NZSO players in special concert under Aisslinn Nosky with Baroque masters

Aisslinn Nosky (director and violin soloist)

NZSO players:
Violins: Ursula Evans, Vesa-Matti Leppänen, Haihong Liu, Anne Loeser, Simon Miller, Megan Molina, Gregory Squire, Rebecca Struthers, Anna van der Zee, Beiyi Xue
Viola: Michael Cuncannon, Victoria Jaenecke, Lyndsay Mountford, Belinda Veitch
Cello: Eleanor Carter, Robert Ibell, Ken Ichinose
Bass: Malcolm Struthers
Harpsichord: Douglas Mews

Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 3/6, RV 356
Handel: Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op 6/6, HWV 324
Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins in D minor, RV 565
Telemann: Burlesque de Quixotte, TWV 55:G10
Geminiani: Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op 5/12, ‘La Follia’ H.143

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Friday 17 November, 6 pm

It’s been a fine Baroque week in Wellington, at St Andrew’s, with an attractive lunch-time concert on Wednesday, with four strings from Wellington’s two professional orchestras and an NZSM harpsichordist; and this evening a special ensemble, of 18 players from the NZSO, plus harpsichordist Douglas Mews.

The story behind this evening’s concert was elaborate. NZSO violinist Anne Loeser travelled to Toronto in the Summer of 2014 for an intensive Baroque course where she met the hugely inspiring Aisslinn Nosky. Anne saw an opportunity to share her experience in Toronto with her NZSO colleagues, with the help of the June Commons Trust, a fund established by violinist Commons to foster study opportunities; and Anne’s colleagues responded enthusiastically to the opportunity. Aisslinn Nosky came to Wellington and has spent a week in lessons, workshops and rehearsals, in preparation for this concert, a mix of German and Italian Baroque music.

I arrived a few minutes late and missed hearing the first Vivaldi concerto, which an acquaintance told me had presented a hugely exiting first movement.

Handel Concerto Grosso
The chance to hear an appropriate ensemble play one of Handel’s Op 6 concerti grossi – No 6 – was a singular, rare pleasure; it employed a concertino group of two violins (Aisslinn Nosky and Rebecca Struthers) and a cello (Eleanor Carter) against the ‘ripieno’ – the rest of the orchestra. I wasn’t even sure that I’d heard it before, and was deeply impressed by the calm pathos of the first movement Largo affettuoso, and a comparably beautiful Musette, the third movement. I can’t help a reminiscence: I recall the music master at Wellington College introducing us – in the merely once-a-week ‘core’ music period – to at least one of Handel’s Op 6 set, an experience that has left me puzzled over the many subsequent decades, that such music, that I assumed was important (in other classes we heard the Hebrides Overture and the Academic Festival Overture) and which had appealed to me, seemed never to be performed. The fourth and fifth movement, both Allegros – the first in common time, the second a minuet-like dance in brisk triple time. A quite splendid concerto running to around 15 minutes.

Vivaldi Concerto Grosso
A second Vivaldi concerto followed, again from the Op 3 set, No 11 in D minor. As was intended in planning alternate German and Italian pieces, the contrast between the meaty, substantial yet delightful Handel, and lighter textured Vivaldi was interesting, though the character of this Vivaldi concerto was significantly more Germanic to my ears than the typical Vivaldi work. Though merely labelled a ‘concerto, it was in fact a ‘concerto grosso’, the concertino parts played here by Aisslinn Nosky, Anne Loeser and Ken Ichinose.

The first two movements, Allegro and Adagio, were very short and I confess to thinking they were merely parts of the first movement. Though the central Allegro was vigorous and substantial, played with painstaking rhythmic emphasis, taking care to exploit as much instrumental variety as possible: the three concertino instruments were singularly striking, making me frequently aware of the energy being injected by Nosky’s leadership, from the violin. As she played her bowing and her body movement guided her players vividly, often merely by turning her head and glancing encouragingly at players.

And the final Allegro illustrated in its gusto and opulence, the splendid balance and rapport between the soloists and the ripieno. The Largo, between the middle and final Allegros, expressing a pathos that offered evidence of the importance of Vivaldi, reinforced an astonishment that the Vivaldi revival has taken so long – like some 250 years – to take root and for him to become an accepted master in, not just Baroque music, but universally, placing him very close, it not equal, to Bach and Handel.

Telemann’s Burlesque de Quixotte was written in his last year, 1767 – in fact this is the 250th anniversary of his death, as you’ll have noticed by the huge amount of attention being paid by the popular press and commercial radio and television (though I’m not sure I’ve heard it referred to by RNZ Concert either). The suite consists of eight movements. It begins with a substantial French overture and continues with some quite brief pieces that depict some of Quixote’s adventures, that lend themselves to musical wit and drollerie. There are amusing, successful portrayals of people and events, such as the windmills, Quixote’s galloping horse, Rosinante, and Sancho Panza’s ass, which induced smiles with its bizarre, irregular dissonances.

The fact that Strauss wrote a symphonic poem on Don Quixote prompted me to wonder whether one might hear in Telemann hints of the kind of descriptive music that developed in the Romantic era. Hardly; but notable ‘programme’ music had been composed, even in the 17th century – Biber’s Battalia for example; some Renaissance English keyboard music; Couperin’s keyboard music is full of descriptive elements, for which his detailed ornamentation was an important element; there’s Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, obviously; and other pieces by Telemann himself, such as the suite Hamburger Ebb’ und Flut.

The performance was revelatory; Nosky inspired energetic playing, full of dynamic rhythm and opulent orchestral ensemble, taking every opportunity to find and exploit the colour and narrative quirks and their exaggerated orchestral depictions, with which Telemann fills his score. Nor did it mean a movement such as the Don’s amorous sighs for Dulcinea was anything but warm, supple and full of chivalric love.

Corelli’s La Follia from Geminiani
On Wednesday we heard Corelli’s variations on La Follia, played as a set of variations for violin and continuo (cello and harpsichord). It was the last of Corelli’s twelve sonatas for violin and continuo, Op 5, published in 1700, and they were arranged by Geminiani 26 years later as concerti grossi (also Geminiani’s Op 5). Friday’s NZSO baroque orchestra played No 12 of the set, entitled La Follia; one could be forgiven for hardly recognising their origin in Corelli, so much more opulent and varied was Geminiani’s version.

Nosky, as well as being a specialist in baroque performance practice, doesn’t for a moment allow scholarly scruples to inhibit her gusto and concern to give her performances all the colour and vitality she can draw from her players. Happily, one had to conclude that the players who emerged from the NZSO for this concert were all of a mind to respond with enthusiasm to her spirit; fast was as fast as possible; ornaments included vibrato, with discretion; she took every opportunity to exploit expressive gestures, with arresting emphases and rhythmic adventures. And one was always thoroughly aware of the tempo fluctuations and changes of tempo, both through hearing and through watching Nosky’s direction from the violin, which never failed to give vivid interpretive guidance.

Envoi: A Baroque orchestra
This concert by an ensemble drawn from the NZSO, reminded me that it’s rather a long time since the excellent NZSO Chamber Orchestra, led by Donald Armstrong, was disbanded, and there’s been no revival of such a group. The packed church on Friday showed the high level of interest in this kind of music, and I wish the orchestra would revive a chamber orchestra such as this that, on a permanent basis, could give professional performances of baroque and other early music that is otherwise seriously neglected. Though I suspect that dynamic chefs d’orchestre such as Aisslinn Nosky are not thick on the ground, visiting conductors as well as some local conductors with a love of Baroque music would be delighted to have the chance to play this music alongside their regular programmes with the NZSO.


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