Two fine sopranos in rare, varied, Wigmore Hall-quality recital

Songs by Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, Korngold, Schubert, Chausson, Delibes, Berlioz and Britten

Georgia Jamieson Emms and Megan Corby (sopranos), Catherine Norton (piano)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 29 June 2016, 12.15pm

Here was a recital that would have hacked it in the Wigmore Hall, London, or in any other suitably-sized venue, for that matter.  It was good to have a programme (mainly) of duets – so rarely heard these days.

The programme began with great panache, in ‘Herbstlied’ and ‘Maiglökchen und die Blümelein’ from Sechs Duette by Mendelssohn.  The voices were well-matched, and Catherine Norton, as always, was a reliable and sympathetic accompanist.  The pronunciation of German was throughout the concert uniformly very good.  The first song began the recital at a very high standard.  Meaningful facial expressions were employed by both singers, and some hand gestures – the latter a little excessively in Corby’s case.

Mendelssohn’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’ (On Wings of Song) is a much-loved solo song; the poem is by Heinrich Heine.  Although it has received many arrangements, I do not remember hearing it as a duet before; it was delightful and charming.

The French love-affair with things Spanish in the latter part of the nineteenth century extended to Saint-Saëns writing a song in that language and idiom: ‘El Desdichado’ (Boléro).  Written originally for orchestral accompaniment, it was a sparkling song that I didn’t know.  There was plenty of scope for the voices, the Spanish character was communicated well, but the piano accompaniment especially was magical quicksilver.

A change of mood came with Brahms; ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir” is a lovely song, but I would have liked more dynamic variety in this contemplative piece, which was a solo presented by Megan Corby.  Georgia Jamieson Emms followed with her solo, which was ‘Schneeglöckchen’ by Korngold.  This was a lovely rendition of an unfamiliar song.  Its style eminently suits this voice.  The singer gave it varied expression and dynamics most attractively.  I felt she was conveying the meaning of each word.

The greatest writer of lieder, Schubert, was represented by the duet ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt’ a sombre, sad, dramatic song, quite difficult to perform.  The two voices go their separate ways much of the time.  Catherine Norton’s varying dynamics were superb.

Chausson’s  ‘ La Nuit’ and ‘La Réveil’ (Deux Duos) were much more harmonic in character than the Schubert.  The first was interesting and subtle; the singers’ vowels matched beautifully.  The second was enchanting and engaging; the French pronunciation was excellent.

Still in France, we had ‘Les trois oiseaux’ by Delibes and ‘Le Trébuchet’ from Fleurs des Landes by Berlioz.  The former was a mildly humorous song, in separate episodes for the two voices; depicting the dove, the eagle and the vulture, then the voices came together in thrilling conversation, before separate utterances again, but a unified ending.  The story was communicated brilliantly.

Berlioz’s song was even more amusing, about tentative lovers.  A sparkling accompaniment contributed hugely to a delicious duet performance.

Finally, it was almost strange to hear the English language, in another sparkler: ‘Underneath the Abject Willow’, by Benjamin Britten, a setting of words by poet W.H. Auden.

It would have been good to have had the names of the poets whose words inspired these songs printed in the programme, but it was very useful to have translations of the opening lines, and the composers’ dates.  Music scores were used throughout; in Megan Corby’s case, on an iPad.

With these two singers, there was never any question about intonation.  Both intonation and timing were spot on all the time.  To have such splendid accompaniment was a great bonus.

While not as many attended as at some recent St. Andrew’s lunchtime concerts, those who did were delighted with what they heard.


Temples on the heights and simple dwellings – Ludwig Treviranus at St.Andrew’s

Wellington Chamber Music presents:

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN – Grand Variations and Fugue for Piano, Op.35 “Eroica”
EDVARD GRIEG – Lyric Pieces Op.54
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN – Piano Sonata in F Minor Op.57 “Appassionata”

St.Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday 26th June 2016

For three-quarters of his recent Wellington Chamber Music St.Andrew’s piano recital, Ludwig Treviranus bestrode the performing space like a young colossus. It seemed the young man could put hardly a finger, gesture or word wrong, such was the pleasure given by both his playing and his speaking to the audience. I’m aware that there are people who don’t ever want to listen to anybody speak at concerts, but nobody present could have seriously objected to listening to someone with such a charming and enviable gift for natural, spontaneous-sounding communication.

Treviranus spoke clearly and entertainingly about each of the items he was going to present to us, putting the music in the context of what was happening for its composer, after which he delivered vivid and characterful performances of the pieces in question. And though his rendition of the programme’s final work, Beethoven’s titanic Op.57 Sonata, the Appassionata, didn’t quite display the consistency of execution enjoyed by the other pieces on the programme, it was nevertheless performed with much the same whole-heartedness and engagement with the music.

Beginning the program was an earlier Beethoven work, though one hardly less epic in its way than the Appassionata. This was the piece which came to be known as the Eroica Variations, due to its theme’s subsequent reappearance in the finale of the composer’s eponymous Symphony No.3 (the Eroica), which Beethoven completed in 1804, two years after the “theme and variations” piano work. There are fifteen variations and a fugue, and , as with the symphony’s finale, the first few variations focus on the bass-line, gradually adding fragments in each succeeding variation until the “theme proper” grandly comes into being – a most exciting and satisfying process to listen to.

Treviranus took us through this process of fruition with tremendous élan and vivid detailing, at once galvanizing our sensibilities with an arresting opening chord, then deliciously playing with the bas theme’s opening notes, contrasting their delicacy and reserve with his forthright response to Beethoven’s three “call-to-arms” notes in the melody’s second half. We were thus straightaway ignited, energized, charmed and exhilarated by the music in the pianist’s hands in a way that focused our listening for what was to follow.

The Variations then took the stage, each with its own singular character, Treviranus bringing out the detail as vividly as the whole – my notes contained responses such as “I like his strut!”, “beautiful liquidity”, militaristic jog-trotting”, “amazing hammering of the bass chords”, “a murmuring, almost Schubertian left-hand”, “poised and ritualistic” ….and so on. It was like a fantastic carnival procession of different, but equally purposeful presentations.

The complex “maggiore” finale sounded very modern in places in Treviranus’s hands. The music presented us with what seemed like incredible transports of delight on the composer’s part – Beethoven speaking with the “Spirit” – before the fugue tripped its way into the picture, voices dovetailing with both charm and quirkiness. I like the pianist’s enjoyment of pianistic sonorities, conjuring up sounds that the composer may well have himself imagined, far in excess of the limited range and dynamism of the instruments he would have heard before his hearing became impaired.

Last year Treviranus gave a recital which included pieces by Austrian-born Paul Schramm, and did so here again, with a different set of works this time round. Refugees from Nazi oppression, Schramm and his Dutch wife Diny settled in New Zealand in the late 1930s, but were treated with suspicion by the New Zealand Government during the war years. Leaving his wife and son in New Zealand after the war Schramm went to Australia to reactivate his career as a piano virtuoso. However, the privations of the war years had taken their toll, and his success was short-lived. He eventually gave up music as a career and rather ignominiously became a door-to-door salesman. He never returned to New Zealand and died in Brisbane in 1953.

