Orpheus Choir sets Wellington Cathedral alight with vibrancy, in Mozart and Faure

The Orpheus Choir of Wellington presents:
MOZART – Mass in C Major KV 220 (196b)*
FAURE – Requiem Op.48

Lisa Harper-Brown (soprano)
Alexandra Woodhouse Appleby (alto)*
Giancarlo Lisi (tenor)*
James Clayton (bass)

Richard Apperley (organ)
Orpheus Choir of Wellington
Brent Stewart (Music Director)

Wellington Cathedral of St.Paul
Molesworth St., Wellington

Saturday, 30th September, 2017

Orpheus Choir Music Director Brent Stewart announced at the concert’s beginning that the evening’s performances were dedicated by the choir to the memory of Professor Peter Godfrey, who had died a couple of days previously on September 28th. Regarded by many as the”father” of New Zealand choral music, Godfrey was closely associated with both Wellington Cathedral as Director of Music during the years 1983-89, and with the Orpheus Choir as its Director from 1984 to 1991.

Appropriate though the Faure Requiem turned out to be for such an occasion, the work would have been something of a drawcard for concertgoers in any case, the organisers having enjoyed the great satisfaction of declaring the concert a “sell-out” a day or so before. But of course, this distinction was genuinely deserved, as the Requiem is one of the world’s most beautiful and best-loved choral works. Its companion on this occasion was a Mozart Mass intriguingly titled the “Sparrow Mass” on account of its chirping accompaniments during parts of the Sanctus.

Brent Stewart got a delighted reaction from his listeners when he made the declaration that we in the Cathedral made up “the largest audience EVER to witness a performance of Mozart’s “Sparrow Mass” in public”. Interestingly, the work was one I knew well, as I’d sung in a performance in Palmerston North as a student, many years ago (I found myself humming the bass parts of the “Sanctus” as the music tripped along, and marvelling how I seemed to remember them in particular as the music unfolded). Though I didn’t remember much of the rest of the work in the same hands-on manner, I thought this performance brought out the singers’ engagement with the notes and texts, the opening “Kyrie eleison” most satisfyingly stirring the blood with the choir’s beautifully-graded dynamic levels most richly and directly explored.

I didn’t remember from that previous experience of the work the cantor-like openings of both the “Gloria” and the “Credo”, with bass-baritone James Clayton filling the role in both instances. In the Gloria, it was difficult to clearly hear the soloists, as if the single voices were still battling to be heard amid lingering resonances from the full choir. I sadly fear that those resonances were the building’s own, and they couldn’t help but colour and refract both large and small interactions between voices. Having little idea as to where the soloists would be placed beforehand I chose from the spaces available to sit on the right-hand side of the auditorium, reasonably close to the front – alas, the four soloists stood on the opposite side, with the alto, on the end, seeming very far away! Given that each had material to sing of some significance, one would have thought they would have been given a central, forward position as a counter to the “rapacious maw” of that acoustic!

What I gleaned from the solo voices’ delivery of passages such as the “Laudamus te” from the Gloria, was that their singing was in each case accurate and focused, though varying in impact. Of the tenor and alto, I thought the former, Giancarlo Lisi, had the better chance to be heard due to the tessitura of each singer’s line, the alto’s part seeming to give Alexandra Woodhouse Appleby fewer chances to “sing out”. Both soprano Lisa Harper-Brown and bass-baritone James Clayton had stronger voices applied to brightly-registered solo lines, each able to invest their individual lines with greater clarity.

GIven the “generalising’ effects of such an acoustic, I thought that Brent Stewart and his choir produced amazingly varied dynamics and vocal textures throughout both works. Though Mozart’s work was styled as a “Missa Brevis”, there was nothing limited or small-scale about the music’s emotional range in places. A particularly telling example was during the “Et Incarnatus est” sections of the Credo, where conductor and voices conveyed such mystery and inwardness of mood compared with the outburst of joy that galvanised our sensibilities at “Et Resurrexit”.

Where the soloists were allowed greater space in which to properly “sound” their voices was in the lovely “Benedictus” part of the “Sanctus” – begun by the soprano, the dovetailing of the separate lines was winningly achieved by all, though Lisa Harper-Brown’s voice was particularly radiant. I enjoyed the voices’ rich and secure blending, marvelling as I did so how anybody could (as has been the case regarding this music) consider this to be the work of any composer other than Mozart – it seemed to me to have his unique “voice”, most especially during this beautiful interlude.

The “Agnus Dei” further demonstrated the musicians’ control of atmosphere and mood, the voices stressing the words “peccata mundi”, unequivocally depicting humanity’s self-proclaimed guilt in the throes of sin, and desperate urgency in the act of seeking forgiveness. From these dark moments came radiant hope in the form of a joyously energetic “Dona nobis pacem” – a splendid finish!

Mention must be made at this point of the superb organ-playing of Richard Apperley, here in complete control of an instrument that, despite its diminutive size seemed to pack plenty of punch, especially in its lower regions. (Most people will be aware of the Cathedral’s recent problems with its regular organ due to damage to the pipes caused by the November 2016 earthquake.) I recalled a chamber orchestra accompanying us in that performance I was involved in, all those years hence, though it didn’t seem to my ears as though much was “lost” in having an organ instead, thanks to the nimbleness and strength of the organist’s efforts throughout the first half.

I’d previously heard the Faure Requiem in concert with both organ and orchestra as the respective accompaniments, preferring the orchestra because of the colour and visceral impact given the music both in general and by various particular instruments. Coincidentally enough, I had a “performing” history with this work as well, this time as a timpanist, which of course partly explains my bias towards orchestral accompaniment! Faure himself never sanctioned an organ-only accompaniment, initially scoring the work’s instrumental forces to include harp, timpani, organ and strings, and in later amendations adding firstly horns, trumpets and bassoon, and finally a near-full complement of winds plus trombones!. He reportedly complained of a later performance that the orchestra had been “too small”, clearly wanting those colours and timbres to be heard.

In most instances involving performances of this work the prohibitive cost of hiring orchestral players would prevent choirs from programming the Requiem at all, I expect – but with organists of the calibre of Richard Apperley and Douglas Mews in Wellington, the prohibitive becomes possible with the use of organ accompaniment. As with the Mozart work, Richard Apperley’s organ-playing seemed at first to fully compensate for the orchestra’s absence, though as with other performances I’ve heard, the “Sanctus” didn’t quite come off as it always does with those wonderful, scalp-prickling horn-calls introducing the choir’s cries of “Hosanna in excelsis!”. I’ve always wanted organists to really “pull out the stops” at that point, and have never really been transported with the delight that I’m expecting, when the horns are absent. Faure was also insistent that the violins “sing out” their counterpointed melody to the choir’s opening phrases of “Sanctus” (he significantly amended the “solo violin” of the original version to a group of violins in later versions), though here, as with most of the movement’s detailings I thought the phrasings of the player amply represented the composer’s intentions.

