Swedish-New Zealand ensemble beguiles Waikanae with varied pieces: brand new, interesting, much loved

Klara Kollektiv (Anna McGregor, clarinet; Manu Berkeljon, violin;Taru Kurki, piano)
Waikanae Music Society

Anthony Ritchie: Picture Stone: Trio for clarinet, violin and piano. Op.198
César Franck: Sonata for violin and piano
Brahms: Clarinet Sonata no.1 in F minor, Op.120 no.1
Khachaturian: Trio for clarinet, violin and piano

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 29 July 2018, 2:30 pm

On picking up my printed programme when entering the hall, I recalled the last chamber music concert I reviewed: Wellington Chamber Music Trust’s concert at St. Andrew’s Church in Wellington on 15 July, where larger-size programmes (double A4) were available; an example Waikanae should follow, given the older-age group that comprises the bulk of the audience.

This time the audience was considerably smaller than is usual at this venue, which was a shame.  An interesting programme and top-class players were received enthusiastically.  The trio comprises two New Zealanders resident in Sweden, and a Finnish pianist who also resides and teaches in Sweden.

The opening work (Picture Stone) was written specifically for Klara Kollektiv, last year, and the current New Zealand tour is its premiere outing.  This work, and the Khachaturian are common to the other programmes the Trio will play in New Zealand, but the other works differ.  A few introductory remarks gave us the interesting thought that if we see a painting we do not like in a gallery, we can simply walk away.  Not so with music in a concert.  However, we were assured that the Ritchie work was very likable, and this proved to be the case.

There were headings in the printed programme to indicate topics considered in the music, but they were not formal movements, and the music was continuous, with no breaks.  The headings: Dawn – Child – Journey – Battle – Sacrifice.  The title ‘Picture Stone’ refers to ancient Viking artefacts.  The music takes the point of view of a child in Viking times, contemplating such a stone, and imagining a journey and battles.

After a piano opening, very appealing but somewhat mournful tones came from violin and clarinet, the latter featuring some very high and shrill notes.  The music contained a lot of repeated notes and repeated phrases, and a spiky, jaunty effect, perhaps depicting the child.  This was followed by running figures, especially on the piano, which I considered perhaps denote the journey.  Then a livelier section – battle?  Or sacrifice?  A chord on the piano held for some time by the sustaining pedal and all the players remaining still for some time, presumably symbolising sacrifice, ended the work.  The music was rewarding, but like much music, another hearing would give the opportunity for forming a better impression of it.

I have to confess that the Franck sonata is not one of my favourite chamber works.  One hears it not infrequently on radio, sometimes in arrangements for other instruments.  However, these musicians played it very sensitively, and with plenty of variety from rubato excellent tone, and changes of dynamics.  Thus they made it interesting and diverse compared with other renditions I have heard, which can strike me as merely long-winded repetition.

The music moved from allegretto ben moderato in the first movement to an allegro second.  Again in this faster music, the violin’s tone was varied and lovely, while the piano playing was excellent and full of subtlety.

The third movement, Recitativo – Fantasia, began with a strong and forthright recitative, while the fantasia was played with a variety of timbres, moving from delicacy to almost bombastic utterances, and back again, its pace becoming variable.  Imaginative playing from all the players made for enjoyable listening.

Strong themes and references back to the opening movement feature in this and the Finale (allegrettto poco mosso) – but there is a lot of repetition, and the canon in the last movement becomes tedious as it goes over and over a simple theme related to the first movement theme.  The massive ending required prestidigitation from the pianist – something she was well capable of.

After the interval came the Brahms sonata.  The composer’s fondness for the clarinet in the latter stages of his composing career was evident in his beautiful melodies and  acrobatic figures.  There was plenty of interest to be found in the writing for both instruments.  Following an allegro appassionato first movement, the second (andante un poco adagio) developed a rather plaintive melody, creating a charming effect.

The allegretto grazioso third movement exploited the full range of the clarinet, while providing plenty of appeal in the piano part.  The movement was short and sweet.  The vivace finale was fast and playful, and made a good summing up. This was a satisfying performance, marked by clarity.

Khachaturian’s Trio piano opening struck me as orchestral in style.  The andante opening movement was notable for the delectable writing for both violin and clarinet.  It was short but attractive.  The second, allegro, was bouncy and bright,  and became fast and furious, using folk tunes as a basis, as in the other movements.  In the middle section, the piano became somewhat independent of the other instruments.

The third, and last, movement (moderato) opens with solo clarinet, then the piano is added, and finally violin, in a duet with the clarinet.  The clarinet repeats its part while the others go into new byways.  The Trio has a rather sudden but peaceful ending, after much liveliness.

The trio’s encore was a surprise: a song (presumably a Swedish folk-song), sung by Anna McGregor, accompanied by piano improvisation (very discreet) and violin drone.  In between the verses, the violin played a little tune above the notes of the drone.  So out of character with the rest of the programme, this was an unusual diversion.


One thought on “Swedish-New Zealand ensemble beguiles Waikanae with varied pieces: brand new, interesting, much loved

  1. Simon Cauchi says:

    The encore was “Worldes Blis”, an arrangement by John Fleagle of a medieval song, and sung in Middle English.

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