Paekakariki’s Mulled Wine concert series opens in the rich classical heartland

Mulled Wine Concert

Diedre Irons – piano, Vesa-Matti Leppänen – violin, Andrew Joyce – cello

Mozart: Violin Sonata in G, K 379
Beethoven: Cello sonata in A, Op 69
Brahms: Piano Trio in B, Op 8

Paekakariki Memorial Hall

Sunday 5 March 2017, 2:30 pm

I missed the first of Paekakriki’s Mulled Wine concerts in January, organised by Mary Gow, featuring ‘Ukes of Wellington’ along with wine and beer at the bar; all three I could well have enjoyed.

However, I caught the first serious engagement, involving three leading Wellington musicians none of whom were born in New Zealand but who one hopes will not change their minds in the light of political or other considerations such as ill-treatment of the arts.

Mozart: Violin Sonata, K 379
Mozart’s violin sonatas (any of his sonatas – for piano or violin – for that matter) are not much performed in recital; there are 16 childhood violin sonatas, but 20 or so mature sonatas, as well as 18 solo piano sonatas. It might be a symptom of the problem if I confess that while I’ve got about six LPs containing some dozen of the violin sonatas (sign of younger, polymath, omnivorous ambition), not all of which I’d be certain I’ve listened to, I have no CDs of the violin sonatas, pointing to the onset of resigned sense of reality in later years I suppose.

It’s one of the last works that Mozart wrote at Salzburg before going to Vienna. About the time of the opera Idomeneo, as a mature 25-year-old.

This was a slightly familiar piece to me, but not recently heard. It awakened me to the rich and original world of the violin sonata that Mozart created, many I believe for his own use, for he was a violinist with gifts comparable to those at the piano.

Most unusually, an Adagio section opens the first movement, starting impressively, with a warm, open theme, relaxed broken chords on the piano, all revealing a confidence and generosity of spirit. The performance, especially by the piano, might have exaggerated dynamic impulses somewhat beyond what the music might have suggested, and a I wondered whether a more genteel approach in the Allegro might have served the music as well.

Though most recordings and references show the Adagio and the following Allegro as two parts of one movement, they can, as in the programme note for this concert, be regarded as two. The Allegro, in G minor, follows without break. But the minor key has no implications for its mood which the players captured in a sanguine, even dramatic, spirit, far from sombre.

The last movement is a theme and variations, again in G major, apart from the fourth variation which shifts to the minor key. The first variation leaves the violin silent while in the penultimate variation Diedre Irons’ piano again had the scene to herself apart from subtle violin pizzicato; the discreet tempo and rhythm changes throughout the successive variations left a feeling of peace and contentment.

Beethoven’s Third Cello Sonata
I heard Beethoven’s A major, third, cello sonata, played only a month ago at the Nelson Chamber Music Festival, by Matthew Barley with Dénes Varjon at the piano. Barley was one of the dozen cellists involved in this year’s cello-rich festival where all Beethoven’s five sonatas were played, a different cellist for each; they were: Ashley Brown, Julian Smiles (of the Goldner Quartet), Barley, Rolf Gjelsten and Andrew Joyce.

I’d remarked in Nelson that one’s impression might be that Beethoven’s cello sonatas did not seem altogether to inhabit the composer’s heartland. I felt that Barley had given Op 69 a sort of raw individuality, so that it had a somewhat unBeethovenish flavour; engrossing nevertheless. The vivid contrasts between movements and within movements were interesting and stimulating, sometimes lyrical or rhapsodic, with constantly varied tempi.

Andrew Joyce here gave it a beautiful performance that had all the dramatic, strong-minded structural qualities that were very recognisably Beethoven. It might not be essential that a performance conforms completely with one’s own conception of a work, but this did. After the sumptuous solo cello introductory phrase, the big dramatic apostrophe really spoke. And the sequence of ever-changing moods, most beautifully painted in the gorgeous Adagio cantabile introduction to the last movement, that evolved with motoric drive and almost suggesting the scale of an orchestral finale made this an unostentatiously memorable performance.

Brahms, First Piano Trio
One was of course looking forward hugely to Brahms’s first piano trio, written in 1854 (though Brahms revised it in 1889, rewriting the last movement significantly). This too had been a highlight for me at Nelson, in the same evening concert as I heard the Beethoven. It was played there by guest pianist Dénes Varjon with NZSQ’s Helene Pohl and Rolf Gjelsten.

On the Paekakariki Parade, beside a fairly tumultuous sea, dramatically present through open windows, this vivid performance of a youthful work (Brahms aged about 20) that captured the sea’s varied moods almost too powerfully at times. In some circumstances the weighty phases of the score, are exhilarating, while in other situations the lively acoustic favours melodic beauty, gentleness, occasional will ’o’ the wisp fragility.

While in more turbulent or exclamatory episodes the piano tended to dominate unduly which the character of Paekakariki’s hall enhances, especially for the piano, in the Adagio (3rd movement), Diedre Irons drew subdued, exquisite tones from the piano. It was a perfect vehicle for the three players. And it was in the Adagio that some of Joyce’s most seductive and ethereal playing emerged, with Leppänen’s lithe violin close behind.

But if it was sometimes difficult for the pianist to gauge the effect of the space on her dynamics, it took little imagination to appreciate the true quality of the lively, heartfelt performance which could easily be discerned in spite of the sometimes acoustic-induced, unbalanced sound.


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