Brent Stewart’s direction of his voices inclined more towards urgency than spaciousness in places throughout the work, creating a parallel undercurrent of tension alongside the “faith in eternal rest” and the “happy deliverance” of Faure’s own expressed intentions. The near-anguished full-throatedness of the singing in places such as “Exaudi orationem meam” kept us mindful of the intensities of human aspiration towards God, giving what I thought was a proper “edge” to the listening experience; and this fully-dynamic response to both text and music throughout made the performance a living, breathing one. This “squaring up to” the work’s occasional sequences of near-dissonant anxiety again enlivened the music at “Christe eleison”, and contrasted well with those moments of relief and relative calm in places such as the movement’s end.

I enjoyed the organ timbres – so ecclesiastically reedy and evocative! – during the introduction to the Offertory, preparing us for a series of invocations (“O Domine, Jesu Christe, Rex Gloriae”) from the choir, each more intense than the last, and superbly built up by conductor and voices! I thought the admirable James Clayton’s baritonal timbres at the “Hostias” somewhat inhibited-sounding at first (the singer was on that “other side” of the platform, which may have accounted for this, though once again I felt the acoustic “lost” some of the voice’s resonance in general), but his soft-singing towards the end was lovely. The re-entry of the choir with a repeat of “O Domine” seemed, along with the soloist’s quiet beseechings, to fully capture a sense of a plea from humanity for mercy.

When discussing the “Sanctus” above I neglected to mention a sudden lighting backdrop change, one suggesting to me some sort of of transcendent movement, a “bringing closer to God” kind of ambient progression towards a purer, more intense state of awareness, one that, if none too subtly applied, at least indicated that the music was taking us somewhere different. This continued throughout the sublime “Pie Jesu” sequence, with Lisa Harper-Brown’s truthful and accurate singing penetrating to the music’s core. I thought at first her voice not entirely “pure”, but became more and more convinced as she progressed, and especially with that “grain of humanity” which coloured her utterances entirely appropriately (more so here, in my view, than the ethereal tones of a boy soprano, which was what Faure originally had in mind, constrained by ecclesiastical edicts forbidding female singers!). Here, I thought hers a lovely, insightful performance.

From blue, the backdrops were suffused with orange, with the beginning of the “Agnus Dei” (somebody may, at some stage, explain to me the rationale, here!) – again, Brett Stewart moved the music with some urgency, voices and organ, after a lyrical opening, darkening the textures with deep, heartfelt tones, giving great and resonating emphasis to the “miserere nobis” (Have mercy on us) sentiments. After this came that remarkable sequence of downward modulations at “Lux aeterna, luceat eis”, music that seemed to come straight out of Wagner’s “Die Walkure” (Wotan’s sleep-inducing kiss on the forehead of his daughter, Brunnhilde), followed by a return to the opening “Requiem”, organ leading into the choir’s entry with strong and assertive declamations, and the choir excitingly raising its collective voice at “Et lux perpetua”, leaving the organ to finish as the movement began.

James Clayton’s singing of the portentous “Libera Me” kept something in reserve for his forceful delivery of “Dum veneris judicare” (When thou shalt come to judge), the choir’s tremulous realisation of “Tremens factus” (I tremble with fear) then leading up to the “Dies illa, dies irae” passages – the only part of Faure’s conception that approaches Verdi’s own “Requiem” in its agitation and vehemence. Here, organ and voices flung their sounds at us splendidly, the tones falling away in terror and uncertainty towards the reprise of the “Libera Me”, firstly by the choir, with an outburst of blazing supplication at “Dum veneris judicare”, then quietly pleading, along with the baritione voice, at the movement’s end.

After these projected tribulations and terrors, the balm of Faure’s overall vision reasserted itself with the concluding “In Paradisum”. Though the organ wasn’t quite as “pipy” as I would have liked, the playing kept the textures elevated, and the sopranos’ voices were simply to die for, here, with their radiant, angelic tones – so too were the richly-wrought harmonies of the remaining voices reinforcing those ethereal beauties at the very end, the choir repeating the word “Requiem” to lump-in-the-throat inducing effect.

Need I add, an appropriately sublime performance!

History and Geography in Music: Pipa player Wu Man and the NZSQ

Wu Man (pipa) and the New Zealand String Quartet
Music by Tan Dun, Zhao Jiping and Zhao Lin, Tabea Squire and arrangements

St. Mary of the Angels

Thursday 28 September  2017, 7:30 pm

If you didn’t hear Kim Hill on RNZ Saturday on 23 September, go and listen to the online archive now. A poignant interview with Douglas Wright, New Zealand’s most compelling dancer / choreographer, is to be found there … as humane and considered a conversation about art as practised and life as lived that you could hope to find.

Alongside it sits Hill’s interview with Wu Man, the world’s leading player of pipa, traditional Chinese lute, and the inspiration for many contemporary composers who have contributed to the revival in popularity of the instrument. The petite and spirited Wu Man  featured in Yo Yo Ma’s film and project, The Music of Strangers, and she shares with him a sense of urgency about the need for communication between peoples in different parts of the world who see music as a way, possibly the best way, to explore what is different and distinct, and what his identical and shared, among us.

An insightful spoken introduction by Luo Hui recounted the planning and managing needed for a visit such as this, which has also included a workshop and masterclass lecture. The Confucius Institute and the New Zealand School of Music have done the yards, and Kim Hill’s interview will have lit the candle to result in a capacity audience.

From the programme note by Sally Jane Norman, NZSM’s director: “In addition to her legendary musicianship, Wu Man’s commitment to cross-cultural communication resonates with the vibrant legacy established by Jack Body, central to our Asia Pacific identity”. It seemed only logical to pass to Wu Man a copy of the book Jack! celebrating composer Jack Body that Steele Roberts generously published, just before we lost our dear friend and colleague in 2015. (That ‘and’ is problematic when talking about Jack. If you were his colleague you were his friend. If you were his friend you were his colleague…perhaps ‘and’ should be ‘equals’).

The programme opened with two solos, traditional pieces for pipa, Flute and Drum Music at Sunset, exquisitely and accurately titled as the percussive effects of this instrument were shown to equal the melodic. White Snow in Spring is a Chinese echo to Le Sacre du Printemps that combined the promise of new season with wild storms demanding sacrifice. Butterfly Love, for pipa and string quartet, used the folk and opera musics from Wu Man’s hometown, Hangzhou. Such practice appealed very much to Chinese composers in 1960 – 1980, and here it was shaped into concerto form. It is by now clear from Wu Man’s playing that the pipa demands virtuosity of the highest order yet can also whisper the quietest secrets.

A movement from Chimaera for violin and pipa, was a lively and adventurous work by Wellington composer Tabea Squire. It was given a spirited introduction and then spunky performance by Monique Lapins together with Wu Man who keeps clarity within a shimmering dexterity. (I’d have been glad to see composition dates included on the otherwise excellent printed programme).

