Memorable choral singing from Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir

Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir conducted by Ebbe Munk, with Hanne Kuhlmann, organ

Music by Niels la Cour, Palestrina, Patrick Gowers, Nielsen, Lauridsen

Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul, Hill Street

Thursday 30 April 2015, 7 pm

While it was always my intention to attend this concert, an email from a Dunedin friend that urged me to go said the following: “They filled the cathedral here, got a standing ovation and a rave review.”  Indeed, Wellington Cathedral was very nearly full, also.  I’m told this means around 600 people attended.

The opening item, Evening Prayer was by a contemporary Danish composer, Niels la Cour.  It was sung unaccompanied and without scores, the 45 (approx.) members standing in the central aisle, facing in alternate directions.  Most could not see the conductor, but nevertheless their timing was perfect, as was the balance.  What struck me most was the lovely resonant sound, without any forcing.  The men and boys (some of the latter quite small; 7 or 8 years old?) continued the music by humming as they walked to the steps of the sanctuary.

The conductor, Ebbe Munk, made short remarks about the works.  I was told that they could not be heard clearly from further back in the cathedral.

The complexity of most of the remaining music on the programme demanded the choir use scores.  Their singing of Palestrina’s Stabat Mater, Nunc dimittis and Viri Galilaei  (a motet for Ascension Day in Rome) was indeed complex, but the polyphony was very apparent, especially in the first two works, in which the singers were split into two choirs.  Though there was not the space for them to sing antiphonally, the character of the works was clear, not least through beautifully graded dynamics.  Small groups from within the choir came over less well, some tones sounding brittle.

The choir reorganised for the Viri Galilaei, which provided some very complex and florid polyphony, which sounded splendid in this building.  The singers really seemed to have the measure of these works.  However, some tenors were too prominent.

The choristers had a rest while Hanne Kuhlmann played An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary by English composer Patrick Gowers, who died at the end of last year, and was noted as a composer for film and television.  I found its repetitive rhythm rather tedious, but there were interesting tonal shifts, and a gradual crescendo by means of added stops led to an exciting finish, with the melody played on the pedals; my neighbour remarked ‘That should clean out the pipes!’

Nielsen’s Three Motets followed.  Immediately, the choir had a rich sound, but again some forcing of tone by the tenors spoilt the mellow tone of the majority of the choir.  Attacks were clean and clear.  The counterpoint in ‘Dominus regit me’, the second of the three, was most effective; this movement featured gorgeous finishing cadences. The following ‘Benedictus’ was even more complex, with intriguing modulations.  This was difficult music, making considerable demands on young voices.  Yet there was plenty of volume when required.

After the interval came Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, in five sections.  (Wikipedia doesn’t tell me, but I speculate that Lauridsen is of Danish ancestry).  This was performed with organ, although much of the time it was not accompanying, but playing quiet interludes between the unaccompanied sung passages.  The boys had changed from their sailor suits (à la Vienna Boys’ Choir) into white shirts and ties.

It was instantly striking how good is Lauridsen’s writing for choirs.  Perhaps this was one reason why I did not now hear any stridency in the tenor voices.  This was a stunning work.

In the ‘O nata lux’ movement there was the soaring quality of great beauty that one hopes to hear in a choir of boys.  However, the strident tenors were back, on the high notes, and slightly flat in intonation.  Here, the composer had written in some marvellous discords – most effective.

‘Veni, sancte Spiritus’ followed, and was sung loudly and joyfully, with conviction, whereas the final ‘Agnus Dei’ wasquiet and contemplative, unaccompanied apart from dreamy organ interludes that revealed Lauridsen’s inventive writing for the instrument.  The movement provided a mood of joyful peace.  The final ‘Alleluia’ of acclamation brought this splendid work to a close.

The final section of the programme was entitled Songs of Northern Light, and comprised four items, featuring variously words by Hans Christian Andersen and music by Carl Nielsen, and following the seasons of winter through to summer.  These songs were sung
unaccompanied, and sung from memory.

The boys opened ‘The Bird in the Snow’, and were joined by tenors, then basses.  Some of the members of the choir sang from behind the main body, from in front of the altar.  Later, they slowly moved forward to join the rest.  This was very effective – and reflective.  It was followed by ‘Spring in Denmark’, a lively folk tune that was fast, with cross-rhythms.  ‘Summer’ was chorale-like, and thus more harmonic in nature than most of the music we heard.

‘Bend your Head, oh Flower’ (which surely should be the ‘o’ of invocation, not the mild exclamation ‘oh’) revealed excellent sustained tone.  An incantation from the back of the church was followed by humming. Then this group sang in counterpoint to the main choir.

Finally, ‘Homage to New Zealand; my prediction that it would be ‘Pokarekare ana’ proved correct.  It was a superb Danish arrangement  with beautiful harmony, and soprano, bass and tenor soloists.  Following a standing ovation, the choir sang as an encore ‘Evensong – summer night’, which was a delightful and remarkable way to finish an evening of memorable choral singing.


Delightful, varied recital by Ingrid Culliford and Kris Zuelicke at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s Lunchtime concerts

Ingrid Culliford (flute), Kris Zuelicke (piano)

Ernest Bloch: Suite modale for flute and piano
John Ritchie: The Snow Goose
Miriam Hyde: The Little Juggler and The Evening under the Hill 
Anne Boyd:  Goldfish through Summer Rain
Carl Vine: Sonata for Flute and Piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 29 April, 12:15 pm

A flute recital that contained no big composer names might not have seemed particularly enticing. And in some ways it wasn’t, there was nothing that really demanded being embedded in the memory or prompted a visit to Parsons (whoops!) to look for a CD of a particular piece.

What made it interesting (for me at least) was the theme of Australia, no doubt bearing in mind a centenary that is absorbing a lot of media space just now. In the 1980s and 90s when I used to make frequent trips to Sydney and Melbourne I used to browse the CD bins at the Australian Music Centre in The Rocks, Sydney and all the well-stocked music stores that proliferated in those civilised times. And I became familiar with the music of most of the leading Australian composers. I was often disconcerted to find so much new music across the Tasman that was interesting and engaging, still able to withstand the pressures of the avant-garde that many composers in New Zealand were striving to emulate.

Then there was the presence of women composers who emerged much earlier in Australia than here; significant women composers began to appear in Australia by the 1920s, starting with Margaret Sutherland, and then Miriam Hyde (born two years before Lilburn), Peggy Glanville-Hicks …

Miriam Hyde’s The Little Juggler, of 1956, and Evening under the Hill were played at this concert. The first, a happy, uncomplicated piece in fairly traditional style, seemed to reflect an English character, brushed by the influence of French flute composers like Françaix or Pierné. The second, from a set of five pieces of 1936, did not especially evoke evening, but was a charming impressionistic piece nevertheless.

