Two less familiar cello masterpieces from Lavinnia Rae and Gabriela Glapska at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Lavinnia Rae (cello) and Gabriela Glapska (piano)

Beethoven: Cello Sonata No 5 in D, Op 102 No 2
Britten: Cello Sonata in C, Op 65 (movements 1, 3, 4, 5)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Thursday 30 July, 12:15 pm

Although this recital offered a good opportunity to hear two significant cello sonatas, not often played, the audience at St Andrew’s was a lot smaller than it had been for New Zealand School of Music vocal students the day before. Two lunchtime concerts a week might seem excessive; no doubt it’s an effort to meet the expectations of players whose concerts were scheduled in the months of silence: it’s a shame if audiences don’t respond to these free concerts by being as generous with their time as the musicians themselves are.

The players
Gabriela Glapska has been heard recently with the Ghost Trio at St Andrew’s and later at the Adam Concert Room at Victoria University. She’s also been involved in recent months in concerts by the SMP Ensemble and Stroma, as well as other ensembles and in an accompanying role. She was prominent in the performances of Poulenc’s La voix humaine in the Festival in February.

Lavinnia Rae has not been so conspicuous in the last year or so as she’s been a post-graduate student at the Royal College of Music in London. But her name appears in many of Middle C’s reviews in earlier years.

Both musicians played in the NZSM orchestra accompanying Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2017.

Beethoven Cello Sonata in D
Though the Op 69 cello sonata (No 3) seems to be more often played, neither the early pair, Op 5, nor the two of Op 102, written in Beethoven’s last decade, are to be denigrated. The last of Beethoven’s five cello sonatas is the only one of the five in the conventional three-movement shape; three others have only two movements while Op 69 has three which are somewhat unusual in character. The Op 102 sonatas probably need to be heard as foreshadowing the piano sonatas and string quartets of his Late period.

Its opening is straight away marked by the vivid contrast between Glapska’s arresting piano and Rae’s quiet, legato cello playing, and it continues to draw attention to the essential differences between the percussive piano and the quiet, more lyrical cello, though now and again, the two merge; there’s no doubt that Beethoven intended it to be heard like this.

The second movement might have been some kind of reminiscence of the Ghost movement of the piano trio carrying that name. There was a mysterious character in the duo’s playing, and they adhered to Beethoven’s clear intention to use this movement to emphasise a musical affinity between piano and cello, in contrast to the first movement. The third movement again challenges the conventions with a densely created fugue that, with only a brief, unexpected, calm respite, resumes its relentless passage. These were indeed the characteristics of this performance that left one with a strong understanding of the composer’s intentions and genius.

Britten’s Cello Sonata
I have to confess to not being a total devotee of Britten, apart from a hand-full of what I guess are his more popular works. Much of his cello sonata however, is moving, and though I didn’t warm to most of it at my first hearing some years ago, more hearings have given me a distinctly greater appreciation. Perhaps it’s unfortunate that the skill and musicality of performers are rather important in inducing real enjoyment. My familiarity with the Britten/Rostropovich account has set the bar very high, bringing it to life with remarkable conviction, creating the feeling that it is indeed a masterpiece.

It’s in five movements, though the second was left out, the spikey, Scherzo-pizzicato.

This performance opened, Dialogo Allegro, imaginatively, with a sense of inevitability, evolving as a dialogue, such as would have come naturally from the warm friendship between composer and its dedicatee and first performer.

I enjoyed the next movement – the second, Elegia: the calm, secretive, impatience of its opening; with its enigmatic piano chords generating a melancholy, lugubrious spirit, as the cello meanders over its lower strings. The notes accurately described that fourth movement, the extravert Marcia energico: its menacing spirit generated by uncanny, fast harmonics.

The extended, scampering Finale sounds fiendishly difficult for both players. The notes defined the bowing technique, bouncing the bow on the strings in the Finale, as ‘saltando’. As a youthful cellist myself, I was embarrassed not to have known, or remembered, that name.

There were moments when I felt the composer was rather obsessively concerned to provide dedicatee Rostropovvich with a strikingly challenging work that he would turn into great, arresting music through his sheer performance and interpretive genius. I mean no criticism in observing that it’s hardly possible to expect lesser musicians successfully to uncover and give life to everything in this big five-movement work.

