Delightful Takiri Vocal Ensemble heralds a new era for the song recital?

Takiri Ensemble
Anna Leese (soprano), Bianca Andrew (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Glover (tenor), Robert Tucker (baritone)
Kirsten Simpson (piano)

Songs and ensembles by Schubert, Schumann, David Hamilton, Ross Harris, Anthony Ritchie, Britten and Vaughan Williams

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 30 August 2:30 pm

The Takiri Ensemble is a novelty for New Zealand: a vocal quartet that aims to be a permanent presence in this country. It challenges the long-held and flimsily sustained belief that there’s no audience for the song recital; another similar, ill-supported notion is that there’s little appetite for piano recitals. Each prejudice has probably been based on cases that have not been representative or well-conceived, flawed through poor programming, or uninteresting-looking performers.

I should, however, note another straw in the wind: an enterprising song recital inspired by pianist Catherine Norton on 10 June (see the review at that date).

This example looks like winning through the presence of at least the two well-known female singers, and a programme that has a decent proportion of genuinely popular, well-known material. Soprano Anna Leese has become one of the best-known young singers to have established an international reputation; Bianca Andrew, now at the Guildhall in London, has attracted a big following in New Zealand through her vivid persona. Andrew Glover has not been so visible in New Zealand since going to study overseas where he has had substantial professional engagements: Opera North, Garsington Opera, Opera Holland Park and English Touring Opera. Robert Tucker studied with Andrew at the Opera Centre in Perth, and has been singing professionally overseas for some years, including Schaunard in La bohème and Guglielmo in Così fan tutte (which he sang recently, alongside Bianca as Dorabella, with Wanderlust Opera in Wellington).

Pianist Kirsten Simpson is an artist-teacher in accompaniment at the school of music, Victoria University. During her extensive time overseas she has accompanied at the Solti Te Kanawa Accademia di Bel Canto in Italy.

The programme began with what I imagine is still the best known of Lieder: Schubert. All very familiar to me from my teens, though how familiar they are to today’s teenagers, I wonder. I was lucky to have had two music-loving German masters at college who used Lieder, mainly Schubert (also my first hearing of Schumann’s ‘Die Grenadiere’), and German folk-songs to embed the language, and at university, the wonderful Oxford Book of German Verse, very much my Bible, was annotated with details of musical settings.

So it will be obvious that the quartet did not confine itself to music composed or arranged for all four singers; in fact, all of the Schubert songs were sung in turn by individual singers. Because these are generally more familiar, I suspect that the ensemble will be wise to include a reasonable number of such well-loved songs as ‘loss-leaders’ for the more meaty or less easily digested music.

The second group of songs was totally unfamiliar to me: Schumann’s late cycle entitled Spanische
(Op 138) might have been composed specifically for this ensemble. The piano alone plays a Prelude at the beginning and an Intermezzo in the middle, signalling the significance of the piano as scene or mood painter; it was always rewarding to listen to Kirsten Simpson’s thoughtful and colourful support for the voices.

Each of the eight songs is set for one or two voices and the last, ‘Dunkler Lichtglanz’, for the quartet, and the performances follow the pattern of voices adopted in the famous Graham Johnson Complete Schumann songs, on Hyperion for the bi-centenary in 2010.

Anna sang the first song, Schubert’s ‘Die Forelle’; it was a wonderful exhibition of her fluidity, her easy command of varied articulations and colours and the fisherman theme reappeared with ‘Fischerwiese’, marked with a joyous quality over sparkling accompaniment.

Robert Tucker used dynamic subtleties, especially a hardly audible pianissimo, in ‘An Sylvia’ which used to be popular as sung to Shakespeare’s original lyric from Two Gentlemen from Verona. Then there was firm metal in the voice, and in his later ‘Schwanengesang’ (not the song cycle), pregnant silences, depicting the approach of death.

Andrew Glover’s first song was the heart-felt ‘An die Musik’, with a caressing tone and an almost religious pianissimo, supported by discreet face and hand gestures. Then in ‘Nacht und Träume’, he held long high head notes, beautiful breath control. But in the Schumann cycle, in ‘O wie lieblich ist das Mädchen’ there was a little tightness in his high register.

Bianca Andrew took over, with the powerfully emotional ‘Die junge Nonne’, which she sang with impressively rich imagination; she knows how to use her head and arms to illuminate the music and dramatise the sense of the words.

Though not all the Schumann songs are equal in melodic charm and emotional integrity, this cycle, Spanische Liebeslieder, deserves outings as a whole. Though the notes naturally drew attention to Spanish character, there was little to my ears; both verses and music sounded thoroughly absorbed into a German sensibility. So they stood in the mainstream of the Lied. The two women sang the duet ‘Bedeckt mich mit Blumen’ with special delight, their voices and intent in harmony.

The men too had their duet, ‘Blaue Augen hat das Mädchen’, and their voices showed a delightful unanimity of style and sense.

After the interval came a few New Zealand songs: David Hamilton’s arrangements for these singers of his choral pieces, Three Anzac Settings.  Utterly unpretentious little works, quite different one from the other, handling sharply contrasting aspects of the war, including one, ‘Before Battle’, which dealt with the experience of conscientious objectors, in an idiom refreshingly free of any striving for ugliness or horror. There was a childlike tone in its rhythms, beautifully caught by singers and pianist, very remote from the sanctimonious character found in much music that deals with the tragedy of war.

The third, ‘In Flanders Fields’, was more subdued, in which men’s voices predominated.

Ross Harris composed three songs for Wellington soprano Lesley Graham in appreciation of her role in Harris’s two operas of the 1980s, Waituhi and Tanz der Schwäne. Bianca sang these charming vignettes set to poems by Bub Bridger; short little stories, gently declamatory; ‘Gossip’ had the air of wistful memories.

Two songs by Anthony Ritchie: the more I hear of his music, the more I feel it reflects clearly the happy return to compositional sanity, honesty and musical communicability after the perversities of the late 20th century. ‘He Moemoea’ is a polished, mature little song; ‘Ataturk Memorial’, to me, was somewhat unconvincing, a little prosaic, yet it seemed to work as a song.

Andrew Glover sang two songs by Britten: ‘Let the Florid Music Praise’ and ‘Oliver Cromwell’, the first with an uncanny hint of his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the second a witty little piece, quite
splendidly done.  Anna Leese sang Britten’s ‘O Waly Waly’, with an arresting edginess and clarity.

Three Vaughan Williams songs brought the programme to an end. Anna and Bianca joined in singing ‘It was a Lover and His Lass’, weaving among the notes joyfully; the two men in ‘Fear no more the Heat of the Sun’, produced tones of touching solemnity, calm, elegiac; and the quartet sang ‘Linden Lea’, a cappella, perfectly fitting.

The quartet had sung already in Kaitaia, Wanaka and Motueka; they go on to Whanganui, Rotorua and Whakatane, but sing nowhere else in Wellington – What A Shame!

Do the other concert promoters still fear that singers will keep their audiences at home? This concert, with its audience of over 300, should persuade them otherwise.

My colleague Rosemary Collier, who was also at the concert, has just commented about the excellent diction, which is so important in the singing of Lieder and other ‘art song’ – that they are ‘a marriage of poetry and music’.  (10am, Tuesday 1 September). I totally agree with her.



Aural (and visual) feast from Stroma at the Wellington City Gallery

Stroma, Wellington’s contemporary music ensemble, presents

Music by Alison Isadora, Michael Norris, Jeroen Speak and Jack Body

Hamish McKeich (conductor)

Wellington City Gallery,
Civic Square, Wellington

Sunday 30th August, 2015

Contemporary music ensemble Stroma performed at the Wellington City Gallery, in a space flanked on three sides by images created by photographer Fiona Pardington, whose exhibition “A Beautiful Hesitation”, brought an additional resonant and interactive context to the “sounded out” work of the composers. As the images suspended objects in time for us to register our thoughts and feelings about them, so too did the music seek to impinge its sound-impulses upon our sensibilities and memories – each a process of entrapment, display, re-evaluation and judgement, fascinatingly juxtaposed.

Stroma’s artistic director Michael Norris might well have been making reference to the visual exhibition as much as to his own work in the concert, when he wrote in his programme note regarding music and human memory,  and how it depends on “both the long-and short-term storage and recall of “aural echoes” of past events which might have occurred in the recent ….or distant past….”.  It’s a view of the process that accords with Fiona Pardington’s idea of photography’s power “to suspend time and interrogate our memories”.

On the programme was a world premiere – Jeroen Speak’s Eratosthene’s Sieve, written last year (2014) while the composer was the Creative New Zealand/Jack C.Richards Composer-in-Residence at Te Koko New ZEaland School of Music – and two other relatively recent works, Alison Isadora’s 2014 Point of Departure, and Michael Norris’s 2012 Time Dance. The fourth work was written by Jack Body, his 1987 piece called Interiors, which, as can be seen, gave its name to the concert.

Alison Isadora’s Point of Departure eponymously deserved its poll position in the concert, the music creating an “exotic” feeling of scene-setting for the listener’s delight and pleasure, with a string quartet’s distinctive timbres augmented by gong strokes and muffled drum-beats. The composer included lines from a work “Falling” by a Dutch Poet, Remco Campert, which I found singularly evocative:

In memory’s long fall
I seek the essential moment.
Above becomes beneath
and the earth comes swinging up.

She also pinpointed in her notes the “ferris wheel” idea, which, in the music is expressed as a feeling of ascending and then falling back, with throbbing pulsations underlining the sustained tones. So we got the occasional frisson of impulsive energy amid sostenuto likes, quite Debussy-like in effect, hence the slightly Oriental atmospheres generated, and an accompanying philosophic feeling that things are constantly in a kind of change, but return to their origins and begin, perhaps differently, all over again.