However, the recital began with Ernest Bloch’s Suite modale, in four movements, mainly contemplative in character; even the last two movements marked Allegro giocoso – a subdued joy perhaps – and Allegro deciso maintained a meditative and slightly sombre spirit in spite of fluttering scalic passages that rose and fell. Its fine performance by a gifted, versatile flutist and a pianist whose role was both distinctive and accommodating of the characteristics of the flute promised a recital of considerable interest and pleasure.

It was good to be reminded that the flute need not be restricted to music that’s light and airy but that it can express more pensive moods, allowing more basic musical qualities to emerge from music of substance.

That was followed by an attractive narrative piece by John Ritchie, The Snow Goose, which was a  sentimental and hugely popular post-WW2 children’s and young person’s story of bravery involving a goose repaying its rescue and nursing by the hero in helping evacuate thousands of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940. Sensitive playing of melodic shapes and occasional sunlit flights suggested elements of the story.

An Australian composer of the next generation after Hyde, Anne Boyd, wrote a piece inspired by a poem in the form of a haiku, Goldfish through Summer Rain, in which the flute could well be heard adopting the character of the Japanese shakuhachi, and unsurprisingly, reminded me of Takemitsu.

The recital ended with a flute sonata by Carl Vine, born in 1954, one of Australia’s leading male composers. He has described himself as ‘radically tonal’ and that is indeed a way to describe his energetic, melodic, muscular first piano concerto and his Choral Symphony which I have on CD and have just been refreshing my memory with. As I listened to this flute sonata I scribbled words about the first movement, Fast, like ‘not afraid to write big attractive tunes’ and ‘accessible music’, not words that quite a few younger New Zealand composers would feel comfortable with.

The middle movement, entitled Slow, showed the gentle Vine, rhapsodic in character. Predictably, the last movement is ‘Very Fast’ (Real composers of course would have applied proper musical terms in an appropriate foreign language like Vivace, Lento and Molto vivace). I was amused at the composer’s teasing, long-anticipated closing cadences, sort of mocking the common, endless perorations of some of the great 19th century composers.

Anyway, it proved a splendidly unconventional way to end a flute recital, a complete turn away from flutish composition of the classical era, of the French school founded by Taffanel, or of misty dreaminess of early 20th century English music.  The Vine was a bit special, but the earlier music in the programme, some of which might have been characterized by my last sentence, was varied, expanding our flute horizons, and highly enjoyable in the context devised by the players.


NZSO and Sydney Symphony Orchestra in moving shared ANZAC concert of new works by composers of both countries

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey

Spirit of ANZAC
Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
Michael Williams: Symphony No 1 Letters from the Front (with Madeleine Pierard – soprano and George Henare – narrator)
James Ledger: War Music (with the New Zealand Youth Choir)
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

Michael Fowler Centre

Wednesday 22 April, 6:30 pm

Note that this review is for the most part what I wrote and posted on this website two days later on Friday 24 April, but now modified in various ways in the light of listening to its broadcast by Radio New Zealand Concert on Saturday evening.
I delayed further, to listen to the broadcast on Monday afternoon of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s performance (presumably also performed on the Wednesday).

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has joined forces with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to present the same programme, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. The SSO’s two performances of the concert take place on the same evenings as this concert in Wellington and, on Friday, in Auckland. Dominating the programme were the two principal works, commissioned by the two orchestras from prominent composers in each country.

A further link with Australia was through Australian conductor Benjamin Northey who has been seen here before, conducting both the National Youth Orchestra, in February 2014 and the NZSO in November last; and he takes over as Principal Conductor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra this year.

Fanfare for the Common Man
The concert began with a shattering performance of Copland’s brief Fanfare for the Common Man, a title that reflects his humane, left-wing sympathies. (He was classed as subversive by the House of Representatives committee on Un-American Activities in the early 1950s and black-listed by the FBI, one of the 150 American artists so classified during those paranoid years).

It opened with a frightening seismic thunder-clap on timpani and bass drum, and continued with brilliant, spacious brass playing: a monumental performance.

Symphony No 1 by Michael Williams
Michael Williams has composed this, his first symphony, ‘Letters from the Front’, on commission by the orchestra. The commission may well have been prompted by the success of his opera, The Juniper Passion, about the Battle of Monte Cassino in the second World War. My first knowing contact with him had been a moving performance, featuring Paul Whelan, Joanne Cole and Stephanie Acraman, in his earlier chamber opera, The Prodigal Child, at the Taranaki Arts Festival in 2003.

His symphony opens with the rattle of a side drum, and the orchestra expands to create a trembling, fearful, chaotic environment which was much more than heterogeneous noise: it was music. There were snatches of melody, barking brass, rippling flute, poignant cor anglais; and short breaks of calm where beautiful strains of music emerged.

In the second and third movements, the orchestra was joined by soprano Madeleine Pierard who sang lines of Wilfred Owen’s poem, Arms and the Boy, interspersed with extracts from letters from New Zealand soldiers in the first World War read by narrator George Henare; one of the letters was from Williams’s great-grandfather who was killed at Passchendaele in 1917.

Henare’s delivery was carefully paced, reflected the grim pathos of the poem, without succumbing to any exaggerated or false sentiment. Pierard’s voice was perfect for the Owen poem, lyrical in a thin, penetrating way; I couldn’t help being reminded of the quality of voice and orchestra in Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs; in addition, Pierard injected an unearthly, intense vibrato that lifted it to a spiritual realm.

The third movement starts with a sort of excitable mockery of a bugle call; oboe and cor anglais feature again, but their human dimension is obliterated by a depiction of a terrifying artillery bombardment, as Pierard resumes the poem accompanied by a trembling flute. There were moments, as it moved on, when a less penetrating voice might have been obscured by the orchestra. The relationship between soprano and the various instruments was tested throughout, somehow dramatising the pathos of the fates of the men whose lives were taken.

James Ledger’s War Music
It was Australia’s turn after the interval, with James Ledger’s War Music.

But here I am revising what I wrote following the concert and posted on Friday morning. These remarks follow my hearing the broadcast of the concert’s recording by RNZ Concert on Saturday evening. Though I usually argue that it is much more rewarding to listen to live music than via the radio or from recordings, I had to concede that I was getting a clearer impression and rather more purely musical enjoyment on the small radio at our bach at Waikawa Beach than at the concert.

First, the following is part of my original review:
The first movement was entirely orchestral, portraying the subject through a multitude of instrumental devices, some familiar, some unusual, such as patting the mouthpiece of the brass instruments to produce soft, muffled tones, passages of pulsating, throbbing sounds evoking fusillades, screaming glissandi by strings, the rattle of tom-toms. Though the composer’s note states that he recognised the difficulty of attempting a realistic picture of war, and concentrated on ‘the broader aspects of war’.

I had written that the use of so many unusual articulations and ‘extended’ instrumental techniques seemed to draw attention away from the subject to focus too much on unusual instrumental articulations and combinations, perhaps too much striving for the literal sounds of battle and so on. Nevertheless it was an interesting, colourful adventure in contemporary orchestral writing, brilliantly executed by winds and percussion in particular and handled spiritedly, with precision by Benjamin Northey.

