Martinborough Music Festival – an overview of a delightful feast of chamber music

Martinborough Music Festival
An overview

For Friday 27 September see Lindis Taylor’s review

Saturday 28 September 2019, 2 pm
Michael Houstoun – piano; Wilma Smith – violin; Christopher Moore – viola, Matthias Balzat – cello
Brahms: Viola Sonata No 2 in Eb, Op 120
Brahms: Piano Trio No 3 in C Minor, Op 101
Fauré: Piano Quartet No 1 in C Minor, Op 15

Saturday 28 September 2019, 7:30 pm
Michael Houstoun – piano, Jenny Wollerman – soprano, Vesa-Matti Leppänen – violin, Wilma Smith – violin, Christopher Moore – viola, Matthias Balzat – cello, Ken Ichinose – cello
Songs: Between Darkness and Light (see review from Charlotte Wilson)
Schubert: String Quintet in C Major, D 956
(See review of this concert by Charlotte Wilson)

Sunday 29 September 2019 2 pm
Michael Houstoun – piano, Vesa-Matti Leppänen – violin, Yuka Eguchi – violin, Amy Brookman – violin, Alan Molina – violin, Christopher Moore – viola, Wilma Smith – viola, Matthias Balzat – cello, Ken Ichinose – cello
Brahms: Theme & Variations for Piano in D Minor, Op 18
Brahms: String Sextet No 1 in Bb Major, Op 18
Mendelssohn: Octet in Eb Major, Op 20

Martinborough Town Hall

Martinborough is a charming, tastefully preserved and restored little country town 65 km from Wellington. Running a Music Festival there, featuring some of  New Zealand’s finest musicians is an incredibly ambitious project. The festival, held this year over three days, 27-29 September, was their third. It featured Michael Houstoun, piano, Jenny Wollerman, soprano, Wilma Smith, violin and viola, Vesa-Matti Leppanen, Yuka Egochi, Amy Bookman and Alan Molina, violins, Christopher Moore, viola,  Mathias Balzat and Ken Ichinose, cellos. The 4 concerts offered a broad range of music, from piano solo and a selection of songs, to a large string ensemble of a sextet and an octet. It is impossible to single out a highlight, for some it was the moving Schubert Quintet, for others the heartfelt romantic Brahms Sextet No. 1 in Bb  Op. 18 stood out. This work is by a young Brahms deeply in love with Clara Schumann. Others appreciated the variety of songs by Britten, Debussy Fauré, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Barber, sung by Jenny Wollerman, noted for her expressive interpretation of new and less familiar works.

The wealth of music included familiar works, Scarlatti Sonatas, played by Michael Houstoun, Chopin’s Cello Sonata, played by Matthias Balzat, and to crown the opening night, Beethoven’s Archduke Trio with Wilma Smith.

The next concert featured two late Brahms works, the second of his viola sonatas, in Eb Major Op. 120, one of his last compositions, originally written for the clarinet, played by Christopher Moore, with a gorgeous rich sound. Then came the Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, one of a group of compositions Brahms completed after his last symphony, works that are more concentrated, less expansive than his earlier chamber music compositions. The final work on the programme was Fauré’s Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor, one of the great masterpieces of the French romantic chamber music repertoire, a work of overwhelming beauty.

The final concert was music by the youthful Brahms and the even younger Mendelssohn. Michael Houstoun played Brahms’ piano arrangement of the Theme and Variations of his String Sextet No 1, which Brahms had arranged for Clara Schumann. This was a foretaste of the Sextet No. 1 in Bb Op. 18, played with restrained passion and good taste by Vesa-Matti Leppänen, Yuka Eguchi, violins, Christopher Moore and this time Wilma Smith on the viola, and Matthias Balzat and Ken Ichinose cello.

To end the festival on a happy cheerful rousing note, these musicians were joined by Amy Brookman and Alan Molina, in Mendelssohn’s Octet in Eb Major, Op. 20. Mendelssohn wrote this when he was only sixteen, yet it remained one of his most popular and enduring compositions. It evokes an enchanted ethereal world of fairies and other benevolent spirits derived from the young Mendelssohn’s reading of Shakespeare and Goethe.

The Martinborough Music Festival was a feast of good music. Ed Allen and his organising committee are to be commended on their vision, their courage to take risks, and on  flawless management to ensure that everything went smoothly. They were rewarded by full houses in the beautifully restored Town Hall and a large appreciative audience.

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