Amid the layerings and the explorations of these worlds in between, Alison Isadora’s disclosure of the circumstance of a colleague’s accidental death and how it coloured the piece’s second half added a whole new strata of response to the sounds for us, and deepening the ritualistic sense of it all – the percussive effects (snare-like drum beats and wood-block sounds were stinging, disruptive phrase-end punctuations which played their part in what the composer called the process of moving from anger to acceptance.

Michael Norris’s Time Dance, which followed evoked a markedly different kind of response from me, intrigued as I was by the prospect of the composer’s “deconstruction” of one of my favorite pieces of Baroque music, JS Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite (the one featuring the solo flute). The transformation was indeed a radical one – we were duly warned in the programme note as to the “subliminal” nature of our experience of the original piece’s essence!

This was a condensed concert version for piano quartet, presumably taken from Norris’s score for a 40-minute film “Time Dance”, a collaboration between the composer, choreographer/filmmaker Daniel Belton, and Good Company Arts. So we had four movements from the Suite, beginning with the Sarabande, followed by the Polonaise, Menuet and finally the Bandinerie. The Sarabande featured delicate piano figurations at the beginning, which strings turned into obstinate, enlivening the textures with pizzicati, the music resembling a mechanical device performing idiosyncratically, in places reverting to a “teashop” manner, with gestures resembling quasi-Viennese swooning.

Sustained arpeggiated notes from the piano began the Polonaise, the strings eagerly overlapping their figurations, the piano beautifully colouring each phrase’s flourish – the music’s phrases looped around, strung along, echoed and drew out, going into the stratospheric regions, giving us a sense of something suspended for all time. A contrasting response to this was provided by the Menuetto, the music busy, burrowing and motoric in the bass beneath sustained upper harmonies, the piano kaleidoscopically changing its chord-colours, and the phrases ending with upward-thrusting exclamations. The ‘cello kept the main rhythm going, but even its strength waned at the end as the music drooped and lay still.

The solo violin roused everybody in time for the Bandinerie with a cadenza-like sequence, everybody else joining in the ambient fun, the piano’s phrases and the strings’ tremolandi passages giving us a “lift” with their emphatic phrase-endings, and leading our sensibilities into and out of the thickets with their wonderfully unpredictable harmonic changes, everybody playing at their instruments’ extremities – as unpredictably, the music broke off into “other realms”, with harmonics and tremolandi from the strings, and curtain-opening-and-closing arpeggios from the piano. Bach may have been there subliminally, but I was too caught up in the here-and-now of it all to notice him!

Jereon Speak’s work Eratosthene’s Sieve was the evening’s world premiere, performed by an assorted ensemble of strings, flute, harp, accordion and percussion. The composer’s starting-point was the Greek philosopher Eratosthene’s “Sieve”, a device by which any prime number could be easily recognized, the music representing an attempt by its composer to similarly “sieve” his musical creations and constructions, and in the process discovering hitherto uncovered presences within this existing material.

Such a splendid array of instruments! – and how tellingly it all began, with breath (no tones) given by the accordion as a “gift of life” to the rest of the ensemble, whose initial pointillistic touches gradually became more animated with each succeeding wave of sound, the marimba, harp and vibraphone resonating magically. The music seemed to me to resemble an organic process at work (and, of course, maths, like music, is digitally, or step-wise organic), the coalescings seeking cues from their shared ambiences, and thus generating a definite sense of mutual expressiveness which informed each gesture.

Some Archimedian excitement then irrupted between ‘cello and percussion, stimulating what seemed like random, isolated responses from other instruments at first, all generating great excitement. The flute seemed to have a role of peacemaker towards the end of this sequence, as the energies dissipated, and a kind of “melting-down” of tones and their timbres, a “draining away” of energies, with the harp’s sustaining notes lengthening the shadows. Only the occasional flute scampering remained towards the end as a final act of impulse, the accordion’s breath evoking a dried leaf blowing across desolate desert sands at the piece’s end.

I was interested in the significance of the title Interiors given by Jack Body to his piece – he made many transcriptions of pieces of music from exotic places such as different regions of China, wanting in particular to capture some of the music from ethnic minority groups. These were undertakings that involved the making of “in situ” field recordings, and devising various instrumental “backdrops” to these recordings, to enhance the listener’s appreciation of the original music’s “interior”.  The work we heard tonight involved three separate recordings of ethnic performances, two instrumental and one vocal. The largest instrumental group of the evening was on hand to contribute various augmentations of these sounds.

First was that of a long-ge, a Sichuan version of a Jew’s harp, the recorded instrument’s easy, loping rhythm reinforced by clarinet and flute and joined by violin and ‘cello, with the piano adding its own excitement to the mix. Then, in contrast with the dance rhythms, the pianist “activated” the piano’s interior, the percussionist “bowed” the vibraphone and various scintillations held time and its passing in abeyance, leaving long exhalations of melody to drift lazily away. A lovely contrast to this was afforded by a recording of three women from Guizhou singing a forthright melody, the instrumentalists supporting and colouring their singing lines with lovely, long-held notes, and continuing to play over the spoken exchanges between the singers recorded on the tape in between verses.

Something of this “anecdotal” re-enactment technique also coloured the final recording, that of an ensemble, no less, of lusheng, the instrument a six-pipe bamboo mouth-organ common in the south of China, and throughout South-East Asian in various forms. A plastic westernized version of one of these was used by one of the ensemble, as the other instrumentalists supplied various counterpoints to the mouth-organ ensemble, and occasional hand-clapping, adding to the festive character of the piece – and we in the audience enjoyed (and joined in with) a delicious and spontaneous-sounding bout of giggling on the tape after the music finished! What a concert!

Cathedrals and landscapes – delight and awe with the NZSO

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra presents:
Sibelius and Bruckner

SIBELIUS – Violin Concerto in D Minor  Op.47
BRUCKNER – Symphony No.8 in C Minor (original version)

Baiba Skride (violin)
Simone Young AM (conductor)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Friday 28th August, 2015

Sibelius and Bruckner on the same programme? – bracing cocktails of icy spring water, followed by restorative draughts of schnapps, or, perhaps, aromatic coffee? (that is, to say, their musical equivalents!)…… intriguing prospect, one that didn’t arise the last time Simone Young was in New Zealand to conduct Bruckner with the NZSO. Paired with his mighty Fifth Symphony on that occasion was the music of Mozart, Bruckner’s fellow-countryman. The choice of the two composers seemed impeccable, logical and simple.

This time the works were Sibelius’s Violin Concerto and Bruckner’s even more imposing Eighth Symphony – and what was more, Simone Young was to present the original version of the Bruckner, the first time it had been given in this country. Interestingly enough, each of the two works, for all their inherent differences, had birthing difficulties, both undergoing extensive revisions at the hands of their respective composers, though under vastly different circumstances.

Sibelius’s original work was performed, none too successfully, and then withdrawn by the composer, who altered the work greatly, in particular simplifying the difficulties of the solo part. A year later, the work was freshly performed, and was received with enthusiasm, this revised score being the one which is used by performers to this day. (Incidentally, the original version – fascinating to listen to – has been recorded on the BIS label.)

In Bruckner’s case, the composer’s agony began even before his new work was performed – after finishing the symphony in 1887 he was downcast at the response to the score from the same conductor, Hermann Levi, who had achieved such a success with the composer’s Seventh Symphony. Declaring in a note to the composer that he found the music “impossible”, Levi suggested “a reworking” of the piece, and Bruckner, ever willing to comply, spent until 1890 revising the work, which, however, had to wait a further two years before its first performance in Vienna, in 1892.

If never the popular success that was its predecessor, the Eighth Symphony in its revised form is today frequently performed, though a handful of conductors (Young is one of them) have insisted on championing the original version. The differences are too numerous to discuss in a review of this size, though there are instantly noticeable features which demarcate the two editions – the ending of the first movement (blazing in the original, but deathly hushed in the revised version), the trio section of the scherzo (no harps in the original version, and with whole sections of the music recomposed in the revision), and the slow movement’s great climax (six cymbal crashes in the original version, reduced to a single stroke in the revision) – and so on.

Asked in interview why she preferred Bruckner’s original versions of his symphonies (she has recorded them all with her Hamburg Orchestra, to great acclaim), Young talked about these first attempts as “honest visions of a complex and very introverted man, whose first versions of the works were monumental structures, which some musicians of the time felt were impossible to cope with.” She also recounted the response of present-day players in different places to these original works, their enthusiasm and excitement regarding the challenges of being pushed out to extremes, particularly in this symphony, taking the opportunity to praise the NZSO’s work in rehearsal in these respects as well.

So we were set to witness great things, not the least when violinist Baiba Skride stepped out onto the platform to play the Sibelius with Simone Young, in front of the NZSO. I had heard the violinist a few years before, playing Tchaikovsky with the orchestra, and remembered a distinctive “way” she had with the concerto on that occasion – and so it was, in a different manner, with the Sibelius. She began the work in a rapt, inward way, her tone incredibly sweet and magically ‘floated”, her line with little of the nervous intensities or throbbing anxieties that we usually hear – instead, this seemed to be the voice of a soul communing with nature. A brief double-stopping intonation “edge” apart, her playing was free and pure, the touch as light as air, and the orchestral support (a lovely viola solo) properly restrained, dark and richly detailed.

