Revival of Victoria Voices for all-comers a welcome return

New Zealand School of Music Te Koki

Music by Mozart, Fauré, Seiber, Hatfield, Krommer, Saint-Saëns

Victoria Voices, conducted by Robert Legg; chamber music ensembles

Hunter Council Chamber, Victoria University of Wellington

Wednesday, 27 May 2015, 7.30pm

The varied programme was presented to a modest-sized audience.

Victoria Voices  was promoted as a new ensemble, but in a sense it is a revival; the School of Music has had choirs before, but not for a number of years.  Of course, the students in it were probably not in its predecessors. There are approx. 50 singers in this all-comers choir of students and staff from various faculties of the university (previous incarnations were auditioned).

Conductor Robert Legg spoke to the audience, but it was a pity he didn’t tell us a little about the less familiar composer: Stephen Hatfield (19156-). Wikipedia tells me that he is a Canadian choral composer and conductor.  His website contains many plaudits.

Legg was very much in charge of the choir, and drew from its members a very pleasing tone, excellent Latin pronunciation in Mozart’s well-known and well-loved Ave Verum Corpus (K.618), together with a most musical performance.  He needs to be aware that too much physical movement from the conductor is distracting for audiences, particularly bending at the knees frequently.  The piano accompaniment from Chelsea Whitfield could have been a little softer.

Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine (Op.11) was written when the composer was only 19 years old.  It is a very lovely piece, and delightful to sing.  Here, particularly, the dynamics were well managed, with good attention to detail, but there is yet insufficient blend.

Mátyás Seiber’s  Three Hungarian Folk Songs, the first of which is repeated after the second song, were sung in English, which enabled the audience to understand the humorous words.  These songs, plus the following item, were sung unaccompanied.  There was good attack and articulation in the Seiber, in both words and notes.  The choir obviously has learned the music well, and sang in an appropriately spirited manner.  Here again, the tone was engaging, and now the blend was better.

The Hatfield piece, Living in a Holy City, began in unison – this is often dangerous territory, but the choir managed it well.  This quite complex music was written in multiple parts as the piece
moved on.

Although there were breaks in the programme, there was no interval; this was rather too long a concert to leave the audience sitting without an opportunity to stretch the legs!

Promoted as the launch concert of Victoria Voices, it nevertheless seemed to me that the chamber music content was rather larger than the choral.

The first chamber music item was actually two: Oboe Quartets by Franz Krommer (1759-1831).  I did not completely hear the spoken introduction, but heard that there were four movements; it appeared that there were four movements in total, so perhaps not all of each quartet was played.  The first began as quite straightforward music; the oboe playing was very fine and the violin good, but not always on the spot intonation-wise.  The lower parts seemed relatively easy to play. There was an attractive tone from all players.  A movement in a minor key was played very expressively, and playing passages with detached notes was done with considerable delicacy.

The final quick movement was very will articulated.  This was playing of a high standard, of music that was not the most complicated, but there were tricky passages.  Annabel Lovatt (oboe), Grace Stainthorpe (violin), Craig Drummond-Nairn (viola) and Elena Morgan (cello) performed with considerable accomplishment.

France was to the fore in the rest of the programme, firstly with Nicole Ting (piano), Matthew Cook (violin) and Lavinnia Rae (cello) playing two movements of Piano Trio no.2, Op.92 of Saint-Saëns
(Fauré’s teacher).

In the opening section the piano-playing was far too blurred (i.e. too much pedal), and had neither enough clarity nor sufficient volume to match with the other instruments.  The strings were strong and confident, with good dynamic range; the players had the feel of the work.  The piano came into its own in later loud passages, and then the players really became a trio.  Themes were treated in subtle fashion.

The second movement featured a gorgeous opening theme from the violin, followed by the piano.  Later, the cello took it up sonorously.  There was much fast finger-work for the piano, with very quiet pizzicato accompaniment from the strings.  The movement had plenty of variety, rhythmically as well as melodically.

Now to the pupil: Fauré’s Nocturne and En Prière for violin (Laura Barton) and harp (Michelle Velvin).  What could be more French than the harp?   Michelle wore a short dress, and thus the audience could see her feet changing the pedals.  It was a slow piece but both performers played it very well.

The second piece, like the first, required a lot of independence in the parts; both players produced gorgeous tone.

The Saint-Saëns Fantaisie for violin and harp was understated, but full of meditative gestures, and some drama as well. The two young women (in red dresses, as against the dull black of the other instrumentalists) are both fine musicians.  There was lots of double-stopping for the violin and glissandi for the harp.  It was quite a long work, and seemed to me to run out of inspiration.  However, the playing revealed great rapport between the musicians, and they did the piece proud.

Music of all kinds is in good heart at the School of Music, as this week’s numbers of concerts reveals.


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