And of the second part I wrote:
The second part depicted the horror and grief of war: the choral element called up music of a very different character from that in Part I; it had an impact that was moving and awakened a real emotional response. The youth choir’s participation and its music turned the work in a direction in which music can be more successful than words, the setting of a poem by Paul Kelly, of admirable simplicity and directness: its last two lines, poignant and unaffected: “Remember us, we died in smoke / We died in noise, we died alone”. The words, unless one was reading the words in the programme, rather escaped attention for they were not very clear but their force emerged through the music they inspired from the composer. The choir’s performance was extremely beautiful, suggesting the most careful and sensitive rehearsal under David
Squire and the evening’s conductor.

After hearing the broadcast, however, I found myself with considerably more admiration for both the commissioned works.

Michael Williams’s symphony was a thing of more vivid reality and immediacy, and I was paying more attention to the expressive orchestral writing and the way it supported, commented on what the voices were doing. Henare’s readings had more heart-wrenching impact, while my impression of the force of Madeleine Pierard’s singing was strongly confirmed.

But it was hearing Ledger’s music for a second time, through a different medium, and without the ‘distraction’ of watching the orchestra to see how some of the unusual sounds were created, that enhanced my appreciation. Rather than feeling that the highly sophisticated orchestral effects detracted from the emotional power of the music, I was moved simply by the resultant music, its coherence,and what is called (a little pretentiously I always feel) the ‘architecture’ of the music quite engrossed and enchanted me.

In fact, I was entranced now by the remarkably imaginative sounds that Ledger had created. The need to revise my views came as something unsettling, yet illuminating once I had removed myself personally from the process.

Tallis Variations
The choice of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis to conclude the concert was inspired. Here, regardless of the meaning of the Latin text, we have a work, written well before the world descended into the catastrophe of the first World War, that seemed to capture a profound lamenting that could represent an emotional depiction of any horrendous, man-induced disaster such as the Great War which ended by killing millions of people. For strings alone, it demonstrated how a composer can produce the most powerful, deeply-felt response through the simplest and most economical means.

As a final comment, now able to compare the two performances, the Wellington performance seemed just a little more robust, vivid and fully realising the horror and tragedy of the subject the than the Sydney one.

Considering the absence of a big popular work, there was a large audience in the Michael Fowler Centre that responded with great enthusiasm at the end.


Halida Dinova – quintessentially romantic pianism

Classical Expressions Upper Hutt presents:
Halida Dinova (piano)
A recital of words by Rachmaninov, Chopin, Beethoven, Scriabin and Liszt

RACHMANINOV – Morceaux de Fantasie Op.3 Nos.1,2,4
CHOPIN – Fantasie in F Minor Op.49
BEETHOVEN – Piano Sonata No.14 in C-sharp Minor Op.27 No.2 “Moonlight”
SCRIABIN – Etude Op.8 No.12 / Nocturne for the Left Hand Op.9 No.2
LISZT – Piano Sonata in B Minor

Halida Dinova (piano)

Genesis Energy Theatre, Upper Hutt

Monday 27th April, 2014

I was thrilled to learn that Russian-born Halida Dinova had returned to New Zealand to give more concerts, as I’d been bowled over by her playing on the occasion of her last visit two years ago. On that occasion she played in Lower Hutt at the Little Theatre on a piano that had been pronounced “past its expiry date” and made it sound like one of the world’s most mellifluous instruments, giving us, among other things, particularly memorable readings of Balakirev’s “Islamey” and the complete Chopin Preludes. (For further detailing regarding this previous recital, go to my review at

One of the things that struck me so forcibly about her playing the previous time round was Dinova’s amazing conveyance of physical engagement with the music, and specifically with the composer’s sound-world in almost every instance – I think I may have felt that one of the Debussy pieces worked less well for me, though there was another from the same set of pieces which the pianist seemed completely to “own”. I remember how Dinova’s playing at the time gave me an insight into British pianist Peter Donohoe’s remark made when I interviewed him some years ago, regarding Debussy’s music, to the effect that he adored “every note”.

Here at Upper Hutt’s Classical Expressions, though having the use of a far superior instrument, Dinova’s playing didn’t grip my imagination quite so insistently as before – though there were still whole sequences of the magnificence that I remembered. The repertoire may have had a part to play, here, as I sensed a tad less involvement on the pianist’s part with parts of the Beethoven Sonata compared with the remainder of the programme; and Dinova herself told me afterwards that she was still “exploring” the Liszt Sonata, having begun working on it less than a year ago.

I did think that, for all its excellences as a concert-hall, the Upper Hutt venue “distanced” us from Dinova’s playing as the Lower Hutt Little Theatre didn’t do at all – my chief irritation was the canned piano music which was heard in the auditorium up to a few minutes before Dinova herself came on to play. Surely one goes to a “live” music event to hear only “live music”? – and ought there not to be at least SOME aural “space” before a concert by way of preparation for the music about to be played? I would want, at best, no pre-recorded music at all before a concert, and at the very least a fifteen-minute period before the beginning where one hears nothing else clamouring for attention. If this is an overseas trend being brought here, then in my opinion, it  ought to be strangled and quietly disposed of. For me it was simply “musak” and it had the effect of reducing the impact of the concert’s actual music and the pianist’s playing of it.

Fortunately, such was the “pull” of Dinova’s presence and focus upon the music that she was able to quickly dispel all such annoyances and take us, in this case, into the nineteenth-century world of the young Rachmaninov, with three of his Op.3 Morceau de Fantasie.  Beginning with the Elegie, her very first notes explored a depth of sound, a resonance which, underpinned by a ‘tolling bell” effect in the left hand, conjured up a kind of feeling for the effect that those particular sonorities evidently had on the impressionable composer. The more agitated central Lisztian sequences excitingly took over the entire keyboard, before Dinova’s exquisite sense of atmosphere and innate timing gradually allowed the silences to “surge softly backwards”, placing the piece’s pair of final notes with bitter-sweet resignation.

Then came THE Prelude, richly-wrought, varied in utterance (how can one play those three portentous notes? – let me count the ways….) and redolent with expectation, left hand anticipating the right at every possible opportunity (something else I noticed during her previous recital at Lower Hutt), a journey which seemed to unfold rather than fall into preconceived places – amazing, tumultuous central agitations, and a properly “awed” concluding series of chords, each a world of unpredictable sensibility. After this, what better way to philosophise than to introduce the figure of Polichinelle to the discourse? – based on the well-known Commedia dell’arte character (Pulcinella, in Italian), this knock-about comedian restored our stricken sensibilities with his antics, though taking time out to savour a few moments of romantic ardour in the piece’s middle section. Dinova’s enjoyment of the character was obvious, as much through her quicksilver fingerwork as from her wry smile at the throwaway ending.