Throughout the movement soloist and orchestra “played off” one another most engagingly, from moments of supporting songful utterances, to exhilarating hide-and-seek impulses, the violin dancing like a wood-sprite through the orchestral tree-trunks, laughter sounding amid the occasional baleful snarlings from darker places. The slow movement beautifully poeticized these soundscapes at the outset, except I found the horns became too insistent in places, the conductor’s bringing-out of the “middle textures” too much of a good thing, submerging the soloist’s heartfelt lines and overbalancing the textures. Still, the violinist was able to recapture the serenity of the music over the final pages, which were beautifully sounded.

More appropriate was conductor Young’s bringing out of those same middle voices in the polonaise-like finale, including the timpani, whose crisply-articulated figures added to the music’s exuberance – the soloist also really “dug in” here, giving the music a kind of “dancing on an ice-floe” character, while the orchestra’s nature-sounds literally buzzed and rumbled all about her – I loved the muted horns’ feisty “buzzings”, in particular! And what great blazing-up of orchestral weight there was mid-movement! – as if all nature was joining in the dance! I particularly enjoyed Baiba Skride’s crystalline upward runs, the final note of each ascending impulse “pinged” with such exuberance and joy!

While Skride didn’t perhaps “command” her instrument with the absolute totality of a Janine Jansen (whom we had heard earlier in the year), I thought her performance no less committed to the music and as fully attuned to its particular character in a pleasingly individual way. The music and playing certainly cleared our musical sinuses in preparation for the copious draughts of symphonic argument that were to follow, courtesy of Anton Bruckner and his greatest symphony.

Having lived for some time with Simone Young’s Hamburg recording of this piece in its original form, I knew something of what to expect from her – she had spoken in her interview of a previous era of Bruckner interpretations featuring “heavier, more laden performances”, and how she had worked to energize and lighten those textures in her own readings. Such was the case here – with every phrase, one sensed the music moving in a purposeful, far-sighted, and clearly-focused manner, intently set upon goals which would take the time they needed to be achieved, and no more. One noticed throughout the first movement the perfectly-graded dynamics, the ebb and flow of impulse and the sense of some vast scheme unfolding as it should.

And what a splendid sound the orchestra made! If Simone Young was right, then the NZSO’s recent excursions into Wagner’s music with the recently-departed Music Director Pietari Inkinen were here paying off most satisfyingly. Though not producing quite as “rounded” a sound-fabric as one might hear on recordings from Vienna or Berlin or Amsterdam from the great resident orchestras in those places, the players seemed to be committing every fibre of their being to delivering what their conductor wanted – a warm, rich, but always transparent sound, through which plethora of tones all the instruments could “speak”. In any performance of any Bruckner symphony the brass need to be out-and-out heroes – and so it was here, with two full rows of players (including a group playing those beautiful instruments we know as “Wagner-tubas”) making sounds which brought all the magnificence of Bruckner’s scoring to glorious life for our wide-eared and open-mouthed pleasure.

So it was that the first movement mightily ran its course, Young never making overmuch of any great upheaval, nor lingering too fulsomely upon any contrastingly lyrical sequence, but keeping the underlying pulse of the giant organism throbbing (despite dropping her baton at one point in the excitement!) – in this way, the sudden outburst at the movement’s end (which Bruckner later excised, and over which circumstance the otherwise excellent programme note was misleading) seemed like a naturally-expressed on-going expression of defiance, a “serving of intent” for what was to follow. Of course, straight away, this was the scherzo, perhaps Bruckner’s mightiest among other titanic utterances, a true “gods at play” display of divine exuberance. This was the movement which “led me into” the work in my student days, and which never fails to stir the blood most satisfying.

Bruckner later thought better of some of his bolder harmonic shifts in his rewriting, and of the exuberant extent of his hammering ostinati patterns, some of which he cut from the scherzo’s main body. But he also reworked most of the trio section (I heretically confess to a sneaking preference for the harps the composer added to the later version of this sequence – first loves are not easily let go! – though I appreciate that the use of those celestial tones at this point detracts from their heart-easing impact upon the slow movement’s yearnings….) which here represented a kind of unveiling of a statue of great beauty, its impact far-reaching and profoundly moving in an austere, even visionary way, amid the madness of the cosmic dance. Afterwards, what joy and abandonment there was, when the dance returned, with brass and timpani hurling their tones back and forth among the mountaintops.

But this was mere play compared with what followed – the symphony’s slow movement, the composer’s most heartfelt utterance to date in his creative career, more so, even, than his lament at Richard Wagner’s passing in the slow movement of the Seventh Symphony. Bruckner’s original conception has his own sensibilities on the rack in places, aspiring, hesitating, crying out, falling back and beseeching, before finally risking all and bringing his very being’s fibre into prominence in the grandest possible way (underlined by six mighty cymbal crashes!). Though his revision of the movement is tidier and less discursive, its spontaneously-wrought essence isn’t by comparison nearly as flavorsome, its relatively cumulative course more abstract than truly heartfelt – though, undoubtedly (as with all great music) there’s a “take from it what you will” dynamic very much for the picking of any listener.

Here, with Simone Young and the intrepid band, the music’s course unfolded as organically as any set of common impulses harnessed to a purpose – I was lost in admiration of the brass’s playing, and absolutely in thrall to the composer’s juxtaposing of the horns with the Wagner tubas, having it laid out before my eyes, so to speak – and with the rest of the orchestra as eager participants in the ritual of sound, creating the “cathedral” alluded to in the concert’s publicity. From Vesa-Matti Leppänen’s occasional solo violin strands, through individual and ensembles wind utterances, richly-wrought string passages and noble brass chorales to tumultuous tutti passages with everybody playing their hearts out, the performance made its way to the music’s summit, before basking in the afterglow of the journey’s achievement, during which a trio of horns (and later the Wagner tubas) exchanged long-breathed phrases by way of bringing forth one of the most sublime codas known to symphonic music of any era – such a privilege to be able to sit in the hall with those musicians during that special moment in time and listen to this music being realized so beautifully.

However, this wasn’t an “unfinished” symphony – and the finale burst in, carrying all before it, the timpani sounding off like gunshots in response to the opening brass fanfares. In many ways this is the most demanding movement of the symphony as it’s so discursive and wide-ranging – heroic, romantic, pastoral, anguished, tender, ruminative, in fact every mood jostling for a place in the scheme of things. Simone Young gave the different strands enough leeway to be able to express their concerns while keeping the music’s momentum firmly set upon the symphony’s great concluding peroration, asking for and receiving full-blooded responses from the players right through to the work’s final shouts of homecoming and fulfillment. At the end the audience’s reception accorded conductor and orchestra whole-hearted and richly-deserved acclaim and appreciation.

The NZSO is repeatedly proving itself as an orchestra which delivers what’s required for such big occasions – and now that Young has left Hamburg to pursue a freelance conducting career, we wish her continued success, while hoping that she includes this country as a regular port of call, particularly as there are several more Bruckner Symphonies whose first editions await their premieres in this particular part of the world. She and the NZSO would on Friday evening have certainly put a girdle around the earth along which the composer’s shade, from his resting-place in Austria, would have danced in joy.












Orpheus Choir under Brent Stewart outstanding with Bruckner and Poulenc

The Orpheus Choir of Wellington conducted by Brent Stewart

Poulenc: Gloria (Rachel Alexander – soprano)
Bruckner: Te Deum (Rachel Alexander – soprano, Rebecca Woodmore – alto, James Benjamin Rodgers – tenor, James Henare – bass-baritone)

Organ (Douglas Mews) and instrumental ensemble: Matthew Ross (violin), Jennifer Vaughan (flute), Barrett Hocking (trumpet), Shadley van Wyk (horn), Julian Kirgan (trombone), Grant Myhill (timpani), Ludwig Treviranus (piano)

Cathedral of Saint Paul

Saturday 22 August 7:30 pm

Though this concert was advertised as being accompanied by the cathedral organ, without mention of other instruments, the programme disclosed the names of seven instrumentalists. I am one of the pernickety race that hopes for performances from the voices and instruments prescribed by the composer. However, while I’d have loved Orchestra Wellington to have been on hand, the small band and Douglas Mews’ organ playing did very well, supplying needed colour. (I am very fully aware of the economic constraints applying in the value-system of our political culture).

Brent Stewart took over as the choir’s conductor at the end of last year; this was my first experience of the choir since then (I missed their acclaimed Elijah in May).

I am almost always pleased when a conductor does more than merely bow as he/she steps on to the podium, and reaches for a microphone or perhaps simply projects his voice well. Stewart spoke interestingly about Poulenc, his character and that of his music, though I imagine his warnings about the often unserious nature of his music hardly prepared those of the audience unfamiliar with this or other music of Poulenc, for the uncommon tone of the religious music with which his Gloria opens. The audience: surprisingly large on a cold night.

Here, I must confess, I had wished for a more complete orchestral support, as certain instruments enjoyed a somewhat unbridled jaunt: single lines where Poulenc has brass or woodwinds playing in harmony. Poulenc’s writing for wind instruments is vivid and very characteristic and I did rather miss the full sounds of the orchestra both playing by itself and in support of the choir. Perhaps the fifth movement’s introduction, scored prominently for woodwinds, suffered most from the absence of other than a solitary flute, beautiful as that was.

However, the choir’s contribution was full of vigour and well integrated, overcoming impressively the long and testing echo that is both a strength and weakness of the cathedral. While the lively, Stravinsky-like, outer sections of the ‘Laudamus te’ and the ‘Domine fili unigenite’ were splendid, with its staccato rhythms in both choir and instruments, the acoustic was more bothersome in some of the fast, complex passages. Nevertheless, the ‘Laudamus Te’, with the surprising, quiet ‘Gratias agimus’ in the middle, demonstrated most clearly the essential spirit of the work as well as of Stewart’s success in leading the choir with clarity and wonderful energy.