As if to help redress the balance of wrongs a little, Treviranus had recently resurrected some of Schramm’s compositional output for piano – most of which is still in manuscript in the Alexander Turnbull Library’s music collection. This new offering was presumably put together as a kind of suite by the composer with the somewhat disturbing title Mania. They’re rather Bartokian-sounding pieces, with hints of other composers thrown in, psychological in effect, rather than pictorial, and in the case of the final piece, oppressive and gloomy.

First up was a piece with the title Savage March, music which reminded me by turns of Gershwin and Percy Grainger – Treviranus’s playing generated real swagger and energising momentum, bringing out the angularities of a 7/4-like section and a cataclysmic csacading sequence at the end. The second piece, Gaiety, seemed ironic as a title, as the music suggested a kind of “mouse-in-a-wheel” claustrophobia, though relieved by a groovier middle section.

Two diametrically opposed opposites followed: Hilarity presented a dancing, if dogged kind of humour, with a three-note chant repeated somewhat artlessly at the end, while the black opening chords of Defeat came as a terrific shock, its grim and oppressive trajectories reminiscent of Musorgsky’s “Bydlo”. The music’s loneliness and despair was relieved only by occasional pinpricks of light, notes from a toybox kind of tune sounded as if part of a dream relieving sorrow. But it was to no avail, as the bleakness loomed up spectre-like once more, dragging the music towards a kind of oblivion.

Respite from such privations came for us with the interval, and then with some of Edvard Grieg’s adorable Lyric Pieces, the Op.54 set of six. (Incidentally, the first four of these went on to achieve wider fame when orchestrated as the Lyric Suite.) The composer said he wanted with these pieces to create “simple dwellings in which people might feel happy” – he certainly would have been charmed with Ludwig Treviranus’s playing, which caught whole worlds of flavoursome atmosphere, incident and feeling.

Beginning with the Shepherd Boy, the pianist realised the music’s gentle, solitary melancholy from the beginning, though I would have liked him to have given more air and space to those gently cascading triplet runs whose impulses adroitly modulate the music upwards and “tell” so poignantly…but this was otherwise a beautiful and thoughtful performance. The other pieces were unalloyed delight – Treviranus quite deliciously orchestrated the Ganger (March), the forward movement so easeful and redolent of its surroundings, allowing plenty of both airy textures and deeper resonances.

As for his playing of the very first note of the Nocturne, his touch proclaimed the presence of a poet at the piano, while his rumbustious approach to the March of the Dwarves forcefully brought out the piece’s “Mountain King” grotesqueries. Two lesser-known pieces remained, the Scherzo glinting with magical, elfin qualities, while the simple, but richly evocative Ringing Bells seemed to anticipate Arvo Pärt’s tintinabulations in a similarly bracing, out-of doors way. In all, I thought it a most treasurable performance which gave the music its proper stature.

And so we were brought to the granite-like entranceway of Beethoven’s imposing Op.57. Treviranus “squared up” to the opening measures with impressive gravitas, conjuring up the “elemental” nature of the sounds with great conviction. The second subject, a cleverly inverted version of the opening, was here kept on the same kind of trajectory, allowing for little false relaxation, and keeping the overall purpose in view. I did think some of the pianist’s responses to the music’s agitations more febrile than elemental, as if at times the fingers ran ahead of the notes (even losing the line momentarily during the development, but getting the argument back on the rails with real determination!)……it was as if he felt the need to “push” the music in places rather than trusting in and going with the piece’s own inner momentum.

After wrestling titanically with the first movement’s combatative aspects, Treviranus took us into the relative tranquility of the theme-and-variations second movement, which, apart from an anxious moment or two from the pianist’s fingers, flowed inexorably towards the threshold of the maelstrom to follow. The finale’s incredible swirling aspect was vividly engaged, the playing leading us square-shouldered through the flailing agitations and brooding intensities which by turns took the music over. Though a flourish was dropped through misdirection at one point, other sequences were splendidly realised – for instance, the “stamping” passages preceeding the recapitulation thrilled with their power, the music not rushed but kept steady and inexorable, allowing those cosmic impulses to speak with their own inherent force.

To my great delight, Treviranus included the movement’s second-half repeat this time round (I heard him about a year ago play the work without it). I thought a bit more right-hand assertiveness was needed from the pianist in sounding the alarm before plunging the music afresh into the development’s black-browed tumult – but still, this gesture most satisfyingly pushed out the music’s vistas, past any residual concert-hall confines that might have hung grimly onto the proceedings up to this point. From here, the performance moved into the realms of classical tragedy, the arpeggiated recitative passages charged with foreboding, the rhythms gathering power and weight with uncompromising focus, and the coda positively juggernaut-like in its relentless physicality. It was playing that risked everything and delivered for all of us a cathartic sense of coming through with the ringing out of those final, defiant chords.

Typically, the pianist then did two things which perfectly expressed both his and our somewhat rung-out state amid those magnificent resonant ruins of the music’s dissolution – he first of all announced that he was “ready for a beer, now!”, and then sat down to help us return to our lives by playing for us a beautifully expressed encore (straight after the Appassionata? – was the fellow mad?)…..this was another of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, one called Summer Evening, which gently brought our sensibilities back from wherever they’d been flung in the cosmos, so that we could all go back to our “simple dwellings” once again and feel happy.

Emma Sayers – piano recital of connections, dedications and premieres

St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series presents:
CONNECTIONS, DEDICATIONS – a piano recital by Emma Sayers

W.A.MOZART – Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint” K.455
JACK BODY – Five Melodies (1982) – No.5
ROSS HARRIS – For Judith Clark (2011)
DAVID FARQUHAR -Telephonic No.13 (721-230) – Eve Page
DOUGLAS LILBURN – 9 Short Pieces – Nos 1,2DAVID FARQUHAR – Black, White and Coloured – (Homage to G.G.)
ANTHONY RITCHIE – Three Pieces for J.A.R. – Fanfare / Aria for Anita / Perpetua

Emma Sayers (piano)

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday, 22nd June 2016

Emma Sayers began her recital with the Mozart Variations, then spoke briefly to us by way of welcome, outlining how the remainder of the program had come about. She had been approached by composer Anthony Ritchie to perform a set of pieces written in memory of his parents, the whole (Three Pieces for J.A.R) named for his father, John Ritchie, with one of the set (Aria for Anita) remembering the composer’s mother. Incidentally, the work was originally commissioned by (and dedicated to) Margaret Nielsen, a long-time friend of John Ritchie.

Almost straightaway the pianist was, she told us, reminded of other music written by people either associated or contemporaneous with John Ritchie, which she thought would “sit alongside well” in a larger tribute – hence the “Connections, Dedications” title of the recital. The Mozart Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint” was, however, a separate goal marking a return to solo public performance, and put in an amusing context by the pianist as, in her own words, “something I couldn’t manage when I was pregnant, because my tummy kept getting in the way of the arm-crossings”.

