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.


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