Chopin’s F Minor Fantasie brought out the “no holds barred” aspects of Dinova’s pianism to thrilling effect – a deep, rich sonority at the beginning, posing a question to which came the lyrical reply, the drama and ceremony of interchange, the spin of the storyteller, the “strut” of the processional. Out of this grew those wonderful improvisatory flourishes building up the tensions towards action, everything played with wonderful fluidity, the triplets dancing along excitedly, turning in places to little “marches”, and in other places to more declamatory utterances. The piece’s “still heart” is the prayerful central interlude which Dinova more breathed than played, voiced so inwardly and beautifully. Afterwards, the reprise of the first section was fiercely tackled, Dinova’s playing plunging the music headlong into renewed conflict, with  thrills and spills adding to the excitement.  And just as compelling was the tenderness of the poetic reminiscence at the piece’s end, that final upward gossamer run and concluding chords the stuff of storytelling.

After this I thought the first two movement of the well-known Moonlight Sonata less remarkable – all darkly and solemnly played (here, with the right hand often anticipating the left!), but still, with the pianist seeming to be an observer rather than a participant in the drama. Dinova played the second movement in a completely unexaggerated way, bringing out some beautiful dynamic variation, and in places subtly emphasizing the left hand. But the finale was something else – incredible “attack”, a strong left hand driving the trajectories and the right hand creating great roulades of sound. Here nature took a hand in the proceedings, with torrential rain drumming an accompaniment on the concert hall roof throughout the last few tumultuous measures!

Two contrasting pieces by Scriabin followed the interval, the first a favourite of the great Vladimir Horowitz, the Etude Op.8 No.12, entitled Patetico (Pathetique).  Dinova took to the music in the manner born, allowing the piece’s build-in momentum to grow and the agitations to rise like a wind from the steppes, though allowing a lovely lyricism in the Rachmaninov-like gentler middle sequences, But with the return of the opening idea, Dinova opened her the floodgates, the left hand leaping dangerously across the keys, the repeated notes growing increasingly frenzied, and the deep bells more and more clangorous, until the whole suddenly whirled upwards to a heaven-storming climax – what a great virtuoso display! After this, the gentle lyricism of the Left-Hand Nocturne from a set of two pieces Op.9 was balm to the senses, the evening’s most poetic and melting playing,the pianist’s left hand brilliantly encompassing both virtuoso and lyrical elements in a breath-taking display.

I was fortunate enough to hear Dinova play some of the items on the evening’s program twice, among them Liszt’s B Minor Piano Sonata, the second time at a house concert on an upright piano, a couple of days afterwards! Inevitably, my reactions to her playing of the pieces have criss-crossed to some extent between the occasions – but the cumulative effect is the thing, and especially with a work as all-encompassing as the Liszt. Before proceeding, I must say that I was sorry that the concert’s programme-note-writer, one whose work I normally greatly admire, made a passing reference via the work to Liszt’s “deplorable” morals, thereby reinforcing the surely-by-now-discredited legend that the composer bedded almost every female who threw herself at him – anyone who’s read Alan Walker’s up-to-date and incredibly detailed biography of Liszt will be appalled at the extent (outlined by Walker) of the “hatchet-job” done on the composer’s reputation and integrity in the past by people such as Ernest Newman, with no real evidence to back up claims of unbridled licentious behaviour other than prejudicial heresay – as Walker remarks, a case of fame and success giving rise to intense jealousy, and resulting mischief on the part of others.

Let the music speak for the man on this occasion – and one remembers Wagner (no great supporter of other people’s creative efforts) equating the man with his music, writing to Liszt after hearing the sonata for the first time with the words, “the sonata is beautiful beyond compare, great, sweet, deep and noble, sublime as you are yourself…..” Dinova’s playing of the work, while not completely “under the fingers” (on each occasion she had to break off in the midst of a piece of tumultuous passagework – in a different place each time, incidentally – and re-align her trajectories) caught the piece’s multi-faceted character – a brilliantly-conceived structure, a vivid and theatrical recreation of the “Faust” legend, a deeply-moving expression of conflicting personal emotions, a pianistic tour-de-force. Structurally, she gave the piece all the time it needed to speak, and all the urgency its figurations required to create the work’s overall shape. And her characterization of the characters and episodes pertaining to the “Faust” legend were vividly-drawn and theatrically-contrasted.

Dinova’s playing seemed to me to demonstrate a kind of innate sense of what each section of the music required as the music advanced – a powerful bringing-together of spontaneity and inevitability. She seemed incapable of playing a routine or a mechanical phrase, as every note had its own kind of quality, its own particular strength of purpose and relationship with the others. One didn’t know what she was going to do next with the music, how she was going to “voice” a particular passage, or distribute the emphasis between the hands. Her conjuring up of the music’s central nocturnal scene (Faust in the garden with Marguerite?) was as entrancing as the succeeding fugue was tense and electric – despite a dropped note or two the cumulative excitement was palpable, and the climax of the sequence sent glinting figurations skyrocketing upwards between fusillades of repeated notes. In the house concert the fugue momentarily came adrift, whereas here it was during the amazingly orchestral writing leading to the big heroic theme’s final statement when things were momentarily derailed. Neither hiatus was a fatal error – the music was picked up and driven onwards as excitingly as before.

Perhaps when Halida Dinova comes back to this country once again she will bring the work with her as a fully-fledged falcon, soaring aloft while taking in the whole of the terrain at a single glance (as somebody said once of another great Russian pianist, Sviatoslav Richter). She did enough here to reaffirm her status as a romantic pianist of outstanding quality. I managed to get a CD she’d made for the Doremi label of Scriabin’s music, which I can’t wait to listen to and which I’ll look forward also to reviewing. Meanwhile I shall cherish the memory of playing whose immediacy and excitement continue to give pleasure long after the recital’s last notes have been sounded.

A brave Kapiti Chamber Choir gives good account of Bach’s Mass in B minor

Kapiti Chamber Choir conducted by Eric Sidoti

Bach: Mass in B minor

Soloists: Katherine McIndoe – soprano, Elizabeth Harris – soprano, Ruth Reid – contralto, John Beaglehole – tenor, Roger Wilson – bass
And Orchestra

Paraparaumu College Auditorium

Sunday 26 April, 2:30 pm

The Kapiti Chamber Choir is the smaller of the two choirs in the district (the other, larger, choir is the Kapiti Chorale) established or taken over by Peter Godfrey after he came to Kapiti.

Some might have felt that it was singularly ambitious for an amateur choir to tackle one of the biggest and most demanding choral works. In their defence, however, their conductor Eric Sidoti reported that this was the runaway favourite when, after taking it over in 2013, he surveyed the choir on its wish-list. He minimised the challenge by suggesting that his main task had been to ensure that he had the forces to cope with the varying orchestral, choral and soloists requirements.

