New Zealand School of Music Showcase Week at St Andrew’s
The string players in an all-Bach programme
Violin sonata No 1 in G minor, BWV 1001 – Adagio played by Katie-Lee Taylor
Fugue played by Matt Cook
Cello suite No 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 – Prelude played by Olivia Wilding
Violin Partita No 3 in E, BWV 1006, Loure and Gavotte en rondeau – played by Grace Stainthorpe
Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G, BWV 1048 played by the above students plus 15 others
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Thursday 28 May, 12:15 pm
This was the last of the four concerts devoted to student players from the university School of Music. Perhaps in future years we’ll also have concerts from woodwind and brass players, and singers, even organists and harpsichordists and percussionists; but these four have shown that it’s possible to attract good audiences more than just once a week. The limitation is no doubt the level of energy that the unpaid concert manager Marjan van Waardenberg can call up, and the availability of the church. (And it also should be pointed out that all musicians perform unpaid at the lunchtime concerts).
The first half hour of the concert was taken up with individual violinists and a cellist playing movements from Bach’s unaccompanied suites and sonatas.
Violinists Katie-Lee Taylor and Matt Cook began playing, in turn, the first two movements, Adagio
and Fugue, from the first violin sonata, in G minor. It was an admirable performance of the Adagio, with all the signs of careful tutorial guidance and music intuition on Taylor’s part, scrupulous attention to dynamics and the shaping or ornaments. There was interesting variety of tone and an organic feeling of life as if the music was breathing.
While she had played with the score before her, Matt Cook played from memory and paid a small price for that in the middle of what is certainly a difficult and complex fugue; so his courage and demeanour were to be admired in his recovery and persistence, though the experience somewhat affected the freedom and elasticity of his playing for a little while. The audience applauded him warmly.
Another minor key piece was the choice of Olivia Wilding – the Prelude from the second cello suite in D minor. Her handling of the bow created a lovely tone, mellow (at one point I craned my head to see whether she had put a mute on) and varied in dynamics, and she allowed herself attractive freedom in her tempi. She used a score.
Grace Stainthorpe ended the solo section of the concert with the Loure and the most popular movement from the violin sonatas and suites, the Gavotte en rondeau, from the third partita. Bravely, she dispensed with the score, with only a minor glitch during the Gavotte. Her playing was careful, and like the others, showed fastidious attention to its phrasing and rhythms, though I thought she might have exploited her opportunities for emphatic bowing occasionally.
There was a lot of stage rearrangement to accommodate the full ensemble – the five cellos (though six were named in the programme) arrayed at the front while violins flanked the violas in the middle of the back row.
While a couple of programmes in this series taxed their audiences (and themselves) by playing unfamiliar music, the strings made no apologies for playing great music, most of which was pretty well known by the average lunchtime-concert-goer. Few works are more loved than the Brandenburg concertos, and No 3 might well be at the top. The music might have almost played itself, but there was no missing the special affection that the players managed to convey in their buoyant, spirited performance. Professor Donald Maurice conducted and he introduced the concerto briefly to draw attention to the Calvinist environment of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen where Bach composed this and much other instrumental music. There was no choir or organ, but a musical Prince who valued Bach who wrote little other than instrumental music for the court.
Maurice noted that the non-existent middle, slow movement was to be supplied by a cadenza played by the orchestra leader, Laura Barton and it was indeed a chance for another excellent solo presentation, involving a splendid crescendo. Much of the liveliness and warmth of the performance was inspired by Maurice’s expansive, richly expressive conducting, with plenty of cues; whether it did or not for the players, it contributed a fine visual element that the audience enjoyed, and applauded enthusiastically.