Schumann song programme – solos, duets, quartets – everything admirable except the relentless clapping

Songbook: Schumann in Spain

Imogen Thirlwall (soprano), Jess Segal (mezzo), Declan Cudd (tenor), Daniel O’Connor (baritone), Catherine Norton (piano), Fiona McCabe (piano)

Songs for soloists and ensembles by Robert Schuman

Adam Concert Room, New Zealand School of Music

Wednesday 28 June 2017, 7:30 pm

A single song and two cycles of songs were performed to a small but appreciative audience; it was marvellous to have an all-Schumann concert.  After applause following the first ‘stand-alone’ song, the audience then applauded after virtually every song in the cycles; frustration at this breaking up of the continuity of the cycles showed at times in accompanist Catherine Norton’s body language.

The first song, ‘Der Hidalgo’ was appropriately a love song sung by the baritone, posing as a swashbuckling young Spanish man; appropriate, because it was written on the day in 1840 when the court ruled that Robert could marry Clara Wieck, despite her father’s objections.  Daniel O’Connor sang it very expressively, in excellent German.  His voice was strong, with attractive tone.

I was a little surprised to see that the piano lid was on the long stick, given that the room is not large, and the floor is of polished wood.  However, despite finding it a little too loud in the first song, it did not bother me later – either I adapted, or the pianist did!  However, I did frequently find the singers too loud; they must adapt their volume for each venue in which they are singing.  I began to long for some pianissimo.

The Spanisches Liederspiel  Op. 74 is the first of Robert Schumann’s two song cycles based on Spanish folksongs, and, like the second (Spanisches Liebeslieder, Opus 138), it was drawn from a collection of German translations of Spanish poets by Emanuel Geibel.  Like the second cycle, it combines songs for solo voices with duets and quartets.  Both were written in 1849.  I was not familiar with any of these wonderful songs, and it was great to hear duets and other vocal ensembles, which we very seldom do.

The first cycle began with ‘First meeting’ (I give the titles in English.  The songs were sung in German; English translations were printed in the programme).  It was a lovely duet for the two women.   Their voices were well-matched, and their singing was always together, in impeccable German.  Appropriate, given the song was about a young man by a rosebush, there was a vase of flowers on a small table next to the singers’ seats.

Next was ‘Intermezzo’, a duet for the two men.  Their tone was attractive, and their vowels were beautifully matched, as they demanded the girl come, even through the deep river.

The women returned for a gorgeous duet: ‘Love-sorrow’.    Scores were used by all the singers, but it was a pity that most of the time, heads were buried in them; only Declan Cudd looked up at the audience more than just occasionally.  Next was a song that began as a solo by Imogen Thirlwall: ‘In the night’, and it was here that I began to find the singing a little to loud for the space.  The tenor joined in after being seated at first.  There were several items with this kind of, shall we say, choreography, which was very effective.

After a quartet, Imogen returned to sing ‘Melancholy’.  As throughout the recital with all the singers, the German language was clear and with excellent pronunciation.  Her projection and expression were both fine.  A melodious duet, ‘Message’ from the women followed, then ‘I am loved’ was a very jolly, sprightly offering from the quartet; a change from the character of most of the earlier songs.  Appealing harmony, some of it quite complex, had the singers nevertheless all absolutely spot-on together.

Two gypsy songs completed the set, both entitled ‘Little gypsy song’.  The first was from Daniel O’Connor, who sang very directly and strongly about how he was dragged from his dungeon, but fired the first shot himself.  Jess Segal followed with a quite different character, and a sad ending.  Throughout, Catherine Norton’s accompaniments were splendid.

The second cycle was lighter in tone, even amusing at times.  It began with a piano duet Prelude.  The two pianists proved to be good duettists (a genre I don’t always enjoy) – they were absolutely together, which is not always the case with two pianists accustomed to playing on their own.  All the songs were accompanied in this way, played with impeccable taste, dynamics and musicality.

Imogen Thirlwall gave a good rendition of ‘Deep within my heart’, in suitably doleful tones.  She was followed by the tenor ‘O how lovely the maiden is’, sung forcefully with excellent expression of the words, for example ‘Tell me, proud knight, you who walk in shining armour’ and ‘Tell me, shepherd lad, you who tend your flock… whether the meadows, or even the mountains could be as beautiful’.

The women sang ‘Cover me with flowers’.  The poem talks about death and the grave; surely some pianissimo would have been appropriate here?

‘Flood-rich Ebro’ (river) was sung by the baritone; one could hear the river bubbling by, in the accompaniment.  This was followed by a piano duet ‘Intermezzo’, which had a lively, bouncy character in the first part, then a quieter, more thoughtful last section.

Declan Cudd’s singing of ‘Alas, how angry the girl is!’ was delightful; he expressed the words in an innocent , piquant manner, which he conveyed well, by looking frequently at the audience.  ‘High, high are the mountains’ was Jess Segal’s next contribution, then the men sang ‘Blue eyes the girl has’ (though I prefer the translation ‘maiden’).  This slightly mocking song was sung with masterful timing.

Finally, there was a very effective quartet ‘Dark radiance’, that portrayed the opposing emotions of love, ‘peace and war within a single heart’.  It made a thematically appropriate end to the cycle, and the recital, which was pleasantly out-of-the-ordinary.

It was pleasing to have a programme printed in a large enough typeface to be read easily, and it was planned so that there was no need to turn pages during individual songs.  It would have been enhanced by a few programme notes.


Flutes of the RNZAF Band demonstrate their flair and versatility at St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Flute Force Five (Rebecca Steel, Elizabeth Bush-King, Hannah Dowsett, Mitchell McEwen and Katie Macfarlane

Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Three opera pieces: The Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly; Berceuse from Godard’s Jocelyn; ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto
Walton: Three pieces from Façade: The Popular Song, Jodelling Song and Tarantella
Zequinha de Abreu: Tico Tico

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 28 June, 12:15 pm

A concert by flute students from the New Zealand School of Music had been scheduled for this lunchtime and the change had come to my attention only a couple of days before the date. There were several aspects that, even in advance, suggested a very interesting recital.

One, a chance to hear just a few of the players from the RNZAF Band which is based in Wellington, but which seems to be fairly reticent about giving public concerts (I must add, a couple of days later, that someone has explained to me the extent of the band’s activities – mainly formal official and defence-type occasions, but more ordinary public exposure than I’d been aware of). Second, five flutists all together; third, at least a couple of pieces that were particularly enticing: Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, and three pieces from Walton’s Façade.