The soprano soloist is employed in the more pensive third and fifth movements where flute and horn led to Rachel Alexander’s beautiful contribution. Her sensitivity was most clearly shown in the last movement, ‘Qui sedes’, where she had an unaccompanied passage followed by a quite poignant passage
leading to the Amen.

Before starting Bruckner’s Te Deum, Stewart spoke again about the music, but also drew attention to the choir’s farewell to choir member and administrator Judy Berryman, choir member for 30 years.

The Te Deum, unlike his three masses, which had preceded his mature symphonies, was written about 13 years later, about the time of the 6th symphony. It demanded all four soloists and a full orchestra. Strangely, instrumental sparseness seemed far less significant here than in the Poulenc, though in truth, the orchestra makes a glorious contribution that usually affords me quite as much delight as the singing. However, my notes made no reference to any inadequacy here and the strength of the singing by both choir and soloists proved more than enough in itself. Perhaps it was a case of the discriminating organ and the individual instruments supplying enough for the imagination to fill in the gaps.

After the arresting opening, at ‘Tibi omens Angeli’, the four soloists entered one by one – soprano, tenor, alto, bass, and each made a fine impact, dominated in many ways by the strength and clarity of James Rodgers’s tenor (he led again, impressively, at the opening of the ‘Te ergo quaesumus’); and there was a conspicuous violin obbligato from Matthew Ross. If the orchestral element was lacking, the choir achieved a wonderful feeling of exultation in the following choral passage, contrasting with the mystical, subdued, ‘Patrem immensae majestatis’. One tries not to smile at the emotional climaxes
that accompany certain words like the composer’s excitement at ‘Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes’; we attend the music and not the doctrine however, and the music and its singing continued at a level of commitment and richness that could be achieved with a choir approaching a hundred in number.

Later in the work, it was good to hear other soloists more conspicuously, especially James Henare at ‘Et rege eos’ in the fourth section. And in the final section, ‘In te, Domine, speravi’, the four sing in one of the rare ensembles, allowing soprano Rachel Alexander and alto Rebecca Woodmore, to be heard to impressive effect. That section, involving the repetition of only eight words for seven or eight minutes, was offered more chances to enjoy separate sections of the choir, the sopranos against the altos; women and men interweaving in counterpoint.

I might remark that the usual custom of offering words to help the audience follow the action, is not a bad tradition – both Latin and English preferably; though I must acknowledge the pithy and illuminating notes that were printed in the programme.

The two works each lasted between 20 and 25 minutes, meaning the concert lasted only about an hour and a quarter, a bit shorter than is normal. Nevertheless, the strength and commitment – quality – of the singing compensated remarkably for lesser quantity.

Nothing really diminished the impact of the final page or so of the work, with brass and timpani doing their best along with the splendid, climactic efforts by the choir, combining to make Brent Stewart’s second major concert with the choir a resounding success.


Clik the ensemble – you’ll be glad you did….

New Zealand Chamber Music presents:

John Chen (piano) / Natalie Lin (violin) / Edward King (‘cello)

ENESCU – Prelude and Fugue for solo piano
BRITTEN – Suite for Violin and Piano Op.6
GARETH FARR – Shadow of the Hawk
SCHUBERT – Piano Trio in B-flat Major D. 898

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday 22nd August 2015

What a lovely idea for a concert! – each member of the “Clik the ensemble” trio was given the chance to shine more-or-less as a soloist in different works during the first half, while the second half featured all three musicians playing the programme’s major work. It’s almost certainly something that’s been done before, but surely no more enjoyably and successfully as happened here.

“Clik the ensemble” is a group made up of young soloists who were members of groups that won previous NZ Community Trust Chamber Music Competitions – John Chen in 2001 and both Natalie Lin and Edward King in 2005. All have since successfully participated in further competitions, and have now come together to share their love of chamber music for the benefit of audiences throughout the country, Welington being the mid-point of their tour for Chamber Music New Zealand.

The concert began with John Chen as soloist, playing the music of Roumania’s most famous musician, Georges Enescu. While more widely known as a violinist, (he was actually Yehudi Menuhin’s teacher, and in 1949 made a famous recording of Bach’s solo violin Sonatas and Partitas in 1949) he was obviously no slouch as a pianist (Alfred Cortot thought highly of his playing), and actually produced several works for the keyboard, including two full-scale sonatas.

John Chen played the Prelude et Fugue, which was written in 1903, when Enescu was just 22. It seemed to me to be a kind of neoclassical work (along the lines of Grieg’s “Holberg Suite”, though more harmonically discursive), one owing a great deal to Bach’s keyboard example. The Prelude’s festive character was brought out with the music’s middle section’s celebratory and clangorous sounds, the sounds then reaching sideways and outwards to harmonic realms that gave the music a wonderful, exploratory perspective. The bell-sounds eventually “morphed ” into slow, pendulous cadences with time almost standing still in between each chord – a breath-catching effect.

The fugue stole into this world via a distinctively ornamented figuration, one which rhythmically put me “off the scent” for a while until I got the music’s “schwung”. It all then took the form of variations which again felt celebratory, mirroring the first movement’s festive atmosphere. John Chen played the piece in a masterly fashion – of course he’s well-versed in music of contrapuntal nature, having performed the Well-Tempered Clavier in concert with great distinction. Such neoclassical interweaving held no terrors for his educated fingers and his lucid, far-reaching grasp of the overall structure.

The pianist didn’t, I think, overdo any particular aspect of the work’s character, but kept things ever so slightly enigmatic – we were left pondering as to whether the music was an act of homage to Bach (a kind of pastiche in the word’s best sense?), or a determinedly neoclassical work, one which unashamedly uses baroque music as a kind of “springboard” to revitalize present-day creativity (as Stravinsky was wont to try and do)? Chen didn’t nail the music’s colours to any particular mast, playing it as he would any of the “48” and letting the composer’s own piano writing suggest what it might – a masterly performance.

Benjamin Britten’s Op. 6 Suite for violin and piano followed bringing Natalie Lin to the platform with John Chen. Britten wrote this music partly in Vienna and then in London – he had won a scholarship to travel in Europe during 1934 and (as one would) spent some time in Vienna. The work had some success, being selected for performance at a contemporary music festival in Barcelona by none other than Anton Webern and Ernest Ansermet, two avant-garde “toughies” – which would have been powerful encouragement for a composer still in his early twenties.

I was really taken with Natalie Lin’s playing of this work, in particular the movements which allowed her acute sensitivity and infinite variety of bowing and mastery of subtle coloring to “speak”. It wasn’t commanding, big-boned playing, but she had all the technique required to front up to the opening abrasive declarations (Britten showing his youthful compositional muscles) – however, she came into her own in the more intimate parts of the work, especially the third-movement lullaby. Elsewhere, her playing had a wry alertness, a precise delineation which missed nothing, and which matched John Chen’s elegance and quickfire responses, their partnership making the concluding waltz movement an absolute delight.

One of New Zealand’s most high-profile composers is Gareth Farr, whose 1997 work Shadow of the Hawk, was written for the partnership of James Tennant and Katherine Austin. Like a lot of Farr’s music, it’s a high-impact, extremely physical piece to play “requiring considerable stamina” as the composer put it. One hears the influences of both the composer’s experiences in the percussion sensible “Strike”, and the impact made on his sensibilities by the gamelan orchestras he played in as a student. This work has wonderfully-wrought contrasts – heart-stopping ascents to other-worldly realms, violent hammerings and tightly-worked motoric passages, states of drifting reverie and long-drawn crescendo leading to spectacular climaxes. It proved a marvellous “work-out” for both performers.

The young ‘cellist Edward King took to these things like the proverbial duck to water – his playing impressed with its spontaneity and enjoyment of physical engagement. He and John Chen made the most out of each of the music’s sequences, their playing drifting with the music’s inwardness in the more dreamy sections and winding up the tensions to maximum effect for the physical outbursts whose volcanic irruptions caused much excitement, right through the mighty crescendo taking all of us to to the music’s galvanic tumble-down finish.

Having “showcased” the individual talents of these musicians the concert now presented their corporate abilities as “Clik the ensemble” – and in this work by Schubert the combination resulted in the most beautiful performance of this music I can remember hearing. Right from the opening the music’s lyricism and sense of well-being was strongly in evidence. I’ve heard performance of this music delivered heroically, lots of muscle and strongly-advanced cadences, making a thrustful and forthright impression, which I really enjoy – and I though that “Clik” , being of an impetuously youthful persuasion, would similarly tear into the music at the outset. So, it was with some surprise that I registered the playing’s poetry in motion, delivered with sufficient energy to advance the music’s cause, but not allowing a single kind of character to unduly dominate.

Later in the movement there were moments of energized excitement which of course stood out all the more, rather than being ongoing episodes in a kind of big-boned epic technicolour drama – here instead was both playfulness and poetry, the irruptions of impulse as delight in first sensations. What a good thing for us all that music is always more “complete” than it can ever be actually realized at one time, so that, however satisfying a performance, one can always look forward to something else being brought out and enjoyed the next time round.

This was an approach which allowed the players’ individuality to speak at certain points, with Natalie Lin’s soft playing once again an absolute joy, and providing the perfect foil for Edward King’s freshness and vitality. And John Chen’s infinite variety of touch and phrasing seemed endlessly responsive to what both of his partners were doing, creating a mellifluous “exchange of equals” for our constant pleasure.

