Viola central to an interesting programme of student performances from three centuries

Viola Students of NZSM
Gyahida Ahmad, viola, Ashley Mah, piano; Elyse Dalabakis, viola, Laura Brown, clarinet and Hana Kim, piano; Laura Barton, violin; Grant Baker, viola, Catherine Norton, piano

Schubert: ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata, second movement
Max Bruch: Pieces for clarinet, viola and piano, Op.83
Bach: Partita no.2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004 (four movements)
George Enescu: Concertstück

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 12.15pm

My apologies if I have not got the first performers’ names correctly; they were not in the printed programme, but were announced at the beginning of the concert. However, a person behind me was talking on a cellphone at the time, and I could not hear them properly. I made enquiries at the end of the concert, but this has meant my interpreting another person’s handwriting – possibly not correctly.

The item these two students played was not in the printed programme. Their playing of the slow movement from Schubert’s sonata (originally written for a rather short-lived instrument, the Arpeggione, a bowed guitar) was lacking in confidence at the beginning, and the viola intonation was ‘off’ in several places. Perhaps their inclusion in the concert was somewhat premature for their stage of musical study.

The Bruch pieces were a different story. Four of the composer’s eight pieces were performed. No obvious disadvantage in that, but it made for a rather slow and sombre sequence, since two were marked andante, one allegro con moto, and the last (no. 6) andante con moto. Parts of the movements were Brahmsian in character. Of the movements left out, numbers 4 and 7 would be considerably faster, judging from their tempo markings.

All three players are fine musicians, confident and very competent. The viola tone was lovely and mellow, the clarinet was played with panache and sensitivity, and the pianist judged her part just right as to volume and intensity, so that she neither drowned out the other players, nor was too submissive in rendering her part. It was a fine performance for a well-judged combination, and they played an attractive set of pieces that showed off the instruments.

Bach’s solo violin music is a sort of bible for violinists, but maintaining momentum, accuracy, tempo and so on is not easy. Laura Barton made a beautiful job of the first four movements of the chosen Partita. She is a highly skilled player, negotiating all the turns and twists in the music with ease, it seemed, and at least in the early stages, hardly looking at the score. She is secure technically, and after commendable Allemanda and Corrente, her Sarabanda, double-stopping and chords involving several strings, was handled adroitly. In the flowing, dancing Giga her tone was bright, with every note in place, and the character of the piece was portrayed very well, in lively fashion. One could imaging people in the 18th century dancing to the music. Inevitably perhaps, though she used a baroque bow, the modern strings made inappropriate sounds at times.

Last up was Grant Baker, accompanied by the immaculate Catherine Norton, playing a work for viola by George Enescu (1881-1955), teacher of the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin, whose 100th anniversary was marked on radio the other day. The Concertstück required a number of demanding techniques, but Grant Baker took these in his stride and did not draw attention to them, playing throughout in a musical and expressive way. His instrument and his playing gave out a warm tone, but lighter than the dark, mellow tone of Elyse Dalabakis’s in the Bruch work. Baker’s viola pitch was a little wayward in places, but both musicians brought off a difficult work in fine style.