Admirable results of a week of string instrument coaching from the Aroha String Quartet

Aroha String Quartet International Music Academy

Participants’ Concert of music by Dvořák, Popper, Albinoni and Elgar

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 25 July 2018, 12.15pm

The Aroha Quartet is innovative in a number of ways, not least in convening this annual week-long course for amateur string players of all ages, participants coming from Australia and China as well as New Zealand.  The music they produced, without much time for rehearsal, was remarkable.

An almost-full St. Andrew’s Church heard the music performed by 25 enthusiastic amateur musicians.  The concert began with the first movement of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No 2, Op. 81 in A, written in 1887.  It is an attractive work of chamber music, in the composer’s cheerful, lyrical yet romantic style.  After a false start, the cello opened the piece, with light piano accompaniment.  Both players acquitted themselves well, as did the other three musicians.  I was particularly impressed by the pianist’s excellent playing; at the opening it was appropriately subdued.  Then there is a shock when the other players all join in with vigour.  The pianist was Nicholas Kovacev of Wellington.  His playing was never too loud for the strings, his phrasing was splendid, as were his dynamics and fluency.

It is to be expected that a group of amateurs of all ages, who have played together for only a few days, will not have perfect intonation at all times.  However, they tackled this mature music with a will, and with skill and commitment.  On the whole, the tone they produced was good.  The music was conveyed competently and confidently.

The second work was a short Gavotte in D minor (Op.67/2, first published ca.1880) by David Popper (1843-1913).  This was performed by a group of 5 cellists, all of whom were mature men.  It was good to see them taking part in a course consisting mainly of young people.  Their sound was generally good and their ensemble spot-on.

The last chamber work was the first movement of another Dvořák quintet, this time for strings, including bass.  It was Op.77 no.2, written in 1875.  There was some lovely playing, especially from the first violinist, who also led the string orchestra that followed.  She is from China and is listed in the programme variously as MeiJuan Chen, or May Chen.

The quintet showed great attention to dynamics, but the interpretation was perhaps insufficiently subtle.  However, on the whole this was a good effort, with strong playing when required.

All the course participants came together to play a piece by Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751), introduced by Donald Armstrong, who conducted.  This was Albinoni’s Concierto a Cinque, Op.5 no.1.  As the title says, it is for five parts: two violin parts, two viola, and cello (plus bass).  It was a very lively and tuneful work in two movements, well-executed and thoroughly enjoyable.

Finally, we had Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, published in 1892.  Its three short movements are    allegro piacevole, larghetto and allegretto.   Such a number of cellists were attending the Academy that the four who played in the Albinoni were replaced by five others for this work.  Elgar’s rather nostalgic sentiment was conveyed well by the players.  Cellos, at the beginning, violas and violins all have their turn to shine on their own, and all did well, but especially the violas.  This was a very creditable performance, ending with a ringing crescendo and a three-fold chord.


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