As so often with these lunchtime concerts, here were two minor (probably better than that) masterpieces that don’t get much played, and we must be grateful that so many professional – or near professional – musicians are ready to play without fees at St Andrew’s, and that Wellington has an amateur (read ‘unpaid’) entrepreneur, Marjan van Waardenberg, with the persuasive powers necessary to recruit them, to schedule and publicise their performances, as well as a central-city church happy to accommodate them.


NZSM Concerto Competition – an evening of elegance, frisson and feeling

Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music Concerto Competition 2020 – Final


Lucas Baker (violin) – BARBER: Violin Concerto
Isabella Gregory (flute) – REINECKE: Flute Concerto in D Major, Op.283
Otis Prescott-Mason (piano) – SAINT-SAENS – Piano Concerto No.2

Collaborative Pianist: David Barnard
Adjudicators: Catherine Gibson (CMNZ)
Vincent Hardaker (APO)

Adam Concert Room, NZSM Kelburn Campus
Victoria University of Wellington

Thursday, 30th July 2020

This year’s final of the NZSM Concerto Competition provided something of a musical feast, even if one of the concertos performed (Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto) was presented with a somewhat truncated finale, for whatever reason. With three promising and extremely accomplished performers playing their respective hearts out (and admirably supported by the efforts of collaborative pianist David Barnard, whose playing of the orchestral part of the Samuel Barber Concerto was a treat in itself to experience), it made for an absorbing listening experience, one to rate at least equally with the actual result of the contest, at least for this listener, with no “affiliations” connected with the outcome!

First up was violinist Lucas Baker, whose chosen work (Samuel Barber’s beautiful Violin Concerto) brought out the young player’s seemingly instinctive feel for the “shape” of the composer’s largely rhapsodic phrases and larger paragraphs – throughout, I was convinced by Baker’s heartfelt approach to both the work’s lyrical and more heroic sequences, his instantly characterful tones enabling us to quickly enter the “world” of the music, despite some untidiness of rhythm and intonation in some of the transitions. The player then confidently attacked the angularities of the second movement, and nicely brought out the fervour of the lyrical writing and the silveriness of the contrasting stratospheric section, concluding with beautifully withdrawn tones at the movement’s end.

The finale’s technical difficulties were also most excitingly squared up to by Baker, his fingers flying over his instrument’s fingerboard to exhilarating effect, with his pianist an equally committed and involved participant in the composer’s vortices of note-spinning – the spills were as exciting and involving as the thrills, both players capturing the devil-may-care spirit which abounds throughout this final movement. Whatever niceties of detail were smudged or approximated, Baker readily conveyed to us an engaging sense of “knowing how it should go”, which carried the day as a performance.

No greater contrast could have been afforded by both the player to next appear and the work chosen! – this was flutist Isabella Gregory, and the work Carl Reinecke’s D Major Flute Concerto, written (somewhat surprisingly, I thought, upon hearing the piece) in 1908, the composer hardly deviating from his early enthusiasms for the music of Mendelssohn and Schumann. In effect, the work is that rarity, a romantic flute concerto – here, it was given a sparklingly lyrical performance by its gifted performer, obviously in complete command of both the piece’s overall shape, and the mellifluous detailings that gave the music such a unique character – complete with a surprisingly abrupt conclusion to the first movement! The sombre nature of the second movement’s opening accompaniment contrasted with the solo instrument’s more carefree manner, played here by Gregory as a somewhat easy-going accomplice to rather more stealthy mischief-making, though I found the Moderato finale a wee bit under-characterised – I thought the rhythms could have a bit more “kick” in places, though this was something which the more energetic concluding sequence in due course suitably enlivened, the virtuosity of the soloist making a breathlessly exciting impression to finish! Altogether, a delightful and suitably brilliant performance!