And once the players came out, a detail of airforce officers in most elegant deep-blue dress uniforms (took me back to my CMT – Compulsory Military Training – experience in the mid 50s at long-gone Taieri air base), we were presented with an interesting range of flutes, from the piccolo through normal (soprano) flutes, the not-so-common alto (in the hands of Mitchell McEwen), to the rare, impressive-looking bass flute (played by Katie Macfarlane), with a tube that bends back on itself, bassoon-like; it really did lend an important sonic foundation to most of the pieces.  The music stands were adorned with air force pennants.

It all offered a rather different ambience from the usual lunchtime concert, and I felt ill-dressed without suit and tie.

The Debussy piece of course opens with a flute solo, played exquisitely by the leader, Rebecca Steel. But the entire work (often regarded, by Boulez at least, as the music that truly announced the beginning of musical modernity – whatever that means) was arranged so subtly for flutes alone and played with such enchanting sensitivity that it would have been easy to hear it as the work that Debussy had actually longed to write, if he hadn’t realised that conventional scoring was likely to be more marketable.

In fact, these sounds might have better reflected the character of Mallarmé’s poem, a pastoral, an eclogue, roughly modelled on Virgil’s Bucolics, in which a faun apostrophises nymphs: flutes, Pan’s pipes for example,  were de rigueur in classical myth: Greek myth meets the symbolism of late Romantic French verse. After hearing it performed, Mallarmé wrote to Debussy: ‘I have just come out of the concert, deeply moved. The marvel! Your illustration of the Afternoon of a Faun, which presents a dissonance with my text only by going much further, really, into nostalgia and into light, with finesse, with sensuality, with richness. I press your hand admiringly, Debussy’.

I am one who tends to favour adherence to what a composer actually wrote and am ready to disapprove of arrangements, such as RNZ Concert are delivering far too much of now, but sometimes, like here, an exception screams out for acclamation. The variety of sounds generated by the five instruments would have changed Mozart’s opinion of the flute as an instrument capable of a wide range of colour and emotional expression.

There followed three arrangements of opera favourites. I was surprised at how well the flutes captured the Humming Chorus from Butterfly, which I rather expected to be a bigger challenge, but again it surprised me by sounding so apt and felicitous that I had no difficulty imagining it spinning Cio-Cio San’s vain hopes as she sleeps, awaiting the despicable Pinkerton.

The lovely Berceuse from Benjamin Godard’s opera, Jocelyn, that hardly maintains a place in the theatre, is heard occasionally on air and in singing competitions; it’s a piece that makes one certain that there must be other neglected goodies by the composer; just as you feel about Catalani’s ‘Ebben. Ne andro lontana’ from La Wally, or Boccherini’s Minuet, or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Gustave Charpentier’s ‘Depuis le jour’ from Louise, and hundreds of other ‘one-hit-wonders’. It responded most delighfully in these garments.

Third was ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto in a lovely arrangement, full of colour with a nice cadenza in the middle from Steel.

Rebecca Steel spoke a little about the music’s origin, and the group’s inspiration by the Quintessenz – Leipziger Querflötenensemble which has the same instrumentation as this ensemble and was presumably the source of at least some of the arrangements. Most are flutists in the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester.

A truly adventurous choice was the three pieces from Walton’s Façade: The Popular Song, Jodelling Song and Tarantella. Plus Edith Sitwell’s words recited with speed and rhythmic precision by Elizabeth Bush-King, dressed with eccentric, perhaps-twenties accoutrements and a big black hat. Only her voice didn’t always overcome the remaining four enthusiastic flutes. These arrangements were especially right, in fact brilliant in the Tarantella, as flutes were really just a more sparkly enhancement of the essentially satirical, nonsense verses, in the original scoring for flute/piccolo, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, trumpet, percussion and cello. The audience was delighted.

Finally a Brazilian samba-bossa nova concoction called Tico-Tico that I came to like through its frequent playing on radio in my youth – let’s say that was AB – Ante Beetleos (is that the proper accusative plural ending?).

The applause after that was even more rowdy. There was a general sense that the Air Force needs to make these musicians (and no doubt many others of their 60-strong band) more publicly visible: it might just help create a more positive attitude towards the uses of our armed forces. I gather they’ll play in a month or so in the Old Saint Paul’s lunchtime concerts.

But this exposure of a small part of the band was an admirable and highly successful initiative by Rebecca Steel and her colleagues.




Ron Newton plays for St James 2017 Sunday Organ Series

St. James’s Church and Wellington Organists Association

Ron Newton (organ)

John Baptiste Calkin: Festal March in C
Mendelssohn: Sonata no. 2
Edvard Grieg: Holberg Suite – Sarabande, Air and Gavotte
J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 534
Vaughan Williams: Rhosymedre
Eugène Gigout: Toccata in B minor

St. James Church, Lower Hutt

Sunday 25 June 2017, 3pm

Dr Ron Newton, as well as being an organist, is an organ builder and travels throughout the country working on organs

English composer John Baptiste Calkin (1827 – 1905) is not often heard of these days.  He wrote a lot of church and organ music.  I found his march rather undistinguished, though obviously written for a time when organ music was often symphonic in nature (and often being transcriptions of symphonic works), the prevalence of symphony orchestras being much smaller than it is now in England.

Mendelssohn published his organ sonatas in 1845.  He was 36 years old, and reputed to be a fine organist.  However, while a great admirer of his music in general, I have never warmed to his organ sonatas; I find them the least good of his great output.  They are not in standard sonata form, the harmonies seem conventional, and the works lack the spark of humour or lightness to be found in many of his compositions.

Indeed, on the way home from the recital, my car radio played his wonderfully melodic, uplifting and exciting Octet, written when he was only 16.  Maybe the age at which he wrote the sonatas is the difference – though he could not know that he had only a couple more years of life after the sonatas were published.

Ron Newton employed some excellent registrations, especially in the slow third movement.  In the last movement there was some extremely fancy foot work, and much changing of stops (or tabs in the case of this organ) towards the end.

The printed programme did not give composers’ dates, and suffered from a number of inaccuracies.  The next composer performed was not Edward Greig; the spellings are as above.  The name of the arranger of the Holberg Suite, originally written for string orchestra, was not given; I find from Google that there have been several who have arranged it for organ.  The same comment as given above for the reasons for arrangements of orchestral works for organ does probably not apply here; the  arrangements I found on Google were recent ones.  The subtlety and mellowness of the original strings did not come through on this organ.