I was surprised that it had been such a long time (May 2005) since I’d last written about an Emma Sayers solo recital – her playing of the Variations certainly underscored the things I wrote about her then, and served to remind us of what we had been deprived on in the interim. That particular solo appearance was prior to Middle C’s formation, so I feel justified in quoting from my notes for the radio review, regarding her playing of Bartok’s Op.6 set of 14 Bagatelles – “…Sayers took us on a marvellous journey through what seemed like the “landscape of a musical mind” with all its individualities and influences….” as those words applied equally to what she gave us here of Mozart’s at St. Andrew’s.

The first thing which struck me was her playing’s vivid and forthright character, contrasting the contained, tasteful treatment of the theme with the full-blooded flourishes of the first variation’s phrases, done with flair and theatricality. At the risk of thumping a particular tub of mine, I feel compelled to venture the opinion that this was “timeless” Mozart-playing in an entirely appropriate grand piano context, the piano used to “orchestrate” the music in a way that the composer could well have imagined himself, though never actually experienced as sound coming from his own instruments.

Again and again I found myself marvelling at Sayers’ ability to invest her phrasing with some ineffable impulse of characterization which compelled one’s attention, at one and the same time realizing and transcending the composer’s “classical” context and bringing into play something intensely and universally human about the music. It all seemed so “free”, so spontaneous and alive – and yet Mozart was always Mozart, even if such energy and physicality might be thought more the preserve of Clementi or even Beethoven. By way of “exploring” the theme rather than merely decorating or prettifying it, Mozart employed a range of expression here brought out by the pianist in as direct and unmannered a way as seemed possible.

If it seemed like a recital of two, or even three parts on paper, in practice there was no lessening or burgeoning of intensity in Sayers’ playing from the Mozart throughout to the home-grown items assembled to “connect with” and pay tribute to John Ritchie and his music. Beginning with the last in the set of Jack Body’s Five Pieces for Piano, we were taken by the music to a world of light and shade, its components turning and flickering like a magic kind of kaleidoscopic wheel, and bearing our sensibilities unobtrusively but gradually into different realms, from which we emerged changed, our delight replaced by sobriety at the transitory nature of things, at the piece’s end.

Ross Harris’s work For Judith Clark, was written by its composer for the 80th birthday of one of Wellington’s foremost piano teachers (and, appropriately enough, played here by an ex-pupil, who had also played the piece at her former teacher’s’s funeral, in 2014). It’s a beautiful, sonorous piece, taking shape like some kind of frozen soundscape being brought into view and explored from different points. Deeply-rooted frameworks were laid down, and set against the play of light on the various surfaces, the pianist ensuing the serenity of the hues were occasionally enlivened by volatilities, an evocation of a goddess whose aspect occasionally flashed and scintillated, giving fair warning to those in close proximity.

Next we heard a work Sun and Shadow by David Farquhar, one of a number of pieces called Telephonics that he composed for various friends and associates, using their telephone numbers as a basis for the pieces’ composition. Farquhar stressed that the pieces were intended as a series of “musical offerings” rather than as “portraits” of the people involved. This was a piece dedicated to the artist Evelyn Page, and, by association, her husband Freddie Page, who established the Victoria University Music Faculty in 1945, which Farquhar himself was to join in 1953 after his return from a period of study at London’s Guildhall. The music conjured up an impressionistic effect, with resonantly flowing harmonies and brilliantly-etched flashpoints, Sayers allowing their interactions plenty of room to “play out” and eventually subside within the piece’s enfolding silences.

The last time I heard Emma Sayers at an actual keyboard was when she gave a performance of Douglas Lilburn’s Nine Short Pieces in conjunction with Stroma, who performed responses by various composers to each one of the pieces. Here, she revisited the first two of the Nine Pieces by way of paying tribute both to the composer and to Margaret Nielsen, to whom Lilburn in 1967 gave a bundle of unpublished pieces of piano music, collectively labelled “Crotchety at 51!” along with the words “See what you can make of these”. Nielsen was, of course, Lilburn’s “preferred interpreter” of his piano music, and had given the premieres of many of the individual works, so it seemed logical that he would entrust her with the task of creating some order from the apparent chaos.

Sayers in her notes talked about the “searching quality” and the “quirky character” of the pieces, and her remarks were borne out by the performances we heard, the first piece epic, jagged and far-flung, the second impish, angular, questioning and wryful. Again, it was the “character” of each piece which was unequivocally presented to us – under Sayers’ fingers, the music in both instances seemed to know exactly what it was doing.

David Farquhar’s music again featured, this time a piece from a different collection of pieces, entitled Black, White and Coloured. This was one called Homage to G.G. (George Gershwin) – a brilliant transcription of the song I got rhythm, flavoured by the technique of writing for one hand on the white keys of the piano, and for the other on the black, resulting in some ear-catching sonorities. Sayers gave the accented phrasings just the right amount of “ginger”, bringing out the piece’s drolleries at the beginning and unerringly building the music’s trajectories towards the bluff humour of the ending.

And so to Anthony Ritchie’s commemorative Three Pieces for J.A.R. – music intended by the composer to reflect different aspects of his father, John Ritchie’s life. Before the pieces were played, Anthony RItchie spoke briefly and movingly about Margaret Nielsen’s friendship with and support of his father over the time of their association. The first part of the work, Fanfare, marked John Ritchie’s long involvement with brass players, both in bands and orchestras, using a simple, chant-like figure at the beginning subjected to all kinds of different harmonic modulations, some progressive, others all elbows and knees, harsh and abrupt. A deep-toned, briefly sounded sequence made a humourful ending to the piece.

The second piece, Aria for Anita, brought Anita Ritchie, John’s wife into focus – making reference to her soprano voice, Anthony RItchie quoted part of Solveig’s Song from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, one of her favourites. The music’s recitative-like opening suggested a high voice at first, then varied the line with an alto-like response, the phrase-ends coloured at several points with the interval of a fifth. The music seemed to accrue its own ambient warmth, figures sounded out and then left to resonate as a context in which newer motifs could appear – a deep, rich bitter-sweet climax grew out of the exchanges,  as a strummed accompaniment to the soprano/alto voice exchanges allowed the music to deepen and linger before gently disappearing.

From the silence came Perpetua, the final movement, the upward-thrusting opening shared between the hands before changing into an attitude-driven march rhythm whose insistence scintillated into cascades of figurations, the repetitions making their own rhythmic patterns in lime with the “perpetual motion” suggested by the piece’s title. Having scattered all before it, the music then irradiated the textures with Ravel-like scintillations, even-handedly defining the heavenly vistas while at the same time plumbing the depths. Anthony RItchie in his notes alluded to the old prayer which included the phrase “perpetual light”, suggesting the soul’s continuing journey through what the composer called the “starry nothingness” of the ending.

All of this was delivered by Emma Sayers with what seemed and felt like complete identification with the music’s natural, spontaneous outpourings. Nothing in the music was forced or unduly amplified, but allowed instead by the pianist its own range of mellifluous voice-soundings which readily  put across the composers’ intentions. In a relatively short time we had been taken through an exploration of some magnitude across the face of people’s lives and sharply-focused creative achievements. I felt at the end of it all we couldn’t have had a more inspirational guide at the piano throughout our journey.