The evening’s final contestant was pianist Otis Prescott-Mason, who had chosen Saint-Saens’s wonderful Second Piano Concerto – a work whose character I recall once described as “beginning like Bach and ending like Offenbach”! Throughout the first movement I found myself riveted by the young musician’s spell-binding command of the music’s ebb-and-flow, the “spontaneous” element of the opening improvisation as finely-judged as I had ever heard it played, Prescott-Mason truly “making the music his own” and working hand-in-glove with his collaborator to create the sense of Baroque-like splendour that informs the music – what I particularly liked was the spaciousness of it all, allied to the clear direction of the underlying pulse of the music, to the point where the sounds had an inevitability of utterance which perfectly fused freedom and structure, Saint-Saens at his most potent as a creator. What a pity, then that such poised, and finely-tuned focus seemed to me to be then somewhat impatiently cast aside, the second movement’s playfulness over-rushed and the rhythmic deliciousness and delicacy of it all to my ears duly lost – Saint-Saens’s humour is always po-faced and elegant, and the playing in this movement I thought unfortunately failed to realise that “insouciance” which keeps the music’s character intact. I then hoped that the whirlwind brilliance of the finale might have restored some of the impression created by the pianist in that superbly-crafted first movement – but the work was unexpectedly and severely shortened, allowing little opportunity for a “renaissance” of identification with the music’s world on the young player’s part.

All in all, the result of the competition very justly, I thought accorded the laurels to flutist Isabella Gregory, whose performance indicated an impressive totality of identification with the music she played, as regards both execution and interpretation. Both her rivals, Lucas Baker and Otis Prescott-Mason, I thought, turned out most engaging performances of their pieces, without quite rivalling the winner’s consistency and strength of purpose. But what things all three achieved in their different ways!  And how richly and gratefully we all relished their talent and musicality in entertaining us us so royally during the evening!

Koru Trio – giving the St.Andrews’s audience its koha’s worth and more……

The Koru Trio at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

BEETHOVEN – Piano Trio No.5 in D Major Op.70 No. 1 “Ghost”
ZEMLINSKY – Piano Trio in D Minor Op, 3

The Koru Trio – Anne Loeser (violin) / Sally Isaac (‘cello) / Rachel Thomson (piano)

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series, Wellington

Wednesday, 29th July, 2020

One of the largest lunchtime concert audiences I’ve seen at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace enthusiastically responded to two splendid performances by the Koru Trio, a group known to me up to now by reputation only – a quick check of the Middle C review archive confirmed that so far I’d not had the good fortune to review a single concert by the ensemble. I must record here that, long before the interval I was already bemoaning the opportunities I’d missed out on over the years, the Trio having been formed as long ago as 2011! In fact, to my astonishment and pleasure,  the concert replicated the excitement and interest of another I’d recently attended at the same venue, and had subsequently reviewed – that by the newly-formed Ghost Trio, coupling, as here, one of Beethoven’s masterly works in this genre with a lesser-known one by a different composer. On that earlier occasion it was the miraculous Op.1 Piano Trio of Andrzej Panufnik, while here, the Koru Trio after THEIR Beethoven performance gave us the no less remarkable, youthfully-conceived Op.3 Piano Trio of Alexander Von Zemlinsky.

First came the Beethoven Trio, Op.70 No.1, known popularly as the “Ghost”, a nickname attributed by most accounts to the composer’s former pupil Carl Czerny associating in later years the second movement’s evocative writing with the ghost of Hamlet’s father – interestingly enough, Beethoven was toying at the time of writing this trio with the idea of an opera about Macbeth, which accounts for the forgivable slip of association in the Koru’s otherwise excellent programme notes, which had Beethoven’s music recalling Hamlet’s encounter with his father “in Shakespeare’s Macbeth”! The work begins completely differently, of course with an exciting, energetic unison, here instantly grabbing the listeners’ attention with strong, focused playing, which continued throughout the lyrical response to the opening “helter-skelter”. The development began with “another way of doing the opening”, whimsical exchanges leading to major key exhortions and wonderful roller-coaster ride figurations, and left me relishing the thought of the composer’s chortling with exuberant glee at the “plunge” back into the recapitulated opening figure! As much as I loved the energy of the playing I was as much taken with the delicacy and feathery quality the players found in some of the writing, even if from where I was sitting the St.Andrew’s acoustic seemed to favour the piano at the strings’ expense.