Middle C finds itself a bit stretched at present in terms of the availability of its small team of reviewers, and it fell to me (by no means reluctant) to make a southward trip from a retreat at Waikawa Beach, miscalculating travel times and traffic. I arrived about 15 minutes late as the reprise of the Kyrie began.

I sat on the nearest seat, right under the noses of the soloists, which gave me a feeling of intimacy and almost participation, but a somewhat unbalanced impression of the chorus, as well as having certain parts of the orchestra, for example, trumpets in the Gloria, and the soloists too close. Perhaps it allowed me to enjoy a certain amount of slightly disorganised playing occasionally, iffy intonation and approximate ensemble, such as the start of the ‘Laudamus te’. But it gave an unjust overall impression, as I found when I moved to the back of the hall after the interval.

I’m sure that the orchestral skills had not suddenly improved by the Credo, after the interval; and that whatever blemishes I heard at close quarters simply became rather unimportant when one heard the whole in proper, fairer perspective.

One thing that struck me throughout was the general strength of the men’s parts of the choir, and the curious impression that there were more weaknesses in sopranos and altos, though they too never amounted to real shortcomings.

Soloists were very able, ranging from experienced singers like alto Ruth Reid, tenor John Beaglehole and bass Roger Wilson (his solo in ‘Et in spiritum’ lay quite high, but there seemed no strain; his solo in ‘Quoniam’ on the other hand was lower), to new graduates who took the two soprano parts, Katherine McIndoe and Elizabeth Harris both of whom displayed bright, attractive voices that filled their roles with intelligence and accuracy.

There were some fine moments: Elizabeth Harris with Jay Hancox’s violin obbligato in the ‘Laudamus te’ of the Gloria; the duet between Katherine McIndoe and Ruth Reid, ‘Et in unum’, went well. John Beaglehole had fine moments in ‘Domine Deus’ (with Katherine McIndoe) and with flutist Malu Jonas in the Benedictus; the duetting of Roger Wilson and trumpeter Andrew Weir in ‘Quoniam’ made an impact, and trumpets were again brilliant in the ‘Et resurrexit’ in the Credo. One of the trumpets (Mark Carter’s?) looked and sounded like a piccolo trumpet, lending an authentic baroque character.

The conductor chose to use soloists in place of the chorus in certain places, as is done quite often, affording better clarity as well giving them more welcome exposure.

I was very glad that we had an orchestra accompanying, with some nice oboes (one came close to sounding like an oboe d’amore) and flutes; I enjoyed the capable timpani contribution too.

The Mass, much of it drawn from earlier music written for other contexts, is remarkable for its aesthetic coherence, but its various origins also afford it a variety of style and emotion that is not only appropriate to the subject of each section, but also maintains the audience’s interest. And even from a smallish choir of non-specialist singers, the long work did indeed hold the attention, and gave the almost full house a very satisfying two hours of great music.


New Zealand String Quartet in challenging music including pieces by Ross Harris

Wellington Chamber Music Trust in association with Chamber Music New Zealand

J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations BWV 988, Aria and Variations nos. 1, 2, 13
Ross Harris: Variation 25 (String Quartet no. 4)
Mozart: String Quartet no.22 in B flat, K.589
Ross Harris: Piano Quintet (2013)
Shostakovich: String Quartet no.9 in D flat Op.117

New Zealand String Quartet (Helene Pohl, Douglas Beilman, violins; Gillian Ansell, viola; Rolf Gjelsten, cello), Stephen de Pledge (piano)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday, 26 April 2015, 3.00pm

The pre-concert talk from Ross Harris made it clear that this concert was something a little different: he was invited by Chamber Music New Zealand’s former Chief Executive, Euan Murdoch, to curate the concert.  That is, he got to choose the works, to include his own, and to give the pre-concert talk and introduce each item – and write some of the notes in the printed programme.  He has written a number of works now specifically for the New Zealand String Quartet (NZSQ); it is gratifying to see New Zealand composers writing in this genre.

He began by saying that he was not promoting Schoenberg and Stockhausen, as he fancied might be expected of him, but Mozart and Shostakovich, even though theirs were tonal compositions and his own were not.

The full church (though the gallery was not open) heard him explain that in 2007 he had heard the New Zealand String Quartet play a new quartet version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, originally written for keyboard, and that inspired him to write his own variation on Variation 25, regarded as the heart of the entire work.

First, we heard the Aria and three of the variations played on piano.  The Aria was played in a very understated way – so much so that some notes almost disappeared.  However, it was an appropriate way to begin the performance.  The presence of a carpet square under the piano was gratefully observed; thus the sometimes over-loud and clattering sound of this piano on the varnished floor was absent, and there was no problem at any point with balance when later it was played with the strings.

Variation 1 sparkled, while the limpid, pastoral quality of Variation 2 made a gorgeous contrast.  Variation 13 was sublimely calm and peaceful.  A little judicious use of the sustaining pedal was observed, but it never obtruded.

The quartet came onto the platform quietly and without applause, to perform Ross Harris’s Variation.  It was good to see Douglas Beilman back in action; he had damaged a finger, and was replaced by Donald Armstrong at last Sunday’s chamber music concert in Waikanae.  The Harris work began with a wonderful evocation of Bach, the music being almost mesmerising, and containing striking counterpoint – but different from Bach’s.   Following this, the music worked up to a more agitated mood.  That ended, there was a return to the languid mood, but under it, the cello played pizzicato.  The music became less tonal, and the instruments appeared to go their own way.

Regarding the Mozart quartet, Ross Harris said that he had got to know this (and the Shostakovich quartet) through hearing the NZSQ playing them.  He stressed the complexity in Mozart’s writing and its modernity despite being written in the eighteenth century.  He urged the audience to ‘Listen as though you haven’t heard it before”.  It was a quartet with which I was largely unfamiliar, so it was not difficult to do that.

The allegro first movement had serene episodes, but also plenty of variety, while the larghetto that followed featured a very beautiful cello theme.  The first violin took it up, sounding absolutely sumptuous, but the cello continued to have much of interest to do; as the programme note explained, King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, who had commissioned the work, was a competent cellist.  The soulful slow movement was full of lovely melodies, harmonies and cadences.

The Minuet and Trio began in bright, even jolly fashion.  I was particularly aware of complex interweaving of the parts, all played with flair and unanimity.  The New Zealand String Quartet really is a national treasure.  The lively and energetic allegro assai last movement had the players putting over the spirited message clearly, as the cheerful themes were tossed from one instrument to another, giving a thoroughly enjoyable, integrated performance.  In this venue, or at least from my seat near the front, every note could be heard.

After the interval there was the première of Ross Harris’s Piano Quintet.  In his preliminary remarks, the composer told us that the opening was characterised by “Japanese opaqueness” followed by “bite” and then “gradual energy”.  He exhorted us to “listen to it as though it were written 200 years ago”!

