Interesting and rewarding St Andrew’s recital from students of stringed instruments

St Andrew’s Lunchtime concert
String students of the New Zealand School of Music

Music by Beethoven, Shostakovich, Gareth Farr and Wang Xhihao

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 22 August, 12:15 pm

This was one of the usual series of concerts at this time of the year by students of Victoria University’s School of Music (I counted eleven players).

Beethoven came first. Cellist Rebecca Warnes, with the school’s piano tutor Catherine Norton. played the first movement of Beethoven’s third cello sonata, in A major, Op 69. It was a model performance, beginning somewhat quietly, intonation was accurate, with carefully etched tone. It demonstrated Rebecca’s understanding of its emotional character and a style that showed appreciation of the taste of its period.

Violinist Leo Liu, again with Norton at the piano, played Beethoven’s Spring Sonata (Op 24). It’s not an easy piece with which to deal in expressive terms; even though suggestive of Spring (not Beethoven’s name for it) it doesn’t flow easily and Liu’s bowing technique needs perhaps a bit more finesse and emotional colouring, though his intonation was very good.

It’s always interesting to meet players prepared to tackle Shostakovich’s quartets, other than the ubiquitous No 8. The third movement of No 9 in E flat lasts only about four minutes (the first four of the five movements are all of about the same length) but it was enough to hear the way the players (Hayden Nickey, Ellen Murfitt. Zephyr Wills and Emily Paterson) engaged with its enigmatic, somewhat disturbed mood. It gave the composer much trouble: he burned his first attempt and started afresh a couple of years later, in 1964. It was an interesting challenge, intellectually, which the four players met very well.

Then came Gareth Farr’s Te Tai-o-Rehua (The Tasman Sea, a co-commission by Chamber Music New Zealand and the Goldner Quartet), again for string quartet (Claudia Tarrant Matthews, Grace Stainthorpe, Grant Baker and Olivia Wilding). It began low with the violin on the G string, inviting the others to join in turn, very soon becoming markedly compulsive (and, I think, compelling, with its irregular, throbbing note on the viola), dwelling on an insistent Maori-flavoured motif, though that is a risky assertion. It is a demanding work, a task that was undertaken conspicuously by perhaps the most experienced players. It took only a short time for the music to take on a vivid and meaningful character: it certainly had something to say, and the players found ways to express it with considerable confidence. It’s about five years old; Farr’s music just gets ever more interesting and impressive. At about 10 minutes, it was the centre-piece of the concert.

However, it was followed by a ‘Fantasy’ by Wang Xhihao, played by Nick Majic (vioin) and Liam Furey (piano). Though he used the microphone to introduce the piece, Majic’s voice didn’t carry. (I have discovered nothing about Xhihao). The opening did not suggest a particularly radical character, though a genuine musical imagination was evident, with distinct melodic integrity that didn’t strive for any special originality. My scribbled notes suggested a feeling of rather relief that the composer was not subjecting me to the task of unravelling unduly complex and difficult music, such as composition students produced 20 or 30 years ago. A second section was a little brisker, perhaps a bit agitated, but still essentially tonal in character.

So this was an agreeable concert that allowed a number of students to demonstrate talents at various levels of maturity, through music of genuine interest.


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