Orchestra Wellington takes Vivaldi and Piazzolla to Upper Hutt with great success

Classical Expressions, Upper Hutt
‘Eight Seasons’

A chamber orchestra drawn from Orchestra Wellington, conducted by concertmaster Amalia Hall

Vivaldi: Four Seasons
Piazzolla: The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
(solo violin in both: Amalia Hall)

Expressions Arts and Entertainment Centre, Upper Hutt

Monday 6 May, 7:30 pm

This programme was presented in the Opera House, Wellington on Saturday 4 May. Even considering venues in the central city, there is probably no auditorium as well appointed as Expressions in Upper Hutt’s Arts and Entertainment Centre where I was very happy to catch them.

There were 22 musicians on the stage, perfectly accommodated both visually and acoustically.  In the place of the usual concertmaster, Amalia Hall, was Martin Riseley, associate professor and Head of Strings in Victoria University’s School of Music; Amalia conducted and took the part of solo violin. Those two, along with other section leaders, comprised the ‘Concertino’ players in the Vivaldi pieces.

Yet it was still something of a surprise to hear, right from the opening bars of the first Allegro, playing of such polish, with varied colour and expression, sounding like any of the notable baroque-style chamber orchestras that one hears on the best commercial recordings: crisp and elegant. Though one hears them often on RNZ Concert, and as ‘elevator’ music in all kinds of public places, the experience of a live performance awakened one, with surprise, to the wonderful variety between each movement: so the following Largo had a surprising chill about it, drawing attention, as well as to the soloists, the simple pairs of quavers from the ‘Ripieno’ (the rest of the orchestra) players. And there was still something cool and gently discreet about the third movement, Allegro, as if winter has hardly disappeared.

After each of the Vivaldi pieces, the orchestra played the equivalent Piazzolla concerto (don’t think he called them concerti). All their very different characteristics were fully to be expected. Nevertheless, I can imagine some might have felt they broke up the integrity of Vivaldi’s pieces; though I did not: we are so used to hearing snatches of them in all sorts of situations.

Piazzolla’s Spring conveyed an attractive feeling of lingering cold and increasing stretches of warm weather. Both Vivaldi and Piazzolla employed the solo violin in flamboyant passages which Amalia Hall delivered spectacularly. In Autumn, Brenton Veitch’s cello also enjoyed an extended and meditative episode, later mirrored in another similar solo by Amalia. The colour was generally darker in Winter, and again there was another soulful solo from Amalia, this time with all the cellos. The harpsichord also had attractive passages in this season and double basses were prominent in some of the Piazzollo pieces.

In some ways Piazzolla created a richer more complex picture than Vivaldi, having the freedom to use musical styles of 350 years more complexity (they were written in the 1960s). Even though one could argue that both composers shared a common Latinesque origin, the Argentinian, tango influence removed Piazzolla’s entirely from any useful comparison. One of the oddities was the occasional reference to tunes from Vivaldi: the work of an arrangement commissioned by Gidon Kremer from Leonid Desyatnikov. The insertions were brief, quite cleverly blended, and momentarily drew a smile; nor did they spoil the nature of Piazzolla’s very different composition; Piazzolla seems to be a composer who musicians commonly make free with, arranged for almost any instrumental combinations.

One is never quite sure about the appropriate response to some of Piazzolla’s gestures: the frequent glissandi (perhaps whip-lashes, is a better description), scratchings below the bridge.

Though in the past I have not warmed particularly to Piazzolla, this live performance from an excellent, thoroughly rehearsed ensemble, was both interesting and enjoyable and significantly altered my feelings about the composer. And the linking of the two composers’ descriptions of the seasons was an interesting approach.

This enterprising concert was a complete vindication of the collaboration between Orchestra Wellington, and the Upper Hutt Music Society and the Entertainment Centre.

A large and enthusiastic audience filled the auditorium.

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