Vibrato-less tones from the strings added to the slow movement’s “spooky” effect, the lines suitably eerie and suspenseful, punctuated by sudden bursts of tone and spidery keyboard descents and tremolandos – I thought pianist Rachel Thomson’s beautifully-sustained trilling and tremolandi helped create an almost Musorgsky-like atmosphere in places, with Anne Loeser’s and Sally Isaac’s string playing suitably spectral in attendance. The group marshalled the tensions to great effect – in places the tones were more “lament-like” than ghostly, with the two crescendi almost unnerving in their lack of inhibition. I thought that, as the movement’s end approached, the instrumental sounds in places became “as from the earth”, the music a mere conduit through which mysterious impulses were giving tongue.

A measure of relief was afforded by the first strains of the finale – a kind of “glad we’re out of there” feeling which burgeoned into exuberance in places, every player contributing to the buzz of activity, and sharing the bouts of momentary bemusement at the lines occasionally spinning upwards and disappearing in Houdini-like fashion, only to reappear as if descending by parachute! It made for a thoroughly invigorating entertainment, bristling with good humour and well-being, just the stuff needed! – a lovely performance!

Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Piano Trio made up the rest of the concert, the work exerting no less a fascination on an audience by this time in thrall to the blandishments of the music-making. The work’s Schumannesque opening – darkly passionate, as if its composer was “wrestling with ghosts” – alternated with contrasting sequences, a wistful longing which transforms into a feeling for the German woods with characteristic horn-calls evoking the romance of darkness and mystery. We heard long-breathed lines whose harmonies modulated in and out of the shadows in fine Romantic style, the influence of Brahms, who encouraged the younger composer, readily apparent (Brahms, incidentally, insisted that his own publisher print Zemlinsky’s work). A grand romantic summation ended the first movement, brought off here with great style and panache!

A warm, richly upholstered piano solo (in places bringing to my mind Janacek’s piano writing) began the slow movement, before violin and ‘cello joined in, and so initiated a most passionately-voiced threesome, bristling with impulsive sequences (amid which I caught an echo of Dvorak’s ‘Cello Concerto!) and reaching a kind of fever-pitch before subsiding, exhausted, into gentleness and rapture. By contrast the finale was all skitterish urgency and al fresco energy to begin with, accompanied by redolent hunting sounds from the piano, which fought a rearguard action to keep the strings on the move – I enjoyed the lively interplay between the opposing camps, Zemlinsky’s writing never predictable, and, in fact, saving a brightly-gleaming frisson of surprise and delight for the very end – a work I enjoyed getting to know, and through which the Trio made a lot of fun in sharing with us so joyously!



Orchestra Wellington concert triumphs despite first-half technical glitch

Michael Houstoun plays Rachmaninov

RACHMANINOV – Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor Op.30
TCHAIKOVSKY – “Manfred” Symphony in B Minor Op.58

Michael Houstoun (piano)
Orchestra Wellington
Marc Taddei (conductor)

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday, 25th July 2020

Saturday evening’s concert by Orchestra Wellington, the first of the ensemble’s somewhat rearranged 2020 season, promised to be something of a blockbuster occasion, with two justly famous (for vastly different reasons) works from the Russian  repertoire together making for an evening’s spectacular music-making. Long regarded as one of the most difficult and demanding of romantic piano concertos, Rachmaninov’s legendary D minor work has proven an irresistible challenge for many of the greatest pianists over the years, and on this occasion was given a beautifully persuasive rendition by Michael Houstoun, supported both flowingly and meticulously by conductor and orchestra. An unexpected hiatus during the work’s second movement caused by a technical problem was quickly and securely dealt with, and the music safely gotten on the rails again by the musicians in an entirely admirable fashion.

Tchaikovsky’s programmatic B Minor Symphony “Manfred” has achieved a different kind of fame over the years, one based on its relative neglect by default, having as many detractors as champions, and being generally regarded until recently by both musicians and commentators as the weakest in a structural sense of the composer’s seven works in this form. Marc Taddei and his musicians ignored all such preconceptions by approaching the symphony very much on its own terms, fully embracing its programmatic nature and thus setting free all of the music’s dramatic and poetic possibilities, with truly spectacular results!

