Aroha Quartet revisits Waikanae Music Society with polished, well-balanced programme

Waikanae Music Society

Aroha String Quartet (Haihong Liu and Simeon Broom, violins; Zhongxian Jin, viola; Robert Ibell, cello)

Haydn: String Quartet in G, Op.33 no.5
Piazzolla: Tango ballet suite
Anthony Ritchie: Whakatipua
Mendelssohn: String Quartet no.6 in F minor, Op.80

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday, 10 April 2016, 2.30pm

It is always a pleasure to hear the Aroha String Quartet and their varied programmes.

The Haydn quartet had a rather sotto voce commencement; the movement was described in the programme notes as a greeting, such as ‘how do you do’. All of Haydn’s jollity and wit were present.

The second movement was enchanting, with a chirpy ending that brought chuckles from the audience. The scherzo was full of changes and interruptions, while its trio was a graceful contrast, with an abrupt ending. The final movement featured a dotted rhythm, and appeared to be a slow dance with variations. It provided a good precursor to the dances to follow.

The sections of Piazzolla’s composition had movement titles, but it was not always apparent where one ended and another began. In a radio interview, Robert Ibell said that he was not aware of the work having been played in New Zealand before; they had difficulty because the supplier of the scores sent only a full score. The parts arrived only days before the performance. So in the meantime they had to cut, copy and paste the full score to create their individual scores.

Contrasting vigorous and dreamlike passages were features of Titulos (Introduction) and elsewhere. Throughout, there was a great variety of writing and of instrumental sounds, all having plenty of individual input. The other sections were: La calle (The Street), Encuentro/Olvido (Encounter/Forgetfulness), Cabaret, Soledad (Solitude), and La calle, again.

There were some great sounds from the viola. A review of a CD of the work found through Google states: ‘The work alternates between vibrant and forceful passages that recall ‘The Rite of Spring’ by Stravinsky and a passionate melancholy for the slower movements. … the “Cabaret” movement … comes closest to mirroring pure tango music.’ The work exemplified the composer’s fusion of tango music with that of the Western classical tradition. One could find echoes of Haydn here, although the music was written only 60 years ago.

Balmy passages quickly gave way to more turbulent ones. As noted by the website, some movements are more dance-like than others. It was remarked to me in the interval that the Aroha Quartet was a little too restrained for this music; bandoneóns would have been more spirited, abandoned and rambunctious.

Anthony Ritchie’s work opened with the most gorgeous sounds, followed by a lilting, dance-like section. Each instrument was distinctive in its part, but when blend was required, it was there. Some parts were modal in tonality, with hints of Douglas Lilburn’s music present.

Mendelssohn’s final string quartet has a spooky opening, the remainder of that movement alternating ‘between rage and lamentation’ as the programme note said, the whole quartet being influenced by his sorrow at the recent sudden death of his sister, Fanny. The melodic invention for which Mendelssohn is noted was ever-present, even lushness of expression, but also a new anger, anguish and tension brought out particularly in the second movement. Quiet passages served to point up this tension.

The adagio recalled some of Mendelssohn’s other slow movements, but its intensity was much greater. I detected Schumann-like elements. The first violinist in particular judged skilfully the rendering of the subtle nuances of this movement, but all played stunningly well. At times there were the most delicate touches; the movement had a peaceful end. Not so the finale last movement. There were solemn, even bitter chords, but also moments of calm contemplation, that soon changed to rapid declamation – perhaps even rejection – with an almost furious ending.


It was a most enjoyable concert, with a variety of interesting and approachable music, beautifully played.

Committed and successful concert of Russian classics from Wellington Chamber Orchestra

Wellington Chamber Orchestra conducted by Rachel Hyde with Helene Pohl (violin)

Khachaturian: Adagio from the ballet, Spartacus
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No 2 in G minor, Opus 63
Borodin: Symphony No 2 in B minor

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 10 April, 2:30 pm

I was prevented from getting to the first half of this concert, which, with the tough though splendid Prokofiev concerto with Helene Pohl, would obviously have been the highlight.

But Borodin is no stroll through the birch forest either.

The Prokofiev concerto had an interesting provenance, as the composer later recounted: “The number of places in which I wrote the concerto shows the kind of nomadic concert-tour life I led then. The main theme of the 1st movement was written in Paris, the first theme of the 2nd movement at Voronezh, the orchestration was finished in Baku and the premiere was given in Madrid.”

The second concerto is more attractive and lyrical than the first but there is much that is complex and difficult and it is brave and ambitious for an amateur orchestra to tackle; and no easy matter even for a soloist such as Helene Pohl, one of New Zealand’s most polished and cultivated violinists. It’s a fine, strong work, calling for a fastidious and brilliant violinist and I very much regret having missed it, especially in what I gather was such an emotionally committed performance.

Spies told me that, although there were inevitable glitches in the concerto – in the orchestral playing, it was considered a great success, very well received by the audience and certainly an achievement and rewarding experience for orchestra and conductor.

The concert had opened with the famous (‘Onedin Line’) Adagio from Khachaturian’s Spartacus which was well within the capacities of the orchestra; as someone said, it just played itself.

I was impressed at once by the richness of the string ensemble that opens Borodin’s best-known symphony; quickly followed by carefully articulated horns – four, as scored, and then more general wind entries. I gather that the four horn players are using new instruments, and their work, for an amateur orchestra, was surprisingly accomplished.

Rachel Hyde achieved a really characteristic Russian sound that lay somewhere between Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov; perhaps it occasionally lost its grip after the development phase got under way, but there was a clear feeling for the music’s shape. The second movement is a Scherzo of intriguing irregularity with a strikingly different Allegretto in the middle, and that was exploited satisfyingly.

The orchestra stopped to retune between second and third movements, breaking the flow a bit; but the reward was an Andante movement of considerable charm, opening with nice playing by clarinet and harp and soon a fine horn solo; and other wind players also had rewarding solo opportunities. The strings led the long, warm melody that rather dominates the movement which, at the end, merges curiously into the last movement without a break. The Allegro finale had striking energy, characterized by repeated short motifs of a pentatonic character that chased each other from one section to another.

Although Borodin thinned out the brass parts when he revised the symphony two years after its 1877 premiere, a performance like this in a limited acoustic, does not produce sounds from brass and percussion that are exactly refined or subtle. Nevertheless, listening between the notes, so to speak, the playing emerged as well-rehearsed, committed and energetic.

Though I had not heard what I guess was really the most interesting, even exciting, music in the concert, what I heard was admirable, and what I heard about, even more so.