Shaken but not stirred – Wellington Chamber Orchestra’s “Peter and the Wolf” and other delights

Wellington Chamber Orchestra presents:
GIOVANNI GABRIELI: Canzon per sonar septimi toni a 8 Ch.171
Sonata Octavi Toni a 12, Ch.184
CPE BACH: ‘Cello Concerto in A, Wq.172 (H.439)
TCHAIKOVSKY –  The Nutcracker Suite (three movements)
PROKOFIEV – Peter and the Wolf

Wellington Chamber Orchestra
Andrew Joyce (soloist and conductor)
Garry Smith (narrator)

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace

Sunday 4 December 2016, 2:30pm

This concert was very well attended, the audience including many children, despite its not being advertised on RNZ Concert’s “Live Diary”, or the fact that the NZSO performed one of the works the previous afternoon at a free concert at Te Papa.

The Gabrieli works featured brass instruments only. The nature of the work and the instruments employed were described by Andrew Joyce, and the instruments were demonstrated by their players. The antiphonal nature of the music, written for St.Mark’s Venice, was very effective (though the intontion was a little wayward at times, early on), the two brass choirs facing each other across the platform.

Amazing to think that, in Gabrieli’s time, these instruments had no valves…..

Next the strings came to the fore, with more explanations; and Andrew Joyce played the solo part in the CPE Bach concerto, one of the first ‘cello concertos ever composed. I found that, in this item, as compared with those later in the programme, most of the children were not attentive. Obviously the melody and characterisation of the other pieces appealed much more.

A very fast, busy Allegro was tossed off with apparent ease. The Largo produced some beautiful melodies and lovely long lines from the soloist – when I could hear him above the children’s chatter! – the latter varied hugely in how “good” they were. They were all given a page with illustrations for them to draw and enlarge on.

The allegro assai finale contained an energetic solo that nevertheless had variety and subtlety. Andrew Joyce’s playing was very accomplished. Throughout the orchestra’s playing was fine, even if it seemed to be lost on most of the children.

The first half concluded with three movements from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite: the “Chinese Dance”, “Dance of the Mirlitons”, and “Waltz of the Flowers”. Now there was demonstration and explanation of the woodwind instruments, part of the much bigger orchestra for this work. The children were much quieter in this: it was more appropriate music for them to enjoy, and was played with verve and expression, though I found the flute’s intonation suspect in the first one.

Peter and the Wobble…er…Wolf, comprised the second half. I thought the programme over-long for children. With the encore it made up over two hours – though there was a generous interval. Some of the audience left after the first half. The reason for the amended “title” was the earthquake that occurred at 16 minutes past 4, one that turned out to be 5.5 in scale. So inured are we to these events now that nothing stopped, no-one dropped, covered and held, and apart from glances with raised eyebrows between adults, there was no reaction.

While I felt the introduction to the work contained too many unnecessary words, I found Garry Smith’s narration of the story excellent. He didn’t miss a beat when the church shook. I have been unable to find out who was responsible for the delightful English translation of the words: the original of the story was written by Prokofiev himself.

The orchestra’s playing of this magnificent music gave us a wonderful performance. It beautifully demonstrated the woodwind instruments particularly. It was good to hear the detail so much more clearly in this venue compared with a large concert hall. The composer’s delightful and decorous music,  and the words in Garry Smith’s characterisations, easily brought to life Peter, Grandfather, and the cat, bird, and duck – and the wolf!

The encore was the “Sleigh Ride” from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite.

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