NZSM piano students give impressively mature performances at St Andrew’s

Piano students of the New Zealand School of Music

Rebecca Warnes (Haydn’s Sonata in F, Hob. 23 –first movement), Louis Lucas Perry (Liszt’s Ballade No 2), Nicole Ting (Mozart’s Sonata in D, K 576 – second and third movements), Choong Park (Brahms: Op 116 – Intermezzo and Capriccio, Andrew Atkins (Haydn’s Sonata in C, Hob. 48)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 28 October, 12:15 pm

The end-of-year exposure of five of the most talented piano students at the New Zealand School of Music was, I suppose, a follow-on from the four-day series of student recitals between 5 and 8 October which had featured cellos, violas, voices and guitars.

The five pianists were placed according to their academic level, but I could not have distinguished them merely on the basis of the standard of their performances. I can only say that I was very surprised to learn later that Rebecca Warnes was a first year student, for she played the first movement from a, to me, unfamiliar Haydn sonata (Hob, 23) which was a delight both as sparkling and imaginative Haydn, and in its playing with such awareness of its characteristic wit and surprises. Her assured rhythms reflected the melodic character and tone of the music so perfectly.

Louis Lucas-Perry took on Liszt’s second Ballade, in B minor, which is not often played now, though I came to know it in my teens through its frequent appearance in those days (Louis Kentner perhaps?) in the Concert Programme (2YC as it then was). It’s been a bit denigrated in the past, but I’ve never taken that as other than the still common view of Liszt as merely a flashy show-off. The vivid dramatic narrative, its melodic strength and its striking contrasts, are emotionally involving. The pianist captured much of the overt charm of the sunny theme that keeps returning in changing guises as well as the contrasting, quasi-military episodes. Whatever its shortcomings (he’s a second year student) I enjoyed it immensely.

Third-year student Nicole Ting played the second and third movements of Mozart’s last piano sonata, in D, K 576. It’s not for beginners, and to play the slow movement with such lightness of touch and subtlety, and the finale with its bravura and gusto, announced a young musician who negotiated her way most thoughtfully through its considerable challenges.

Choong Park, also a third year student, played two of the seven pieces from Brahms Op 116. They are all entitled either Intermezzo or Capriccio, though the programme did not identify them. They were Nos 3 and 4, the Intermezzo in E and the Capriccio in G minor. The Intermezzo is not among the most familiar of Brahms’s late piano works; the notes might not be hard to find but the feeling and musicality, without the benefit of warm melody, is less easy to engage an audience with. Perhaps he allowed himself a bit much romantic heaven-gazing, but there was no doubt about his understanding of the Brahms, the gentle, contemplative figure. The Capriccio was a fine contrast, opening with fuoco rather than capriciousness perhaps, and I felt initially that the fortissimo passages verged on the tempestuous, but those moments were soon swept aside by the general conviction of his playing.

Andrew Atkins is an honours student; he played both movements of one of Haydn’s later sonatas, Hob. 48 in C major. This second opportunity to hear a Haydn sonata was a delight; it bears witness to the renaissance of his piano (and much other) music in my lifetime: the sonatas used to be considered little more than student pieces. Hob. 48 is very interesting. Just two movements, first slow, then fast. The first, about eight minutes of Andante, exploring basically a single musical idea slowly, thoughtfully and entertainingly. There are delightful flashes of light, subtle articulations, lightly etched rallentandos and ornaments beautifully positioned. There followed a (I’m guessing) Vivace or Presto finale that was assured, economical in its structure, saying what he wanted to say and ending without fuss.

I imagine few, other than the pianist himself and his tutors, would have perceived anything to fault in this delightful performance. (I understand that the tutors concerned with all five pianists were, variously, Jian Liu and Richard Mapp).

This was a thoroughly satisfying concert from both the point of view of the pieces chosen – all unhackneyed and most rewarding– and the pianists’ impressive level of accomplishment. These opportunities to hear performances by university school of music students are a wonderful enterprise, a credit to cooperation between St Andrew’s (especially Marjan van Waardenberg) and the university.


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