Perfection? – well, the Scherzo might have been a bit more bucolic, a tad more rustic, merely as a more marked contrast to the beauty of the trio section and the sheer urbanity of the rest of the music. Having said that, in some performances I’ve felt the music of the finale actually borders in places towards the end on garrulousness, but there was none of that, here – one didn’t dare stop listening for fear of missing some felicitous detail, some sigh of remembrance or impish impulse of pleasure.

One will relish the opportunity, whenever it presents itself in future, to “Clik the ensemble” – the pleasures of doing so this time round alone will long be remembered.









Delightful, witty Così fan tutte from Wanderlust Opera

Così fan tutte (Mozart) in concert
Wanderlust Opera: produced by Georgia Jamieson Emms

Musical director: Bruce Greenfield (piano)
Narrator: Kate Mead
Georgia Jamieson Emms (Fiordiligi); Bianca Andrew (Dorabella); Imogen Thirlwall (Despina); Cameron Barclay (Ferrando); Robert Tucker (Guglielmo); Matthew Landreth (Don Alfonso)

English translation by John Drummond, Ruth and Thomas Martin and Georgia Jamieson Emms

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Saturday 15 August, 7:30 pm

It’s best to start with comment about the somewhat unfortunate timing of this wonderful enterprise. A clash with the university school of music’s double bill, running four performances from Thursday to Sunday. On top of that, many vocal enthusiasts would also have been torn by having to choose between the last day of the Big Sing, the choral competition/jamboree/gala of secondary school choirs, held this year in Wellington.

Because of conflicting commitments among the cast, no alternative date could be found however, and the audience (around 100) was a bit smaller than I’d expected: it certainly deserved a full house.

Though it was not a fully staged performance, there were many other features that contributed to a sparking, highly entertaining show; the mere absence of sets and costumes of the era didn’t deny the singers plenty of histrionic scope. Recitatives were replaced by a ‘performance’ by Kate Mead, named ‘narrator’. She was much more than that; in a flamboyant black and silver costume, she entered arm-in-arm with Bruce Greenfield, took her place on a platform on the right while Greenfield went to the piano, which served very well as orchestra.

He launched impulsively into the overture, hitting the keys with staccato ferocity. But after only a minute the overture was cut short and Kate took over to set the scene, with detail rich in witty hyperbole, insight, oxymoron, cynicism and meticulous Neapolitan geography. (If you’re interested, Piazza Carolina is close to the great San Carlo Theatre; their five-storey house is on the corner of Via Gennaro Serra – check it out next time you’re in Naples).

Kate’s dramatic elan ran the risk of upstaging more than one of the real performers. Like the singers, she spoke in English, which, in theory, negated the need for surtitles; but as usual, they’d often have been a help, as voices vary in clarity and carrying ability. (I have to confess a very strong preference, always, for the original language, with surtitles of course). So the scene was promptly set for a comedy in which there was no hope of rational intelligibility.

The other most important actor was the one-man-orchestra, the piano, which did get in the way sometimes, and made it hard to catch some of the Italian-inflected English. But it was always worth paying attention to the sheer brilliance of Greenfield’s playing of the delicious score.

However, the more important thing is the singing.

The three men, in dinner suits, established their characters at once, voices very distinct, though Cameron Barclay’s self-confident Ferrando was at first a little better projected than the Guglielmo of Robert Tucker whose well-grounded baritone slowly distinguished itself. The sisters’ several duets were nicely differentiated in timbre, and models of emotional excess. Bianca Andrew as Dorabella, the more susceptible of the sisters, used her fine penetrating mezzo wonderfully; Georgia Jamieson Emms benefitted as a result of the different character of her voice and personality, easily capturing the nature of Fiordiligi. They both wore glamorous, timeless, ball dresses.

Matthew Landreth as Don Alfonso did not, early on, quite command the nonchalant, Figaro-factotum character that Da Ponte and Mozart envisaged, but by the advent of the quintet, ‘Sento, o dio’, he was fitting comfortably into the texture of the performance.

It’s true that quite a lot was left out (there were 17 numbers listed in the programme from a total of 31 usually numbered in the score), though none of the well-known arias and ensembles was missing, like the divine trio ‘Soave sia il vento’, Fiordiligi’s ‘Come scoglio’ with a conspicuously splendid piano accompaniment; or tenor Ferrando’s touching ‘Un’ aura amorosa’. As an opera without a chorus, it is famous for its beautiful duets, trios and quintets, and they were often more beguiling than the solo arias.

With Alfonso’s pecuniary persuasion, Despina (Imogen Thirlwall) has entered the fray; her performance is vivacious and her initial hesitation to be complicit in Alfonso’s scheme quickly falls away.

The implementation of Alfonso’s plot is followed by a big sextet, as the two Albanians are introduced, and offer the most taxing of all suspensions of disbelief with the most improbable of disguises in all theatre, sporting moustaches and with unstable fezes (plural?), still wearing dinner suits, but with loosened ties.

Despina assumes great importance in Act II, starting with her perky ‘Una donna a quindici anni’, in her attempt to modify the girls’ self-denying virtue. With a few cuts in the score, we miss the agonising vicissitudes of the four as Despina’s principled counsel slowly takes root, especially in the Fiordiligi, the more virtuous of the two, leading precipitately to a double wedding officiated by Despina the notary.

To be sure, one missed the often hilarious, accelerating marital climax that a well-staged performance can offer, but the combination of fine singing and nearly believable acting was not a bad substitute. The outcome from the collapse of earlier assumptions about human behaviour is often left obscure; though I feel that an enigmatic outcome makes better dramatic, psychological sense, here the return to the original pairing was clear (perhaps it would be more acceptable in the provinces).

This splendid, entertaining, Wanderlust Opera enterprise is a serious attempt to find a way to bring opera to wider audiences. Georgia Jamieson Emms and her co-conspirators are to be congratulated on their courage and success which, given some financial support, has the potential to relieve operatic starvation in parts of the country.

The plan is for this performance to become fully staged under director Jacqui Coats and to travel next year to Wanganui, the Kapiti Coast, New Plymouth and Carterton. What is clearly needed is a change of attitude by Creative New Zealand which has a wretched history over many decades of rejecting applications for assistance by admirable, small opera groups.


The Big Sing Finale Gala Concert at the Michael Fowler Centre

(New Zealand Choral Federation Secondary Schools’ Choir Festival)

Twenty-four choirs competing in the Final Gala

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday, 15 August 2015, 6.30pm

It is marvellous to find so many young people taking part in choirs and obviously enjoying it.  The fact that all the choirs learn all their pieces by heart is staggering to us mere adults who sing in choirs, to whom this is an almost overwhelming difficulty.  An excellent effect of memorisation is that for the most part, words come over clearly – not always the case when singers are constantly glancing down at printed copies.   Every eye here was on the conductors – except for those few choirs who were able to perform without anyone standing in front of them to direct things.  Overall, the performances were of a high standard.

This year, nearly 10,000 school students from 150 schools participated in local performances, and for the first time, there were three regional finales, so that the national Finale did not become unmanageable.  24 choirs participated in this Gala concert.  As always, the excitement in the hall and the large, enthusiastic audience made for a memorable occasion.  There is no other buzz like that at the Gala concert of The Big Sing Finale! I observed with interest that, whereas Finale choirs from the North Island were exclusively from Auckland (10) and Wellington (6), those from the South Island were much more spread in their representation.  Christchurch produced four choirs, but in addition, Blenheim, Nelson, Timaru and Dunedin all had one representative choir.

A significant feature was the number of languages in which the choirs performed.  In this concert there were, in addition to English, songs in French Spanish, Latin, Maori and German, plus more unusual languages: Hebrew, Finnish, Bulgarian, Hungarian and a language new to me; Visayan, from the Philippines.  These were only those used in the Gala concert; there were many other foreign-language songs performed throughout the Finale sessions.  It was a pity that without translations in front of them, the audience couldn’t get the import of the songs beyond a brief introductory description from Christine Argyle, the compère.

Judges were Carl Crossin, Professor of Music and Head of Vocal, Choral and Conducting Studies at the University of Adelaide, Judy Bellingham, soprano soloist and Associate Professor in Voice at the University of Otago, and Michael Fulcher, former Director of Music at the Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul, and currently involved in church and community choral music-making in Melbourne.

A slightly disturbing element this year was that a couple of choirs used adult professional string players to accompany them.  This seems inappropriate for such a festival as this, when many choirs had student piano accompanists. The repertoire chosen for this concert from what the choirs sang over the previous two-and-a-half days was extremely varied and musically interesting. The awards are based on performances on those days, not on Gala concert performances.  I did not envy the judges their task.

Another important feature is the scale of the organisation, whereby choirs at this concert are ready to move onto the platform the moment the last choir moves off, and all take their places without a hitch.  Christine Argyle has her introduction at the ready, and stage crew have unobtrusively done what was required in no time at all.  Elizabeth Crayford and her team from New Zealand Choral Federation Wellington Region are to be congratulated on their management and organisation skills.  Not least of their accomplishments is producing a handsome programme for the three days, with the names of all choirs, all choir directors and accompanists, items to be sung and names of all choristers printed.

For the final concert, a sheet is produced with the order, choirs and items listed – this can only be done, presumably, after the last choirs have sung on Saturday morning.

Euphony, an all-girls choir from Kristin School in Auckland began the programme with a song in Maori, by David Hamilton, ‘A Charm for Rain: He Tua I Te Rangi’. While it was difficult to pick up the words, though this did improve, the piece was delightful, with a lovely accompaniment of rain sounds, and a charming section sung by a small group.  Euphony won a gold award, and also sponsor Tour Time’s award for the best performance of a classical item.