Another appearance by cellist Rustem Khamidullin with Sarah Watkins, at Paekakariki

Mulled Wine Concerts Paekakariki

Rustem Khamidullin (cello) and Sarah Watkins (piano)

Schubert: Sonata in A minor ‘Arpeggione’
Schumann: Three fantasy pieces, Op 73
Rachmaninov: Sonata in G minor – the 3rd movement, Andante
Franck: Sonata in A (for violin, arranged for cello)

Paekakariki Memorial Hall

Sunday 19 June, 2:30 pm

I had gone to my third encounter with Rustem Khamidullin, not to write about it but just to enjoy without a pen in my hand, to hear him in another context. And of course, the pleasure of being able to get there by train, being able to look at the heavy seas and Kapiti Island from high on the cliffs north from Pukerua Bay rather than seeing little while driving on the road, and then a pleasant 12 minute walk to the hall. (Witnessing the thousands of one-to-a-car commuters from Kapiti, and their passion for Transmission Gully, I wonder that the population seems indifferent to its lovely train service).

It was such a treat that when I got home the computer keyboard seemed to plead for attention.

Word had got out that this would be a great concert, and so it was, with a full house. But it was not just the Russian cellist who made it such a fine recital; it was also his collaborator Sarah Watkins, well known at Paekakariki as part of the NZ Trio, who proved just as excellent in duo as in trio. I couldn’t help thinking that the cellist would have been delighted to find such a fine, totally empathetic pianist.

Khamidullin’s secret is the unusual subtlety and the secretiveness with which he handles soft passages, and which Watkins mirrors so perfectly so that neither ever obscures the sounds the other is making. That helped make the Schubert sonata, for the short-lived hybrid called the arpeggione, into a more interesting and attractive piece than I sometimes feel it is.

The Schumann pieces, which he cast primarily for the clarinet, are pretty familiar; he envisaged them also as suited for viola or cello. The three pieces hold challenges for both piano and cello and I was very impressed by the flights of virtuosity and the virtually flawless ensemble that the two maintained.

After the interval the duo played the slow movement – Andante – from Rachmaninov’s cello sonata (actually the only piece in the programme written specifically for the cello), where the wide-spaced melodies caught the spirit of the second piano concerto which he’d completed just before this sonata; some of the piano writing is of concerto-style virtuosity, though it was never cluttered as one instrument made room for the other to take the spotlight. My only problem was what wasn’t played before and after the Andante. But that would have taken over half an hour.

Finally Franck’s violin sonata, which is so emotional and unashamedly melodic that it gets borrowed by other instrumentalists, even the flute (recently by flutist Rebecca Steel with Diedre Irons, which I thought wonderful). But I’ve loved Franck ever since hearing the then National Orchestra play the Symphony in D minor in the 50s (I suspect) and then hearing this sonata shortly after.

This was a quite seriously passionate performance, starting with the calm Allegretto moderato which seems a sort of smoldering anticipation of the Allegro where, particularly, the piano part is excitable while the violin/cello maintains the lovely melodies.

A most enjoyable concert, that attracted a full house. We got two encores (Hora Staccato and Rachmaninov’s song ‘How fair this Spot’, Op 21 No 7), in response to the entire audience coming to its collective feet at the end of the Franck.


Popular Russian orchestral show-piece, unfamiliar cello concerto and colourful, Hungarian, folk-based music

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Kodály: Dances of Galánta
Lalo: Cello Concerto in D minor
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, with Johannes Moser (cello)

Michael Fowler Centre

Friday, 17 June 2016, 6.30pm

The programme attracted a nearly full Michael Fowler Centre on Friday.  I had the previous day heard Eva Radich interview Johannes Moser on the Upbeat programme, on RNZ Concert.  What a lovely man he sounded!  His cello sounded lovely too, as we discovered in Friday’s concert.  How good it was that he played a different concerto!  While always loving to hear the Dvořák concerto, it was a great pleasure to hear something different – in fact, so different, and as interesting in the case of the Lalo concerto.

The first work on the programme had a striking opening. The different modalities of Hungarian music were almost immediately apparent.  The composer’s collection of Hungarian folk-songs and dances are the basis of most of his music.  This work was composed in 1933.  We heard wonderful subtleties on the clarinet in a slow dance.  The large assembly of strings sounded particularly sonorous here, and when playing pizzicato while flute and piccolo produced soaring melodies.  The French horns had their turn at leading things – all five of them.  Percussion players had many delicate – and some not so delicate – interventions.

The work was a delight of colour, rhythm and finesse, contrasted with exuberance.  It was a feast of fine orchestration, and provided a jovial boost to any Friday weariness.  A furious rush of music towards the end was followed by a sublime clarinet solo, and a final burst of jollity.

Lalo’s cello concerto
The tall, youthful cellist came on; like the conductor, he was not wearing formal evening dress.  He played the concerto without a score.  Harth-Bedoya used the score only for this work (a necessary precaution in a concerto).  Moser’s cello produced a superbly warm, rich tone in his hands.  To have had two cellists of such calibre as Moser and Rustem Khamedullin in the space of a week has been a luxury.

Written by the French-born, Spanish-influenced Lalo in 1876-77, the concerto seemed to have hints of Brahms and Schumann – the latter’s concerto was written over 25 years earlier – and even of Elgar, whose concerto was written over forty years later.

The orchestra began the concerto grandly, and there was much work for the brass to do.  However, the soloist was to the fore almost throughout the work, mellifluous phrases following one after another, with staccato interjections from the winds; indeed, the latter ended the first movement (Prélude: lento – allegro maestoso).

The second, Intermezzo: andantino con moto – allegro presto, began with muted strings.  There was more gorgeous romantic melody from the soloist, and phrases of the utmost delicacy.  Sparse orchestration in this short movement meant no brass or percussion.

The final movement (andante – allegro vivace) opened enigmatically; the soloist with very quiet string accompaniment, initially only cellos.  Suddenly the brass erupted.  Dotted rhythms predominated here and elsewhere.  Parts of the solo in this movement were elegiac.  The playing was never flamboyant, the cello producing a variety of tones that were always lambent, passionate, tender, thoughtful, or whatever was needed.

An encore after a concerto now seems to be an expected addition to the programme.  Moser played the sarabande (another Spanish influence here) from the first Bach Suite for unaccompanied cello.  This he took slower than had Khamidullin on Wednesday in the latter’s sarabande from the third Suite.  It was soulful, considered playing, and at times the utmost pianissimo gave an ethereal quality.  The audience greeted the encore with rapture.

The major work in the concert was Rimsky-Korsakov’s suite, based on The Arabian NightsScheherazade calls for a large orchestra: there were five horns, nine double basses, a tuba, and large numbers of other instruments too, compared with the requirements of the Lalo concerto.

