Rich and entertaining fare from student cellists at St Andrew’s

New Zealand School of Music: Concert Week

Cello students: Jordan Renaud, Tierney Baron, Caitlin Morris, Lavinnia Rae, Olivia Wilding, Elena Morgan, Rebecca Warnes, Bethany Angus
Directed by Inbal Megiddo

Bach’s Cello Suite No 5 in C minor – Praeludium, played by Lavinnia Rae
Bach’s Cello Suite No 6 in D – Sarabande
Barber: Adagio for strings
Piazzolla: Libertango
Rossini: Overture to The Barber of Seville

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Monday 5 September, 12:15 pm

Eight cello students from Victoria University’s school of music, led by head of cello, Inbal Megiddo, delivered a highly diverting concert, the first in the school’s end of year showcase which is taking place between Monday and Thursday this week.

The advertised programme was amended by the addition of a solo performance by one of their number, Lavinnia Rae. Hers was another piece from Bach’s Cello Suites: the Praeludium from the fifth suite in C minor.

I forgot to ask, and I couldn’t observe, whether Lavinnia had followed Bach’s instruction for playing that one, that the A string be tuned down a tone, to G. I assume it was, as that allows the top note, A flat, in certain chords in the key of C minor to be played on the “A” string, when it would otherwise have to be played on the D string, which is taken to play a lower note in chords. It also has the effect of slightly decreasing the brightness of that string.

Her playing was warm and confident, with an energising bite to those chords in the first part of the Praeludium. Her rhythm was fluid and flexible, creating a nice rhapsodic quality in its first section. Quite soon Bach presents a bit of a surprise with a shift to a 3/8, gigue-like, rhythm, its energy rising and falling, and becoming increasingly lively as it approaches the end with its sudden shift into C major. A lovely performance.

Then all cellists emerged, along with Megiddo, to play the Sarabande from the sixth suite (which also has its peculiarities, being written for an instrument with five strings, somewhere called a ‘viola pomposa’, which has an additional, higher, E string). The impact of a symphony of cellists playing in a somewhat harmonised version of the music created an entirely different effect, Italianate perhaps, a big warm study in baroque chordal expressiveness.

Samuel Barber’s Adagio is much more familiar in a variety of guises; here, Megiddo parked her cello and picked up a baton to conduct it. The players with the leading high parts were very secure and created a movingly elegiac spirit that probably few other ensembles could match in this chameleon-like music.

The admirably varied and imaginative programme then treated Piazzolla’s bandoneon-dominated Libertango to the civilising (is that what I mean?) effect of a phalanx of cellos, with Megiddo resuming a seat in the midst of her students. They began with a gentle tapping on the belly of some of the instruments, and then the music proceeded to demonstrate how Piazzolla would have scored it if he’d been born of Argentinian blood in, say, Vienna with the local Philharmonic at his disposal. In fact, the transition from bandoneon to cellos is not sonically such as leap, given players of talent and stylistic acuity. The playing was hair-raising in some respects, especially the handling of the accompanying figures in the bass, and there was challenge enough, in fingering and rhythms, in the upper parts too.

The last item was the greatest leap from one genre to another. For a piece as familiar as the overture to The Barber of Seville to be deprived of its brass and woodwinds, and to ask big, warm-hearted instruments like cellos to indulge in its brilliant and flashy emotional effects made for an experience that was almost bizarre and had me smiling even more than Rossini usually does. In fact there were moments of near satire and pure comedy; and in the accelerandi and crescendi, which so delighted this incomparable composer, the joke seemed to be on the players and the result was downright hilarious.

So this was one of the most entertaining concerts I’ve been to for a while.

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