However, much technical expertise was required in executing the pieces, swapping from one manual to another for different sound effects.  The pedal stops chosen seemed too woolly in their effect compared with the sounds from the manuals.  The clarity of the upper parts in the Air was spoilt by the muddy bass.  The Gavotte was taken rather faster than in the string orchestra originals that I have heard, both live and in recordings.  It is a dance – the dancers would have had to move astonishingly fast to dance at this pace.

The  Bach Prelude was, again, a little fast compared with recordings I have of the work.  I suspect that this could be due to the quick touch of the keys on St. James’s modern organ.  The registrations were splendid, as was the pace of the Fugue.

Vaughan Williams wrote his study on the Welsh hymn tune ‘Rhosymedre’ in 1911.  Newton’s performance brought out the hymn tune well – sometimes to the detriment of the lovely accompanying parts.

The final piece was a short Toccata by Eugène Gigout (not Edouard as in the printed programme).  He lived from 1844 to 1925.  Like Grieg’s work this was written in an earlier style.  It had a lot going on, and was both dramatic and showy – hardly like the eighteenth century style Gigout purported to be writing in.  It ended a concert of variety, that showed off both organ and organist, to a sizeable audience.


Excellent and interesting mix of Mozart quintet and Respighi song

Karori Classics:
Anna van der Zee, Anne Loeser (violins), Christiaan van der Zee (viola), Sophia Acheson (viola; Mozart only), Ken Ichinose (cello), Maaike Christie-Beekman (mezzo-soprano; Respighi)

Respighi: Il Tramonto (The Sunset)
Mozart: String Quintet in C, K.515

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Karori

Friday 23 June 2017, 7pm

The sun had well and truly set before I made my way to Karori through cold southerly rain and wind for a charity concert in the series organised by Christiaan van der Zee and others.  The regular Friday evening concerts in winter have usually been in St. Ninian’s Church; the change of venue brought a quite different acoustic.  This church has a vaulted timber ceiling and plastered walls, producing a clear, direct sound.  There was no difficulty in hearing every note clearly from the back of the church.  The strings sounded bright, and every sung note could be heard, even if pianissimo.  It was great to have professional musicians performing; I imagine that this acoustic could be unkind to less competent players.

I did not know the Respighi work at all.  It is a 1914 setting for string quartet and soprano of an Italian translation of a poem, The Sunset by English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  The English words were displayed progressively on two screens mounted on pillars in the church.  The entry in Google speaks of the work’s “musical poeticism and its intense expressiveness”, with which I totally agree.  It proved to be an utterly suitable vehicle for Maaike Christie-Beekman’s fine voice and her subtle colouring; she was as convincing in the dramatic moments as in the meltingly romantic ones.

Respighi’s music is Romantic in style, suited to the poet’s words.  The poem concerns a young woman who finds her young lover dead after their night of love and sleep.  Like most of the composer’s music, the movements in France, Germany and elsewhere to changed musical languages were ignored.  The music was played superbly by the quartet, supporting and enhancing the splendid singing; a range of emotions was depicted.

The Mozart quintet exposed the lovely music of the composer in all its glittering detail.  Dynamics were subtle and through their infinite variety, commanded attention to the music.  In the glorious, long allegro first movement, constant rising figures give a positive feeling.  The robust second movement, Minuet (allegretto) and Trio yet contained many moments of delicacy.   Mozart’s constant invention of charming and mellifluous ideas is astonishing.  The slow movement, being andante, is more sombre, but in a calm way, with themes in the minor key (the principal key being F major), the interplay of instruments, all making a beautiful sound, was a delight.

The allegro final movement featured a return of the rising chords and cadences of the first movement.  This fast finale engendered a cheerful mood.  A delicate but bright ending brought to a close an hour of accomplished and enjoyable music-making.  The audience was rather more slender than those at previous concerts in the series that I have attended, probably due to the bad weather.



Festival Singers – an entertaining but mixed operatic bag at Waiwhetu

Festival Singers present:
Music by Wagner, Gounod, Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti, Rossini, Massenet, Batiste, Delibes, d’Andrea, Mascagni and Lloyd Webber

Festival Singers conducted by Jonathan Berkahn, with Barbara Paterson (soprano), Heather Easting (organ), Thomas Nikora (piano) and The Festival Strings

Waiwhetu Uniting Church, Lower Hutt

Sunday, 18 June 2017

It was a splendid idea for a concert:  Perform sacred works, or quasi-religious works, by some of the great opera composers. Vary it with instrumental pieces, including some for strings, and a soloist or two. Introduce the items in informative and amusing, but brief, words.

The formula was fine, but the performances did not always live up to the promise.

Using an electronic organ, sometimes with piano, to accompany the pieces suffered from the unregenerate organ at this church; it produced a rather woolly sound, particularly in the lower registers. It completely lacked resonance – its two speakers at the back of the church being inadequate to convey much definition of tone, the sound being too confined.

This would not have assisted the choir in picking its pitches; much of the time the choir sounded insecure, and intonation was variable, especially on higher notes.

The first piece was a chorus from Die Meistersinger by Richard Wagner. The choir began with good attack, but here and elsewhere blend was not good: too many individual voices could be heard. The German language was pronounced very well.

Verdi’s ‘Ave Maria’ from his Four Sacred Pieces was next. Berkahn explained the unusual scale on which it was based. It is certainly a very difficult piece, and the choir did not really bring it off. The tone of the singers was not consistent, and pitch was often not on the spot.

The much plainer Ave verum corpus by Gounod was easier to handle. It was conducted by Barbara Paterson (her conducting debut). The humming in the early part was very good. Next was the same composer’s ‘Agnus Dei’ from his St. Cecilia Mass. Latin pronunciation was not quite up to the level of the earlier German. A good tenor soloist featured in this piece, and the choir’s balance was good, but soloist Barbara Paterson’s strong vibrato was too much for a piece like this.

Variety was introduced by the string quartet plus piano (The Festival Strings, not named in the printed programme, though Jonathan Berkahn did introduce them by their names. He, incidentally, was the pianist.). They played Massenet’s well-known ‘Mediation’ from his opera Thais. It was beautifully performed, particularly the solo first violin part; the other instruments had much less to do, and could not be heard very clearly.
The conductor then played on the organ Offertoire by Édouard Batiste. Played on this organ, it was a rather blaring piece without much character; in fact, crass and vulgar (as Berkahn had warned us!).

