure, from the second violin.

The Brodsky Quartet’s leader Daniel Rowland, talked about the relationship between these two works, calling Purcell’s work “contemporary” in its freedom of expression, and emphasizing the inspiration the music must have been to Britten (who as a conductor made a recording of the work). The playing of the Purcell seemed timeless in its effect – because it comes into the category of “early music” the players were sparing with their vibrato in the manner that’s become accepted “period practice”, but were otherwise very free and subtle with the treatment of Purcell’s theme – very forthright voicing in places, making for great tensions, but with some magical soft playing towards the end of the piece, the final few bars creating a hypnotic effect that carried through the silences and into the beginning of the Britten which followed.

By contrast the Bartok which was next on the programme was less concerned with creating atmosphere, and much more about expressing essential elements of a distinctive musical language, strong rhythmic character, closely-worked harmonic and contrapuntal voices and cliff-face contrasts of mood and expression. The very opening of the work goes from terse unisons from groups of instruments to stamping rhythms, and then to a chromatic, somewhat eerie section played in canon – Bartok gives the listener these three contrasting ideas boldly and directly, then works them together in a full-on, abrasive way!

It seems to me that these works have a Beethoven-like quality in that they don’t employ any “padding” – the ideas are delivered straight-from-the shoulder, and in less-than-comfortable ways, making for the sort of effect that contemporaries of Beethoven used to complain about with his later music. Bartok is as wide-ranging as Beethoven, though in that he gives the listener plenty of contrast, both within single movements and in the individual movements’ differing character. In this quartet, the second and fourth movements have elements of the “night music” sounds that Bartok became known for. And in this quartet’s case in between these two movements Bartok wrote a scherzo movement as humourful and bucolic as any Beethoven wrote in a similar vein, one called “Alla bulgarese” – in the Bulgarian style. You could hear the folk-tune flavorings in the snappy rhythmic figurations – wonderful energies, at one and the same time music from the soil, yet given a kind of timeless, universal quality – which I think is a mark of greatness.

I couldn’t help thinking that same thought while going through the incredible journey that Beethoven took us in his Op.131 Quartet which finished the programme. It’s always seemed odd to me that people both contemporaneous with and in the years immediately after Beethoven simply couldn’t fathom his late music. I know there are music-lovers who still have difficulty with coming to grips with some of the works, like the Grosse Fugue and the Hammerklavier Sonata, but the general reaction even to these works is that they are masterpieces and their language is accessible. Bartok is a kind of modern-day equivalent, though perhaps not a contemporaneous one – there’s music which has been written since Bartok which is more likely to draw forth responses similar to what Beethoven’s music got from some of his contemporaries – such as fellow composer Carl Maria von Weber’s opinion upon hearing Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony that the latter was “fit for the madhouse”. There’s no doubt Bartok makes you work at listening – but, of course, if you’re fully engaged, Beethoven makes you work as well!

To my ears the Brodskys were lyrical and expansive in appropriate places, but dealt with the music’s more vigorous sections in a fairly straight, no-nonsense and unrhetorical way – whereas other groups of late I’ve heard tend to emphasize the composer’s “angular” quality. Basically I thought they didn’t make a “meal” out of anything, except that I did find the leader in the first movement had a tendency to slide between some of his notes in places that gave a slight sentimental air to the music which it didn’t need – the other thing is that if only one person in a group is doing that there’s a discrepancy of phrasing, of texture, of unanimity in places – he only indulged occasionally, and he “tightened” his phrasing as the performance moved through its different sequences. As for the group as a whole, I thought, their playing had a purposeful grip of the music which simply never let go – and even though the dotted rhythms of the finale were occasionally hurried, and their “snap” glossed over ever so slightly, the performance’s overall drive carried the music irresistibly forward.

During this performance of the Beethoven, I think the expression “in thrall” would have best described the audience response – as the work unfolded, with movement after movement following without a break, there was engendered a growing sense of undertaking a journey, far-flung, rich and strange, encountering all kinds of quixotic encounters and occasional difficulties and well as moments of deep and rich reflection. The effect at its conclusion was that we “snapped out of it” and reacted as if waking from a wonderful dream, but a very immediate and visceral dream. The Quartet players never overdid any aspect of the music, but kept it tailored to a greater purpose, the result being a cumulative effect of the kind which kept the music playing in my head long after the actual concert sounds had ceased. In sum, I thought, as stated above using different words, that the Brodskys gave us a quintessential chamber music experience.

