Wonderful Mozart trio for clarinet, viola and piano (plus Schumann and Bruch) from Karori Classics series

Karori Classics: Rachel Vernon, clarinet, Christiaan van der Zee, viola and Rachel Thomson, piano

Mozart: Trio for clarinet, viola and piano in E flat, K. 498 (‘Kegelstatt’)
Schumann: Märchen Erzählungen, Op 132 
Bruch: Eight Pieces, Op 83 – Nos 5 & 6

St. Mary’s Church, Karori

Friday 20 October, 7 pm

The fall-out from the International Viola Congress a few weeks ago seems to be continuing relentlessly. One Wednesday, viola students and a month ago the same violist as appeared this evening, at the previous Karori Classics concert.

They turned the programme round, starting with the two pieces from Bruch’s Eight Pieces for the instruments gathered at St Mary’s this evening. What we heard here was probably the complete works for clarinet, viola and piano, an extraordinary situation considering the great and beautiful piece that Mozart had written 240 years ago that you would have expected to have inspired scores of scores.

When I asked Christian van der Zee after the concert whether he hankered for the chance to play all eight of Bruch’s pieces, he looked bemused, rather suggesting that even though they are fairly inoffensive little creations, a couple of them, disposed of without ado at the beginning, was all that might be tolerated before sending the audience to sleep. Many people claim to find Bruch a yawn-provoking composer; Isabella Faust recently commented dismissively about his first violin concerto.

No 5 is described as a Romanian melody, beginning with a slow viola theme over rolling piano chords, soon joined by the clarinet. No 6 is also slow, another Andante piece, nocturnal, fluid in feeling. Two of the eight certainly made an attractive opening to the recital, and served to demonstrate the close rapport between the three orchestral musicians, used to listening attentively to each other.

All four of Schumann’s Märchen Erzählungen followed and even a devoted lover of most of Schumann’s music found these pleasant rather than enchanting; his melody gift hadn’t altogether deserted him at the wretched end of his life, but they were agreeable rather than memorably individual. The second is a march in a singularly unmilitary vein, which changes rhythmically after a little while almost becoming a slow dance, and the third is a slow piece in triple time in which the three instruments blend most successfully. The last piece is buoyant and lively, sounding more characteristically Schumannisch than the previous movements, recalling the sort of spirit found in the Kinderszenen, though that comparison might be a bit cruel.

I suppose most of us were waiting for the Mozart, which is where this instrumental combination first appeared. As I am often inclined to do, I recall vividly my first hearing of it, as I was browsing the LPs in Kirk’s record department, one lunchtime, probably in the 1970s. The music was playing and I was just transfixed; I bought the record and still have it.

It’s a fairly short, compact work, each movements not much more than five minutes and you are left wishing that Mozart had continued to elaborate and do repeats. This performance allowed it to breathe, with slightly prolonged phrases, little rallentandos, that made the enchanting first theme simply rapturous. There were nice dynamic contrasts, as from the quiet opening of the Menuetto, that was followed by a slightly bolder repeat, happy impressions of the legato clarinet and fast fluent scale passages from the viola.

Though the last movement is the longest, and we get repetitions of the marvellous spirit-raising melodies; if there were moments that suggested that rehearsals had been a bit limited, after the more prolonged Allegretto movement that seemed ready to go on for ever, I was, as always, left longing for the whole thing to be played again.

The Karori Classics concerts are driven by several players from the NZSO, importantly, I think, by violist Christiaan van der Zee and violinist Anna van der Zee; here, of course, they were represented by orchestral pianist Rachel Thomson and clarinettist Rachel Vernon. The Karori Anglican and Uniting churches (St Mary’s and St Ninians), support the concerts and they benefit the Wellington Samaritans.

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