It is wonderfully dramatic music – I just wish that Radio New Zealand Concert did not play it, or parts of it, quite so frequently.  After the portentous opening depicting the Sultan, it was magical to hear the harp and violin duet denoting the princess (or Scheherazade herself).  These two themes are played countless times, often with melodic, rhythmic or tempo variations, throughout the work’s four sections.  Then the sea took over, relatively calmly at first.  The waves work themselves up gradually, before calm is restored with horn and woodwinds.

The rougher seas return, repeating loudly the theme we first heard as the delicate solo violin and harp near the beginning.  The theme is varied and given many manifestations before returning to the gentle opening.  This ends the section entitled “The sea and Sinbad’s ship”.

This same theme opens the second section, “The Kalendar prince”.  This part follows the pattern of all the sections, in having a variety of tempo markings through its course.  Muted double basses accompany sumptuous oboe and bassoon solos most effectively.  Then a cello joins in, and takes over the solo.  Sinbad’s ship appears to strike some trouble, the brass sounding warnings.  But then everything becomes jolly and highly rhythmic before the bassoon again asserts itself over pizzicato, and the theme returns.

The excellent programme notes (apart from misspelling ‘sprightly’ as ‘spritely’ more than once) mention ‘Rimsky-Korsakov’s mastery of instrumentation’, so much to the fore in this section.  The following one (“The young prince and the young princess”) opens with lyrical music that almost sounded like English music, with its calm melody.  However, it becomes increasingly exotic, and the orchestration richer.  After various goings-on the harp and violin theme returns, then full orchestra takes over again.

The bombastic sultan theme reappears followed by the harp and violin, this time in most virtuosic twists for the latter; Vesa-Matti Leppänen’s solo passages were quite beautiful.  Syncopated rhythms and exciting percussion burst forth,  with lots of concerted string playing, along with brass and percussion interjections.  The strings repeat the big theme.

Wikipedia quotes Steven Griffiths about this work (A Critical Study of the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov,1844-1890. New York: Garland, 1989): “The reasons for its popularity are clear enough; it is a score replete with beguiling orchestral colors, fresh and piquant melodies, with a mild oriental flavor, a rhythmic vitality largely absent from many major orchestral works of the later 19th century, and a directness of expression unhampered by quasi-symphonic complexities of texture and structure.”.

The audience gave a very appreciative response; Harth-Bedoya more or less forcibly removed the orchestra from the stage at the end of quite a long concert.


An organic awakening at a Friday lunchtime at St Paul’s Cathedral

The Buxtehude Project at Saint Paul’s

Richard Apperley – organ

Dieterich Buxtehude’s works for the organ, from the Buxtehude catalogue, BuxWV 136-225

Wellington Cathedral of Saint Paul

Friday 17 June, 12:45 pm

This was the fifth recital in the series of lunchtime recitals that are designed to cover Buxtehude’s works for the organ. Compared with the Bach family, remarkably little is known positively about Buxtehude, including the place and date of birth, though the best evidence is between 1637 and 1639 in Helsingborg (now in Sweden), a city a short distance to the north of Malmö on the Öresund, opposite Copenhagen. However, his father had lived in Helsingør (on the north-east tip of the island of Zealand in Denmark: in English it is Elsinore – see Hamlet). The only Buxtehude house is in Helsingør where Dietrich himself was organist at Saint Olaf’s church from 1660 to 1668, when he went to Lübeck, to the Marienkirche (St Mary’s).

And that’s where he made his name, becoming such an eminent organist that Bach felt it was worth walking the 400km from Arnstadt, in 1705, aged 19, to learn from Buxtehude.

Three years ago I spent a few days in Lübeck, explored the Marienkirche, failed to catch an organ recital but had very interesting conversations with assistants in the church, about Buxtehude, the church and the role of the notable Hanseatic town, and Free Imperial City; we also touched on the dreadful bombing of Lübeck by the RAF in 1942, some believe, partially, in retaliation for the Luftwaffe’s firebombing of Coventry in 1940. Anyway, the Marienkirche was among the major churches destroyed and the smashed remains of the bells are preserved where they fell to the floor below the belfry tower of the faithfully rebuilt church.

The Buxtehude catalogue lists 135 vocal works and 80 for organ as well as many other keyboard and chamber music compositions.

The programme sheet contained some interesting details. The keys of the works carefully adhered to the recent convention of indicating minor keys in lower case, the major keys, logically, in capitals, meaning there’s no need to stipulate major/minor. Most programme writers seem not to understand, writing ‘major’ or ‘minor’ as well as using caps or lower case; but here the usage was correct. I have not followed that practice, continuing the old style, writing ‘major’ and ‘minor’ with the keys in capital letters.

The Music
The first work in the recital was the Prelude (Praeludium) in F sharp minor, BuxVW 146. It had begun as I entered and I thought I was hearing Bach, for the music was rather grand and conspicuously elaborate, played for the most part on typical diapason stops. It also occurred to me that some might have found it unidiomatic, though I have no problem with hearing baroque music in fairly modern dress, on a big, powerful organ with a greater variety of registrations than existed on a 17th century instrument.

A Chorale fantasia: Te Deum laudamus (BuxVW 218), followed, in five parts, that were most attractively varied. In the Prelude a quite prominent theme was richly decorated harmonically and with ornaments of the period (I’m quite sure!); while the next section was the main thematic statement of the chorale itself, which I found substantial and probably, given another hearing, memorable. Each of the successive sections had its characteristics through varied registrations, tempi, dramatic shifts from one manual to another. If I’d had a feeling, from not very much previous experience of his music, that Buxtehude was a good deal less interesting than Bach, I had my mind changed on Friday. It certainly sounded much more of Bach’s time, even our own time, than German music of half a century earlier, composers like Schütz, Scheidt, Schein….

The Canzonas are among the pieces grouped in the catalogue as ‘free organ works’, that is, not connected with a chorale. BuxVW 169, in E minor, brought lighter registrations, sitting in the middle of the keyboard and keeping within the range of the human voice, as the title would seem to suggest. And the last piece in the programme, a Praeludium in D was well chosen to end the recital; light and almost dazzling in its spirit with a lot of fast decorative writing in a high register. I thought of its inspiration as the sun came through brilliant stained glass of a rose window at the west end of a great gothic nave.

The pieces in between were Chorale Preludes. Danket dem Herren (BuxWV 181) did indeed suggest someone offering warm thanks for some kindness, fairly succinct and sunny. The last two were also in the nature of thank you notes addressed to God; the first, BuxWV 194, Ich dank dir, lieber Herre was rather formidable in its arresting chordal opening and dense textures. Given the registrations chosen by Apperley, it came to sound much more of the 19th century, from France even, a bit opulent for Lutheran Germany just after the end of the terrible Thirty Years War.

But Ich dank dir schon durch deinen Sohn (BuxVW 195) began with considerable dignity, the words presumably dwelling on God’s gift of his son to rescue mankind from misbehavior, a process that’s taking longer than the credulous of the first century CE might have expected. There were slow, rambling, sonorous passages, enlivened by varied dynamics and registrations, often with the sun shining through.