Lucy Gijsbers shines in ‘cello recital at St.Andrew’s

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series

Duo Cecilia: Lucy Gijsbers, cello; Andrew Atkins, piano

Prokofiev: Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major, Op.119 (1949)
Andante Grave, Moderato.
Beethoven: Sonata No.21 in C Major “Waldstein”: Allegro con brio
Liszt: Concert Etude in D flat major “Un sospiro”
Kapustin: Nearly Waltz Op.98 (1999)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 25th March 2015

The first two movements of Prokofiev’s Op.119, chosen to start this programme, put Lucy Gijsbers straight into the limelight from the word go. The beautifully crafted phrases and full throated, rich sound she drew from the lower register of the cello in the opening solo bars showed immediately what an accomplished musician she is. Likewise as she moved up the register in the later reflective episodes, her tone was sweet and warm. The duo shaped the mood in those recurring sections with poetic sensitivity, working with one mind to craft the melodies. This made the contrast very effective when they attacked the allegro interludes with real vigour and a sense of the dramatic. But unfortunately, when the dynamic rose above forte, the pianist simply swamped the cello part. It was a mistake to attempt this work on full piano stick; worst of all it caused the sweeping dynamism and passion of the closing cello passagework to be swallowed up in a maelstrom of concert grand fortissimo. The same problem persisted in forte sections of the Moderato; but at other times the duo captured its lively, puckish mood very effectively, and provided a beautiful contrast in the slow melodic bars. Prokofiev’s startling false harmonics in the coda melody were superbly executed by Lucy Gijsbers – you could have heard a pin drop as the final notes evaporated into the barrel vault.

Andrew Atkins had clearly put a lot of work into the Beethoven movement, but I’m afraid I felt disappointed. That was because he seemed to interpret Beethoven’s direction of allegro con brio to mean “extra fast” allegro. But the term means simply “with spirit, energy, vigour”. The busy, repetitive opening idioms started too fast for clarity and the later cascading runs were further rushed in a number of places. The dramatic sweeping passagework that recurs throughout this movement was doubtless designed around Beethoven’s legendary skills at the keyboard. It requires crystal clear execution and nuance to express the melodic structure concealed in the subtle complexity. There is an amazing musical architecture in there that is all too readily lost in those huge handfuls of notes, and sadly that is what happened here. The Listz was better controlled in the opening piano section, but the fast centralforte section was again too hectic to come across satisfactorily.

Beethoven made a habit of spending time in the countryside, away from his keyboard and quill pen, throughout his life, and this somehow permeates his composition despite its extraordinary demands and complexity. Our local version may needs be the New Zealand bush, but every performer must somehow tap into this dimension, and this is what I hankered for here.

Kapustin’s Nearly Waltz for piano-cello duo opens with a disarming rhythm that alternates almost randomly between 5/4 and 3/4. The duo picked up on its lively whimsical mood with just the right touch, although later forteinterludes again suffered from too much piano volume. However, this capricious three minute gem was wrapped up with a delightful final phrase, finishing in high register with the music simply floating away……It was a great way to finish an interesting and varied programme that was clearly appreciated by the audience.

There are a couple of issues the duo needs to work on if they are to optimise their professional profile. Firstly, the programme information provided was far from satisfactory – only composers and titles were given; no opus numbers, keys, or movement designations. And secondly, an adequate assessment of a venue’s acoustics before each performance must surely go without saying. Every concert room is unique, and performers must play the acoustics just as they play their instruments. A failure to do so can lead to serious imbalance, and no professional musician wants to court that hazard.



Acclaimed Guitarist Recital highlights venue shortcomings

New Zealand School of Music presents:

Matt Withers – Australian guitarist

F.Tarrega – Recuedos de la Alhambra
I.Albeniz – Asturias
Blue Moon & Somewhere over the Rainbow
La Catedral – A.Barrios
Black Wattle Caprices – R.Edwards
Usher Waltz – N.Koshkin
Libre Tango, Verano Porteno, La Muerte Del Angel – A.Piazzolla
Three Irish Folk-Songs
Cuban Dance – J.Pernambuco

Adam Concert Room, NZSM Victoria University

Friday 20th March, 2015

Matt Withers is head of Guitar at the University of Canberra and a widely acclaimed performer who has picked up many awards in his relatively short career. He is currently touring New Zealand for the first time doing recitals and master classes, and this was a welcome opportunity to hear someone of this calibre whose reputation has gone before them.