The moods developed as he had said.  Since this was a piano quintet, the string players sat rather than standing as they do normally, so that they were on the same level as the pianist, Rolf Gjelsten eschewing his usual platform to raise his stool up.

There were some interesting passages from the piano, while at other times it seemed almost superfluous to the argument.  The strings made use of harmonics, which added to the Japanese flavour.  I found it hard to get into the appropriate listening mood; after the Mozart, the piece seemed inchoate.  The music became bleak for a long spell, then an energetic rhythm picked up, becoming briefly wild, with outbursts from the piano.  A soulful passage followed, then a high cello melody before the work ended in indecision.

Shostakovich’s ninth string quartet was prefaced by more remarks; Ross Harris said that it was the transformation of the Russian composer’s themes that he found interesting, and that it was this composer, along with Mozart, who had inspired him.

The five movements were played continuously, but had their own characters. The first, moderato con moto, had clear-cut motifs and strong harmonies.  The adagio was sombre, yet colours came to mind through its moving parts.  The use of mutes was part of this effect.  Next was an allegretto polka.  Despite the jollity, shifting tonalities gave an ominous tinge to the dance.

Although the quartet was written in 1962, I couldn’t help thinking, while listening to the solemn music of the second adagio, that the Second World War was still raging – and in a sense it still was in the Soviet Union, with its state totalitarianism in the name of communism.  The removal of mutes and the
introduction of pizzicato explosions in the second violin part and then on the viola led to agonising cries from the first violin, against a drone from violin two and viola.  Then there was total excitement for the fifth movement – or was it chaos?  This was followed by a slow dance, prior to a return to frenzy, with much vehemence from the cello.

These fine musicians put over as good account of this quartet as one could wish for – but I find the work dour and depressing despite the brilliance of both writing and execution.

It was satisfying to have such  varied programme, incorporating piano, quartet and piano quartet.


Italian Embassy brings pianist to Wellington with interesting programme

Luciano Bellini – piano
(presented by the Embassy of Italy)

Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas, in E, K 380 and in D minor K 64
Luciano Bellini: from the Album Mediterrando (Spartenza, Habanera, Fado, Preludio e Aria Egea, Promenade, Tramonto sul Bosforo, Sirtaky, Bolero, Saltarello)
Luciano Berio: Six Encores for Piano: Brin, Erdenklavier, Wasserklavier
Verdi: Romance without words and Waltz in F major
Leoncavallo: Canzonetta
Alban Berg, Sonata Op 1
Ferruccio Busoni, All’Italia
Alfredo Casella: Due Ricercari sul nome B.A.C.H.

The Opera House, Manners Street

Sunday 19 April, 5:30 pm

A colleague picked up information about a piano recital by a visiting Italian pianist, under the auspices of the Italian Embassy. Luciano Bellini: not a name I knew; a bare outline of his programme; some names that suggested quite serious music among some oddities and curiosities.

One has to take seriously someone advertising Berg’s Piano Sonata, as well as a couple of pieces by Italian composers of real distinction: Berio and Casella, and a perhaps slight piece by the great Italo-German pianist/composer Ferruccio Busoni. Two of Scarlatti’s little sonatas are always a nice prelude to any piano recital.

So I managed to get back on the train from the New Zealand String Quartet’s concert at Waikanae, just in time – but sadly missing the last piece at Waikanae, Dvořák’s String Quartet Op 105.

Foyer quite busy with a number of notably well-dressed people – clearly Italian: glad I wasn’t in shorts and jandals.

Luciano Bellini does not disclose his age in the material I’ve been able to see on the Internet. I’d guess early or mid 60s.

I enjoyed his Scarlatti, relaxed, graceful, pleasantly rhythmical, by no means concerned to display brilliance or speed, but simply making music in his own way.

Then came an album of shortish pieces by the pianist himself, called Mediterrando, extremely colourful and varied pieces that evoke the sounds and rhythms of many – nine – parts of what the ancient Romans and evidently Italians today, called Mare Nostrum – ‘our sea’, the Mediterranean. They began with an inspiration from Sparta, touched Spain with a habanera and Portugal with fado, Turkey, modern Greece, and so on.

Luciano Berio was a leading figure in the Italian avant-garde after the second World War, associated with the Darmstadt school with Dallapiccolo, Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Maderna … His Encores for Piano, written in the 1990s, were three in number from a total of six. Four of them, according to
notes I have found on the Internet, only in Italian, explored the sonic potential of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water, as defined by the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles (this from the pianist’s notes); he was famous in myth for perishing in an eruption by Mount Etna on Sicily. The first, Brin – the timbral possibilities of the piano achieved through clever games with pedals and sustained notes. The other two: the ‘Earth Piano’ and the ‘Water Piano’, considered these elements in terms that reflected the understandings of the ancient Greeks.

The music itself was both intriguing and attractive, even though cast, as to be expected from Berio, in a near serial language, and Bellini’s performance exposed its colour and variety.

Two piano pieces by Verdi were interesting if unremarkable, Mendelssohn close by in the Romance without words, and a charming Waltz, not Straussian, but operatic in tone, a bit blowsey as a composition and in its playing, appropriately.

If ever you wondered what Leoncavallo did with the rest of his life after Pagliacci, here was an example: a Canzonetta, an enjoyable fast piece in dance rhythm. Can’t find a reference to it anywhere, including the only CD of his piano music I can find, by Dario Müller for Naxos.

Then came the major work, clearly intended to demonstrate that we were not hearing a mere salon piano player: Alban Berg’s piano sonata, his Opus 1. It’s gritty, more gritty that the many songs he wrote earlier, and later. Though he’d started taking lessons from Schoenberg it is not a serial work, or even atonal; however, its tonality is often obscure and it is not notable for its tunes. This was a very competent if not highly illuminating or arresting performance. Its mastery doesn’t come readily, and Bellini is to be admired for its inclusion.

Ferruccio Busoni was born in Tuscany, a brilliant pianist and conductor as well as composer, who sought to promote contemporary music, but whose own music perhaps lacked something of melodic and emotional appeal. He lived in various parts of Europe, but mostly in Berlin where he died. His most famous work might well be his piano arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach’s solo violin Partita in D minor. Bellini played his approachable salute to Italy, All’Italia, containing echoes of turn of the century compositions; the second part was in a saltarello rhythm, rhapsodic with occasional smudges. This too was far from boring.

The recital ended with another moderately familiar and quite important Italian composer, Alfredo Casella, a near contemporary of Berg, musically educated in Paris and influenced by Debussy. His 1932 Due ricercari on the name BACH, followed many who had used the letters, in German notation, as a theme for variations. The repetition of the notes B flat, A, C, B soon became too insistent. After all, the range is very small and the emphatic playing tended to obliterate whatever interest there may otherwise have been in the work.

There were a couple of very suitable encores – Musetta’s waltz song from La bohème and a Chopin mazurka.

