Gems from the tutors at the Aroha String Quartet’s music academy

St Andrew’s Lunchtime concert

The Aroha String Quartet’s International Music Academy 2016: Tutors’ concert

Music by Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 10 August , 12:15 pm

The Aroha String Quartet is more than ten years old and has, through two or three personnel changes, become an important feature in Wellington’s musical scene.

They take their position seriously, now contributing to the teaching, coaching and support of young (and adult, non-professional) musicians. The Academy takes place at St Andrew’s between 9 and 14 August, with two public concerts on Sunday the 14th. The coaching is done by the quartet’s members plus a number of other international musicians, most of whom participated in this recital.

There was only one complete work (Mozart’s Sonata in D, K 381) and three single movements by the other composers.

The piece played in its entirety was a reasonably familiar sonata for piano, four-hands, played by Songwen Li and Xing Wang. They played it in a brisk, staccato manner rather than seeking its lyrical character. Their style no doubt tended to expose possible ensemble flaws in a piano duet, though there was little of that to bother about, with all four hands hitting the keyboard in a well-practised manner with fine ensemble. That applied to the outer movements while the middle, Andante, revealed a more song-lie quality: it was by far the longest of the three movements.

The first item on the programme was the first movement of Schumann’s wonderful piano quintet (Op 44), from the Aroha Quartet (Haihong Liu and Simeon Broom, violins; Zhongxian Jin, viola; Andrew Joyce, cello) with Jian Liu contributing the piano part. It might have reflected the players’ positions, or mine, in the organ gallery, that Jian Liu’s piano and Andrew Joyce’s cello (he had replaced an ailing Robert Ibell) dominated the soundscape. Given that the piano was Schumann’s first love, it’s never surprising in his chamber music that the piano tends to take charge.

Then came the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ piano trio (in D, Op 70 No 1) in which Simeon Broom (second violin in the quartet) and Andrew Joyce were joined by pianist Rachel Church. Here Broom assumed a conspicuous space while Church’s piano was beautifully subdued and genial but by no means obscured; and as usual, Joyce’s cello was a lovely contribution; he attracts immediate attention no matter how gentle or subdued his playing, or how good the other players are.

Then finally, the quartet, alone, played Mendelssohn’s last string quartet, first movement, Allegro vivace assai (in F minor, Op 80) written shortly before he died. For many a music lover, for whom Mendelssohn may not be among the top ten, an exception is made for this: beautifully crafted, infused with a depth of feeling and musical inspiration that is moving and completely arresting. A pity that it took his beloved sister’s death and his own failing health to inspire him to commit it to paper; and the only problem was their stopping at the end of the first movement, and that he didn’t feel the impulse to write more of such genius.

Try to get along to their public concerts at St Andrew’s on Sunday: 3 pm and 5:30 pm.