He described his varied programme as “a round-the-world tour”, and it opened appropriately with two well loved Spanish classics from Tarrega and Albeniz. He immediately put his own stamp on these familiar works by an amazingly delicate touch and sensitivity of interpretation, calling frequently on rubato and the power of the pregnant pause before resolving a phrase or section. He marked Tarrega’s move from minor to major mode with a very creative brightening that highlighted the shift most effectively. These were both very romantic readings, quite devoid of any Iberian brashness.

So too were Almeida’s two settings of Blue Moon and Rainbow – delicate, laid back, almost hinting at the louche, caressing every single note. My heart leapt with joy to see Barrios’ La Catedral on the programme – one of my favourite pieces –     and it too was presented with great tenderness and lightness of touch.

The Black Wattle Caprices by Australian composer Edwards (who apparently lives in Black Wattle Bay in Sydney) were indeed capricious, leaping from one idea to another with, to my ear, no clear idea of a destination or overarching concept. But Withers is a strong supporter of Australian composers, and he clearly engaged with these works, playing them with very obvious enthusiasm.

Throughout the first half, however, I had been disappointed, and frankly baffled, by the apparent shortcomings of Matt Withers’ technique. In many pianissimo passages there had been missing notes, or even clusters of notes entirely missing, and phrases that he was not able to project even to where I was sitting only 3-4 metres distant. This despite his modern lattice-built instrument which provides greater projection than traditional designs.

It was very odd, and could hardly be attributed to nerves in so experienced a recitalist. Something was clearly not right, but it was not until a brief conversation I had in the interval that the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place. I had been listening to an artist who was, literally, not warmed up. While I sat comfortably in the room in a winter jersey, scarf and jacket on this southerly Wellington night, the conditions played havoc with the performance. There are two basic requirements for a successful technical performance: a relatively high radiant temperature for the hands (essential for high speed dexterity), and a lowish air temperature (for keeping a clear head and sharp concentration). If the air temperature is raised to a level sufficient for high speed dexterity, concentration is seriously impaired. Likewise a low air temperature makes that same dexterity physiologically impossible.

At the time the Victoria School of Music was designed in the 1980s, these parameters were clearly presented to the authorities. They were at that time the Ministry of Works, who oversaw all design, construction, and funding approvals for universities. The architects proposed wall mounted radiators, which had a long history of meeting the required parameters for optimum musical performance. This proposal was completely at odds with current government policy which was to use gas (usually air) heating, but the evidence was sufficiently compelling to convince the ministry, and an exception was allowed.

This system has since been removed from the Adam Concert Room, depriving players of the most basic environmental conditions for a competent performance. I now realised that what I had observed in the first half of the programme was the classic situation of a player who was too cold. By the last pair of items things were improving, and they continued to come right throughout the second half. This is such a familiar situation (ask anyone who has played, shivering, in provincial wooden churches for the local music society!) that the penny should have dropped sooner. The other serious difficulty with cold venues is that they do not address the fundamental physics of musical instruments, which must be sufficiently warm to speak properly and in tune.

The second half of the programme opened with Koshkin’s Waltz, which expresses the chaotic torrent of fearful and anxious thoughts besieging the unfortunate Usher of Edgar Alan Poe’s story. The interlude of lightning and thunder came across with power and urgency, before the beautifully crafted and poignant collapse into final silence as Usher’s house disappeared into the enveloping marsh.

The Piazzolla bracket comprised a very attractive group of pieces where Withers captured the contrasting moods with delightful whimsy, be they lively, or gently evocative and reminiscent. Likewise the Irish songs, very simply and effectively set by British guitarist Steve Marsh, were beautifully rendered, full of longing, and played with great affection.

With Pernambuco’s energetic Cuban Dance, Matt Withers offered a vigorous and enthusiastic finale to a very interesting and varied programme. The audience were most appreciative, and they were rewarded by a lovely rendering of Stanley Meyers’ wistful Cavatina as an encore.