Though it was a curiously constructed programme, there was enough variety to entertain a general audience, and a few significant pieces by important composers to engage those more anxious to explore the unexpected or unusual. Professor Bellini’s visit to Wellington was worthwhile and the Embassy is to be encouraged to undertake such ventures again. One of the ambassador’s predecessors took a very real interest in Wellington’s musical life, taking every opportunity to bring Italian music and musicians to our attention.


Outstanding programme by New Zealand String Quartet at Waikanae

Waikanae Music Society

Mozart: String quartet no.20 in D, K.499 “Hoffmeister”
Shostakovich: String quartet no.3 in F, Op. 73
Dvořák: String quartet no.14 in A flat, Op.105

New Zealand String Quartet (Helene Pohl and Donald Armstrong, violins; Gillian Ansell, viola; Rolf Gjelsten, cello)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 19 April 2015, 2.30pm

Since Gillian, Helene and now Douglas have all suffered hand injuries, is Rolf Gjelsten next – or does it simply prove that the cello is much the safest instrument to play?   The audience at Waikanae was fortunate that the substitute for Douglas Beilman was such a fine chamber musician as Donald

Gillian Ansell introduced the first work as being both sublime and light-hearted, and so it proved.  The superb balance of the team was apparent right from the outset.  Their strong, confident playing was yet subject to great variation of dynamics.  The quick allegretto first movement showered over one in a rain of beautiful notes and cadences.  To mix the meteorological metaphor: the mood was uplifting and sunny, like the day.

The minuet and trio contained delightful phrases, almost seeming to be impulsive in their gaiety, while the adagio third movement epitomised peace – surely an appropriate theme for this week.  Its solemnity betrayed the fact that it was full of fresh ideas; mellowness and serenity typified the mood.  Apart from a few unison notes that were not utterly united, one could not fault the beautiful playing.

The allegro finale’s surprise opening led to a jolly outpouring of delicious phrases, harmonies and running passages.  To see the smiles of the performers as they took their bows to the audience gave the strong impression that they enjoyed themselves too.

Shostakovich’s quartet no.3 was not one with which I was familiar.  Helene Pohl introduced it, making a contrast between the composer’s necessary recitation, as a student, of the happiness brought by Joseph Stalin and her own required recitation of allegiance to the US flag, when she was young. The exemplary
programme notes stated that the quartet was written in 1946 as a ‘war quartet’ and gave the descriptions that the composer had original given to the movements.  All this made it an appropriate work for the week leading up to Anzac Day, and contributed hugely to the audience’s understanding of the music.

The first movement (allegretto) opens with a dance of apparent innocence and joy.  It was tuneful, with interesting harmonic twists (‘Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm’).  There followed passages in a high tessitura, that became frenetic, perhaps as a precursor of what was to come.  They were followed by a cheeky ending.

The moderato con moto second movement was very different (‘Rumblings of unrest and anticipation’), being ominous and even excruciating in tone.  Repetitive passages could be depicting troops marching.  Some phrases made me think of dead flowers, which amplified the sombre mood of foreboding.

Movement three (allegro non troppo; ‘The forces of war unleashed’) was indeed as described.  There was relentless pursuit and counter-attack.  A sombre yet frenetic viola solo accompanied by the other strings playing pizzicato was remarkable.  Such skilled quartet writing!  It soon led to an abrupt ending.

The adagio (‘Homage to the dead’) fourth movement was written during a visit by Shostakovich to his home city of Leningrad, the scene of so much devastation and death so recently before.  A desolate
opening led to intense and emotional feelings of despondency and hopelessness.  Its outpourings at so much grieving, so much that the people had to cope with were tremendously powerful.

The final movement (moderato, ‘The eternal question: Why?  And for what?’) incorporated, Helene told us, Jewish music, with its characteristic ‘laughter through tears’.  Thus the jaunty section at the beginning (though the programme notes described it as ‘a wry, spectral melody’.  It was hardly jollity that was being described, and the mood soon reverted to one of bitterness and mourning, only to have the jaunty melody and rhythm return. Again, it does not last, and a quite tragic passage ends the movement and the quartet.

This was a remarkable performance; ‘searing’ as someone said to me.  It completely enveloped the audience; it was a singular triumph.

After the interval – some Dvořák to cheer us up!  The opening was a quiet adagio ma non troppo, in a mood of repose, and even sadness,  but we were soon into a delightful allegro appassionata, the melodies, harmonies and their accompaniment reminiscent of some of the composer’s other chamber music.  Energy drove all forward to a brisk ending.

The lyrical second movement (molto vivace) was like a quick dance, followed by a slower, more heart-felt melody.  It ended with a soon-to-be-unison note.

Lento e molto cantabile was soulful, with gorgeous inter-weaving harmonies, to be followed by quite a spooky theme.  A return to more passionate tones led to quite a calm close.  The allegro non tanto finale was a fast dance.  The vigorous playing led to a few wonky notes from the musicians, who must have surely been tired by now, with such a challenging programme behind them.

The large audience was privileged to hear fine performances in an outstanding programme of contrasts, and all showed their warm appreciation.



Orchestra Wellington on brilliant form opens six-concert series dominated by Tchaikovsky, Michael Houstoun and Russia

Orchestra Wellington conducted by Marc Taddei with Michael Houstoun (piano)

Glinka: Kamarinskaya
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor, Op 30
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 1 in G minor, Op 13

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday 18 April 7:30 pm

The year’s programme which this concert inaugurated, has been most interestingly designed; with aspects that should kindle the interest of newcomers, of which I imagine there were many, as well as those more familiar with the orchestral repertoire.

This was achieved by the brilliant device of offering all six concerts for $108, or $18 each, so filling the auditorium.  I’m sure this is an example of the sophisticated economic phenomenon: ‘Less Is More’.

Given the numbers unfamiliar with real orchestral repertoire and the fact that Radio NZ Concert was recording it for use in June, it was sensible for genial and witty radio presenter Nigel Collins to appear on stage to coach the audience in useful radio audience behaviour and in the formalities followed as concert-master, conductor et al. arrive on stage.

This took a few minutes and I was surprised to hear, and hear of, certain grizzles from those to whom it was all ‘old-hat’, about the intrusion into their time.

The other reason for the success of this concert and, I’m sure, the whole series, is the programming.

Not that there’s anything radical or unusual these days about delivering programmes of the complete works of a particular composer or in a particular genre, or works of a particular era.

In the light of the common perception of Russia’s current political behaviour, the chance should be welcomed to be exposed to the country’s cultural riches, revealing its centuries of close integration in European culture and civilisation generally.

And what a stroke to engage Michael Houstoun to play Russian (and a New Zealand) piano concertos throughout the series.

For all this we have to thank Music director Marc Taddei and General manager Adan Tijerina.

Appropriately enough, this first concert opened with what is regarded as the first piece of Russian orchestral music that draws on Russian folk music, Kamarinskaya. Though he had written orchestral music earlier, including the brilliant ‘Jota Aragonese’, Glinka is regarded at the father of Russian music mainly as a result of his two operas drawn from Russian history: A Life for the Tsar and Russlan and Ljudmila.