I came away feeling that I should not have left so long my first immersion in the wonderful world of Buxtehude, at least his world as viewed through the imaginative and colourful eyes and ears of Richard Apperley. There is likely to be a Buxtehude reappearance on these pages, and I urge you to make space for a sampling, Friday lunchtimes. Anyway, grand and spacious churches are wonderful places to spend a while, even for an atheist.

Feast of music, art and ambiences – NZTrio’s “Zoom” at Wellington’s City Gallery

NZTrio: Justine Cormack (violin), Ashley Brown (cello), Sarah Watkins (piano)

John Musto: Piano Trio (1998)
Chris Watson: Schemata – three views of an imaginary object (2009)
Elliott Carter: Epigrams (2012)
Alexander Zemlinsky: Trio in d minor, Op. 3 (1896)

City Gallery, Wellington

16 June 2016

Appearances of NZTrio at the City Gallery are always a special event. There’s the wine, the fruit juices, the food, the opportunity to meet interesting people, the art (in this case, quirky, occasionally beautiful, watercolours by Francis Uprichard). Oh, and there’s the music.

A feature of NZTrio presentations (this one titled “Zoom”) is their inclusion of New Zealand work. Often it is specially commissioned, as were the David Hamilton and Ken Young pieces in their preceding concerts. Schemata, however, was composed when Chris Watson was Mozart Fellow at Otago University, and premiered by another group. From his early work as a recent graduate (such as …vers libre… and Derailleurs, heard at the Nelson Composers Workshops around 2002 and 2003, Watson has demonstrated an ability to create an ebb and flood of tension while using an atonal, semi-serial idiom – no mean feat in the absence of a sense of harmonic direction (an exception is the bass clarinet solo Mandible, which I’ve never warmed to: it seemed to me like a collection of effects). In the three movements and three minutes of Schemata, pauses separate terse gnomic gestures (Webern lives!), with Cormack’s violin, Brown’s cello and Watkins’ piano each taking turns to begin each movement. The tension and resolution comes in the late climax of the last few moments, where dense flourishes are beautifully resolved into piano resonance. A miniature masterpiece.

Epigrams was Elliott Carter’s last composition, written when he was 103. The first of the twelve short pieces felt very much in the same world as Watson’s. But I soon got an impression of a different, distinctive musical voice. Chamber music is commonly described as a ”conversation among musicians”, and Carter took this one step further: the rhythms are characteristically speech-like, the “conversation” often brought to a peremptory full stop by a flourish, chord or note from on of the instruments (typically the piano).

John Musto, another American composer, has some 41 years to go to reach 103. His two-part Piano Trio might be thought of as “polystylistic”, but within a fairly narrow range of styles – there is little that is Watsonian or Carterish here. The minimalistic rippling arpeggios on Watkins’ Bechstein (Steinway? Nein way!) might have been something from Philip Glass, with elegantly flowing melodic lines from Carmack’s violin and Brown’s cello – these elements return in a kind of informal rondo. There are light fast sections that suggest Prokofiev, there are jazzy syncopations, there is a hint of tango right near the end, and there are passages of rich, almost schmaltzy Romanticism: was Musto being sincere, or was he being ironic, “sending it up”? I can’t make up my mind. But the members of the Trio played it with absolute conviction.

Rich (and sincere) Romanticism was the hallmark of Alexander Zemlinsky’s 1996 Trio. Brahms saw the score (in the original version with clarinet) and was impressed. Though Zemlinsky was a pupil of Bruckner, and later a teacher (and brother-in-law) of Schoenberg, I heard little of either composer in this Trio (at a stretch, a few sequences, and descending pizzicato lines on the cello, could have come from Bruckner). What I heard was overwhelmingly Brahmsian, densely written, even overwritten, especially in the first movement. In the second, Watkins’ solo piano interlude, and Carmack’s ghostly high violin, offered welcome relief, as did the lively finale, with more of Brown’s cello pizzicato.

This concert showcased one of New Zealand’s top ensemble’s mastery of a wide range of repertoire (familiar and – in this case – unfamiliar), as well as their admirable commitment to New Zealand music.

Another hearing from wonderful cellist Khamidullin, at St Andrew’s

Rustem Khamidullin (cello)

J.S. Bach: Suite no.3 in C for cello solo, BWV 1009
Gaspar Cassado: Suite for cello solo (1926)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 15 June 2016, 12.15pm

Obviously many of the people in the large audience at St. Andrew’s – perhaps most – had heard this brilliant young cellist play with Orchestra Wellington last Saturday night (I did not), and were delighted at the chance to hear him playing solo.

This amazing young man has just turned 27, but has the accomplishment of a much more experienced performer.  His was a demanding programme carried off with great musicality, but no flashiness or histrionics.  He comes from Ufa in Bashkortostan in Russia.  I have to confess that I had heard of Ufa, but not Bashkortostan; Wikipedia reveals that Ufa is a city of over a million people.  Rustem is the son of a pianist mother, and his grandfather was a leading cellist.

In addition to Rustem’s playing last Saturday and today, he is to play at Paekakariki on Sunday, and we have another cellist, Johannes Moser playing the Lalo cello concerto with the NZSO on Friday.  For lovers of this magnificent and versatile instrument, it is a feast.  Today’s music was all based on dance forms.

The Bach Suite is a necessary, but difficult, part of the cellist’s repertoire.  Throughout, this cellist produced a fine tone, and his interpretation was varied and not at all routine.  While he had the score in front of him, he only looked at it in a couple of the later movements; most of the work was played from memory, while for much of the time Rustem’s eyes were cast upwards.

Within the beautifully phrased music there was much subtlety of dynamics.  Mostly, one was not aware of the difficulties, such was the fluency and elegance of Rustem’s playing, not only in the phrasing, but also in the double-stopping, and the rapid bow movements between strings.  It goes without saying that this winner of the Gisborne International Music Competition (2014) and of numerous European prizes had impeccable intonation.

The rendition we heard of the dance movements (prélude, allemande, courante, sarabande, bourrée I and II and gigue) had colour, variety, delicacy and panache.  The sarabande was distinguished by rich and soulful playing, whereas the two bourrée movements had a light, playful touch.  The gigue was fast, despite all the challenges it presents.  The loud passages set  the strings ringing.  This was exemplary cello playing.  Rustem expressed Bach’s wonderful music like a seasoned professional; very impressive.

Gaspar Cassado (1897-1966) was a name I did not know.  He was a Catalan cellist and composer.  His suite was played from memory.  Naturally, it was more romantic than Bach’s music, but also, being twentieth century, was more daring harmonically.  Passages in the opening movement, Preludio-Fantasia based on  Zarabanda (yes, the Spanish origin of the word ‘Sarbande’) were played very high on the finger-board; the piece used the cello to the extent of its possibilities.  It was not technique for technique’s sake, though.  Much of the music was soulful, and almost always the tone was exquisite, although I found the number of times the lower strings slashed the finger-board rather excessive.  The use of harmonics created, as usual, an ethereal sound, but with this player, the tone of these notes was superb.  The playing shared with the Bach its intensity and variety.

