NZSO and Orchestra Wellington string players in Baroque chamber music at St Andrew’s lunchtime

Relishing the Baroque
Hye-Won Kim, violin; Sophia Acheson, violin/viola (2,3 and 4); Ken Ichinose, cello; Joan Perarnau Garriga, double bass (2,4); Kristina Zuelicke, harpsichord  (1,2 and 4)

Corelli: La Folia; Variations on a theme, in D minor Op.5, no.12
Handel: Trio Sonata no.6 in G minor, Op.2, HWV 391
Rossini: Sonata no.1 in G
J.S. Bach: ‘St. Anne’ Prelude and Fugue in E flat, BWV 552, arr. R. Bartoli

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 15 November 2017, 12:15 pm

As with last week’s lunchtime concert from St Andrew’s, Lindis Taylor and I found ourselves in different parts of the church and both had scribbled notes. He graciously proposed that I cover the ground generally while he would merely add a few pedantic details. Again, no attributions.

The theme of La Folia has been ascribed to Corelli, but it is much older. Research suggests that it emerged in the 15th century, and that ‘the origin of the folia framework lies in the application of a specific compositional and improvisational method to simple melodies in minor mode’, and not a particular melody.  But Corelli’s melody has been used by numerous composers as the basis for variations, and it is hard to beat the Italian composer’s delightfully clear and lively set of variations that change speed, rhythms from triple to four-in-a-bar time.  The piece received a superb performance from these players (Hye-Won Kim, Ken Ichinose, Kristina Zelicke), playing with baroque-adapted violin and cello and lovely two-keyboard harpsichord, in baroque style – incisive but not harsh, with scarcely perceptible vibrato, jolly and full of life.

How fortunate was the large audience to hear professional players from both Orchestra Wellington and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (and NZSM’s Kristina Zuelicke) who are willing to play unpaid, for the love of music, at a free lunchtime concert!

One of Handel’s Trio Sonatas was next. A second violin (Sophia Acheson) was added; the harpsichord provided the continuo to the three strings.  Initially, this music did not have the sparkle of the Corelli, but its attractive counterpoint was notable, especially in the second movement, allegro, which followed the opening andante.  The following movement, arioso, was led by the first violin in a lovely melody, interchanging with the other instruments (though if one’s idea of an arioso was founded in Bach’s famous example, this lacked a certain poignancy and beauty).  A joyous allegro, in the style of a gigue, interwove all the instruments’ parts in motifs that ascended and descended charmingly.

Leaving the baroque era for a moment, we heard Rossini’s sonata, one of the six he wrote when he was only 12 years old. Its sound was mellow, markedly different in style from the baroque music (the composer played the second violin part); and its defining character is the double bass part which became an irresistibly comic part at times.  A cello solo in the first movement (moderato) was followed by one from the first violin.  The andantino second movement was peaceful, and notable for the pizzicato from the two bass instruments, which seemed to enjoy barely suppressed buffoonery.  The allegro Finale was a sprightly dance, led principally by the first violin, then the double bass and cello got short, cheerful, occasionally lumpish, solo passages.

J.S. Bach’s masterful ‘St. Anne’ Prelude and Fugue in E flat ended the concert.  As an organist, I was bound to say that I prefer the original, written for organ.  The strings cannot bring out the grandeur and variety of tonal colours that can be employed on the pipe organ.  In particular, the double bass cannot emulate the strong, clear sounds of the pedals.  The fugue was played just last Sunday, as the final organ voluntary at the memorial service at Wellington cathedral for Professor Peter Godfrey, who died in late September.

Some of the ornaments present in the organ score were missed out in this arrangement, thus missing a little of its baroque character.  Although the work was played on five different instruments, I did not think the individual lines stood out as well as they do on the organ, with judicious registration.  They simply do not have the incisive, characterful impact.

The fugue began on the viola, then cello joined in, and then violin and finally the pedal part on the double bass.  While the playing was fine, it seemed to me a disappointing arrangement – though I would not deny that much baroque music can be played on a variety of instruments and combinations.  Bach’s trio sonatas, usually played on organ have been played recently on RNZ Concert by strings.  Their more delicate and spare constitution transferred well – but not this majestic Prelude and Fugue, in my view.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *