Woodwind students deliver a delightful variety of lunchtime music at St Andrew’s

Works by New Zealand composers (mainly)

Woodwind students of Te Koki New Zealand School of Music; accompaniments by Hugh McMillan (piano)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 27 July 2016, 12.15pm

Head of Woodwind at NZSM, Deborah Rawson, introduced the students taking part in the concert, and said she had asked them to find suitable works by New Zealanders.  However, the unavoidable absence of a few students meant that several played more than one piece, the latter ones in each case being by other composers.

Perhaps the cause was the rather more esoteric nature of the programme, but there was a smaller audience than is often the case at these lunchtime concerts.  First up was Winter for saxophone and piano, by Natalie Hunt.  It was performed by Kim Hunter.  The saxophone part was interesting, employing the full range of the instrument, but I found the piano part rather tum-te-tum; the overall effect of the piece was somewhat dreary – perhaps the composer’s view of winter.

Next came one of the several clarinet players: Laura Brown, playing Sonatina for clarinet and piano, by Douglas Lilburn.  Laura explained that the piece was not played frequently, and that Lilburn himself had decided that he did not like it, and put it aside.  Here again, the accompaniment was not very interesting, though it livened up in the second movement.  However, the composer exploited most of the considerable range of the woodwind instrument and its capabilities.  After a quiet opening, the sonatina developed into a tuneful and expressive work.  There were gorgeous effects and fresh-sounding melodies. The sudden ending was a surprise.  Laura Brown played with excellent phrasing.

After Lilburn, we had a performer-composer; in fact, we witnessed a world premiere: Peter Liley’s ‘Trees’, for solo saxophone.  Peter was the only male among the day’s performers.  The piece was unaccompanied, and moved through several short episodes, which the composer explained to the audience.  (It was good to see all the players using the microphone, so that their descriptions could be clearly heard).  The episodes were to do with birds, insects, the fantastic woods, and a great beast.  Peter’s sound was bigger and more brassy than that of the other sax player.

He introduced into his piece extended techniques such as over-blowing, thus producing different and multiple tones.  However, I found that the practice of starting each phrase of the melodies on the same lower note became a little tedious.  Very loud sounds were followed by high chirping bird-like tones.  Considerable musical gymnastics were performed as part of the piece.

Next up was clarinettist Leah Thomas, playing Gareth Farr’s Waipoua, a contemplation of the great kauri forest, and especially of the giant Tane Mahuta.  It was an attractive piece, played in a controlled but evocative manner.  There was good interplay between clarinet and piano.  Dynamics were handled very well.

The only bassoon on show was played by Breanna Abbot. She gave us ‘Three Pieces’ by Edwin Carr.  The first was contemplative, the second bouncy and impetuous, but rather like an exploratory journey, while the third had features of both the other movements.  They were played with clarity, and pleasing tone.

Kim Hunter returned to play ‘A flower who never fully bloomed’ by Michelle Scullion, a New Zealand flautist (or flutist, if you prefer), composer, and multi-tasker in the arts.  Although Kim’s instrument was again the alto saxophone, this piece began with the lower register of the instrument, giving quite a different effect.  The unaccompanied piece again demonstrated the player’s excellent control of dynamics and lovely tone.  Suiting the title, the piece had a mournful character.

We then turned to the classics: firstly, the appassionata movement from Brahms’s Sonata Op.120 no.2, played by Laura Brown.  It has to be said that the confidence and experience of this great composer was most obvious in this gorgeous piece.  Rippling passages on both instruments were a notable part of the movement.  The piano was in no way left in the background; it was essential.  There was an attractive variety of tonal colours and dynamics from both players; a thoroughly satisfying performance.

Last was Poulenc; like so many French composers, he was a lover of woodwind.  His allegro con fuoco was the last movement of his Sonata for clarinet and piano, which was one of the last works he wrote, in 1962, the year before he died.  Leah Thomas treated it as typically spiky Poulenc, fast and jolly and one could imagine Poulenc playing this in a Paris night club.  There was plenty of variety in the piano part as well as in that for the clarinet:  lots of fun and the players gave it life.  It made an excellent ending to an interesting and varied concert.

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