Delibes was next, with a ‘Kyrie’ from his Messe Breve. It was sung by women only, but I found it rather a boring piece; I daresay as part of entire mass it would have been balanced out by the other movements.

The marvellous ‘Va pensiero’ from Verdi’s opera Nabucco ended the first half of the concert in triumphant style, Thomas Nikora accompanying on piano. The opening was particularly good, but unfortunately some choir members ignored the fact that part of the chorus was unison. The ending was very fine.

Giovanni d’Andrea’s Sinfonia in C for organ was another very loud piece (played by Jonathan Berkahn) that on this instrument appeared to have little merit. That part of it of a rather ‘rum-te-tum’ character was played so fast that sounded ridiculous.

Rossini was up next, with Barbara Paterson conducting again, his ‘Salve Regina’. It began unaccompanied, then piano and organ joined in.

Donizetti was represented by two excerpts from his Requiem: ‘In memoria aeterna’ and ‘Rex tremendae’. Here, the choir had much more confidence and accuracy (possibly because a number of them would have sung this recently, in the Choral Federation’s May regional workshop). There was some good pianissimo singing, but also too many individual voices were prominent, particularly from the men. The letter ‘s’, which is more of a problem in the English language than in Latin, was often not sounded together by the choir. The ending of the second excerpt was lovely.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular ‘Pie Jesu’ from his Requiem was next, with Barbara Paterson as soloist. Here again, her voice did not seem to me to be suitable for this charming, simple melody. The choir acquitted itself well, as did the second soloist, a choir member.

Another delightful string piece (with piano and organ) followed: the well-known ‘Intermezzo’ from Mascagni’s opera Cavalleria Rusticana.

Wagner closed the programme, as he had opened it, with the quasi-religious ‘Pilgrims’ chorus’ from Tannhäuser, sung in English. Parts of it required rapid playing from Heather Easting on the organ. It made a good ending to the concert.

Schumann and Barber – adventurous and absorbing sounds from the NZSO, with Daniel Müller-Schott

The NZSO presents:

BRAHMS – Tragic Overture Op.81
SCHUMANN – ‘Cello Concerto in A Minor Op.129
BARBER – Adagio for Strings / Symphony No.1

Daniel Müller-Schott (‘cello)
James Feddeck (conductor)

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday, 17th June 2017

Poor old Brahms was left out of the title for this concert, despite his “Tragic Overture” opening the programme, though therein lies a rub – I thought in a sense it was apposite this time round, as the NZSO’s performance under James Feddeck for me lacked any real sense of tragedy – rather it came across as an intermittently “worried” piece of music trying its best here and there to put a brave face on things. Brahms is, I think, partly to blame – if he had called the work something like “Overture to a Tragedy” one might perhaps more easily accept a narrative or scenario which includes contrasting biedermeier-like cheerfulness. It is a difficult piece to bring off in a specific programmatic sense, requiring in places a determined, sharp-etched focus which ought to be taxing to perform as well as to listen to – here a combination of compositional abstraction and all-purpose performing intent made for me a pleasant, if somewhat remote listening experience.

In theory, of course, Brahms was an appropriate choice of composer to introduce a late work of Robert Schumann’s, the latter’s beautiful, whimsical ‘Cello Concerto, here given the kind of performance by the players that fully enabled the music to fully express its unique character. Perhaps it would have been better to have introduced Schumann’s work with either his “Manfred” or his “Genoveva” Overture, though such was the involvement and sense of direction of the playing, we found ourselves transported to the composer’s strangely troubled world with the first orchestral chord. I’ve always thought it remarkable how this composer’s music in particular identifies itself within a few seconds, whatever the work – so “confessional” in one sense and yet so elusive in other respects.

Soloist Daniel Müller-Schott gave a masterful performance, never over-indulging the whimsicality or vain-glorious gestures in the music, but giving full voice to the poetry of utterance that informed the discourse, handling the awkwardness of some of the composer’s writing for the instrument with great fluency. The work took on the character of an extended meditation upon aspects of existence, with snatches of impulse and wry reflection tossed between the solo ‘cello and the orchestra with apparent ease, if occasionally demonstrating near-dogged obssessiveness – a Schumann characteristic, very much an “I’ll say it again, in case you didn’t hear me the first time” kind of thing. These musicians, however were able to vary the emphases and flex the occasionally four-square rhythms in a way that maintained our interest throughout.

Orchestrally there was nothing of the occasional all-purpose blandness that had neutralised some episodes of the Brahms work – in response to the soloist’s first great utterance, Feddeck and the orchestra gave the first great tutti spadefuls of forthright character, and another leading to a solo interjection from the ‘cello that magically transformed the music into reverie and poetry which marked the slow movement’s beginning. A beautiful, rapt opening from soloist and orchestral winds developed into a rich “sighing” passage, like a giant squeezebox or harmonium gently “breathing” the harmonies, the orchestra’s principal cello duetting with the soloist.

Only when the concerto’s opening theme returned did the magic of the sequence give way to sterner realities, as soloist and orchestra briefly sparred for primacy, before the finale’s theme gathered up both combatants and propelled them into the movement’s opening, by way of a perky three-note motiv that seems to find endless opprtunities for exchange and elaboration. Daniel Müller-Schott’s playing worked hand-in-glove with the orchestra’s, everything kept buoyant and supple, the exchanges having an almost wind-blown quality, like leaves blowing about in an autumn breeze, making a strong and definite contrast with the great orchestral tutti delivering the three-note theme with terrific conviction.

The final moment of magic came with the soloist’s cadenza, the lines climbing out of the depths, getting the occasional hand-hold from widely-spaced orchestral chords, while musing and rhapsodising in between, until the bow began gently dancing upon the strings and the music activated and stirred the blood for a final show of trumpet-like triumphal energy from both ‘cello and orchestra. How wonderful to have such playing put at the service of music which responds so rewardingly – for many people in the audience, the occasion would, I’m certain, have marked a particularly happy discovery of a hitherto unknown or unfamiliar work, one to place alongside the composer’s far better-known A Minor Piano Concerto.

Daniel Müller-Schott returned to give us a movement from a Bach ‘cello suite, one which began with big-boned, grandly-arpeggiated chords, their improvisatory nature suggesting some kind of rich, meditative exploration of sounds that speak in ways which transcend what an eminent musician once described as the “tyranny of conscious thought” – timeless utterances that continue to delight and fascinate, centuries after their inception. I’ve since learned that it was, in fact, the Sarabande from the Third ‘Cello Suite BWV 1009.

