Accomplished though unusual Donizetti Trio assembles a mixed bag programme: some very successful

Chamber Music Hutt Valley
Donizetti Trio (Luca Manghi – flute, Ben Hoadley – bassoon, David Kelly – piano)

Music by Vivaldi, Donizetti, Chris Adams, Respighi, Ben Hoadley, Bellini (via Eugene Jancourt) and Bizet (via Peter Simpson)

Little Theatre, Lower Hutt

Wednesday 19 June, 7:30 pm

The Donizetti Trio is a fairly rare beast; it rather looks as if three musician friends had the idea of playing as an ensemble, but were faced with the problem that hardly any music existed for their combination, and so they set about forcing other material to fit their needs.

That can work well, and to a degree, it did.

To start with, Vivaldi looks a good idea as he wrote hundreds of concertos including many for flute and orchestra; and this one, which exists in two versions. The first version, RV 104, is the more richly scored, for flute or violin and chamber orchestra, including bassoon as a bass component of the continuo. That’s the one we heard. Later he re-scored it to include (RV 439) in his Opus 10, stripping the orchestration, including the bassoon part.

The playing by both flute and bassoon was very convincing, quite virtuosic here and there, particularly in the Largo movement; though at times the bassoon was confined to its more elementary, accompanying function. Given that this version rather relied on its chamber ensemble backing, it left the piano with a burden that it could scarcely discharge. Nevertheless, the pianist revealed a sensitivity to music that was written neither for harpsichord (as it might have been in Vivaldi’s day) nor for piano.

Then came the piece that inspired the trio’s name, a Trio in F (for these instruments), one of Donizetti’s quite numerous chamber pieces which included a number of string quartets and many pieces for various other combinations. As one might expect, the writing is rather conventional, yet attractive and very listenable. And the affectionate performance could well have been felt to endow it with a significance that the even composer had not imagined.

Visual inspiration for Chris Adams and Ben Hoadley 
Chris Adams is an Auckland musician and composer. His Contemporary Triptych employs these three instruments in a singularly original and vivid way. The first, ‘Melancholic Aggression’, beginning with repeated chords (rooted I’d guess, about bottom C), that was eventually joined by the bassoon at the bottom and then flute at the top, moved slowly, without changing tonality, gradually becoming more varied and intense. The second, ‘Beautiful Machine’ was musically more lyrical (by now we get the idea of pictures embodying fundamentally contradictory emotions; in fact, though inspired by the art in Sir James Wallace’s collection). Though if the idea was to create something visual, it didn’t; nor did I need it. ‘Integrated Disconnect’: flute and bassoon duetting, as we’re told, in a disconnected way, while the piano drifted about, seemingly unconcerned. The limitations of the three disparate instruments were somehow exploited successfully to create a piece of music that succeeded in its intentions.

The leap from a triptych based on a non-existent visual source to Ben Hoadley’s arrangement of the Adoration of the Magi, the second of Respighi’s Botticelli Triptych, proved to be rather to the advantage of Adam’s piece. Hoadley was attracted to it as Respighi’s scoring of the medieval hymn ‘Veni, veni Emanuel’, quoted in it, is conspicuously for flute and bassoon. In spite of that, the task of compressing Respighi’s largescale orchestration into a piano part was a bit too hard.

The first piece in the second half was by Hoadley himself: Three poems by Gregory O’Brien, for alto flute and piano, but without a singer (and of course, without the composer’s bassoon), but the voice was hinted at by hard breathing sounds. There was a cool jazz interlude, a series of rolling figures at the bottom of the piano and some beguiling, soft lyrical passages from the flute. Only with the last poem, ‘Winter I was’, did a human voice appear as Hoadley emerged to speak the poem. It was one of those occasions in which more questions and not-understood sequences arose than clarifications.

Opera arrangements 
Finally, two fantasies, potpourris, from opera. Inevitably they got the biggest response from a fairly large audience. One of many arrangements of tunes from Bellini’s Norma: this one was by 19th century Paris Conservatoire bassoon professor, Eugene Jancourt, and suited the trio admirably; it suited the audience too, with the string of familiar arias from ‘Casta Diva’ onwards. The settings were attractive and they were played evocatively, almost as if real singers had materialised.  (It’s sad that the opera has hardly been seen in New Zealand in modern times apart from a Canterbury Opera production in 2002. That was the first professional production in New Zealand since the 1928 tour by the Fuller-Gonsalez Italian Grand Opera Company. Yet Norma was one of the operas brought by the very first touring company in 1864/65 and it was among the productions by many of the touring companies through the 1870s and 80s).

Even more familiar for today’s audiences is Carmen. One Peter Simpson (about whom I can find nothing on the Internet) arranged four pieces most effectively for these instruments. The combination here seemed to energise the three players to create sounds that evoked the character of the opera and its music remarkably.

The audience response at the end proved that my feelings were not isolated.



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