Gold was the award also for Burnside High School’s Senior Chorale, a large mixed choir, who sang ‘Kalá Kallá’ from Five Hebrew Love Songs by American choral composer Eric Whitacre, who proved to be the most popular composer in the concert, with four items.  This choir also won the ultimate award, the platinum.  The male singers had a distinctive tone, while the accompanying violin solo added interest, as did tambourine.  A joyful piece, full of variety of moods, made for a classy performance.  Appearance was also classy; all the girls had their hair up, making for a very neat turn-out.

Sings Hilda, the choir from St. Hilda’s Collegiate School in Dunedin, chose a work by New Zealand choral composer David Hamilton (another popular composer throughout the festival): ‘Läksin mina kesäyönä käymään’.  This item was in the Finnish language.  How does a New Zealand composer become sufficiently conversant with that language to be able to set it so well, presumably with correct emphasis and stress?  It is about a girl siting on the shore for her loved one to return.  It began with a solo voice and accompanying wordless vocalisations. and was unaccompanied.  The choir appeared to have mastered the words; and the tricky music was sung well, without music score, of course. There were lovely nuances, phrasing and dynamics.  The choir won bronze.

Stella Nova, the choir from Nelson College for Girls, performed a Bulgarian traditional song, ‘Kafal sviri’.  In smart red dresses, the singers formed into groups of three.  Their singing was startling – they used no vibrato, but a deliberate, strong, forward tone for this folk music.  This voice production was strikingly different from that used by all the other choirs.  Although my Bulgarian is a little rusty, I found the choir had superb enunciation. For their pains, they won a silver award, and the award as Youth Ambassadors: the NZCF prize for the choir ‘that in the opinion of the organisers demonstrated outstanding engagement with all elements of the Finale’.

A change now, to a choir with the ominous, punning name ‘Menasing’: boys from St. Kentigern College.  Like many of the lighter music items in the concert, ‘Leaning on a lamp-post involved well-executed movement.  A very stylish performance with piano accompaniment, clear words and splendid singing in both unison and harmony were features, as was playing on numbers of toy instruments, not to mention air guitars and violins.  The choir produced gorgeous pianissimos, and its presentation was easy and precise.  Their efforts won them a gold award.

Teal Voices from Wellington Girls College was notable for singing without a conductor; teacher Nicola Sutherland played the piano.  Words were clear in their performance of ‘I say a little prayer’ by Burt Bacharach, and the singing was in appropriate style.  However, I felt more dynamic variation was required.  They gained a silver award.

At this point I had to leave the hall to attend another function, so the remainder of the programme I heard either on radio, or on tapes from the radio broadcast.

Macleans College Choir sang unaccompanied a fast song, ‘Rosas Pandan’ very proficiently. It was in the Visayan language (of which I had never heard) of the Philippines.  Clarity of words was notable, and very bright tone.  A bronze was their reward.

Resolutions is the choir from Rangi Ruru Girls School.  They sang unaccompanied and in the Hungarian language ‘Táncnóta’, arranged by Kodály. This song about dancing revealed a good dynamic range, although there was some strain on higher notes.  The pace sped up towards the end, and the choir was rewarded with silver.

Dilworth School in Auckland contributed its choir Fortissimo, who sang (accompanied) ‘Taku Kahurangi’ by Joby and Otene Hopa.  It opened with splendid deep tone, and continued with excellent enunciation of the Maori words and wonderful subtlety of phrasing and changes in tone. It earned them bronze, plus the award for the best performance of a work using Maori text.

Altissime is the choir from Samuel Marsden Collegiate School.  Their contribution was a Mexican song ‘Les amarillas’, which incorporated the sound of an egg shaker, plus clapped rhythms, some of them (deliberately) off-beat.  The piece had unusual tonality, and sounded quite difficult, especially the high singing.  It was lively, but the sound was not well blended.  A silver award was the result.

The St. Cecilia Singers from Auckland Diocesan School for Girls gave us ‘Ain’t misbehavin’’ a Fats Waller favourite at The Big Sing over the years.  This was accompanied, and sung brightly and confidently, with an excellent solo part.   The choir achieved a gold award.

Wellington College Chorale performed ‘Audition Day’ by student Joshua Hopton-Stewart, without a conductor.  I found the melody and harmony rather limited, but it was sung well, including a short section in falsetto.  The conception and the words were fun, and along with actions, all was executed well.  A silver was earned, and the Hutt City Trophy for best performance of a New Zealand or Pacifica composition.

Paradisum from Epsom Girls Grammar School chose Eric Whitacre’s ‘She weeps over Rahoon’ a setting of a poem by James Joyce.  It was performed with a cor anglais lending its plangent tone, along with piano.  It was a difficult work with tricky harmonies, but the singing was excellent, and justified the gold award.

Bel Canto from Burnside High School sang two items – a traditional Ecuadorean song in Spanish ‘Cancion de los tsáchilas’, played with drum accompaniment and some wonderful whistled bird-song.  This mixed choir was very skilled, and revealed a great range of dynamics. They also sang ‘Requiem’, the prize-winning composition, by Rosa Elliott of their school.  The accompanied piece seemed very singable.  It was based on the well-known poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that begins ‘Under the wide and starry sky…’; perhaps appropriate in the year in which we recall the many graves on Gallipoli.  The choir earned a gold award.

After the interval, Saints Alive from St. Cuthbert’s College performed a traditional French song, ‘La Maumariée’.  Fast and lively, with an oboe accompaniment, it was rendered in very good French.  A silver award resulted.

Voicemale is from Westlake Boys High School, and is a 50-strong choir of accomplished choristers.  They sang Eric Whitacre’s ‘Lux aurumque’.  They lived up to the great reputation that this school (and its girls’ equivalent) has built over the years.  When I heard them on Thursday, they performed a humorous item, with actions. Their Latin item wasn’t quite up to that standard, but was nevertheless well sung and effective, and they earned a gold.

Cantala from Wellington East Girls College sang in appropriate pop style ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ by Alan Menken, but I couldn’t tell what language they were singing in till part-way through, when I picked up a few English words.  They gained a silver award.

Christchurch’s Collegium is formed from Christ’s College and St. Margaret’s College. ‘Beati quorum via’ by Charles Stanford is a beautiful unaccompanied piece, but here the tone was variable, the males’ sound unattractive, and intonation was sometimes suspect.  A bronze was awarded.

Craighead Chorale followed, with ‘Salmo 150’ by Ernani Aguiar.  A Spanish piece, it was unaccompanied, revealing some very good voices.  Tuning, rhythm and enunciation of words were all very good, and a silver award was earned.

St. Patrick’s College Wellington has often ‘produced the goods’ at the Finale, and its choir Con Anima did so on this occasion, with ‘Hol’ you han’’, a Jamaican traditional song, in Jamaican English.  It was given an idiomatic rendering with marvellous enunciation. The boys accompanied with various sound effects; they sang as one in a very professional manner.  A silver was awarded.

Blue Notes from Tawa College followed, with ‘Richte mich, Gott’ by Mendelssohn. This mixed choir made a good beginning, the voices clear and well-produced.  The German was rendered well, but there was not much expression in this unaccompanied performance, and intonation was astray occasionally.  However, they made a full-bodied sound.   They received a bronze award.

Cantare from Westlake Girls sang a Debussy anti-war song, Debussy’s last.  Fine French pronunciation  and a very good performance were let down by top notes just missing the mark a little.  A silver award was made.

All the King’s Men from King’s College in Auckland chose a work by another prominent American choral composer, Morten Lauridsen: ‘Dirait-on’, from Les Chansons des Roses.  There was splendid gradation of dynamics in this French song; the choir gained a silver.

The concert ended with Whitacre; Marlborough Girls College’s Ovation sang ‘The Seal Lullaby’ with smooth, blended tone.  It would indeed send a baby to sleep – especially at the end of a long programme!  It was awarded bronze.

The presentation of awards followed, after some remarks from Carl Crossin on behalf of all three judges.  He emphasised the importance of well-chosen repertoire that suits the individual choir’s strengths and weaknesses.  He stressed also the necessity to adapt to the acoustics of the venue, and congratulated the choirs on doing so at the Michael Fowler Centre.  He said all choirs had been successful, but praised the artistry of the most successful.

In addition to the awards mentioned above, there was the composition award, to Rosa Elliott of Burnside High School for her ‘Requiem’.

The massed choirs, comprising 730 singers, then sang ‘Ride the chariot’, a spiritual, conducted by Rowan Johnston.  With singers dispersed throughout the downstairs, the stage, and part of the upstairs of the hall, it was not a particularly cohesive sound, but the following national anthem, in Maori and English, achieved a fine sonority, to finish a remarkable evening of great singing, special effects, use of percussion, wind instruments and strings as well as piano, in diverse and interesting repertoire.


Gallic musical entertainment chez L’Alliance Française

Wellington Trio d’Anches (Calvin Scott – oboe, Mary Scott – clarinet, Penny Miles – bassoon)

Helga Warner-Buhlmann: Tango
Marin Marais: Deux danses françaises
Mozart: Divertimento No 2, K 439b
Auric: Trio d’anches (1948)
Milhaud: Suite d’après Corrette
Schulhoff: Divertissement für oboe, klarinette und fagot
Michael Burns: E toru nga hau
Auric: Moulin Rouge
Jules Oudot – trad.: ‘Auprès de ma blonde’/‘La ronde des microbes de la Seine’
Piaf: La vie en rose
Offenbach: Galop infernal (from Orphée aux enfers)

Alliance Française, 78 Victoria Street, Wellington

Friday 14 August, 6pm

From time to time the various foreign embassies and their affiliates present concerts of their music and/or by their musicians. There was a musically inclined Italian ambassador a few years ago who arranged for special recitals by visiting musicians from her country; for a few years the Japanese Embassy presented recitals by fine Japanese musicians; a variety of interesting musical and other arts presentations have been staged by the Brazilian Embassy; and there have been a number of others. Both the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institute invest considerable resources in the promotion of the cultures of their countries.