The second movement, Sardana, was based on a Catalan round dance of that name (Google shows pictures of it being danced in the open) began very high-pitched, and indeed was very dance-like.  Considerable variation followed.  Nuances abounded.  There was rapid passage-work alternating with soft, pensive, melodic lines.

The third movement, Intermezzo y Danza Finál, was ‘a Jota…a waltz-like dance originating in Aragón’.  A strong opening was followed by pizzicato, then rapid fingering all over the fingerboard.  This is a virtuoso piece indeed, but Rustem was right up with its demands, which were sometimes extremely great.  Despite the numerous technical issues, it was always music that emerged.

A most appreciative and attentive audience heard a phenomenon; someone who is in for a big career.  We were glad to have heard such an outstanding artist at a lunchtime concert.


Triumphant concert from Orchestra Wellington and Orpheus Choir: Beethoven and Haydn

Orchestra Wellington, Orpheus Choir, conducted by Marc Taddei with Rusem Khamidullin (cello)

Haydn: Cello Concerto in C, Hob. VII-1
Beethoven: Symphony No 9 in D minor, Op 125 ‘Choral’ (soloists: Jenny Wollerman, Elisabeth Harris, Henry Choo, Warwick Fyfe)

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday 11 June, 7:30 pm

First of all.
What’s happening to Wellington’s orchestra? In the last five or six years the orchestra, now known as Orchestra Wellington, has built a quite extraordinary record of successful concerts with pretty full houses, which seem to have gained their popularity through attractive prices; and imaginative thematic programmes, usually the entire series adhering to a common theme of some kind; plus the choice of soloists, whose concertos have often been related to the theme.

Ticket prices have been kept surprisingly low, vindicating the belief that any feared loss is more than compensated by the sheer number of seats sold; so as well as achieving a perhaps better financial result, there have often been sold-out concerts which must indicate that many non-regular concert goers have been enticed to come. And many of them are seduced by the power of great music.

I must also mention free programmes; such an intelligent policy, as it ensures people know about things like the number of movements (and so, when to clap), but more importantly offers a bit of basic information for newcomers to classical music. It is disturbing to note the numbers who turn away from programme sellers at other musical events when the price is mentioned: how absurd to waste all the effort and expense on a booklet that not very many read, when there is a glaring need to take every chance to enlarge musical knowledge in audiences that have been left ill-educated by our education system.

In 2015 and this year, a new policy has been adopted: selling the six-concert series, sight unseen in terms of programmes and soloists, for a really low price. This year, as information has been drip-fed, the season price has increased, to a level rather beyond the impecunious.
It works!

This year’s series is called Last Words, and the first five concerts include works written shortly before the composers’ deaths. Perhaps no more than five presented great orchestral works in their last years, though Franck, Bruckner, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich would seem to be candidates (one can think of several who wrote beautiful piano, chamber or choral music or opera in their last years, but didn’t produce orchestral music that made it).

Haydn from cellist Khamidullin
The Russian cellist Rustem Khamidullin won first prize in the 2014 Gisborne International Music Competition; this concerto date was presumably part of the prize. He was born in Ufa in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan (Chaliapin, Nureyev, and the distinguished bass Ildar Abdrazakov were born there too); his name suggests Volga Tartar origin, the same ethnic origin as the eminent composer Gubaidulina.

Anyone who was inclined to think that the early Haydn concerto was just a filler, would have had a big surprise, as Khamidullin delivered a performance of the first of the two concertos, in C major, that carried us far from any predictable expectations. Haydn’s fame is not founded on his concertos, though there are four for violin, the famous trumpet one, several for other wind instruments, perhaps about 10 for keyboard, and the other cello concerto written about ten years after the first.

Khamidullin immediately established an atmosphere that was quite entrancing: refined, of the utmost delicacy, almost spiritual in character, which Taddei’s direction implanted with the orchestra in absolute sympathy with the soloist. His playing was fluid, indulged sometimes in ‘scoops’ (portamenti) that no one of any sensibility could have criticised, as they were in perfect accord with the musical canvas that he was painting. And though the occasional bravura flourishes were brilliant, they too were much more an aspect of the dreamy and graceful interpretation, not only of the Adagio, but also of the more extravert outer movements.

He delighted in producing a warm intimacy on his lower strings, alternating, in the Allegro molto last movement, with exciting staccato phrases, crisp and lyrical. It was a flawless performance, accompanied by a suitably pared-down orchestra whose playing had the same light-footed and finely-spun quality.

Without a great deal of urging, though his reception was exuberant, Khamidullin sat down and charged through the violin show-piece, Hora Staccato (Grigoraş Dinicu), as if it been written for his own instrument.

The Choral Symphony
Beethoven, and certain other composers, seem to attract the critical ear of many critics (that’s their job, sadly), in respect of use of authentic instruments, employing the ‘right numbers’ of orchestral players, delivering ornaments in keeping with the aesthetic tastes of the music’s era, and adhering to the speeds suggested by the composer (if these are credible), or by those musicologists currently in fashion, who allow themselves to pronounce on those things.

The first thing that struck me with this Choral Symphony, was its fervent, ebullient character, part of which was tempi. The first words in my notes, in fact, included, ‘fast’, ‘secure’, ‘excitement’, which represented my response to a feeling of huge exhilaration. Taddei did not have the score before him, and while that must not be regarded as clear evidence of absolute mastery or musical superiority, it often suggests that a conductor doesn’t want to find his eyes wandering needlessly away from the faces of the players and singers, with whom a conductor’s first priority should rest.

Orchestra Wellington is of course fortunate in being able to borrow players from the NZSO (in a few key positions in the basses, one or two winds and timpanist Larry Reese) and having a few former NZSO players in its ranks. But the orchestra’s manpower consists almost entirely of native Orchestra Wellington players.  Trumpets, horns, woodwinds made impacts that were exciting, there was clarity and warmth in the strings, and the entire orchestra sounded as if the speeds demanded were well within their abilities.

The contrasts between the big thematic statements and the more meditative, evolving passages in between were dramatically captured, the tension sustained, though the music was quieter and elegantly crisp.

The Scherzo, Molto vivace, held no terrors for the orchestra, as replica, 18th century timpani, with hard sticks, inspired the orchestra to ever more exertion, with triplet quavers and the impact of incessant dotted rhythms, through momentary accelerations. Here were repeated displays of beautiful woodwind playing, Merran Cooke’s oboe distinctively, that often determined the movement’s character.

The third movement is long and beautiful, and it was only here that I had slight misgivings about the pace; not that it was too quick, but whether it quite sustained the transfiguring spirituality that has to dominate it. But the second theme, in the hands of the strings, took firm hold and later, horns, soon proved that Taddei remained in command of the propulsion and momentum of the movement, drawing attention to Beethoven’s imaginative command of orchestration, in spite of total deafness by this time.

Singers enter for An die Freude
The half-hour long last movement opened with the overwhelming confidence of a bigger and more famous orchestra, hard timpani and a cacophony of wind instruments, soon followed by cellos and basses presaging the baritone’s recitative-like opening, ‘O Freunde, nicht diese Töne’. Any earlier wondering about the weight of the cellos and basses after their commanding pronouncements, dissipated at once; yet where the big theme, later to take charge as ‘Freude schöne Götterfunken…’, was announced by cellos and basses, all the hushed spirituality was there.