Brief and benign “Spanish Disquisition” on St.Andrews’ Chamber Organ

St.Andrews Lunchtime Concert Series:
Spanish organ music from the Renaissance to the Baroque
Ephraim Wilson (organ)

Cabezón: ‘Dic Nobis Maria
Victoria: ‘Sancta Maria succurre miseris’
De Aguilera de Heredia: Tiento Lleno based on ‘Salve Regina’
Bruna: Tiento del segundo tono … Sobre la Letania de la Virgen
Cabanilles: Tiento Lleno

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

 Wednesday, 18 March 2015, 12.15pm

Although relatively short, and not well attended, the organ recital was interesting, in that it introduced an organist new to most of us, was played entirely on the small baroque organ, and consisted almost entirely of Spanish organ music, which I am sure was new to everyone in the audience.

Pedals were not part of the design of Spanish organs (or indeed many others) at the period covered by the programme: Renaissance to Baroque. So we had a total of one pedal note in the entire programme; that in the last piece, by Cabanilles.

After explanatory remarks about the programme, Wilson played the short ‘Dic nobis Maria’ by Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566). His articulation of ornamentation was very fine, but at the beginning the tempo was rather uneven.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) was the most famous of the composers featured. As Wilson’s programme note stated, his complex style of writing created emotional intensity, not a common feature (to modern ears, anyway) of earlier music. Here a little more separation of repeated notes would have been desirable, especially in the melody lines.

The remaining pieces were in the form of ‘Tiento Lleno’, which Wilson described as a Spanish musical form analogous to the fantasia in other traditions, but also having elements of the toccata. The first one, based on the Salve Regina, was more complex than the previous pieces, and was played with a fuller registration. It was by Sebastián de Aguilera de Heredia (1561-1627); the music was very well articulated.

Pablo Bruna (1611-1679) was another new name. The full title of the piece by him is ‘Tiento del seguno tono por Ge Sol Re Ut Sobre la Letani de la Virgen’. Having swotted this up a little, I hazard that ‘Ge’ is the low bass G, which in the system of hexachords (the basis of the sol-fa system of John Curwen in the early nineteenth century) was the lowest note recognised in writing music down – thus the word ‘gamut’, the ut being the bottom note in any scale (now called doh in English-speaking countries).

My Spanish dictionary gives ‘sobre’ as ‘in addition to’ and ‘por’ as ‘from’, so I hazard a guess that the piece’s title might be Tiento on the second tone from A [the second note from G], to E, to B, to A, in addition to the Litany of the Virgin’.

Bruna’s melody at the beginning of the piece, and which recurred throughout was, however, rather akin to Arne’s ‘God Save the King’ (Arne was born nearly one hundred years after Bruna’s birth). The changes in registration, and thus dynamics, employed between the various sections increased the interest of this piece.

Despite the programme note for the final Spanish work stating that the Tiento Lleno “Like the previous tiento (this piece) is intended to be played on full register throughout…”, I think this must have applied to the previous work, Aguilera de Heredia’s Tiento Lleno, since there were many changes of registration in the Bruna piece.

Cabanilles’s was a true baroque composition, and contained drama and excitement. It featured quite a lot of staccato, but again, there was not enough separation of repeated notes.Wilson added a short Bach chorale prelude, but it was not one with which I was familiar. It, too, was played without pedals.

The little organ has quite an incisive, even loud tone, especially on full organ. However, though it was interesting to hear the Spanish works, and on the whole they were well performed; perhaps a little more variety of programming might have made for greater appeal.

Bravos for the second of Freddy Kempf’s Beethoven concerto concerts with the NZSO

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Freddy Kempf’s Beethoven

Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Op.84
Piano Concerto no.4 in G, Op.58
Piano Concerto no.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conductor and piano soloist, Freddy Kempf

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday, 14 March 2015, 7:30 pm

You can’t beat Beethoven on a good day – and this was a very good day, with star performer Freddy Kempf as conductor and piano soloist.  It was the second concert in a series of two in which Kempf has played and conducted all Beethoven’s piano concertos was greeted by a full Michael Fowler Centre.