This small recital, small in the sense of comprising mainly small-scale and lightish music, was played by three Wellington musicians, familiar in other contexts. They called themselves Trio d’anches (trio of reed instruments), after a famous 1920s group, also oboe, clarinet and bassoon, of that name in Paris. Not all of it French: it began with a Tango by a German bassoonist, Helga Warner-Buhlmann, which acted as a sort of warm-up and was perhaps the least-well integrated piece, sonically, in the programme.

And one of Mozart’s Divertimentos, originally for three basset horns (low clarinets). They appear in the Köchel catalogue as “Five Divertimentos (25 pieces) for three basset horns in B-flat major, K. 439b (Anh. 229) (1783)”. The basset horn has a slightly lower extension than the basset clarinet (which itself is a major third lower than the normal clarinet) which was the instrument for which Mozart, inspired by Anton Stadler, wrote his Clarinet Trio, Quintet and Concerto. Not to be confused with the bass clarinet which is a full octave lower than the normal B flat clarinet.

Mary Scott managed the clarinet part well enough on the normal B flat clarinet (she must have been relieved at not having to play three instruments at once).

The divertimento was of course an arrangement for these three instruments and sounded happy enough as a result, even though the oboe, in particular, had some very high notes. It had five short, and fairly slight, movements, and was an engaging occasional piece.

Marin Marais, of the film Tous les matins du monde fame, was represented in a couple of good-humoured dances, the first in swinging, triple time, the second a sort of horn-pipe in which all three players sounded greatly at ease.

Two members of the non-group Les Six (after all they never really established a manifesto or common aesthetic or set of musical principles and went their separate ways soon after being christened Les Six by Henri Collet) were present in spirit. They and others were often found in groupings of various kinds during the following years. The two this evening were Milhaud (the most prolific and perhaps most important) and Auric (who became a significant film music composer).

Many composers wrote music for the group’s famous predecessor Trio d’anches de Paris. Among them were participants in this recital, Auric, Milhaud and Erwin Schulhoff. Auric’s two pieces were the first part of his Trio d’anches and an arrangement of the music for the much later film, Moulin Rouge. The first was a jaunty piece aptly entitled décidé; the second, the popular tune from the film. Milhaud’s was inspired by music of Michel Corrette, a prolific 18th century composer: six short, witty movements played with such vivacité. Schulhoff, a Czech Jew who died in a concentration camp in 1942 (of tuberculosis) contributed a Divertissement for these instruments. These were among the most interesting pieces in the concert: danceable, original, full of character. Michael Burns is a Manawatu musician, Victoria University educated, who now teaches bassoon at the University of North Carolina. They played his little weather sketch called E toru nga hau (The three winds).

Calvin Scott then introduced us to a satirical version of the well-known folk song, Auprès de ma blonde, which originated during France’s war with the Netherlands: the alternative title is Le prisonnier de
which afforded Scott a pungent current political aside (Socialist Hollande in bed with Right-wing Merkel, ou à l’envers?). The tour de siècle version is called Ronde des Microbes de la Seine
deploring the filthy state of the river in the 19th century.

Downhill from there: Michel Legrand’s Les parapluies de Cherbourg, Edith Piaf’s (without the essential
Piaf) La vie en rose and the Galop, or cancan, from Orpheus in the Underworld.  With French cheese and wines, an hour and a half profitably frittered away.



NZSM Students’ operatic double bill moves and delights

Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music presents:
PURCELL – Dido and Aeneas
RAVEL – L’Enfant et les Sortilèges

Students and Staff of Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music,
Victoria University of Wellington

Casts and supporting musicians

PURCELL – Dido and Aeneas
Dido – Alicia Cadwgan / Aeneas – Declan Cudd / Belinda – Ester Leefe
Handmaidens – Hannah Jones/Rebecca Howie / Sorceress – Olivia Marshall
Spirit – Luana Howard / Witches – Shayna Tweed / Elyse Hemara
Sailor – Luka Venter / Covers – Olivia Sheat/Griffin Nicholl

Conductor: Donald Maurice

RAVEL – L’Enfant et les Sortileges
The child (Katherine McIndoe) – Cover (Pasquale Orchard)
The mother (Luana Howard) / The sofa, The cat (Daniel Sun)
The armchair, The shepherd (Emma Carpenter)
The clock (Luka Venter) / The teapot, The little old man (Declan Cudd)
The fire (Hannah Jones) / The Chinese cup, The shepherdess (Olivia Marshall)
The princess (Olivia Sheat) / The tree (Joseph Hadow) / The dragonfly (Olivia Marshall) The nightingale (Esther Leefe) / The bat (Shayna Tweed)
The squirrel (Rebecca Howie) / The frog (Griffin Nicol) / The owl (Elsa Hemara)
The footstool (Bethany Miller) / Cover (Julian Chu-Tan)

Conductor: Kenneth Young

Chorus: Julian Chu-Tan, Nicole Davey, Alexandra Gandionco, Sophia Gwynne-Robson, Joseph Haddow, Elizabeth Harré, Sally Haywood, Canada Hickey, Emma Cronshaw Hunt, William King, Eleanor McGechie, Bethany Miller, Griffin Nichol, Garth Norman, Pasquale Orchard, Nino Raphael, Karishma Thanawala

Musicians from Te Kōkī NZSM and guest players from the NZSO

Director: Frances Moore / Design: Alexandra Guillot / Talya Pilcher (lighting)

Memorial Theatre, Victoria University, Wellington

Thursday, 13th August, 2015

One has come to expect a high standard of performance, interpretation and artistic creativity from students at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music, based on the success of some of their recent activities. This latest production was, in effect, “double the pleasure”, as it  brought to the stage two works so utterly different as to turn our sensibilities on their heads, yet capture our sympathies as strongly in each case.

Beginning the programme was Henry Purcell’s most well-known work for the stage, Dido and Aeneas – a story featuring a whirlwind romance which ends in despair and death, one whose description sounds like verismo opera! Rather than seek to reinforce the “grim reality’ scenario with a companion-piece like, say, Puccini’s Il Tabarro, the School most enterprisingly went instead for Maurice Ravel and his setting of Colette’s whimsical tale-with-a-moral L’Enfant et les Sortilèges.

Each of the works had its own particular set of qualities and disciplines, making the choice of the two a happy one from both the performers’ and the audience’s point of view. Conductor and orchestral players were different but many of the singers appeared in both productions. Unlike Purcell’s work, which sported more-or-less full-blooded operatic characters, Ravel’s featured a single leading singer in tandem with a kind of “parade” of colourful characters, personifications of both animals and normally “inanimate” objects come to life.

From this point alone it could be gleaned that the experience for all of us across the two halves of the evening was different and wide-ranging on many counts, but for this listener at least, extremely satisfying. There were one or two moments which lacked sweetness and grace, mostly in the Purcell work, where at the Overture’s beginning the players’ determinedly vibrato-less tones were straightaway laid bare, and took time to generate warmth and ease. As well, there was a slight stage hiatus during Aeneas’s deer-hunt, later in the piece, those on stage seemingly “stranded” by the action – or rather, its disappearance – for a few moments.

Otherwise, the presentation throughout both works flowed hand-in-glove with the music, a state of things by no means a “given” in contemporary opera production, but one here fruitfully and organically upheld throughout. Director Frances Moore mentioned in a programme foreword the capacity of both operas to go beyond a naturalistic storytelling setting, and this was beautifully achieved by simple means – powerful, direct staging, ramps and platforms made in an instant into castle ramparts, assembly halls, forest glades, witches’ dens, child’s nurseries and scented gardens. Costumes, props and lighting also played their part in evoking these wide-ranging scenarios created by the stories and the music.

I thought the “girls’ school” origins of Purcell’s work nicely delineated by the production’s directness – simple, striking modern-day costumes of white, two handmaidens to the Queen “filled to the brim with girlish glee” in their movements and interactions , and Dido herself spectacularly clad in red, regal and dignified as befitted a monarch. In the best sense a student-ish enthusiasm informed the work of those on stage, exemplified not only by the singing but by lovely touches such as the aforementioned horseplay between the Queen’s handmaidens, and the endearing goofiness of one of the witches during the “coven” scenes. It all enhanced the presentation’s theatricality, both liberating and ensnaring our sensibilities and interest, and putting them all the more deeply at the service of the story.

Properly dominating the stage was the Dido of Alicia Cadwgan – right from her first, heartfelt protestations, her voice resonated with queenly sorrow, her character poised precariously between imperiousness and vulnerability. With both voice and “presence” she was able to bring out all of the character’s greatness of heart and implacable sense of truth unto herself, making her eventual betrayal by her suitor Aeneas the death-blow to her own existence. Her delivery of “Your Councel all is urged in vain” here threw Aeneas’s irresponsible protestations into boldly-exposed relief, making us truly believe that death, for her, was the only course, “the only refuge for the wretched left”. It was, for me, a beautifully-wrought portrayal, in every way.