After the interval came a similar kind of pairing of works to the concert’s first half, that of the familiar with the not-so-known – though this time round only one composer was involved. American composer Samuel Barber wrote his only String Quartet in 1936, later that same year rescoring the Adagio Movement for string orchestra. This single work has become the composer’s most often-played music, heard most frequently in tandem with events of a sombre or tragic nature. In this commemorative respect it could be said to parallel Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the English composer’s “Enigma Variations”.

It was a tribute to both the strength of the composer’s original inspiration and the inspired playing of the NZSO strings most ably directed by James Feddeck that Barber’s work once again exerted its considerable emotional “tug”. There was certainly absolutely nothing routine about the performance, the opening B-flat as sonorous and withdrawn at one and the same time as any sound could have been, the accompanying strings providing the foundation for the melody’s arch-like progressions. The constantly varying time-signatures created a kind of improvisatory feeling as the violins, and then the violas and ‘cellos presented their “versions” of the arched sounds, the piece gradually and inexorably building towards four intensely-focused, feeling-suffused chords before suddenly breaking off, allowing the resonances time to mingle with the silences, and then finish on an unresolved chord after a final statement of the opening theme.

From around the same period of his compositional life Barber wrote his First Symphony, the product of a sojourn in Rome after he had won, in 1935, at the age of twenty-six, the coveted American Prix de Rome. In fact the work was premiered in that city and its immediate success helped earn for the young composer a performance of his work in the United States six weeks afterwards. Further to this came a performance of the work at the 1937 Salzburg Festival, one which drew the attention of conductor Arturo Toscanini to Barber’s work. In response to Toscanini’s request for some more music, Barber sent him the as yet unperformed Adagio for Strings, thereby sealing that piece’s (and the composer’s) fate!

Barber was to revise the symphony five years later, in which form it was to remain. Written in a single movement, and lasting about twenty minutes, the work has been compared with Sibelius’s one-movement Seventh Symphony which, like Barber’s work, moves in a single, continuous arc through its different moods and aspects towards an inevitable conclusion. Rather more volatile in aspect than Sibelius’s nature-inspired grandeur, Barber’s work hits the listener with titanic force at the outset, in places bringing to mind a Hollywood epic scenario, but one convoluted with angularities and tortured-sounding progressions, with strings and brasses vying for supremacy in a sound-world where anything might happen.

Throughout this opening I thought the orchestral playing simply magnificent under James Feddeck’s direction, the physical momentums and the thematic thrusts both coherent and larger-than-life in a properly dramatic way, the first movement both impressive and bewildering in its variety of orchestral incidence. The titanic conflicts and interactions having spent themselves for the moment, the scherzo movement, Allegro molto, allowed the elves and fairies to dance out from the gaps in between ravaged textures and revitalise life’s enjoyment and sense of fun, the winds in particular colouring the textures in beguilingly varied and unpredictable ways – gradually the strings and brasses added their voices to the orchestral games, until the whole orchestra took up the pounding synopations, rather like the Nibelung’s anvils in Wagner’s Das Rheingold!

After this the oboe introduced a heart-easing theme, with strings murmuring a richly-wrought accompaniment, a solo cello furthering the beauty of the sequence as did the clarinet – the strings took up the music’s thread with passionate advocacy, stimulating great rolling swathes of sound from the brasses, and building into an epic climax! – from the ensuing resonances came the first notes of a passacaglia, the strings continuing to pour out endless torrents of emotion, until winds and brasses flung themselves into the fray with wild, angular cries, returning the music to the apocalyptic turmoil of the opening, a cosmos of reiterated incident over which human kind seemed to have little or no control!

What a work, and what a performance! Evidently conductor James Feddeck thought so, too, as he took some pains at the music’s end to acknowledge the contributions made by individual players, too many of whom to list here. The Brahms Overture apart, I thought the whole concert a triumph – of programming, and of performing. A pity the hall was somewhat less than full (the Barber Symphony too much of a “wild-card” for some patrons, perhaps?) – this venture deserved every success and every gesture of public support.

Archi d’Amore Zelanda with delightful programme of New Zealand compositions, plus Bach

Archi d’Amore Zelanda
Donald Maurice (viola d’amore), Jane Curry (guitar), Inbal Megiddo (cello)

David Hamilton: Imagined Dances
J.S. Bach: Suite no 1 in G major for solo cello
Michael Williams: Archi Antichi

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 14 June 2017, 12.15 pm

The ensemble brought a thoroughly delightful programme to an appreciative audience.  What was unusual was that apart from the solo Bach work, the music played was contemporary, whereas one would expect that the viola d’amore would be playing music from a much earlier times.  The programme notes included this comment ‘…the instrument has been enjoying a renaissance since the mid-twentieth century, with new works being composed and old works being adapted…’

Just over a year ago I reviewed a concert of Vivaldi music performed by Archi d’Amore Zelanda, which on that occasion consisted of eight players.

The common factor between the items was that all were suites of movements (almost all) based on dances.

The David Hamilton work suffered from the fact that all three instruments were stringed, whereas the composer’s original had been for flute, violin and guitar, though the composer had approved the version we heard.  The original would have had more contrasting timbres than this version.  Thus, in this version individual instrumental lines and characters did not always stand out; the closeness in pitch of the guitar to the viola d’amore was another factor.  The Williams work, on the other hand, was written for these instruments, and it was constructed differently, with more solo, or solo and accompaniment passages.

Hamilton’s dances began with a pensive Sarabande, a slow dance.  A flamboyant Tango followed, then a Waltz with a lilting melody; after a slow introduction, it was fast and rhythmic.  The final Mexicana had stirring rhythms and repetitive phrases, with a shriek at the end.

Inbal Meggido made some introductory remarks, as did Donald Maurice at the beginning of the concert, but unlike him, she held rather than used the microphone, so I did not catch most of what she said.  However, her performance of Bach’s first Suite for Cello was superb.  Never have I heard it played with such variety of dynamics and tone.  The opening Prelude was a statement in which her playing overcame familiarity; its freshness was a delight.  There was a fine resonance, and very subtle bending of the rhythm.

The Allemande was gracious but at the same time rhythmically sparkling.  Courante was a fast and spirited run.  Meggido’s variety of tone and dynamics gave the music meaning.  There was nothing mechanical about the playing.