Red Lantern for Pipa and String Quartet was derived from the original score for the film Raise the Red Lantern by composer Zhao Jiping, here adapted by him and his composer-son, Zhao Lin. There were  narrative-cum-poetic moods in its five sections – Prelude moonlight, Wandering, Love, Death, Epilogue. About all there is really.

The second half of the concert opened with the string quartet Eight Colours by Tan Dun, from 1986, which he describes as “almost like a set of brush paintings … with timbre and actual string techniques developed from the Peking Opera… finding in it a way to mingle old materials from my culture with the new …”.

The final work, Concerto for String Quartet and Pipa, again  by Tan Dun,  makes demands of many sorts –  percussive, lyrical, and vocal – of the performers and they rise to and relish that fully. A great deal of rhythmic movement and expressive gesture is delivered so you might say that these musicians are dancing… but they are now seasoned performers sharing the stage with Royal New Zealand ballet dancers, so why not?

In the restored and beautiful St. Mary of the Angels church, the capacity audience gave a standing ovation for a programme of exquisite music from long ago, far away, as well as right now, right here. Radio New Zealand was recording, bless them. Tell me I’m breathless and using too many superlatives. Who cares? It’s the truth.

As I wrote this review Kim Hill was interviewing an inspirational school teacher (I think he later became Dean of Arts at University of Auckland) but basically History and Geography were his classroom subjects.  He’d have loved this concert because those subjects were effectively its theme.

To err is human, to forgive (the job of the critic): four student pianists with seriously worthwhile music

NZSM piano students
Helen Chiu, Jungyeon Lee, Gabriel Khor, William Swan

Music by Debussy, Mozart, Ravel, Chopin

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 27 September, 12:15 pm

The lunchtime concert market has been somewhat crowded over recent weeks and both St Andrew’s and Old Saint Paul’s have provided nice venues and good audiences for end-of-year recitals. While we’ve covered most of the recent lunchtime concerts in Wellington we have been unable this year to get to the series running at St Mark’s Lower Hutt, which have been equally worthwhile.

Four pianists played today at St Andrew’s. They were first to third year students, a fact which is sometimes hard to believe, and one is almost relieved to discover evidence of the real world when an occasional finger-fault happens. Helen Chiu played two pieces from Debussy’s first book of Images for piano (there are two books containing three pieces each, apart from the Images for OrchestraGigues, Ibéria and Rondes de printemps – that had in fact begun life as a second book for the piano). Reflets dans l’eau is the quintessentially impressionistic piano piece inspired by the play of light on water, and this was a singularly sensitive and evocative performance, that was fluent, limpid, becoming more and more disturbed as, one imagines, wind ruffles the surface.

The second piece is Hommage à Rameau , a composer who, along with Couperin, for ardent Frenchman Debussy, was the equivalent of Bach. Rameau was born just a couple of years before Bach, and left a great deal of keyboard music, though opera came to dominate his career from 1733 when he was 50! But one could be forgiven for not finding immediate baroque sounds and shapes in this sophisticated music; its sounds are, naturally, closer to Debussy’s other piano music than to Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin. Yet there’s more formality hovering around it than in the first piece, and Helen gave it a very illuminating and idiomatic performance.

Jungyeong Lee played Mozart’s sonata in F, K 332, one of three that he wrote about 1783, shortly after moving to Vienna; it is ranked among the favourites. The first movement with sharp contrasts between serenity and an almost contrasting middle, with tempi splendidly judged; the slow movement discreetly lovely with carefully handle ornaments and a last movement encompassing a wide expressive range, now energetic, now slightly humorous, demanding elaborate episodes and constant technical challenges that put it among Mozart’s most difficult. One doesn’t often hear live performances of Mozart’s sonatas and this was a valued opportunity.

Gabriel Khor played the first two movements of Ravel’s Sonatine, a word that conveys none of its meaning around 1800 when it suggested a sorter and probably easier piece that a proper sonata. It’s not another Gaspard de la nuit, but it’s no nursery piece either; one can understand his not playing the last movement as Ravel himself refrained from playing it because of its difficulty. Khor played it carefully, sensitively, the odd slip was inevitable, but he managed to maintain its momentum and a degree of melodic warmth. The Mouvement de menuet is quieter and sounds superficially easier, and it began with a feeling of caution or timidity, but a sense of calm confidence grew.

Chopin brought the recital to an end, as Williams Swan played first the Waltz in D flat, Op 64/1 and then the Polonaise in A flat, Op 53. The waltz performance was a study in caution, laced with bursts of flashing speed, with the contrasting slower episode well related to the outer phases. The Polonaise set off very dynamically, with first notes in the bar given particularly marked emphasis; and he paid good attention to the sharp dynamic contrasts, with handfuls of fast dense chords, and I don’t just mean the hammering left hand in the central section, interspersed with those reckless scales, where occasional stray notes appeared and splendid, reckless arpeggios.


Another end-of-year student recital: woodwinds in calm weather

Old Saint Paul’s lunchtime concert

New Zealand School of Music wind players
Annabel Lovatt, Harim Oh, Samantha McSweeney, Breanna Abbott, Darcy Snell, Leah Thomas

Music by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Hindemith, Weber, Britten

Old Saint Paul’s

Tuesday 26 September, 12:15 pm

End of year public recitals by New Zealand School of Music students continued, today with woodwind players. If I had been uninterested in hearing the NZSO and Freddy Kempf last Saturday playing single movements of major piano concertos (though I gather it was well-patronised), this was different. Because one was not laying out a substantial ticket price for the rather frustrating experience of being left in mid-air in Mozart and Rachmaninov, or coming in for the dessert after missing the substantial and wonderful first and second courses (in the case of the Mendelssohn).

But the Mozart oboe quartet had other very strong associations for me, for back in 1977 I’d taken long-service leave from my Public Service career and we criss-crossed France by car in the company of a few cassettes, one of which contained Mozart’s clarinet quintet and oboe quartet. The associations remain vivid, and they support powerfully excessive passions for both that music and France. And I have to say that Annabel Lovatt’s paying of its first movement, recreated the delights that I’d experienced 40 years ago. It was on the quick side, but her handling of the entrancing melody was beautiful, and the undulations of breathings and tempi were charming. (and yes, I’d have loved to have heard her play the other movements!).

Harim Oh played an arrangement of the March from Act I of the Nutcracker, a rather transformational shift from exultant brass to clarinet, with melodic modifications. But in its own right, this was an entertaining version, and Oh played it with vivacity and sensitivity, along with Hugh McMillan’s piano standing in splendidly for the rest of the orchestra.

Next, the flute, and this time a piece I was not familiar with: Hindmith’s sonata, the first movement. It was written in 1936, just before the composer decided that he had to quit Nazi Germany for the United States; it was the first, I think, of a total of 26 sonatas for piano and almost any instrument you can name. In a blind-fold test, I’m not sure Hindemith would have been my first guess, though I’d have got the era right! But of course, it emerged typically Hindemith: spirited, matter-of-fact, melodically clear but never sentimental. And Samantha McSweeney coped with its quite demanding challenges with a technique that was pretty well up to it and with a good feeling for its essential musicality.