Added to the attraction of the programme was a real sense of occasion generated by the musicians involved brought about by the post-lockdown recommencement of Orchestra Wellington’s original programming for the season – achieved with a couple of time readjustments,  this was possibly a “first” for any orchestral body in the world for 2020. Music director Marc Taddei paid tribute in a short speech to the leadership and purpose demonstrated in high places which had enabled concerts here in New Zealand to be recommenced in such a manner. The orchestra had, of course, already made a highly-acclaimed reappearance on the concert platform for a Mozart series during the previous month, one featuring concertmaster Amalia Hall as both soloist and music director.

Another musician whose plans (sadly for us all, for retirement) had been “put on hold” through his generous response to a need created by the Covid-19 pandemic for his services was the evening’s soloist, Michael Houstoun. Having on previous occasions amply demonstrated his mastery of all aspects of Rachmaninov’s piano writing in this concerto, Houstoun seemed here to take a less virtuosic, more-than-usually organic view of the music this time round, with little untoward irruption or attention-drawing point-making allowed to disturb the flow of ideas, instead expressing everything as integral to the whole, and certainly never allowing the piano to dominate . The orchestral voices were given full rein, making for a fascinatingly-voiced dialogue of phrases and longer lines, with the wind-writing in particular making its presence felt. Rachmaninov has never, I feel,  been given sufficient credit for the more “intellectual” aspects of his writing, his detractors in particular quick to overemphasise his emotionalism and his “outdated” romantic gesturings, ignoring felicitations such as the skill with which he inter-relates the various motifs throughout this work. And those moments of “glorious expansion”, particularly those given tongue by the strings in places, here grew out of the material so naturally, for me further underlining a sense of being caught up in the first movement’s incredible flow of impulse and colour.

Just as beguiling here was the second movement’s richly-wrought sense of undulation, those various outpourings of feeling building and breaking over the waves’ edges so gloriously, led variously by the piano and then the orchestra – such a pity that one of these oceanic burgeonings was unexpectedly interrupted by the pianist’s electronic page-turner malfunctioning or inadvertedly losing its way, bringing the music to a halt – a brief re-alignment from soloist, conductor and orchestra, and we were off again, climbing towards that same ecstatic fulfilment of expression with even more determined energies – by contrast, the movement’s “scherzo-waltz”  section was here deliciously, almost lazily realised, giving the notes a chance to scintillate rather than merely “blur at speed” – the nocturne-like mood returned impassionedly, the strings allowing another surge of feeling before being silenced by the piano’s sudden call to action, heralding the finale.

Again, Houstoun chose not to assail the music with flailing figurations, but kept the momentums at a steady surge, holding the tempo in accord with an overall flow and imparting by turns a delicacy and an impish quality in places. Noble brass tones resonated the textures before hushed winds and strings introduced the haunting contrast afforded by a delicate scherzando sequence – lovely, crystalline playing from Houstoun, here, leading to the magical reiteration of the latter part of the first movement’s second subject, perhaps the concerto’s most “lump-in-the-throat” moment. Afterwards came the return of the “galloping horse” motiv that began the finale, and the almost combatative exchanges between piano and orchestra leading to the work’s apotheosis (Rachmaninov’s own “Cossack Cavalry” moment during this section rivals Chopin’s “Polish Cavalry” surgings in the latter’s Op.53 Polonaise). The orchestral strings sang the “big” concluding D Major melody like crazy, so it was a pity that the dovetailing right at the end of the work between piano and orchestra seemed suddenly fraught and uncertain, and the ending somewhat roughly-wrought! – so uncharacteristic of the performance as a whole!

Unfortunately, these relatively momentary “glitches” saw the pianist depart from the performing platform after acknowledging the orchestra and the audience, and not return, despite our enthusiastic applause, All of us most assuredly wanted to (a) let Houstoun know that the mishaps were of little consequence compared with the magnificence of the whole and (b) salute him and his fellow musicians for responding to these happenings with such efficiency and professionalism – one would hope that something like these same sentiments would have been conveyed to him as a matter of course afterwards.

