Splendid playing from NZSM students of New Zealand woodwind compositions

Woodwind Students of the New Zealand School of Music

Works by New Zealand composers

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 9 August 2017, 12.15 pm

Similarly to the crop of good string players from NZSM whom we heard at St. Andrew’s recently, so we now heard splendid woodwind players.  The range of works by New Zealand composers in this rather over-long concert was wide, but all were appealing, melodic and interesting.

I had never heard of the composer Eric Biddington, but his Sonatina for clarinet and piano, the 2nd movement of which was played by Laura Brown accompanied by Hugh McMillan was well worth hearing.  Unfortunately Laura’s misuse of the microphone meant I missed the detail about the composer from her spoken introduction.  The quality of the spoken introductions varied hugely through the concert; the best were very good.  Wikipedia was able to fill in the gaps about Biddington, and revealed the great number and variety of music this Christchurch composer has written over a considerable number of years.

The andante movement was relatively uncomplicated but attractive. The clarinet produced euphonious tones, and appealing pianissimos.

Flute was next, in the hands of Samantha McSweeney, who played two of the  unaccompanied Four Pooh Stories by Maria Grenfell.  The first, “In which Christopher Robin leads an expedition to the North Pole” was fun, darting here and there.  No.4 “In which a house is built at Pooh Corner” likewise scampered around through various pitches, the player exhibiting excellent phrasing.  These were demanding pieces; at times Samantha was almost playing a duet with herself, using different pitches and techniques.  It was a very skilled and accomplished performance.

Another composer I had not come across is Aucklander Chris Adams, whose Release for bassoon and piano was rearranged in 2011 from his violin and piano original.  It was played by Breanna Abbott with Kirsten Robertson.  I found it rather dull, especially the piano accompaniment, but the playing was fine.

Gillian Whitehead is a well-established composer.  Her Three Improvisations for solo oboe were taken by three different players: Annabel Lovatt, Finn Bodkin-Olen and Darcy Snell.  They were attractive little pieces, all beautifully played.  The second was more jaunty than the first, with fluency and character.  The third was somewhat plaintive, even sombre; it was sensitively performed.

Next was composer-performer Peter Liley, who played on alto saxophone his piece Petit Hommage.  In his excellent introduction he talked about the importance of Debussy’s music to him, and told us the piece was based on the pentatonic scale and the Lydian mode, both of which he helpfully demonstrated.  This was a pleasing short work, which began with a piano introduction from accompanist Kirsten Robertson.

Melody flowed up and down the saxophone.  The piece exploited a wide range of pitches, rhythms and dynamics, and the performer had splendid phrasing.

Back to the clarinet, and Harim Oh played “Vaygeshray”, one of Ross Harris’s Four Laments for solo clarinet, based on a Yiddish theme.  It was very playful, with a repetitive rhythm through much of the piece.  Quite demanding technically, the short, bouncy Lament was played with assurance.

An item inserted into the concert but not in the printed programme was a movement from Anthony Ritchie’s flute concerto, written in 1993 from former NZSO flutist Alexa Still.  It was accompanied by Hugh McMillan on piano.  There was plenty of interest in this music, and it received a fine performance from ‘Anna’ (surname not given).  It employed a variety of techniques, and the  whole received assured treatment.

The concert ended with the three movements of Douglas Lilburn’s Sonatina for clarinet and piano, played by three different performers with Hugh McMillan.  The moderato first movement played by Frank Talbot was varied in both clarinet and piano parts; quite solemn.  Frank appeared to have some slight technical problems with his instrument.  Billie Kiel had the andante con moto, which was well played, if rather prosaic musically.

Finally, the allegro was played by Leah Thomas after an excellent introduction – perhaps the best in the concert.  As she said, this was a dance-like movement.  It exploited particularly the lower notes of the instrument very well.  Flowing melodies and a sparkling accompaniment made for an enjoyable end to the music offered.

The programme encompassed a wide range of musical styles, showing that New Zealand music cannot be easily categorised.  With composition dates ranging between 1948 (Lilburn) and 2017 (Liley), we were given a rewarding conspectus of locally written music for woodwind.



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