We heard movements from two of Weber’s several concertos; the bassoon one is certainly less familiar than the clarinet concertino and the first clarinet concerto that we heard at the end. Breanna Abbott gave us a very pithy summary of its place in music history: it was 206 years old, she said. In spite of a wee stumble, she played it interestingly, and bravely, for Weber was always concerned to provide music both for his own piano performance and for other instruments that was strong on virtuosic display.

Darcy Snell played a solo oboe piece, Pan, from Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, offering a quick run-down on classical literature – Ovid’s Metamorphoses has been the source of a huge quantity of classically-inspired literature from the Middle Ages to the present. (A perfectly senseless aside: Ovid was sent into exile by the Emperor Augustus, for unknown reasons, and died at Constanța on the Black Sea coast, now Romania; it has a theatre called Teatrul Ovidiu – have long hankered to go there).

Anyway, this solo oboe piece emerged as meditative, somewhat shy, even hesitant, though one is hard-pressed to divine anything ‘classical’ about it. Darcy played it in a nicely considered manner, and it ended in a typically Brittenish, droll and unusual way with a sort of unresolved trill.

Finally Weber’s first clarinet concerto, second movement. Leah Thomas played it with Hugh McMillan, who’d been the able and supportive associate pianist throughout. The slow movement, in F minor, is of a meditative, perhaps sad character, suggestive of an operatic aria style, with a livelier middle section featuring a lot of showy arpeggios.

One always hopes that performances like these, that give such very enticing tastes of great pieces of music, will inspire the devoted audiences, if they don’t known them, to hunt the music down and listen to the whole works – and be surprised that all the other movements are just as beautiful.

It was the last of the Old Saint Paul’s 2017 lunchtime series.


Breaths of fresh air – the Imani Winds hit Wellington

Chamber Music New Zealand presents:
Valerie Coleman (flute) / Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe)
Mark Dover (clarinet) / Jeff Scott (horn) /Monica Ellis (bassoon)

VALERIE COLEMAN – Red Clay and Mississippi Delta
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (arr. Jonathan Russell) – Scheherazade
PIAZZOLLA (arr.Jeff Scott) – Contrabajissimo
NATALIE HUNT – Snapshots (CMNZ Commission)
PAQUITO D’RIVIERA – A Farewell Mambo
SIMON SHAHEEN (arr. Jeff Scott) – Dance Mediterranea

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington,

Monday 26th September 2017

This was the New York-based ensemble Imani Winds’ first concert in New Zealand as part of a 10-venue tour organised by CMNZ. Every member of the group during their introductions for each of the concert’s items conveyed considerable pleasure and excitement at being part of this inaugural visit by the ensemble to New Zealand. They’ve come with something of a reputation for being innovative and adventurous in their programming, as well as devoting considerable energies in developing outreach and education programmes, one of which makes up part of their touring schedule in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin, a special “Musical Journey Around the World” concert.

The ensemble has two recognised composers in its ranks, flutist Valerie Coleman and horn-player Jeff Scott, both of whose efforts figured on this evening’s programme, an original work by Valerie Coleman, “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta”, and two arrangements by Jeff Scott, firstly of Astor Piazzolla’s “Contrabajissimo” (originally a work for double-bass and jazz ensemble, here recast for bassoon and winds), and then of Simon Shaleen’s “Dance Mediterranea”. Whether originally written for an ensemble featuring the oud, a short-necked lute-like instrument, Middle-Eastern in origin, which Shaheen learned to play in his youth, or for the violin (an instrument the composer later took up as well), it’s unclear – Scott’s arrangement here gives the opening solo passage to the flute, before sharing the material between the other instruments – I particularly liked the oboe’s exotic-sounding pitch-bending sequence at one point in the dance.

Another avowed commitment of the ensemble’s is to new music, of particular interest being works by composers of diverse backgrounds, part of Imani’s interest in bringing together European, American, African and Latin music traditions. In keeping with this philosophy the ensemble programmed a new work by New Zealand composer Natalie Hunt, a commission by Professor Jack Richards – itself something of a cross-cultural work, a three-part piece called “Snapshots” containing impressions of the composer’s first visit to Africa.

Mention must be made of a curiosity which the Imanis served up for us – composer/arranger and horn player Jeff Scott during the course of the evening had bemoaned to us the fact that the wind ensemble repertoire simply couldn’t compare with that for string ensembles in terms of quality and variety, and that ensembles therefore had turned to arrangements for winds of various pieces for “other” instruments, an example being an “arrangement” of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” for winds by a London-based clarinettist, conductor, composer and arranger Jonathan Russell. From the point of view of cleverness of adaptation, the exercise would, for some, have had its merits and its interest, but in my opinion the adaptation all but destroyed the original work through extensive cutting of the material, removing much of the narrative aspect and severely reducing the dramatic range and emotional scope of the music, and its ability to deliver. There must be any number of shorter pieces “out there” (some by Rimsky himself, come to think of it), which could have served the purpose just as well, and able to have been played more-or-less in full, rather than bowdlerised so savagely, as here. Yes, I’m missing the point of the exercise, I know – but even despite the presence of a few incidental delights of adaptation, I didn’t REALLY enjoy hearing one of my favourite pieces of orchestral music mutilated thus in public!

Enough of my tub-thumping! – time to turn to the other individual pieces in the concert! The Imanis began with the wind version of a hiss and a roar, Valerie Coleman’s work, “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta” opening with wild, raunchy declamations which then settled into a swinging, sultry rhythm, one that allowed lots of melismatic detailings within a relaxed pulse. There were forthright virtuoso clarinet irruptions, rapidly-fingered and skilfully-tongued bassoon passages, and numerous sly detailings from flute, oboe and horn, all with distinctive and ear-catching instrumental timbres. We were even invited to join in at one stage of the piece during a finger-clicking sequence, the composer turning to us and saying “You can help!” as the music insinuated its way forwards, our “cool” aspect by turns backed up with atmospheric solos, and colourfully decorated by sequences of riotous, swirling activity.

Astor Piazzolla’s “Contrabajissimo” was introduced by horn player Jeff Scott who had arranged the piece for wind quintet. He outlined the piece’s original genesis for us, how Piazzolla had been asked by the bass player in his quintet to write a piece that, for a change, gave his instrument some of the “limelight” instead of being relegated to its usual accompanying role, and how the composer wrote a work that he came to regard as his favourite – in fact “Contrabajissimo” was the only music played at the composer’s funeral! There was no doubt, Scott told us, that the only wind instrument capable of doing a string bass justice was the bassoon! Judging from the opening bars alone, with the bassoon immediately taking the soloist’s role in a kind of free-ranging dialogue with the clarinet, the work would have taxed Piazzolla’s double-bass player to the utmost! The dance that followed slyly and suggestively pushed the syncopated rhythms along and encouraged more and more excitement until the flute spearheaded a rallying call to which everyone was suddenly listening, and wanting to contribute. When the mischievous rhythms resumed I like the way the bassoon “spoke” to the rest of the ensemble via the player, Monica Ellis, who pointed her instrument every which way when she played her solos, like someone obviously wanting their voice to be heard, be it in tones of poetic wistfulness or with sharp bursts or assertive vigour!