The Sarabande, being slower and more thoughtful was an excellent contrast to its predecessors.  Minuets 1 and 2 were bright and vigorous, working up to the lively Gigue that ended the Suite.  This was a splendid performance.

Archi Antichi was written for Archi d’Amore Zelanda, and as the title indicates, was based on antique dances, to some extent.  It consisted of Fugue, Cavatina, and Arrhythmia (though missing its first ‘h’; commemorating the heart condition the composer had experienced).  As Donald Maurice said in his remarks opening the concert, it was somewhat ‘Lilburnish’ – particularly in the opening movement, I found.

Jane Curry introduced the work, and I was pleased to hear her pay tribute to Marjan van Waardenberg for the work she does organising these lunchtime concerts.

The Williams work began with the cello alone, in Bach-like manner.  The others joined in with pizzicato.  Moving into a minor key, the music became more complex, the parts following their individual lines clearly, but nevertheless making a pleasing and cohesive whole.  A slower section again had each instrument complementing the others in a satisfying way.

The cavatina had a slow, undemonstrative start, followed by a strong but mournful duet for cello and viola d’amore.  The guitar joined in after a time, in a beautiful piece of writing.  The other instruments blended gorgeously in accompanying the melody.  The “Arrythmia” featured pizzicato in an off-beat rhythms and good interplay between the parts before the music became agitated; it ended with a delicious little motif – perhaps saying ‘everything is all right now’, to end a fine concert of interesting and well-played music.





Winds and piano: a masterpiece and three French delights from Zephyr

Zephyr Wind Ensemble with Diedre Irons (piano)
Bridget Douglas – flute, Robert Orr – oboe, Rachel Vernon – clarinet, Robert Weeks –  bassoon, Ed Allen – horn
(Waikanae Musical Society)

Mozart: Quintet for piano and wind instruments, K 452
Poulenc: Trio for oboe , bassoon and piano
Sextet for piano and winds
Ibert: Trois pièces brèves, for wind quintet

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 11 June, 2:30 pm

The players from the NZSO who comprised five-sixths of the Zephyr Wind Ensemble have played together in varying combinations over the years, and several will have played with Diedre Irons.

What this leads one to expect is ensemble and musical rapport at a very high level. It was.

One of the characteristics of the famous Mozart quintet is the entrancing interlacing of the individual instruments. As with most chamber music, it allows no one to hide; furthermore, given the different timbres of each and the tendency of certain instruments to sound more loudly than others, more attention to balance is required than with, for example, a string quartet (though I can imagine protests from string players about that).

Each player seemed to rejoice in Mozart’s detailed writing for each part, making it both distinct and perfectly in harmony with its companions. Winds seem to deal better than strings with the natural dominance of a piano; in any case, Diedre Irons’s playing was most sensitively accommodated to the natural characteristics of each wind instrument. This was particularly impressive given that the music suggested a non-legato, quasi detached style of playing through much of the first movement. Much as one resists singling out individuals, Ed Allen’s horn was both fluent and warmly articulated.

The Larghetto second movement was gently paced, but here I wondered occasionally whether the playing needed to be as detached as it was at times, yet there was plenty of opportunity to admire the particular beauties, including especially the bassoon of Robert Weeks.

In contrast with the first movement, I was more attracted in the Finale to the ensemble maintained by all players, though there were still many moments in which just one, two or three instruments had opportunities to demonstrate an individual finesse. And though I was tempted to think from time to time that it was Mozart’s specially favoured clarinet that made the most characteristic sounds, in the end I felt that it was Robert Orr’s oboe that made the simply most beautiful music.

There were two of Poulenc’s chamber pieces for piano and wind instruments on the programme, both written in the inter-war years; it was good to hear them as it tends to be the three wind sonatas of his last years that are most played. The trio and the sextet are however as important if not as serious as the three post-war sonatas.

However, the trio’s irregular, avant-gardish-sounding opening might come as a surprise to those more used to the jocular and witty Poulenc, to the Poulenc of just three or four years earlier, of Les Biches, for example. However, very soon, tunes that might well be related to parts of the ballet score appear. It offers fine opportunities for both oboe and bassoon which the players relished, as did Diedre Irons at the piano.

In the Andante Poulenc seems determined to show his independence of the Stravinskian or Schoenbergian, perhaps even the Debussyish influences that weighed upon composers in the 20s.  It’s lyrical in a pointillist manner. In a way, there was more scope for instrumental individuality here than in the Mozart piece, and again it was good that the bassoon of Robert Weeks had such exposure. The music returned to the more familiar Poulenc in the last movement, with rewarding some spot-lighting of the Diedre Irons’s piano.

The opening of the Sextet sounded a bit easy-going in the first few bars, but quickly a sense of rich single-mindedness emerged, even if I have to confess to having heard more velvety ensemble on record. The movement almost comes to a stop before a long and beautiful series of slow-paced solos from each changes the tone completely for a couple of minutes.

The slow movement, Divertissement (a favourite word for French composers, but think not of the famous one by Ibert), was almost a lament, led by the oboe, proving that a French composer in the inter-war years was capable of a moment of reflection. Suddenly it turned into the flighty tune from the first movement, but soon returned to the meditative spirit. The finale is full of action and the players caught its occasionally mock-Germanic tone. After a few more twists and turns the piece ends with the bassoon attempting to find a big tune.

This was the piece that ended the concert.

In between the two Poulenc pieces was Ibert’s Three Short Pieces for wind quintet – no piano present. They were conventional in form: the first piece, Allegro, very familiar tune, confirming to me that I knew the pieces, though the anonymous-like title hadn’t helped. The witty music passes from one player to another, each having a lively turn. The second movement took a gentle course, ‘intermezzo’ like, beautifully led by Bridget Douglas’s flute, but again using each instrument distinctly to keep interest alive. The last is defined: Assez lent, after a dignified introduction, the tempo picks up and finally a clear and delightful waltz-like melody, Allegro scherzando, much dominated by Rachel Vernon’s clarinet, though there is very democratic sharing of the pleasures.

The enjoyment of the players, expressed in performances where the opportunity to exhibit inter-wars music that was clearly fun to play and certainly fun to listen to, was grasped wholeheartedly.


Naxos issues CD from NZSQ of Brahms’s 3rd string quartet and clarinet quintet

New Zealand String Quartet and James Campbell (clarinet)
Brahms: String Quartet No 3 in B flat, Op 67 and Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op 115

Naxos CD Recording. Recorded at St Anne’s Anglican Church, Toronto; 14-16 July 2015 (Naxos 8.573454)

The New Zealand String Quartet recorded Brahms’s first two string quartets, Op 51, in July 2014 at the same place.

