Guitar students deliver impressive performances in spite of relative inexperience in tough field

New Zealand School of Music Showcase Week at St Andrew’s

NZSM Classical Guitar Ensemble (Joel Baldwin, Toby Chadwick, Jake Church, Amber Madriaga, Lucinda Ng, Emma Sandford, Royden Smith, Dylan Solomon, George Wills)
and the NZSM Classical Guitar Quartet (Church, Smith, Solomon, Wills)

Music by Tylman Susato, Andrew York, Piazzolla and Jürg Kindle (the Ensemble); and Bizet and Boccherini (the Quartet)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Monday 25 May, 12:15 pm

The first of the four programmes arranged by the enterprising manager of the St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts, Marjan van Waardenberg, with the New Zealand School of Music in an effort to draw more particular attention to the school’s contribution to Wellington, downtown.

As was to be expected, the audience was somewhat smaller than that for the usual Wednesday concerts, but it was by no means an embarrassment. Guitars, though still not quite classical mainstream, have a strong appeal, especially when they play music that has survived in the repertoire for a century or so, including much music of the Hispanic world that seems to invite transcription ‘back’ for the instrument that probably inspired its creation: Albeniz, Falla, Barrios, Villa-Lobos, Tarrega, Brouwer…

This programme really offered none of that, apart from a transcription of Piazzolla’s Primavera Porteña. It opened with a set of three Renaissance dances by Tylman (Tielman) Susato who lived from around 1515 to 1570. (So this might be around his 500th birthday). He was a calligrapher and printer in Antwerp, the first in the Netherlands to use moveable type for printing music. Antwerp was a leading centre of printing in the first century after its invention by Gutenberg. (Last year I spent a fascinating three or four hours in the Plantin-Moretus Museum of printing in Antwerp).

Susato was also a composer of motets and masses as well as chansons and dances, either arranged or original tunes. Here we had dances: a Pavane, Gaillard and Ronde. Their arrangement left the Pavane in what I felt was a somewhat ponderous state, though dynamics were carefully and enjoyably studied; the triple time Gaillard and the more lively Ronde, felt better adapted for dancing.

Andrew York’s two pieces were quietly interesting, the first, Pop, starting with chords that hinted at Theodorakis’s sirtaki, or hasapiko, from Zorba the Greek, but soon went its own way. Brajamazil had a comparably quiet pulse, that used the eight-part ensemble in two parts, one providing a repeated riff, under a tune that varied somewhat; all played with the same care for ensemble as the set of Susato dances. It may have been the acoustic, but I missed something of a resonant bass that might have underlain the rather uniform quality of the whole ensemble.

Piazzolla’s Primavera Porteña (originally for bandoneon, violin and guitar I suppose) is an attractive and fairly well-known piece, partly in triple time, but often rhythmically obscure (to me), which the ensemble played skilfully. Finally, a couple of pieces by a composer I had not heard of, Jürg Kindle, entitled Funky and Techno, which Jane Curry suggested (if I heard correctly) represented a style of music that had only brief vogue. Funky needed precision, solid rhythm as well as a certain freedom; it was rather a work in progress.

Techno perhaps suffered from the limitations of what it was imitating, but the attempt to invest it with a little sophistication left it somewhat morbid.

The large ensemble was then replaced by a quartet of the four more advanced players. They played arrangements of three of the dances from Carmen, which had the advantage of deriving, at least, from the home of the guitar. Rhythms were reasonably lively though again they suffered through the care and restraint with which they were played. The first, Aragonese, essentially a rather elegant, restrained dance, was the least handicapped by that sobriety; so it expressed that dignity quite well. But the Seguidilla which Carmen dances in high frustration as she faces Jose’s timidity, his overwhelming fear of letting go, his sense of duty to the army, was a tough one. At this stage, these players were not really up to capturing the sexuality that the dance expresses.

They ended with an Introduction and Fandango by Boccherini which lay quite well for the guitars. Though the Introduction passed without much impact, the Fandango came off well since it was drawn from the famous guitar quintet La retirata di Madrid. Throughout, their obvious pains over notation precision and dynamics were always conspicuous, and the performances showed proper attention to the basic challenges that face players of this instrument, in these not always very rewarding pieces, from which there is nowhere to hide.


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