Delightful St Andrew’s recital from NZSM piano students: Bach, Haydn, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Prokofiev and Henry Cowell

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts
Piano students of the New Zealand School of Music

Alexander Jefferies: Brahms’s Rhapsody in G minor Op 79, no 2
Helen Chiu: Haydn’s Andante and Variations, Hob XVII:6 (Sonata, un piccolo divertimento)
David Codd: Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat, Op 27 no 2 and Henry Cowell’s ‘The Tides of Manaumaun
Jungyeon Lee: Bach: Prelude from English Suite No 4 in F and Prokofiev’s Sarcasms No 1
Cecilia Zhong: Debussy’s Children’s Corner: Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, Jimbo’s Lullaby, The Snow is dancing, The Little Shepherd, Golliwog’s Cakewalk.

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 29 May, 12:15 pm

Though Middle C has been catching the weekly lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s pretty regularly, we have sometimes been a bit neglectful in writing about them. This one was harder to duck.

Student recitals almost always reveal a player or two of considerable distinction, in addition to which we have the experience of watching live performers playing music, a phenomenon that is becoming ever more rare, as disembodied versions of music dominate our hearing and are listened to indiscriminately: radio, conventional recordings on CD and vinyl again, downloading and streaming through Netflix and YouTube and the like, of recordings or live performances. Not to mention the quantity of dehumanised music actually composed for performance by machines. It’s all accustoming us to what have to be considered pale, dehumanised reflections of the real thing.

What about the concert?

First year student Alexander Jefferies played Brahms’s familiar Rhapsody in G minor, Op 79 no 2, as you’d expect from a music student early in his career: most of the notes there, plenty of spirit, though a way to go yet.

Helen Chiu showed an impressive talent, first in speaking confidently, with knowledge of the music’s background, of one of the pieces that Hoboken classified simply as ‘piano pieces’ (Hob XVII) – that is: not a sonata, but sets of variations, fantasies and other miscellaneous works. Its subtitle calls it a ‘sonata, a little divertimento’. It turned out to be familiar and Helen made it musical and interesting, technically fluent and idiomatic.

David Codd was a less experienced pianist, but played this familiar Nocturne thoughtfully, with sensitive rubato and other evidence that the music was a living creature. And he followed with a piece by an American composer of the generation of Gershwin and Copland: Henry Cowell whose reputation seems to have been obscured in recent years, though I’ve long been familiar with his name if not his music. His The tides of Manaunaun, written about 1917, began like Debussy but quickly leapt about fifty years ahead, taking Charles Ives by the throat, to produce dense music that might have shocked even Schoenberg at the time. It seemed to cry out to be scored for large orchestra, weighty in the percussion department. It was an interesting, technically pretty challenging piece: a capable and impressive performance.

Jungyeon Lee was another third year and she played the Prelude to Bach’s fourth English Suite with clarity and intelligence. Then the first of Prokofiev’s Sarcasms – not a standard genre of piano music, but one grasped the composer’s intention in this alert, stylistically conscious performance, both lyrical and teasing.

And finally Cecilia Zhong played Debussy’s Children’s Corner – all six pieces, running the recital ten minutes or so over time! But I’m not complaining as one doesn’t often hear them played. It’s a collection made more interesting through the availability of recordings from piano rolls by the composer in 1913. They cover a very wide range of moods, play, games and kinds of music. Serenade for the Doll appealed to me in particular, but the entire suite is one of Debussy’s most delightful works, and here was a performance by Cecilia Zhong, an accomplished post-graduate student, that revealed all the fun and variety and Debussy’s charming affinity with children.

So ended a very engaging concert that made one, again, grateful that we live in a city with a down-town tradition of bringing music students from the university to help enrich our traffic-congested, culturally barren lives.


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