All modern recordings of Brahms’s three string quartets fill the second disc with another comparable (occasionally a non-comparable) work, sometimes by Brahms; the filler has been the clarinet quintet on several occasions.

String Quartet No 3
Setting the third quartet alongside the clarinet quintet was logical enough, but the juxtaposition created a somewhat unexpected, though by no means disagreeable experience. The quartet came from 1876 when he was 43, while the quintet was among his twilight compositions, in 1891, when he was (only) 58. The tone has changed from buoyant and confident, though even in earlier music infused with a gentle melancholy, to a generally subdued, elusive, seriously inward and elegiac character. But the quintet is one of the most beautiful things Brahms wrote.

The quartet in B flat major is rather more sanguine and confident than the two of Op 51, which are both in minor keys.

The first impact of the NZSQ’s playing was their vivid articulation, immediacy, which was intensified in a very luminous acoustic. The first movement opens with strikingly contrasted phrases, first from 2nd violin and viola, and then two bars, much more emphatic, from all four strings, a pattern that continues for about 20 bars.

Right there, the passing prominence of Douglas Beilman’s second violin made me conscious of the fact that this might have been his last recording session (he retired at the end of last year), and so I listened particularly to the beautiful, mellow sounds of his instrument, generally distinct from Helene Pohl’s brighter first violin; and again there were phrases towards the end of the second movement where the second violin is particularly ingratiating.

The players produce an immediately arresting spirit and though the mood of the music calms later, the clarity of each instrument never dims and the emphatic triplet rhythms are a constant delight.

I can imagine certain listeners finding the Andante movement perhaps too casual, after the propulsive first movement; for me, that contrast was perfectly judged, its meditative lyricism, at times meandering.

Speaking of individuals, there were the long, glorious melodic strands from Gillian Ansell’s viola through the lovely third movement and at the start of the fourth. Though there are entrancing beauties throughout the piece, I found myself returning often to the last movement with its endless modulations and inventiveness, the return of a dancing, triplet episode from the first movement, and growing wonderment at Brahms’s melodic gifts and the endless subtleties of the music’s patterns and procedures.

Clarinet Quintet
Recent recordings of the clarinet quintet have linked it with clarinet quintets by Hindemith, Reger, Mozart, an eccentric piece by David Bruce, as well as with other Brahms pieces: string quartet No 2, and with his clarinet trio and other pieces.

My frank reaction to this piece would never do in the pages of Gramophone or the International Record Review; I can’t find the usual ‘critic-speak’ phraseology, for I simply get weak at the knees listening to a recording of this quality – no, not just technical flawlessness or interpretation that accords with today’s fashions such as adherence to the performance practice of the music’s own era, but old-fashioned adolescent emotion, spiritual and heart-strings-pulling rapture. My main criteria are not artistic integrity, intensity of expression, but simply to be moved by the obvious love that all five players feel for this very special masterpiece.

The five know each other very well and it shows right away, in the perfect tonal sympathy they share. Eminent Canadian clarinettist James Campbell has had a relationship with the NZSQ for many years, starting, I imagine at the Banff International Chamber Music Festival. Inter alia, they have played together at the Nelson Chamber Music Festival, first time in 2007 when my chief memory is of a wonderful concert at a Marlborough vineyard that included the clarinet quintets of both Mozart and Brahms. In later visits I recall Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Weber’s Clarinet Quintet, the Schubert Octet and Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen.

As Mozart and others had found long before, the blending of four strings and a clarinet seems to raise inspired musical ideas to a level of sublimity. The effect was that the strings and the clarinet each took on the characteristics, were absorbed into the sonic cosmos of the other. It was evident right at the start with the slow ethereal arpeggio of the clarinet entry, and Campbell’s intimate relationship with the tones and colourings of the strings sustained a magically integrated spirit through all four movements.

The quintet is unusual in that its basic spirit seems not to change much from movement to movement, though it does change in tempo and rhythm, and the third movement, which is as close as Brahms gets to a sort of Scherzo – there’s even a section marked Presto; and of course there are more animated episodes in the Finale, Con Moto, which can be heard as vivacious or animated; nevertheless, there’s an air of graceful melancholy throughout. It’s especially remarkable in the Adagio in which the clarinet seems to be present, uninterruptedly throughout: his playing was a vital element in a movement that was other-worldly, just achingly beautiful.

Again, though the whole was inevitably greater than the sum of the parts, the individual beauties kept catching the ear; there were times when the loveliest companion for the clarinet was Rolf Gjelsten’s cello.

Though reviewers with access to multiple versions of the clarinet quintet can attempt comparisons, commenting on minutiae, on perceived or imagined variations in emotional intensity, indulging such insights as finding “the tone of gentle love but no regret” for example, the few that I have on vinyl and CD make pointless such an attempt on my part.

Many performances are rewarding and are no doubt as deeply satisfying as this. However, none touch me more movingly.

More power to String Trios – the Aroha Ensemble at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace

Wellington Chamber Music Concerts presents:
The Aroha Ensemble
Haihong Liu (violin), Zhongxian Jin (viola), Robert Ibell (‘cello)

BEETHOVEN – String Trio No.3 in G Major, Op.9 No.1
PENDERECKI – String Trio (1990-91)
MOZART – Divertimento for String Trio in E-flat K.563

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday, 11th June, 2017

There’s no doubt that the string quartet as a genre has dominated the world of chamber music since the time of Josef Haydn – the repertoire is astonishing in its depth and diversity, and together with the sheer number of ensembles, both historical and contemporary, constitutes almost a world of its own. The effect of this has, I think, tended to downplay the “presence” in the chamber music firmament, of differently constituted groups, and possibly their “status” in the minds of many music-lovers, as being somehow lesser or slighter in content or importance.

Of course there are exceptions which have pressed their claims to greatness as profoundly as most string quartets have – the Piano Trios of Beethoven and the String Quintets of Mozart along with Schubert’s magnificent String Quintet come first and forement to mind. But most String Trios (for example) wouldn’t for many people, I would think,”quicken the blood” at the thought of them being peformed as would be the case with the average string quartet by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, etc….