We then heard the music of New Zealand composer Natalie Hunt, winner of the NZSO/Todd Foundation Young Composer Award in 2009, and the recipient of various commissions from groups such as the New Zealand String Quartet and The Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson. This was a work called “Snapshots”, commissioned by CMNZ for the Imani’s New Zealand tour, and written by the composer while travelling through Africa last year. In three parts, each of the individual pieces sought to capture the aspect and mood of a specific place, the first, Namib, evoking for us the Namibian Desert, where, in the composer’s words, “the landscape creeps and morphs, the rocks glow in the evening sun, and the night sky is brilliantly clear”. This first piece was, for me, the most focused of the three, its precision of detail and beautifully-contoured shape placing us vividly in a specific and spell-binding soundscape. The other two pieces seemed not quite on this level of focus, with details (the “extra” instruments) seeming to me appropriately ambient, but not having the same instinctive surety of placement I experienced throughout the opening piece.

In “Mosi-oya-Tunya” (presumably Swahili for “The Smoke Which Thunders”, the African name for the Victoria Falls) we heard the exotic sounds of the “thunder drum” (a brightly-decorated drum with a kind of rachet-tail, able to make a surprising amount of deep noise) and the “rain stick” (a hollow tube which contains rice or some such grain, or else small stones, and which can be turned on its end or otherwise moved to produce a kind of white ambient noise) adding their disparate tones to the ensemble’s wind roulades and the oboe’s splendidly isolated solo line – something of the awe and mystery of the place was conveyed to us by the ensemble, despite moments where I thought the players of the “special” instruments seemed a little uncertain of their dynamics or durations.

The third part, “Delta Dreams” I thought a kind of African “road music” , going somewhere in an engaging fashion, via syncopated rhythms and angular melodies. Jeff Scott forwent his horn in this movement to “play” a wine glass, supporting ostinati by clarinet and oboe, as the flute improvised, the players rolling the sounds jazzily and euphorically towards a “point” where the experience seemed to breast a peak and die away, with only the sound of the thunder drum left, a kind of resonance of departure, again I thought, a detail that would be stronger with some “firming up” of its actual place in the scheme of things.

Clarinettist Mark Dover described the next piece, “A Farewell Mambo (to Willy)” by Pasquito D’Riviera, as a kind of “melting-pot” of local ethnic and established classical traditions. D’Riviera is both a jazz- and Latin-music-performer (his autobiography sports the engaging title, “My Sax Life”) and his piece reflected these disparate, yet interactive strands of his creativity – I was reminded of Hindemith’s music in places by the droll, quasi-academism of some of the instrumental interactions within the framework of those mambo rhythms. The music allowed the instrumental timbres to ring out in places – we heard things like piccolo and clarinet arguing over primacy before the latter plunged into a riff-like kind of apoplexy, reducing the basssoon and horn to a kind of awed accompanying ostinato. The music resembled to my ears interaction between strong-willed individuals vying for their voices to be heard in getting across a particular aspect of the eponymous tribute “to Willy” (Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, a singer, stand-up comedian and record procducer, and obviously an iconic figure in the world of Latin American culture).

Concluding the programmed part of the concert was the aforementioned work “Dance Mediterranea”, by Palestinian-born American composer Simon Shaheen, in an arrangement by Jeff Scott for wind quintet. Shaheen himself plays the violin on a Facebook clip of a version of the “Dance Mediterranea”, showing the violin taking the lead in the work’s introduction, which was here given to the solo flute. Shaheen wanted a synthesis of styles from different parts of the Mediterranean world, hence the piece’s title (something of an “Arab Spring” in music!). After a sultry, evocative opening, the music gathered momentum and brought the other instruments into the picture, to sometimes volatile effect – there are lines with bending pitches, swirling melismas, whispered concourses and sudden sforzandi – these wild expressions of freedom came together most excitingly in a kind of amalgam of riotous energies at the piece’s conclusion.

We were sent home with the strains of a Negro Spiritual resounding in our ears, “Go, tell it on the mountain”, the music laid back at its very beginning, touching on different stylish references along the way (even Klezmer-like at one point), and then with everybody increasingly “playing out” towards the culminative “Yes, Lord! Alleluiah!” kind of gesture, without which salvation might not seem assured! Here, there was simply no doubt!

Premiere at Waikanae of composition by pianist Andrew Leathwick

Waikanae Music Society
Wilma and Friends (Wilma Smith, violin; Caroline Herbert, viola; Alexandra Partridge, cello; Andrew Leathwick, piano)

Beethoven: Piano Quartet in Eb, Op.16
Andrew Leathwick: Piano Quartet no.1
Dvořák: Piano Quartet no.2 in Eb, Op.87

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 24 September 2017, 2.30pm

This was the first concert in an eleven-centre tour by Wilma and Friends – two of the friends are New Zealanders: Alexandra Partridge from the Kapiti Coast and Andrew Leathwick who studied at the University of Waikato, both of whom have since studied at the Australian Academy of Music in Melbourne.  It is always a great pleasure to welcome home violinist Wilma Smith, and to hear her winsome tones again.  Caroline Herbert studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Guildhall School of Music in England.  She is now Principal Viola with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

The two younger members of the ensemble chose to use electronic iPads rather than paper sheet music for their scores.  This had consequences: Alexandra Partridge had difficulty several times with her music stand partially collapsing under the weight of the device – not the first time I have seen problems in concerts through the use of these devices.

It took a few minutes into the first work for the players to ‘jell’ as an ensemble (this was the first concert on their tour), but once it happened their cohesion was permanent.

The early Beethoven piano quartet was an ebullient work, featuring lovely interplay between the instruments in the first movement, after its grave beginning.  The allegro ma non troppo was followed be an andante cantabile slow movement.  It was mellifluous and smooth, with a touch of melancholy.  The players were in complete accord with each other; I was particularly aware of Andrew Leathwick’s pianism – sensitive, robust when required, with am excellent but undemonstrative technique.  A gorgeous viola solo was a feature of this movement, as was the quiet, dreamy conclusion.

The Rondo finale (allegro ma non troppo)  had plenty of fast finger work for the pianist.  The whole was an uncomplicated three-movement work, mainly in jubilant mood, revealing the excellent balance between the players.

First Wilma and then Andrew gave brief introductions to the latter’s composition, which came about from a more-or-less chance meeting between the two.  Leathwick was modest about his composition, commissioned by Wilma Smith.  This performance was its première.