Whether or not this somewhat “damp squib” ending of the first half made conductor and players all the more determined to bring off what followed in the concert with something wholly memorable is probably academic conjecture – the fact was that, from those first haunting wind chords of the opening “Lento lugubre” movement of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, the playing exerted a vice-like grip on our attentions, the remainder of the orchestra amassing its forces in the most full-blooded manner imaginable – such trenchant string tones and baleful brass, recalling like passages in the same composer’s “Francesca da Rimini” – there was tenderness, too as the strings savoured the theme Tchaikovsky wrought to characterise his hero Manfred’s memory of a lost love, followed by wild desperation as the memory became an obsession and a torment, culminating in a full-orchestra reiteration of Manfred’s own despairing motif.

Respite from the gloom was provided by the work’s inner movements – firstly by the whimsical charms of the watery abode of the Witch of the Alps, and a charmingly graceful Trio section which could have come from one of the great ballets, Tchaikovsky adroitly working the “Manfred” theme into the music’s blandishments – both the feathery scherzo-like textures and the silken grace of the trio were brought off here with great orchestral panache. The Berlioz-like third movement at first evoked pastoral scenes with a beguiling oboe solo carried on by flutes and counterpointed by a horn with the strings, a rustic dance bursting delightfully on the scene, but just as quickly swept away by an almost martial sequence – the volatility of the music amazed and entertained as the sounds swirled into a kind of passionate frenzy, brought to a halt by distant church bells and begun again by the winds, the music’s volatility leaving one bemused as to what next to expect!

The finale was an “Allegro con fuoco”, a bacchanalian-like riot of colour and energy with a distinct Russian flavour, delivered with tremendous elan – as the excitement died down, the brass sounded a kind of ‘knell”, returning us to the mood of the symphony’s opening, the hero having failed to elude his doom, one cruelly “mocked” by a driving fugue, which quickly turned into a kind of danse macabre, hurling itself to no avail against the “iron gates” of fate. What anguished strings and pitiless harp cascadings! –  all leading inevitably to desolate lamentations and a final reiteration of Manfred’s fateful theme, given the full, apocalyptic (perhaps that should read apoplectic?) treatment, an organ thrown in for good measure at the end, to bring some spiritual peace to the hero with death’s release. Conductor Marc Taddei would have at the end, I think, been justly proud of his own and his players’ efforts in bringing this “symphonic monster” to such overwhelmingly visceral life!

Surely RNZ Concert ought to have recorded this, an historic occasion for so many different reasons? Wouldn’t one have expected this to have been an occasion worth preserving? I would have thought so!……however, as I saw no microphones, it seems as if memory alone might have to suffice when we hearken back and remember what we can of this remarkable feast of music-making, in the midst of remarkable times!

Goldberg Variations from NZSO musicians with Stephen De Pledge – “a journey of life with its full gamut of emotions”

J.S.Bach – Goldberg Variations

(arranged for ensemble by Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Heribert Breuer)

Vesa-Matti Leppänen Director/Violin
Stephen De Pledge Fortepiano

Members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Wednesday, 22nd July 2020

Bach’s Goldberg Variations is one of the greatest, if not the greatest set of variations in the keyboard repertoire. Count Kaiserling, Elector of Saxony, commissioned Bach to write it for his protege, the young keyboard player, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. The work consists of thirty variations on a theme, an Aria, that Bach might have heard or found in his wife’s, Anna Magdalena’s, notebook. Playing this great work in an arrangement for harp, strings and wind players was challenging and perhaps controversial programming. For the purist meddling with such an iconic work is sacrilege. Over the years, however, there were many arrangements of these variations, for the modern piano, very different from the two keyboard harpsichord that Bach wrote the piece for, and for different combinations of instruments. Vesa-Matti Leppȁnen used a selection of arrangements for strings by the Russian violinist, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, and for other instruments of the orchestra by the German conductor Heribert Breuer.