As Taddei remarked, Kamarinskaya is a slight piece, with an Adagio introduction on a wedding song, treated with spaciousness and clarity, and a lively folk dance. The short tune of the latter quickly palled through excessive repetition, in spite of the orchestra doing all it could to lend variety to its series of ‘variations’.

There was no need at all for any special efforts by the orchestra or soloist to create interest in Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. Some might have been a little surprised at the conspicuously moderate pace and perhaps cool emotional character adopted for its first movement, evidently an approach shared by conductor and pianist.  It was as if they were carefully refraining from prematurely exhausting their ammunition the better to make striking dramatic points when those opportunities really arrived, early in the development section.

Yet it did not in the least dampen the arresting spirit of the performance; on the other hand, nothing detracted from the subtle darkness that pervades the first movement if not the whole work. The lengthy first movement cadenza gave Houstoun the chance to illuminate his modest yet dazzling pianism, alongside the secure yet adroit tempo and dynamic nuances that kept the piano, not necessarily in the forefront, but in just the right position in the integral sound.

The Adagio second movement touches me most, with its curious rhapsodic character, its brief moments of passion, even frenzy, but its overall thoughtful spirit, that more than once turns aside from a fully-fledged climax to regain calm and poise; and again, this performance captured all its complexity and beauty.

Even the Finale with its enchanting melodies often seems to have much longer passages of meditative music than I expect, and it always delights me: the horns have a lovely episode punctuated with a roll on timpani. Finally, of course, the composer gives the audience the thrills it’s been waiting for, as orchestra, and pianist in particular, execute all its demands with wonderful energy and dense cascades of virtuosity. It brought about a standing ovation.

We could have been induced to feeling, because Tchaikovsky’s first symphony is the least familiar, that it’s uninteresting and merely to be paid ritual attention. But it is simply a youthful (well, he was 26)masterpiece. The pedant, or the studiously censorious might have searched for signs of immaturity, of structural uncertainty, but given the sheer melodic inventiveness and already a fine mastery of orchestration (the final touches of revision were made, in 1872, after he’d written a couple of operas and was already at work on his second symphony).

The opening is propitious, with clarinets over tremolo strings, then joined by bassoons, violas and cellos in music that fitted their timbres beautifully; Tchaikovsky’s character, his fingerprints, are already distinctive and the whole movement belies rumours that the symphony is a somewhat unsatisfactory youthful attempt.

The day-dreams are most present in the second movement, Adagio cantabile, with its lovely string writing and oboe solo and lots of other delicious opportunities for orchestral colour, all delicately drawn. I wondered why it hadn’t acquired the sort of stand-alone fame that Tchaikovsky’s other, famous (Andante) cantabile had.

Nor is there any hint of uncertainty in the third movement, Scherzo, again furnished with melody that doesn’t pall, and which of course upset the pedants at the St Petersburg Conservatorium who were Tchaikovsky’s mentors. (Someone has acknowledged that it may have been his melodic gift that made adhering to the conventions of the classical sonata form difficult: perhaps the latter only became de rigueur because some composers lacked the genius for melody that was Tchaikovsky’s). The Waltz that takes the place of the Trio in in the earlier ‘Minuet and trio’ scheme of the classical symphony, lends the Scherzo a delectable contrast, pointing to the soon-to-be composed Swan Lake with its delicious waltz episodes.

And lastly the 12-minute Finale which opens with a sombre hymn-like introduction rich in warm, dark woodwind sounds, soon brightens, but only temporarily. It never loses interest, moving between dreamy moods and fanfare-driven pages of the Allegro Maestoso, full of confidence and optimism, using the composer’s acute sensitivity for orchestral colour like a seasoned master.

The orchestra’s playing continued flawlessly and luxuriously, tempos subtly varying, dynamics scrupulously managed, to bring the concert to a triumphant conclusion.


First-class performances from Sydney Conservatorium violin and piano duo for IRMT

Institute of Registered Music Teachers

Lilburn: Sonata for violin and piano (1950)
Franck: Sonata for violin and piano in A
Ravel: Tzigane

Goetz Richter (violin), Jeanell Carrigan (piano), from Sydney Conservatorium of Music

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 12.15pm

These two performers are currently giving master classes in various New Zealand cities, under the auspices of the IRMT; their Wellington master class with ensembles made up of students from the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University followed the recital.  This may have accounted in part for the excellent attendance.

If Richter and Carrigan are anything to go by, students at the Sydney Conservatorium have the advantage of first-class performers as their teachers.  No biographical notes were given in the printed programme, which was a pity.

The programme comprised one sonata (Lilburn’s) with which I was not familiar, another sonata which I think borders on the ‘warhorse’ description, plus a shorter work that is also close to that category. There are so many sonatas by the great composers that we don’t hear regularly.

Excellent programme notes by Dianne James of the Auckland Branch of IRMT enhanced the
understanding and enjoyment of the works considerably.  Well-written and insightful, they were a
model of their genre.

It was interesting to note that Lilburn wrote his sonata for Ruth Pearl and Frederick Page – two of the most prominent names in music-making in Wellington in the 1950s and 1960s.   The five sections of
the sonata (molto moderato – allegro – tempo primo, largamente – allegro – tempo primo, tranquillamente) were played continuously, as conceived.  The variety of tempi, themes, tessitura and rhythms made this a most enjoyable work.

A very strong attack on the sombre opening was striking, and the whole piece was beautifully played.  I find a lot of similarity in much of Lilburn’s music, especially in rhythmic motifs, but this work did not share that trait, and its range was much greater than that of some of his music.  This was an authoritative and accomplished performance of fine music.

César Franck’s sonata received a splendid interpretation.  A description in the programme notes read ‘Clear evidence of this improvisatory style can be heard in most of Franck’s late works, where much of a work’s thematic material can be traced from germinal ideas present in the opening bars.’  Therein lies its problem for me.  The incessant repetition of the opening motif throughout the four lengthy movements (allegretto ben moderato – allegro – recitative-fantasia: ben moderato – molto lento – allegretto poco mosso) I find tedious, even though the modulations and variations are beautiful in themselves.

‘Succinct’ is not a word to apply to Franck.  Certainly the character of the sonata varies enormously with each movement, and I have to admit that in the hands of Richter and Carrigan, new delights appeared.  The music was played with supreme mastery and subtlety by both performers, with considerable technical difficulties to deal with, particularly in the final movement.

Ravel described his piece as ‘a virtuoso showpiece’, and thus this oft-played piece was, in the hands of Goetz Richter, and later those of Jeanell Carrigan.  Richter gave it more of a gypsy sound and feel than I’ve heard others do.  Exciting music it certainly is.

We heard two very able and experienced musicians, and though the programme was not completely to my taste, I came away knowing I had heard good music well played.