The first movement was marked lento – larghetto.  A sotto voce, rather spooky beginning on strings led to a more spirited, even agitated louder section.  Each of the strings got its own attractive solo.  Then mutes were used, to end the movement softly.

The second movement, marked ‘freely’, started with a beautiful folk-like violin solo, followed by cello, again with a folksy melody, but different in character.  The other instruments joined in, with embellished repetition of the themes.  Then the piano played a skittish dance, accompanied by pizzicato and bowed strings.  A muted section followed, with decorations on the piano of the themes that the strings played.

The con moto third movement had a busy opening with piano leading against repeated motifs from the strings.  It demonstrated what a very fine pianist Leathwick is.  A muted violin solo followed a splendid utterance from the cello.  The piano then played bravura passages in the style of a late Romantic-era piano concerto (the programme note referred to ‘links with Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev).  Then there was a romantic theme from the strings, before a grand ending.

Everyone I spoke to in the interval had enjoyed Leathwick’s composition.  How often has one heard that after a first performance of a contemporary composition?  I could not help thinking ‘This was not minimalist, it was maximalist!’  Its composer deserves congratulations for his fluent, interesting and musically attractive work.

Dvořák’s chamber music is almost universally delightfully cheerful and pleasing. This quartet was first performed in 1890, in Frankfurt.  The programme note said that the composer ‘…weaves together wit, power, sweetness, and passion with inimitable sincerity’.  The quartet opened boldly, the allegro con fuoco becoming mellow as it proceeded.  It turned to strife, and agitated, angular passages; however the previous theme returned and was accompanied by staccato gasps.  Next to return was the calm and mellow theme.  Modulating through a bunch of keys, the music moves to a passage of gentle flourishes, only to end with a bold statement of the main theme.

The lento movement introduced one of the composer’s splendid cello themes, sonorously played by Alexandra Partridge against pizzicato strings and gentle piano.  Then things got more heated, with rapid passages on the piano and dynamic displays on the strings.  Calmness resumed once more with the cello leading melodically.  Agitation again, led by the piano, prefaced a meditative close.

The third movement (allegro moderato, grazioso) was a dance, led by Bohemian folk-dancers – joyous and thoughtful by turns.  A second dance followed, in dotted rhythm, and became more spirited than the first one.  There were some brilliant passages for piano, leading to a slower dance.

The finale (allegro ma non troppo) commenced in exciting, rapid manner.  Jolly melodies alternated with insouciant passages, ingratiating with their blend of humour and wistfulness.  A helter-skelter of motifs was interrupted by graceful short solos for each instrument.  The movement was bouncy and jovial to the end.

This was great playing.  All members of the ensemble played with the required degrees of finesse and boldness.  From the piano I never once detected the sustaining pedal; this was accomplished pianism.  We were all grateful to Wilma Smith for bringing such an outstanding group of young players, and wish them well for their future careers – and of course to her for bringing her own special qualities.


Entertaining concert, mixing symphony with jazz and a witty film score from Wellington Chamber Orchestra

Wellington Chamber Orchestra conducted by Justin Pearce

Mozart: Symphony No 25 in G minor, K 183
Mussorgsky: Songs from The Nursery ( with soloists; Janey MacKenzie and Luka Venter
Jazz standards: Chatanooga Choo-choo and Nature Boy, sung by Cole Hampton
Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kije Suite

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 24 September, 2:30 pm

One might have considered this an unorthodox programme, starting with a well-known Mozart symphony, ending with Prokofiev’s delightful Lieutenent Kije Suite and in between, songs by Mussorgsky and two jazz standards.

The Mozart symphony is known as the ‘Little G minor’ Symphony to distinguish it from the big one, No 40. But it became easier to distinguish after its arresting opening was used as the introduction to the fictitious, misleading film on Mozart and Salieri, Amadeus (based on Shaffer’s play). It’s unusual in being scored for four horns, as well as the usual strings and pairs of oboes and bassoons. The four horns proved something of a burden, as I had to assume, charitably, that there’d been inadequate time to rehearse. I even came to think that it might have been better to strip the horns back to two or to replace them with clarinets, or other instruments. However, some of the problem could well have been the unforgiving St Andrew’s acoustics.

Their fanfare-type opening was not a happy affair, and the accompanying strings were asked to play with excessive force, no doubt to balance the horns. Most of the later passages for horns were somewhat more restrained, but still problematic. Those elements apart, subsequent playing by strings and woodwinds was very nice and in all other respects the orchestra handled the score with considerable finesse; the subsequent movements, especially the Andante second movement, were very well played, with a charming, placid feeling.

Chattanooga Choo Choo
A set of songs followed, all arranged by conductor Justin Pearce: Chattanooga Choo Choo, made famous by the Glen Miller Band during the Second World War. Then five of Mussorgsky’s songs from The Nursery and finally a song new to me, Nature Boy which has a rather curious provenance.

The railway theme remains significant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a half million population city on the Georgia border. In keeping with the fame that the city derives from the song, there’s the fine Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and a well preserved Terminal Station, now a hotel, though like most of the United States, there are no trains either in the city or intercity connections – how miserable for the visitor – even worse than New Zealand!

A big band was assembled for the occasion, the winds somewhat reflecting Glen Miller, though with only one saxophone. But we had strings, as well as trumpets, trombones, the four horns (now happy enough), plus a tuba. The amplified singer, Cole Hampton, was somewhat outclassed by the band, though I doubt whether it would have helped simply to turn up the volume. So the words, charming to any train buff, narrated a young man’s journey from Philadelphia through Baltimore and (North) Carolina, to meet his life’s partner at Chattanooga (at which one of the city’s several terminals?), were rather lost.  Pressed all my buttons: I enjoyed it.

The Mussorgsky of Boris Godunov doesn’t at once prompt thoughts of nursery songs, but these are a delightful, beguiling set that evokes childhood, demonstrating the composer’s multi-facetted genius. They were shared between soprano Janey MacKenzie and tenor Luka Venter; at once they created an intimate, slightly droll atmosphere, viewed through the eyes and ears of particular children. For some of the songs the orchestra proved rather too weighty though it might have been justified in the encounter with the beetle. Both singers involved themselves happily in the little tales.

The last song, again from the jazz world, was unfamiliar to me. Nature Boy was composed by one George McGrew who adopted the name eden ahbez, all lower case, e e cummings-style. Nat King Cole made it famous in 1948. I felt that, again, the orchestration was out of keeping with the subtle and atmospheric character of the song and my impression was rather supported when I read, in the usual source of information, that the arranger for Nat King Cole’s recording for Capital Records used flute and strings. In the context of jazz or pop music of the time it was unusual and an interesting discovery, for me.

Lieutenant Kije
To perform Prokofiev’s delightful Lieutenant Kije suite (drawn from the music for the eponymous 1934 Soviet film) was great idea. I doubt that I’ve heard it performed live before. My first hearing was as background music to a 1958 film, The Horse’s Mouth, based on the Joyce Cary novel, directed by Ronald Neame and featuring Alec Guinness. I’d have seen it shortly after its release and it immediately grabbed me of course, both on account of that characteristic British post-war, comedy film era, as well as its subject – a zany story of an eccentric artist; and the music.