This entailed re-imagining the work, employing sounds, timbres, that were outside the scope of a keyboard instrument. Right from the beginning, the beautiful Aria played by flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon, harp and strings was a haunting introduction to an amazing musical journey. Following the Aria, the first variation was played by Stephen de Pledge on a forte-piano, bringing out the phrasing and dynamic possibilities of the fortepiano, a new instrument in Bach’s time and not much to Bach’s liking. After the next two variations, a solo harp (Carolyn Mills)  introduced an entirely different and unexpected bell like sound. Variation 4 was a light-hearted dance movement played by the winds. This was followed by a wind chorale, demonstrating what striking beautiful sounds a combination of four wind instruments can produce. Then strings played a Gigue, a foot stomping dance that was never far from Bach’s world. Fugal passages were played by various of combinations of instruments, but always keeping the joyful spirit in mind. A slow gentle richly decorated Sarabande was played as a violin solo with string accompaniment, which was followed by a quirky fast variation. The fifteenth variation, played by the winds, was a slow melancholy passage, a stark contrast to the previous one. Then all the musicians disappeared into the shadows at the back of the stage and harpist Carolyn Mills played a magical repetition of the the opening theme.

During a brief break Stephen de Pledge talked about the instrument he was playing, the fortepiano, and its development.

After the break the reiteration of the theme was followed by a grand French Overture played by winds and a selection of strings. In contrast, the next variation, a canon, was played on the fortepiano alone. Then all the strings came back and played a delightful dance-like variation. Following that, the next variation was played on fortepiano alone, giving Stephen de Pledge a chance to demonstrate the subtleties possible on the newly developed keyboard instrument. Then a sombre canon was played by winds and strings. A fugal passage by the whole ensemble was followed by a virtuosic variation on the fortepiano. A light-hearted canon for bassoon, clarinet and violin led to a beautiful dark Adagio, the emotional high point of the piece. This was contrasted by a virtuoso toccata on the fortepiano. Then came a bright interplay among the strings and a jolly resolution of what went on in the previous variations, played with gusto by the whole ensemble. Finally we arrived at the concluding piece, the Quodlibet, based on popular songs, probably sung by Bach and his brothers when they got together. To conclude the work the opening Aria returned with an emotionally charged rendition by violins and then the keyboard alone.

Throughout the performance the various musicians walked on and off the stage like ghosts, as they were needed. The MFC stage provided a theatrical setting with subtle blue lighting in the background setting the mood. At the end of the performance all the musicians retreated into the dark, leaving the fortepiano playing on his own, the lights were dimmed and the audience was left to reflect on a journey that was not a mere musical experience but a journey of life with its full gamut of emotions.

Performing this vast work in the large space of the Michael Fowler Centre presented problems. At times the strings, particularly the violins were overshadowed by the more penetrating sound of the winds, but this is a mere quibble. We should be grateful to the musicians, mostly principals of the NZSO, for their meticulous, inspired playing and particular to Vesa-Matti Leppȁnen for putting it all together from different sources.

To record the concert on, available on YouTube, so that people could enjoy it in their living rooms from Kaitaia to the Bluff, is a wonderful initiative of the NZSO. It is exactly what a publicly funded organization like the NZSO should do.

A splendid St Andrew’s lunchtime concert from NZSM voice students

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Classical voice students the New Zealand School of Music with David Barnard (piano)

Simon  Harnden: ‘T’was within a furlong of Edinborough Town’ and ‘Sons of the Sea’ by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Michaela Cadwgan: L’invitation au voyage’ (Duparc)and ‘Donde lieta uscì’ from La Bohème
Grace Burt: ‘Chanson Triste’ (Duparc) and ‘Chacun à son goût’ from Die Fledermaus
Matt Barris; Valentin’s aria from Faust and ‘Silent Noon’ by Vaughan Williams
Ruby McKnight: ‘Signore ascolta’ from Turandot and ‘Nana’ from Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs
Morgan Andrew King: Prince Gremin’s aria from Eugene Onegin and ‘Ol’ Man River’ from Showboat
Lila Junior Crichton: ‘O Columbina’ from Pagliacci and ‘Oh is there not one maiden breast’ from The Pirates of Penzance

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 22 July, 12:15 pm

From a purely musical point of view, this was an interesting recital, with a very wide range of songs and arias, a lot familiar, some not, but very worth being exposed to. One song I didn’t know at all was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘Sons of the Sea’. Once upon a time those three names together (in a different order) would have meant only the great poet linked with Wordsworth. Now I suspect, as a result of the disappearance of much in the way of English literature from schools (and now even being thrown out of our National Library), the black English composer of the late 19th century may be better known. It was sung by Simon Harnden whose rich bass voice did justice to its dramatic character; as it had expressively to his earlier song, Purcell’s ’T’was within a furlong of Edinborough Town’.