The Egmont overture I have not heard live for a long time, and it was a most welcome opener for the concert.  Very full and poetic programme notes, author unacknowledged, gave the story of Goethe’s drama for which the composer wrote 10 pieces of music in all, in 1809.  While the text is dramatic, the overture can be heard as absolute music, without knowledge of Goethe’s play about the Flemish Count fighting for independence from the Spanish occupation in the 16th century.

The incisive start immediately created a mood, and the full sonority from the strings grabbed attention.  The timpani had a good workout here; Beethoven was apparently particularly fond of the tuned kettle-drums.  The music was noble, yet passionate.

Kempf conducted the overture without a score, and the smaller orchestra for Beethoven’s period was arranged with the second violins to Kempf’s right, with violas next, and the cellos next to the first violins.  (So Julia and Andrew Joyce got to sit next to each other.)  Kempf’s energetic conducting, to be followed by both conducting and playing two concertos, constituted a major physical workout, quite apart from performing all the music from memory.

There was plenty of sound from the players, especially as it reached my ears in the back row upstairs.  This position was excellent acoustically, and much better than the stalls for seeing the whole orchestra.

Kempf came on for the Piano Concerto no. 4 carrying a baton, but apart from the first time he stood to conduct the orchestra, he did not use it – indeed, his having to stand rapidly and then seat himself quickly to continue the piano part made it almost impossible to use the stick.

The first movement, allegro moderato, got off to a good tempo, but not too fast, the revolutionary (for the period) opening on the piano immediately demonstrating the great clarity and broad dynamic range employed by Freddy Kempf, despite this being, as the programme note stated, the quietest of Beethoven’s concertos. The andante con moto slow movement featured wonderful contrasts between strong orchestral passages and the delicacy of the piano phrases.  The playing of the cadenza, Beethoven’s own, was quite brilliant.

The final movement, rondo, is a jolly romp – cheerful and tuneful.  It was taken a shade faster than I am used to, but not excessively so.  There was great precision from the orchestra while the piano’s lyrical episodes interspersed beautifully.

Some people in the audience found Kempf’s getting up to conduct the orchestra then quickly seating himself again to play passages, to be a distraction, but I did not.  The flow of the music was never interrupted.  At any rate, the audience was very attentive.  I believe that in my exalted perch I heard the bass sounds better than one does on the ground floor; I heard the cellos and double basses very well, while seeing the entire orchestra added to the interest.

The ‘Emperor’ concerto was not titled thus by Beethoven.  Misnamed as it might be, given the composer’s abhorrence of Napoleon’s excesses, it nevertheless stands as royalty among piano concertos.  Concerto no.5 features the majesty and the melody of a supreme work of musical genius.  However, the greater use of brass and timpani than in the previous concerto confirmed a certain military presence, as does the somewhat swaggering opening.

Intensity and superb articulation were features of the playing, particularly on the part of Freddy Kempf.  Perhaps the pace of the opening allegro lost the work a little of its grandeur, but tasteful rubati
soon banished the thought.  It was an exciting performance, the noble melodies and the delicious detail, clear and sonorous as they were, provided almost ecstatic listening.  The great attention to phrasing, and Beethoven’s marvellous use of syncopation kept both orchestra and audience on their toes, while Kempf’s playing continued to have extraordinary clarity – never the slightest blurring.

The slow movement, adagio un poco mosso, is such a remarkable song of quiet assurance, especially where the upper strings play as the piano gives the soft theme while the lower strings do pizzicato – just sublime.

Only occasionally the ensemble strayed just a little.  Otherwise, orchestra and piano were unanimous, even in those passages where Kempf was too busy at the piano to do any more conducting than moving his body in time, to keep everything together.

The rondo: allegro ma non troppo finale relieved us from the emotion of the adagio.  At the end, enthusiastic applause broke out, many audience members rose to their feet, and the orchestral players applauded much more than is usual for them.  The audience’s ovation went on many times longer than normal.  Mercifully, we were spared an encore; that would have removed the mood of elation created by the concerto.

Even for those of us who go to many concerts, this was a very significant musical experience.  Bravo, as my neighbor shouted several times.