I can’t help reproducing a quote from a website that I found, seeking to check my memory.

It’s by Ian Christie, Professor of Film and Media History at Birkbeck College: “… [The Horse’s Mouth] sparkles with conviction and eccentricity—at least that’s how it struck this avid young provincial filmgoer, who had never been inside a pub, let alone heard any of Prokofiev’s music, in 1959. It stayed in my memory, but only later did I come to realize why the qualities that distinguish it are the very reasons that the film remains neglected by British film historians.” And later in the essay he describes the film : “…as part of an English tradition of revolt against cozy middle-class philistinism.”

Lieutenant Kije has, of course, also been used in many later films, but one’s first experience is usually the most memorable. By the way, its spelling doesn’t comply with normal transliteration from the Russian, Киже which would be ‘Kizhe’ – sounding as in ‘measure’; The ‘j’ is the letter used in French transliteration of the sound, as it had been first published in France.

The performance was surprisingly polished and re-created the character of the delicious music much more successfully than I’d thought likely from an essentially amateur orchestra. Right from the start, with a solo trumpet (Neil Dodgson I suppose) sounding from behind the scenes, I was aware of something special. The very particular orchestration was captured, and I have to express delight at the horn playing: it was as if the music’s eccentricity had inspired skills and a singular affinity. Double basses held the limelight for a few bars; the tenor sax struck the right tone and there were nifty remarks from the xylophone. Most striking of course is the sleigh ride – Troika – a term sadly, forever blackened by the harshness of the intransigent trio of torturers working their financial austerity, from the IMF, ECB and EU Commission of recent years. But the real thing transcends that unfortunate borrowing.

The performance was a small triumph for the orchestra and conductor, and a delight for the audience.


At St Mary’s, Karori: viola and organ music drawn from Bach, Elgar and an obscure York Minster organist

Karori Classics
Christiaan van der Zee (viola), Douglas Mews (organ)

Bach:   Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in G major, BWV 1027
Tenor aria from Cantata no. 5: ‘Ergiesse dich reichlich’
Toccata and Fugue in D minor
Elgar:   Sospiri
Chanson de Matin
Matthew Camidge: Concerto in G minor for organ

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Karori

Friday 22 September 2017, 7pm

A rather small audience enjoyed a ‘Bach sandwich’ as the artists described it.  The opening work, played by viola and organ immediately impressed with the euphonious tone of the viola, which one so seldom hears played solo, or with simply an accompaniment.  Flute tones from the organ were a sufficient contrast to allow the viola to really speak with its own voice.  It was described by the person introducing the concert as a ‘velvety’ sound.

The first movement of the sonata was played mainly in the lower register of the viola.  A faster second movement was followed by an andante third, with slow, lilting phrases on both instruments.  The final movement was an ornate allegro moderato featuring jaunty high flute pipes, the viola bolstering the melodies from below.

Some more Bach came in the shape of the transcription of a tenor aria from Cantata no.5 ‘Wo soll ich fliehen hin’ (Where shall I flee); making alternate settings of his music was something Bach did a great deal himself, including many arias arranged for organ.  The organ played the tenor part, while Chris van der Zee was the fountain – a word occurring in the aria.  He explained that the viola was tuned to a lower pitch than usual.

There were warm tones from both instruments.  The viola was played from in front of the pipes; the organ console was some distance away.  The piece was typical Bach, with lots of intricacies, depicting the water falling and splashing from the fountain.

Elgar was represented by two quite well-known pieces, the first arranged from an original for strings, harp and solo cello, and the second having various orchestral settings but often played on violin and piano.  I found they sounded a little strange on organ.  The viola tone was lovely and full, being played in a Romantic style for this music, quite different from that employed in the Bach.  I thought the Chanson de Matin did not work particularly well for this instrumental combination – but maybe I am just too accustomed to hearing it from a string orchestra.  There was an effective change of registration on the organ for the more agitated section, then it was back to quieter, more mellow pipes for the ending.

Chris van der Zee had to depart at this point to another function; Douglas Mews treated us to another English composer, with whom I was not familiar: Matthew Camidge (1764 – 1844).  He was an organist, and part of a family dynasty of church musicians at York Minster.  His Concerto for organ in G minor was one of six.  As Mews explained, he wrote in an older style, not exhibiting any influences of the nineteenth century.

The piece had a strong Introduction, then a quiet section.  Contrasting passages followed.  The organist made excellent use of the two manuals, with contrasting registrations.  This was lively music.

There was a quiet and slower movement, using flute stops.  I thought the music pleasant but not particularly inspired.  The final gavotte movement was jolly, and very fast, with almost humorous figures.

The final work was Bach’s popular Toccata and Fugue in D minor – except that, as Douglas Mews explained, there is doubt about its authorship.  He said that it is not very organistic, and perhaps was originally for violin – or viola?  Some scholars stoutly maintain that it is an early work by Johann Sebastian, while others think that one of his pupils wrote it.  The lack of a score in Bach’s hand is one of the problems.

Regardless, its rousing opening and strong themes are always stirring.  Bright registration and a fast tempo made this work speak its message very clearly, in a fine, detached style.  This was a very effective, brilliant and satisfying rendition.



Two pianists: rapport, stamina, poetry at NZSM Adam Concert Room

Lunchtime recital, piano four hands – Jian Liu and Hamish Robb

Te Koki: New Zealand School of Music, in Adam Concert Room at Victoria University

Friday 22 September 2017, lunchtime

Lucky we were to attend this lunchtime concert at New Zealand School of Music. It was luminous in several respects.

Firstly the choice of programme – three works, by Schubert, Hindemith and Debussy.

… with pithy and pertinent verbal introductions by Hamish Robb before each piece. Not every musician has this gift of communication, to wear his learning lightly in talking about composition in a way that makes audience feel drawn in to the work, as active participants in its performance. Two pianists, four hands, many ears.

These two men play with such rapport, stamina, clarity and poetry that we are taken on a journey out and about, round and back to ourselves… then left simply to roar our gratitude. How else can an audience communicate a transcendent experience? Actually there were plenty of smiling and talking audience members lingering for ages afterwards to confirm that it was indeed a shared experience, and that I am not making this up.

Schubert’s  Fantasie in f minor, D940 opens with an allegro molto moderato of clear strength in half the world, with a wistful motif that will return to haunt us.  The largo is next, bringing a gentle sadness … the other half of the world. Well, there is life and there is death, and stuff in between, this we all know. The scherzo, action-station, journeys out to do what has to be done. The finale confirms that although these movements are distinct in contrasting moods, and were set in 1828,  they are also tightly bound together so that the nigh-20 minute composition plays out as one, today. It seemed a kind of testament, albeit almost 200 years later, to what’s still out there. ( I had spent two days and nights of agonized waiting for news of family in Mexico. This music was a dreamed report from the field).