Well, if anybody thought, with the present programme put together by the Aroha Ensemble (ironically, all three players are members of the well-known Wellington group, the Aroha Quartet!), that the music offered would somehow be of a lesser quality or importance than a like programme of string quartets, he or she would have been most pleasantly surprised and stimulated by the afternoon’s music-making (I shamefully confess to being covertly one of that number, and am forced here to publicly recant my previously-held elitist and somewhat “superior” attitudes towards string trios!).

All three works on the programme gave the utmost pleasure, thanks of course to the advocacy of the players and the immediacy of the venue’s acoustic, as well as the efforts of the respective composers. I was particularly taken with both of the first-half pieces (those by Beethoven and Penderecki) and thought the programme-order made for a satisfying concert of two halves within a diverse single world of expression.

So, we began with Beethoven, and the first of three String Trios published in 1799. One could immediately imagine why this work in G Major is regarded as the most energetic of the set, due to its magnificent opening – a forceful, sonorous declamation (remarkable for three players!) with quirkily suggestive impulses immediately following, in a way that reminded me of Haydn’s humourful style. The tempo then teasingly nudged rather than plunged forwards, with the individual instrumental voices so characterul and full-bodied in their expositions (trialogues, rather than dialogues!) , able to encompass both the lyricism of the second subject themes and the dancing lines which united the sequences.

Darker-browed mutterings heralded the development which plunged into different harmonic realms, touching upon varied texturings and timbres, before the recapitulation of the opening included for us some surprising “lurches” into hitherto unexplored nooks and crannies, the playing consistently conveying a sense of great and biosterous fun, almost Rossini-like with some of the scampering figurations, building up enough momentum for a rousing finish. By contrast, the Adagio’s gently-throbbing lines established a kind of hpynotic dance, varying between dovetailed detailing and strongly purposeful direction, the players seeming to relish the composer’s occasional harmonic waywardness, capturing enough of the listener’s wonderment to make a rich and satisfying journey.

A fleet-of-finger scherzo emphasised gracefulness rather than physicality, a four-note figure used with much imagination, the product more of whimsy than wilfulness – the players saved their energies for the fast-and-furious finale, which they launched with great elan, but also with impressive dynamic control, so that the textures and tones seemed infinitely pliable, pulled back and allowed to fill out at will. But what terrific physical attack in places! The boisterousness took the form of a village dance at one point complete with drone bass, before reverting to an even more breathless pace – completely exhilarating!

Bearing in mind that some of Beethoven’s music sounded bizarre and unmusical to some nineteenth-century listeners, one could hazard an opinion that parallels could be drawn with the effect of parts of Polish composer Krzystof Penderecki’s String Trio upon some present-day sensibilities, even though the latter work is now over a quarter-of-a-century old! (Actually, my favourite off-the-cuff adverse reaction to Beethoven’s music is, I think, a very belated comment by John Ruskin, who, in 1881, observed that what he heard “sounded like the upsetting of bags of nails, with here and there a dropped hammer”.)

As my own music-listening capacities were immeasurably changed by a first encounter with Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps”, so might Penderecki’s ferociously-charged episodes of confrontation which begin the Trio have similarly stimulated other listeners’ reactions and imaginations. At the outset, each “slashing chord” outburst was followed by expressive solo passages for a solo instrument, a lament-like episode for the viola, its melodic line by turns chromatic and angular, followed by a more capricious and dance-like ‘cello solo, and lastly an effortful, almost claustrophobic outpouring from the violin – superb playing from each instrumentalist!

In their exchanges the instruments varied their textures and timbres almost obsessively, suggesting at once widely-ranging and sharply-focused traversals of feeling and imagination, in places somewhat spectral, while in others imbued with the warm physicality of “tumbling down a hill”. To me the music conveyed a sense of experience hard-earned and painfully worked-through, the string textures adopting all kinds of different-characters, from the warmly-resonant legato-sounding to the dried-out “col legno” dryness.

In places I was reminded of Douglas Lilburn’s reference to Penderecki’s music in the second of the former’s iconic treatises regarding creativity in this country , “A Search for a Language”. Lilburn emphasised the character of the Polish composer’s experiences, shared with numerous contemporaries, in what he called a “crucible of European suffering” by way of remarking on the relationship between language and experience, and about how such experiences ought to be “earned”. While acknowledging this creative uniqueness, what I found thrilling was how the Aroha Ensemble seemed to bridge the gap between creativity and execution and realise their own version of the music’s strength of character with plenty of force and surety – a terrific performance!

There remained, for our utmost delight, the Mozart Divertimento, reckoned by many commentators to be the greatest example of the String Trio genre. Originally programmed as the opening work, the Ensemble thought better of the order, and decided to get the huff, puff and bluster out of the way first, clearing the decks for Mozartean sublimity. As it turned out, I would have coped with the order as originally mooted, thanks to the Ensemble’s ability to take their listeners right into the centre of things in the case of each work, and create enduring stand-alone memories of each creative world.

Mozart opens his work gently, but with the music’s pulse hardly missing a beat as it explodes and resonates with energy – a couple of momentary raw tones simply added to the pulsating excitements of the interactions, though the exposition repeat I thought sounded more settled, the tones not as forced, as if the music had found its stride. A mysterious and exploratory development shed new light on things, the players keeping their focus tight and sharp-edged, and bent on getting back to the expositions – I so enjoyed the ensemble’s dovetailing of the lines in the recapitulation, so very conversational and complementary as to warm listeners’ hearts (mine included!)….

A warm, richly-toned Adagio was gorgeously-phrased, bringing to mind the words “music of heaven”, however fanciful they might seem. Some of the poised sequences of this music made it seem as if creation had stopped to listen to the sounds which were being created, while the more energetic passages exuded a fierce ecstasy at the loveliness of everything.

The urgency of the first Menuetto kept the flow of exchange and the trajectory of experience studded with incident, while the walking-pace of the following theme-and-variations Andante, allowed expressions of both lyricism and strength, inwardness and quasi-operatic outpourings, in a kind of ritual of varying textures.

Another quick and sprightly Menuetto followed, with two Trios, firstly a charming sequence that sported some circus-like touches, and later, a lovely, jauntily striding manner. These different aspects and their individual delights were fully relished by the musicians, with the hunting calls at the movement’s end nicely colouring the argument. As for the graceful 6/8 Allegro at the work’s conclusion, the Aroha players caught the music’s god-like “sporting” character, the opening motif like a “call to play” and the delicious scampering sections giving of their energies to the whole, leading to joyous trumpetings and answering affirmations at the end.