No other character in the opera matches that of Dido’s in depth or breadth of utterance – but her serving-maid, Belinda, played by Esther Leefe, and the two handmaidens, Hannah Jones and Rebecca Howie, respectively, sang and acted with both spirit and sensitivity, the duet “Fear no danger to ensue” making a lovely sound, as well as amends for an earlier, slightly out-of-kilter “The greatest blessing Fate can give”. And Esther Leefe’s “Pursue thy Conquest, Love” made an excited, and not inappropriately breathless an impression, as Belinda urged her Queen towards her wooer, the Trojan hero, Aeneas.

Declan Cudd as Aeneas, the all-conquering hero, cut a very dapper figure in his dress coat and scarf, ready to charm the uncertain Dido with honeyed words. He sang accurately, if somewhat drily – one suspects his voice has yet to properly “bloom”, though having to be, as the role decrees, more politician than lover in utterance didn’t help him generate very much romantic feeling. It’s certainly not the most grateful of characters to play, and in the Second Act he’s reduced to “talking up” his pursuit and shooting of a deer to make the venture sound more heroic, though he made the most of the declamation “Yours be the blame, O Gods”, after being sent a bogus message, allegedly from Jove, to sail for Rome immediately, thus abandoning his recently-wooed Queen.

I liked the use of the theatre’s aisles to throw open the vistas of the hunting throughout the forest’s glades, and enjoyed the amusing, slightly tongue-in-cheek representations of Aeneas’s quarry, in stark contrast to the “Monster’s Head” which the hero makes a meal of describing. But even more fun with the space’s entrances and exits was had by the Witches who introduce the Second Act, the “Wayward Sisters” with their “dismal Ravens Crying”. Olivia Marshall made a gleefully nasty impression as the Sorceress, striking in appearance while bent upon evil, aided and abetted by a “Mutt-and-Jeff” pair of cohorts (Shayna Tweed and Elyse Hemara), one goofy, the other sharp and impatient, but each in their different ways nasty pieces of work. Together with the chorus assuming “coven camp-followers” roles, the grisly wraiths danced and cavorted throughout their ensembles, limbo-rocking beneath a piece of “infernal cloth” during “But ere we this perform”, and then using both stage and aisles for the wonderful echo effects throughout “In our deep-Vaulted” cell”, the reddish lighting backdrop appropriately suggesting the context of infernal forces.

Much was made of the contrast between the bustle and contented confusion of “Haste, haste to town” at the onset of rain, with the chorus sporting umbrellas and making a wonderful job of the pre-Handelian-like ensemble, immediately before the visiting of Aeneas by the spirit of Mercury. Both Luana Howard as the Spirit and Declan Cudd sang steadily and pointedly throughout, and managed to convey the essence of the exchange, involving Aeneas’s confusion and uncertainty, which resulted in his downfall. His plight and betrayal of Dido had already been rather cruelly lampooned in anticipation by the Sailor’s song (lustily delivered by Luka Venter), calling his shipmates to take their leave of their “nymphs” on the shore, promising them they will return though never intending to do so.

It remained for Aeneas to be sent packing by Dido amid all of his bluster, and for the latter to deliver perhaps baroque opera’s most famous farewell aria, “When I am laid in earth”. Again, Alicia Cadwgan was equal to the task, “pinging” her high notes thrillingly (the first a little more comfortably than the second, though, dramatically, the slight faltering on the later ascent wasn’t inappropriate!) and imbuing her more meditative lines with wonderful pathos and finality. By this time the orchestral playing had long “found” its voice, and the aria and final chorus was most sensitively and eloquently accompanied by the strings. Altogether an excellent performance of a great and difficult work, with the singing-lines everywhere exposed and merciless (a case of “only the very skilled need try this music”) – and these musicians brought enough skill and sensitivity to the task, working fruitfully with conductor Donald Maurice to produce a memorable result.

After this was a case of “vive la difference!”, even if Ravel’s delightful adaptation of Colette’s cautionary tale L’Enfant et les Sortilèges seemed, next to Purcell’s tragic masterpiece, more of a divertissement than usual. Of pleasure, however, there was no less, as the performers (this time with a different conductor, Ken Young, and a new set of instrumentalists) transformed the performing-spaces into a child’s world of wonderment, accompanied by those characteristically magical sonorities we associate with the composer of Ma Mere L’Oye and Daphnis et Chloe. All credit to director Frances Moore and designers Alexandra Guillot and Talya Pilcher for effecting such a convincing contrast between two very different kinds of realities.

Central to this child’s world is the character of THE child itself, the role here so very wholeheartedly acted and sung by Katherine McIndoe, and nowhere more touchingly than during those moments of “growth towards empathy” on the character’s part. After being scolded by its mother and rejected by its “first love”, the storybook heroine, the child seeks solace at being in the garden, but is traumatized by the fruits of previous misdeeds, which caused the tree’s “wounds” and the dragonfly’s loss of its mate, caught by the thoughtless miscreant and pinned to the wall. In the midst of the resulting melee of acrimony, the child finds itself almost involuntarily bandaging the wounded paw of a baby squirrel, an act which brings about its eventual rehabilitation.

From the willfulness of the opening exchanges with “Mama”, through the despoliation and subsequent recriminatory interaction with the objects in her world to her remorse and eventual rehabilitation, Katherine McIndoe fully engaged our imaginations, and, towards the end, our sympathies. She was supported by a series of brilliant character portrayals whose range and detailing provided constant and “rolling” entertainment on the way to bringing about the story’s “uncovering of the self” at the heart of the matter – in this case, the underlying human desire for love.

It would be unfair to single out individual performances of these roles, as, despite the “one-after-the-other” aspect of the interactions, the opera SEEMS an “ensemble piece”, due to the production’s pace and cumulative tensions, which drew the characters unswervingly together for the final denouement. Suffice to say that the characterisations brought the objects and animals readily to life, either with great tenderness and pathos or with plenty of bubbling, roaring energy. Throughout they were supported by conductor and orchestra with alert, on-the-spot instrumental detailings, augmented at certain points with great washes of ensemble sound – all told, a splendid achievement from all concerned.

With productions such as these to the School’s credit, one hopes for further operatic delights in the not-too-distant future – as well as invaluable performing experience for the students (of a kind our home-grown singers don’t get as readily as they might in certain quarters), these efforts, always eagerly awaited, bring to our local operatic scene some much-welcomed enterprise, in the form of repertoire that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see. More power to Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music!

































Fine cello and piano lunchtime recital at St Mark’s, Lower Hutt

Haydn: Cello concerto no. 1 in C Hob. VIIb:1 (1st movement)
Haydn: Piano sonata Hob. XVI: 48 (1st  movement; Andante con espressione)
Prokofiev: Sonata for cello & piano

Lucy Gijsbers, cello, Andrew Atkins (piano)

St. Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, 12 August 2015, 12.15pm

The concert was dedicated by the performers to the memory of noted Wellington luthier Ian Lyons, who died suddenly, recently.

These are two first-class musicians who play so well in combination.  Pianist Atkins did well trying to be an orchestra in the opening work, while Lucy Gijsbers’s playing was quite lovely and of professional standard.  She gained a most warm and attractive tone from her instrument in all parts of its wide range.  Those flying, flexible fingers made the most of every note.

Her cello almost talked to the audience.  It is to be hoped that Lucy Gijsbers gets a chance to play this work with an orchestra.  Her variety of tone was impressive, and the double-stopping in various places through the work was expertly executed; the cadenza was brilliant.

The piano could have done with more tonal and dynamic variation, and more careful phrasing.  A few wrong notes were excusable in the context.

Next was a movement from one of the same composer’s piano sonatas.  Now we had variation of touch and tone, subtlety and variety of dynamics.  Andrew Atkins gave full expression to a delightful work.  He reminded me in appearance of a young pianist I heard years ago in Turku, Finland.  However, he did not repeat that gentleman’s extravagant gestures, but the quality of his playing was equivalent.

Of course, Haydn would probably be surprised to hear the modern piano, with its greater variety of tonal colours.

The cello returned for the Prokofiev sonata.  It opens with gorgeous deep notes on the cello, then the piano follows with dramatic chords, after which the mood lightens somewhat: strumming on the cello, and lighter piano writing; the instruments balanced well.  Musical ideas were worked out in a most satisfying way, with the two players in great accord.  Lucy Gijsbers seldom looked at the music score in front of her, such was her mastery of the music.  There were impressive pianissimos, along with tenderness of expression.

The second movement opened with simple piano chords, and pizzicato on the cello. Spiky rhythms featured, with notes darting here and there.  Then the music became lyrical; the warmth of cello tone conveyed the lyrical character well.  The music turned playful again, the cello played harmonics, then there was a pizzicato final flourish.

The third movement opened in dance-like character, then became more dramatic – surely a Russian dance.  A return to flowing lines on the cello followed, and illustrated Lucy Gijsbers’s command of her instrument, in all its wondrous variety of charm and drama.  Prokofiev certainly gave full rein to all the possibilities of the cello, possibilities which this player fully rose to.  The piano part was also very demanding, and Atkins met those demands.

I see that, under the name Duo Cecilia, these two musicians played in a lunchtime concert at St. Andrew’s on The Terrace in March this year.  My colleague Frances Robinson had some words to say about the piano swamping the cello in parts of the Prokofiev work (the only one to appear in both programmes), and the need to be sure of the acoustics in which one is playing.  I was surprised at the piano lid being on the long stick at St. Mark’s, but for the most part this was not a problem in this
less resonant venue – and perhaps the earlier experience has caused the players to judge more carefully the acoustics in which they are performing.

This was a highly skilled recital from two fine musicians.  They gave full measure, and the audience heartily appreciated what they had heard.