Then the Hindemith Sonata for four hands. What is consonant, what is dissonant? It’s Germany 1938.  I had really only known Hindemith as composer of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadisches Ballett, and that remains a striking piece  of 20th century dance history if ever there was one… oh, and the memory that our daughter who as a college student had played the Eight Pieces for flute in an exam – scoring honours for that (but failing in the Scales section as she didn’t realize — read, couldn’t believe — that you also had to play scales). I remember a crispness, an unpredictability, a weightlessness to that music.  Something distilled.

Debussy’s Petite Suite – in four movements that again scope the options of the ways we are in the world. En bateau – no-one composes the sea like Debussy. Cortège, a progressing, then Menuet : moderato. I’ve never known a menuet like it … calm and courteous, as any menuet would be, a friendship between two people … then whacko, a post-modern middle bit that goes awol, cats are dancing, this ain’t no menuet any more, lawks however will this end? Eventually they move back to the danse-a-deux, and safely home from a risky encounter. Then to the final movement, Ballet : Allegro giusto – and what a waltz, the world whirling in triple time, heartbeat rhythm, so it’s “yes to everything” though nothing mindless in saying / playing that.

I was aware that Debussy  knew a great deal about dance, and intuited even more …   (Nijinksy knew that too, so his Après Midi d’un Faune , to Debussy, remains one of the finest entwinings of the two-arts-into-one that we have, and the only surviving work of that output of choreographic genius we have let slip away, to our eternal loss).

This was a free lunch-time concert, all praise to Te Koki – New Zealand School of Music. Furthermore it was demonstration of civilized co-operation between two gun pianists who, in other times and places, might behave as rival colleagues — here instead they share a keyboard. Politicians should have been there.

The day before, I had attended, because a grandmother would, a school concert to hear a granddaughter play her small cello in the little orchestra. Afterwards the Principal of the school spoke to performers and audience alike, reminding us that the two things that matter most in the world are Music and Family – ( then he added Dance, since a row of keen kids had performed the cancan to one of their schoolmates’ items. Phew, that was lucky, I thought). All told and on balance, I had a very good week.

It is such an infectious affair to hear musicians performing so absolutely at the top of their game, and communicating their own immense pleasure in doing so.  It transfers to a mood of hope that people can help people, that elections within a democracy can work, more or less, that there are worthwhile things to say to children, and that daylight saving means there’s not one hour to waste in whatever we consider important. Do it.

The recital could well be repeated but by the time this review is published both pianists will have played half a dozen more programmes — they were at The Third Eye that same night …  soon leaving for China … allegro ma non troppo,  vivace, con brio. Godspeed. Safe travel. Happy returns. And I am grateful that there’s a website to whom I can offer a retrospective review.

NZSM voice students in admirable and highly varied recital at St Andrew’s

NZSM Classical voice students
Emma Cronshaw Hunt, Nino Raphael, Eleanor McGechie, Garth Norman, Pasquale Orchard, Joe Haddow
Piano accompanist: Mark Dorrell

Songs and arias by Debussy, Fauré, Bellini, Schumann, Franchi, Dring, Mozart, Britten, Berlioz, Rachmaninov, Loewe, Lloyd Webber

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 20 September, 12:15 pm

We are at that time of the year, when music students are welcomed at St Andrew’s to given them some public exposure in connection with their end-of-year assessments. Here we heard six students at varying stages of their studies. Most of them had been seen in the past year or so in the school’s and other opera productions, particularly in the recent Cunning Little Vixen which had such a large cast of curious, minor characters.

Emma Cronshaw Hunt opened the recital with songs by Debussy and Fauré; her voice is attractive and seems produced with ease, though the ease tended towards some gentle scoops that detracted slightly, but they were certainly within acceptable bounds. In some quarters scoops, or portamenti, are anathema, but the technique has its place, when used tastefully. Her two songs were Debussy’s ‘Aimons-nous et dormons’ (modesty constrains a translation) and ‘Adieu’, which she sang in comfortable French, alive to the songs’ mood and meaning. In Fauré’s ‘Adieu’ there was a touch of sadness.

Nino Raphael sang one of Bellini’s gorgeous arias, ‘Vi ravviso’, from La sonnambula. He’d recently honed his opera skills as the Priest and the Badger in the Vixen. And last year he sang Leporello in Eternity Opera’s Don Giovanni. While I’d enjoyed those performances, here I detected slightly shakey intonation here and there. He followed with four short songs from Schumann’s Dichterliebe; though he caught much of the pithy characterisation and emotion, they were not, understandably,  invested with quite the intimacy and depth of feeling that the songs of the wonderful Dichterliebe cycle delineate. But that calls for considerable maturity.

Eleanor McGechie sang three songs in English: the first by New Zealand composer Dorothea Franchi – Treefall and then two by mid-century English composer Madeleine Dring whom I’d come across only last year in a St Andrew’s lunchtime concert. All three were approachable, written with a clear aim to entertain an audience, and McGechie knew how to present them in a lively and colourful way.

Garth Norman sang Figaro’s ‘Se vuol ballare’ in which he gained in confidence as it went, and then Britten’s ‘Seascape’ from From this Island. Britten can be given to accompaniments that are excessively detailed and harmonically clever and here was a case, where Mark Dorrell’s piano overwhelmed rather. But this was an attractive rendition nevertheless.

Pasquale Orchard has caught my ear several times, as Susanna in Eternity Opera’s Figaro recently, and most strikingly as the Vixen in the school of music’s Janáček production in July. ‘Le spectre de la rose’ from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, is a gorgeous song and I’d been very predisposed to enjoy it: I did for the most part, but Orchard’s voice in inclined to lose dynamic control towards the top and it interfered slightly with the dominant ‘spectral’ spirit of the music. However she navigated its sense and tone with great sensitivity. Her second song was early Rachmaninov: ‘O never sing to me again’ from Op 4. It was a little too loud at the start, and I wasn’t sure for some time what language she was singing it in, until certain distinctive syllables identified it as Russian. I sense that I’d have perceived that at once if the intensity of her voice had been modified a little.

Joe Haddow sang another Rachmaninov song: ‘When yesterday we met’, from Romances Op 26. His words were very distinct and even though my Russian is a bit rusty, the emotions were clear enough, and sensitively expressed. His control of tone and dynamics right across the range, are excellent.

I’m not very familiar with Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot. Haddow sang ‘If ever I would leave you’ which surprised me by starting in French (it’s from Lancelot, and showed how rusty my knowledge of the Arthurian legends is, too), but continues in another language and a familiar tune. Haddow performed it in authentic style.

Haddow stayed there and Pasquale Orchard then joined him to sing a duet: another ‘musical’ number, this one a French story but in English: ‘All I ask of you’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The two engaging young voices were vividly contrasted, but in a convincing manner.

The concert was an interesting way to get a different impression of promising young singers who have been more familiar recently in staged situations.