The baritone’s lone entry, calling things to order, is probably scary even for the most experienced singer, but Warwick Fyfe was firm and confident, as if the first notes were comfortably within his range, every word clear. As well as the timpani, the bass drum, on the left, also made a stunning impact. Finally the choir arrived, very large, and clearly responding to a command to ‘give it all they’ve got’; not only was the force of Schiller’s words thrilling, but somehow their numbers made the fortissimo singing, perhaps not nice in a small choir, totally arresting. The words were remarkably clear and delivered as if the future of mankind really was in their hands. It was one of those inspirational occasions when one dreams of imprisoning the world’s worst criminals and terrorists in a mighty concert hall to hear this, and watching their evil character fall away as the spiritual power of words and music delivered an ecstatic message that none could withstand (as long as the Alla marcia didn’t have the opposite effect).

The soloists for the fourth movement were placed behind the orchestra, at the front of the choir, a position that is sometimes felt to diminish their impact. I was sitting on the left (facing the orchestra) and so was not able to tell whether there was any problem in the body of the auditorium; but when the soloists entered with ‘Wem der grosse Wurf gelungen’, it came with a reassurance that their sounds were undiminished.

Tenor Henry Choo and Fyfe found themselves alone with their ‘Freude trinken alle Wesen’ (Schiller’s third stanza); a happy pairing. And after the Alla Marcia, tenor Henry Choo was conspicuous in his solo with words from the fourth stanza, ‘Froh, froh wie seine Sonne’.

Certain parts are intensely moving: the return of the first chorus after the long, 6/8, Alla marcia episode, and the descent to the hymn-like ‘Seid umschlungen, Millionen’ for tenor and bass soloists, with its octave parts.  The women’s voices alone provided one of the most glorious passages, both through their dynamic impulse and their expression of such passion through the words. And though neither soprano nor mezzo soloists, Jenny Wollerman and Elisabeth Harris, had the exposure that tenor and baritone enjoyed, their singing in the quartet was always vivid , spiritual in its message, in perfect accord and interestingly, a bit apart from the tenor and bass singing with them.

All soloists singing alone, particularly their last passage with ‘Freude, Tochter aus Elisium’, contributed a particular ecstatic emotion, The chief glory of the performance was the power and almost unbridled ecstasy of the choir, partly a result of its sheer size, even more, the conspicuous care taken with diction and admirably scrupulous ensemble. And that energy never diminished till the choir’s final pages, their fortissimo clamour finally taken up by the orchestra, which sustained it with total excitement right to the final spacious chords.

The applause was tumultuous and it encompassed everyone from Mark Taddei, through the orchestra, the choir and all the soloists.


Beautifully balanced programme of perfectly judged music for lunchtime

St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Music for flute (Hannah Darroch), oboe ( Calvin Scott), piano (Robyn Jaquiery) and organ (Charles Sullivan)

Telemann; Krebs, Rhené-Baton; Bartók; Piazzolla; Madeleine Dring

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 8 June, 12:15 pm

Most of the lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s offer interesting music, either familiar or unusual, played by fine musicians. Students are worth hearing as they almost always exceed one’s expectations for the enterprise of their programmes and professionals delight with their artistry and maturity.

This one had the enterprise of the best student recitals, in performances by very polished professional players, in the mix of moderately familiar and totally unfamiliar music. Just before the players began, a small group of children came and sat in the front, listened with evident attention and appeared to hear the music in the same way as adults did; Suzuki method pupils I gathered. I’m sure their attention was in large part a tribute to the players’ musical charisma.

Telemann is no longer the rarity that he might have been 50 years ago; and this Trio Sonata in A revealed the composer at his best, writing for winds, blending them in the most beguiling way and finding melodies that were fresh and attractive. Though the piano wasn’t treated as a solo performer, flute and oboe wove lovingly about each other, the melodies passed back and forth. The thought came to me that Telemann sounded, in his handling of the two woodwinds, like the very quintessence of early 18th century music, more authentic, representative and true to its spirit in a certain way, than Bach in Germany or Vivaldi in Italy.

Krebs was about 30 years younger than Telemann (or Bach), and the Fantasia in F minor for oboe and organ, Charles Sullivan on the pipe organ, with oboist Cavin Scott alongside the console in the organ gallery, hardly exhibited the learning of complexity of Bach. Improvisatory yet carefully composed, the oboe sounded more comfortable and idiomatic than the organ which seemed to have met an unequal competitor in the very human quality that a beautifully played oboe can create.

Emmanuel Rhené-Baton, born 1879, was roughly a contemporary of Ravel or Stravinsky but didn’t quite make such a mark. Nevertheless, looking at material on the Internet, it’s clear that he only barely escaped being a well-known conductor and a gifted, if minor, composer. He was born and lived much of his life near or in Brittany and loved the sea. His Passacaille, speaks in the accents of the French school of flute music – Paul Tafanel, Fauré, Lili Boulanger, Henri Büsset, Philippe Gaubert…even Debussy, and this was a charming performance of what seems to be the only flute piece that he wrote, or at least, that seems to be played. Hannah Darroch spoke about it, as she did about the Piazzolla Tango Etude, rather too quickly and a bit much specialist listener expectation, but her playing, tenderly supported by Jaquiery, was a nice revelation of a composer I didn’t know.

Piazzolla’s Tango Etude No 2 (one of six) was actually written for flute and piano, not an arrangement, though he apparently (through the player on a YouTube performance) made a remark to the effect that the accents should be exaggerated to imitate the sound of the bandoneon. That was how it was played and Darroch achieved a fine idiomatic feeling.

Calvin Scott also spoke, pitched at an appropriate level of assumed knowledge, about Bartók’s Four Hungarian Folksongs, for oboe and piano, interestingly identifying their origins. They might have been the most meaty and individual pieces in the recital; evidently from territory now part of Romania (because Romanians were the dominant population when boundaries were set in the post-WWI Treaty of Versailles). The playing was careful, unhurried, giving varied weight to certain phrases, and though Scott’s playing was beautiful, it also captured enough of Bartók’s pains to preserve a peasant authenticity; and here the piano part was very much an important partner.

And the trio came together again to play a Trio written by Madeleine Dring (1923-1977; I hadn’t come across her either). Jaquiery told us that she was an English actress as well as composer and much of her music was for the theatre. This delightful trio, in three conventional movements, avoided any sign that she worried too much about writing music for academia, to impress the avant-garde. Yet there was distinctive character, here and there a real melody, set in a generalized contemporary idiom. I tended to think of French rather than English composer influences – like Ibert or Poulenc and there was a sense of delight, a confidence, in the way she pursued the course of her musical ideas.

So the entire concert was a wonderful anthology for the middle of the day, in this sort of context: variety of eras and styles, nationalities and intents. Among the many delightful, spirit-lifting recitals one hears at St Andrew’s, I rated this one of the very best.