Admirable, heart-warming concert closes an inspiring NZSM chamber music weekend

Combined Final Concert of the 2015 NZSM Queen’s Birthday Chamber Music Weekend
The culmination of the weekend

Adam Concert Room, Victoria University

Monday 1 June, 1:30 pm

The New Zealand School of Music helped keep the Queen’s Birthday road toll down by attracting scores of secondary and tertiary students to a sort of immersion programme that would prepare secondary school competitors in the NZCT Chamber Music Contest and general tuition for chamber music groups in a communal atmosphere, and keep them off the roads.

It had been a busy week for many of the participants, as I noticed the names of about ten of the players in the Wellington Youth Orchestra on Friday evening were among those at this Monday afternoon concert.

The Chamber Music Weekend had coincided and in some way combined with the school of music’s Classical Saxophone Festival, and student saxophonists as well as a couple of tutors contributed to the concert. Otherwise the programme consisted of a series of string and piano trios. While Debbie Rawson led the saxophone section, Helene Pohl and New Zealand String Quartet colleagues Douglas Beilman and Rolf Gjelsten led in the general chamber music area.

The School of Music Saxophone Quartet opened the concert with a couple of pieces that they’d played in the Wednesday concert of the school’s Showcase at St Andrew’s on The Terrace. Excellent individual performances, though I felt that their sound would have coalesced better if they had placed themselves further back from the audience.

Almost all the groups announced their music, some well projected, some not so well; but the practice is very important, for to be a live musician involves more than just musical skill and talent. Delivery: speech comfortably paced; don’t gabble composers’ names and musical terms and titles; make it sound as if you’re really interested.

A string trio was next, by Taneyev (stress on second syllable – Tanyéyev), and played by the eponymous group. Though written early in the 20th century, for two violins and a viola, it sounded remarkably Haydnish, showing little of the influence of Tchaikovsky, his teacher and life-long friend. Here was a creditable performance from a promising young trio of a piece that was not overtly very interesting.

The Alsergrund Trio (cellist Tessa told us that’s the Vienna suburb when Schubert was born), played their namesake’s first piano trio and made a very good job of it, both individually and as an ensemble. Their playing of the first movement was bold and confident, fully justifying their courage in taking on one of the great masterpieces of the repertoire.

It would have come as a pleasant surprise to many to hear the set of three songs by Glinka (we hear too little Russian song), attractively arranged for piano and two violins – the violins making as if the songs really were lovely duets. (I wondered why the title of the three songs was in German: I don’t see a group of Glinka’s songs so-named).  All three players acquitted themselves beautifully.

The first half ended with the opening movement of Smetana’s anguished piano trio in which the oddly named Melodious Thunk (what connection with the great jazz pianist?) captured the drama and the close-to-the-surface emotion. All players were in command of it, though the piano was a bit loud: I was tempted single out cellist Bethany Angus, in particular, but it would be invidious to attempt singling out.

A solo saxophone piece opened the second half: Tomomi Johnston demonstrated an understanding of Piazzolla’s style, and we could hear the breathing challenges that she managed very well.

The rather forgotten but slowly being revived Benjamin Goddard has not been known for much other than his opera Jocelyn; famous for a lovely Berceuse. These movements from Six Duettini, were charming music which the three very young-looking players, called Trio Souvenirs, handled sympathetically and very musically.

The Debussy Trio played his very early and unfamiliar piano trio (only rediscovered in recent years); all three captured the tone of the work, which reflected Fauré’s very strong influence, in a performance of, was it two or three(?), movements. The three players didn’t blend very comfortably, but I suspect the reason lay more with Debussy’s inexperience in his teens; nevertheless they played with impressive confidence and accuracy.

Two of the weekend’s saxophone tutors broke the domination by violins and pianos with three amusing Conversations by Richard Rodney Bennett: two baritone saxophones exhibited accord and sympathy and mild dissent.

To play Saint-Saëns’s second piano trio, a particularly impressive group, named after the composer, awakened me to the first movement of a piece I didn’t know: another persuasive exhibit for the defence and rehabilitation in the court of his reputation.

Finally came the ‘other’ piano trio of Shostakovich; that written when at the Leningrad Conservatorium in 1923. Lyrical, light-hearted though far from straight-forward, with several moments of curious complexity, it has been called “the most romantic music that Shostakovich ever wrote”. It too was revelatory, in the hands of Trio Glivenko (Who? S. fell in love with Tatyana Glivenko as he was recovering from tuberculosis in Crimea, and dedicated the work to her). The trio included two musicians who’d greatly impressed me earlier, Bethany Angus and Claudia Tarrant-Matthews (now at the piano, having been the accomplished violinist in the Debussy), plus the equally talented Shweta Iyer: confidence, in total command.

I had hoped to discover more details about the music, about the groups that performed, where they came from, which ones were competitors in the forthcoming NZCT Chamber Music Contest, which were at university level. And I’d wondered why there were no groups of wind instrument players.

However, this was an admirable initiative which I hope becomes a regular event. School of Music director Euan Murdoch remarked during the interval that the high achievement of young New Zealanders in the field of chamber music is admired internationally. The work of Chamber Music New Zealand and the various programmes undertaken with the universities, particularly Victoria, are helping compensate for the increasing neglect of the arts in general, and classical music in particular, by most primary and secondary schools.


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