Pianist Nicola Melville’s visit home with a diverting entertainment and a tribute to her teacher

Chamber Music Hutt Valley
Nicola Melville – piano

Chopin: Nocturne in B, Op 62 No 1
Schubert: Sixteen German Dances, D 783
Debussy: Estampes (Pagodes, La soirée dans Grenade, Jardin sous la pluie)
In memory of Judith Clark:
      Gareth Farr: Gem
      Ross Harris: In Memory
Eve de Castro-Robinson: Chat
Jacob TV: The Body of Your Dreams for piano and boom box
William Albright: Dream RagsSleepwalkers Shuffle and The Nightmare Fantasy RagA Night on Rag Mountain

Little Theatre, Lower Hutt

Thursday 5 March, 7:30 pm

The first recital in the 2015 series from Chamber Music Hutt Valley presented former Wellington pianist Nicola Melville. Nicola was raised in Tawa and took her bachelor’s degree at Victoria University and later studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. She now teaches in Minnesota.

Last month I heard her in a concert at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson where she played several of the pieces we heard at Lower Hutt (see my review posted on 8 February).

The theme, or rationale, of the recital was Nicola’s affection for her piano lecturer at Victoria University, the late Judith Clark who had a profound influence on a generation or two of Victoria students. Three of the pieces were commissioned by Nicola from composers who’d had contacts with Judith, others were pieces that she’d played under Judith’s tutorship.

Nicola is a splendid representative of the increasingly common kind of musician who’s determined to communicate, unpretentiously, occasionally self-deprecating, and who wants her own fairly obvious love of her job to be shared by her audience. Speaking of which, while there were quite a few young people and of her composers (Farr and Harris) in the audience, the number of ordinary citizens could have been larger

Nicola changed the order of pieces in the programme, and the Chopin item was changed from the advertised Mazurkas to the not-so-familiar Nocturne in B, Op 62/1, which she had played while a student of Judith Clark. It’s an interesting piece with a somewhat tentative, arpeggiated opening soon followed by a gentle melody. It was nocturnal and lyrical apart from sudden break-aways, with sprints up and down the keyboard.

Schubert’s sixteen German dances revealed several that were familiar as individual pieces that crop up in student tutor collections. The early ones were simpler, more closely connected with the soil, with heavy-footed peasants and they became more sophisticated, calling for more elaborate, exhibitionist playing (and dancing). Though no doubt all would be classed at Ländler, the triple-time forerunner of the waltz, they display much variety and Nicola’s treatment was playful, light-hearted, brusque, energetic, some moving to the minor key towards the end: not always perfect but played with gusto and delight in the flourishes, ornaments, and unpretentiousness that is both Schubert and Melville.

Debussy’s three Estampes capture his flair for putting a sophisticated European stamp on traditional music from other places. Most marked in Pagodes where the characteristics of the gamelan can be heard, though hardly such as a Balinese or Javanese might recognise. Then Grenade (the Spanish city, which the French spell with an ‘e’, to confuse it with the Caribbean island), with a slightly jazzy episode; and finally in a French garden under the rain. Some hammering notes suggested a pretty heavy downpour, but more general were dancing flurries of pluvious notes.

The three pieces written to honour Judith Clark followed the interval: Gareth Farr’s a rather gentle, intimate piece that suggested Debussy, but also no doubt, Lilburn; Ross Harris’s Gem was a reflective piece that expressed a sadness and poignancy, in which I found myself contemplating its structure, its thematic ideas and their development, without much success.

Eve de Castro-Robinson’s Chat was a contrast: spiky and lively, capturing the sort of penetrating, alert conversations one could have with Judith Clark, perceptive, careful, aware of a possible differing opinion.

A piece by Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis who calls himself Jacob TV in the States, called The Body of your Dreams: a satire on the consumer society, the obsession with thinness and fitness, advertising, the piano accompanying a recording of a TV advert for a miracle weight-loss programme. The cajoling, dissembling American voice and the piano fitted together well; it was funny and though musically unimportant I guess, it used music as a permissible and seductive vehicle for ridicule and satire. Nicola’s own enjoyment fed that of the audience.

Finally a composer with whom Nicola had studied, William Albright, whose interest in ragtime may well have sparked or at least coincided with Nicola’s own, and her flair with the Scott Joplin idiom. The two pieces called Dream Rags were punchy, rhythmically emphatic;  Nicola showed herself very much at home with them, certainly an update on the turn-of-the-century originals with harmonies and fractured phrases that might have alarmed Joplin. But there was no alarm in the Little Theatre: a general delight in this and in the entire concert.