Change of players leads to interesting programme nevertheless

Hutt City Lunchtime Concert Series

Mike Curtis: Five Huapangos
Bréval: Two Airs for violin and cello
Schulhoff: Due for violin and cello

Konstanze Artmann (violin) and Margaret Goldborg (cello)

St. Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, 6 July 2016, 12.15pm

Sadly, the change from the advertised programme, Maaike Christie-Beekman, mezzo-soprano, with Catherine Norton, piano, was caused by the singer’s illness.  We trust that she is making a speedy recovery.

In its place was an interesting instrumental programme – a different combo from what we usually experience: violin and cello.

Mike Curtis is a contemporary American composer and bassoonist, much influenced by Mexican rhythms, as here, in his suite of Huapangos.  The huapango is a Mexican dance that mixes different time signatures.  The first movements are all named after cities, towns or locations in Mexico. The first, “Santa Cruz” was fast, while the second, “Las Islitas” was slower and more graceful.  The third had a familiar ring to it: “Miramar”.  As well as being a suburb of Wellington, Miramar is a beach resort in south India, and a city in Mexico.  The solo cello played a large part of this movement, a faster one than the previous dance.

“Ofelia” followed, and was more doleful – whether because the location in Mexico City is sad, or due to the famous character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I do not know.  Again, there was an unaccompanied cello section.  Finally, we heard “El Llano” (the name of a municipality, i.e. county, in Mexico), a light and airy, strongly rhythmic piece.  The entire unfamiliar work was admirably well played, and enjoyable to listen to.

Jean-Baptiste Bréval (1753-1823) seems to be having a small local revival; his music is being performed by Robert Ibell and Douglas Mews in their current series of concerts around the country for Chamber Music New Zealand.  We were told that his writing for cello was in the viola da gamba style.

The first Air was in theme-and-variations form.  There was much work for the cellist high on the fingerboard, and a great deal of double-stopping for the violinist.  A few intonation lapses in this piece did not spoil the delightfully simple melody line.  The complex variations added a lot of difficulty, however.

The second Air was in a minor key.  Again the air was stated, followed by increasingly complex variations.  The melody alternated between the instruments, which were very well balanced tonally.  The whole had a pleasing effect.

Jewish composer Erwin Schulhoff  (1894-1942) was born in Prague; he died in a concentration camp during World War II.   His duo, written in 1925, was full of interest.  The first movement, Moderato, incorporated left-hand pizzicato for the violinist and playing sequences of harmonics for both musicians.  Mutes were employed to great effect towards the end.  “Zingaresca” lived up to its gipsy name, being bouncy and highly rhythmic.  Left-hand pizzicato was required of both players, and glissandi added excitement.  The movement had a dynamic and jolly effect.

Andantino was the inscription for the third movement.  It began with a sombre theme, and employed lots of pizzicato.  Finally, the last movement was marked Moderato again,  followed by Presto fanatico.  The first part became quite impassioned, then returned to its opening serenity.  That was replaced by chords, followed by the fanatico.  The cello played spiccato, the bow bouncing on the strings while the violin played pizzicato chords.  These effects were interspersed with repeated anxious phrases.

The overall effect was intriguing and musically interesting.

The audience was most appreciative of a concert of unfamiliar but exciting works and of the excellent playing of the musicians, called on at short notice.



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