Interesting that we had here four males and three females: the balance is more commonly otherwise. The second male voice was that of Matt Barris. He sang Valentin’s baritone aria from Faust, ‘Avant de quitter ces lieus’, feelingly expressing his anxiety about Marguérite while he’s away. His second song was Vaughan Williams’s Silent Noon which he sang attractively, with careful restraint.

The third male was bass Morgan-Andrew King. He sang Prince Gremin’s wonderful aria from the last act of Eugene Onegin, catching its noble character but delivering it rather too quickly. And later he sang ‘Ol’ man river’ from Showboat, with calm dignity.

Lila Junior Crichton, a tenor, sang two late 19th century arias. The first a familiar aria from Pagliacci: in Act II Beppe (Arlecchino) serenades the ultimate victim Nedda (Columbina), with ‘O Columbina’, capturing its fluctuating rhythms well. Then, from The Pirates of Penzance, ‘Oh, is there not one maiden breast’ from; not terribly familiar but attractively lyrical in Crichton’s hands.

Two of Henri Duparc’s few, precious songs came early in the concert. Michaela Cadwgan sang perhaps his best-known: ‘L’invitation au voyage’, which I have a somewhat personal relationship with. First it drew attention to the piano part, and then to Michaela’s strong, perhaps a bit too strong at the top, voice. But it suggests promise in the opera house, which was evident in her singing of the poignant ‘Donde lieta uscì’ from Act III of La Bohème.

The second Duparc song came from Grace Burt’s mezzoish voice: ‘Chanson triste’ was nicely modulated, her voice dynamically disciplined throughout. Prince Orlovsky’s ‘Chacun à son goût’ from Die Fledermaus is a droll aria from what I consider the greatest of all operettas. It’s a travesti role, a bit of a challenge, needing a conspicuous flamboyance to bring off well, and it got that.

Soprano Ruby McKnight sang Liu’s touching aria ‘Signore ascolta’ in Turandot; it doesn’t really need a voice as large as McKnight’s to deliver it, but with accurate intonation, it was a fine performance. And she later sang ‘Nana’, one of the seven Spanish popular songs (folksongs ere) by Manuel de Falla (good to see the proper translation of ‘Seven Spanish popular songs’: they’re not ’seven popular Spanish songs’ – a significant difference). If she didn’t capture the Spanish flavour perfectly, her performance was distinctive and arresting.

As student recitals go, this was a splendid three-quarter hour; a major part of that success was David Barnard’s unerring piano accompaniments that claimed the orchestra’s role very convincingly.


Camus’s La Peste … our Covid-19 … the sterility of opera … and …

Camus’s novel La Peste: the production in Oran, Algeria, of Gluck’s Orphée. A metaphor for the static, morbid condition of opera … and of our civilisation?

I subscribe to Opera News, the magazine published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, New York. It is the United States’ principal opera magazine.

The August 2020 issue is, unsurprisingly, short on articles on forthcoming operas and reviews of new productions across the States and elsewhere. But there is a number of articles on people and issues connected with opera which make the current issue a very good read.

One of the unusually interesting articles, inspired in various ways by the pandemic, is by David J Baker.

Here is the article:

‘It may surprise people to learn that Albert Camus once wrote about opera – in his definitive novel about a twentieth century epidemic. La Peste (The Plague) includes a bizarre, disturbing scene in an opera house. Seventy-five years after its publication, the novel can still speak to us about such a plague, and even more about opera.

‘Yet Camus describes a very different epidemic from ours. Social distancing, let alone the use of masks or a shut-down of stores and other public places, is never mentioned or practised in the novel; instead, the Algerian city of Oran, where the novel takes place, is ‘distanced’ – cut off entirely from the outside world for almost a year.

‘A touring opera troupe, trapped in Oran by the quarantine, has decided to continue to perform Gluck’s Orphée, which makes up its entire touring repertoire. They have presented it every Friday evening for the duration of the plague. The opera is always the same; yet the house is sold out each time. Like the overcrowded restaurants, bars and cinemas described in the novel – such a contrast to our recently vacant cities – the plague city’s municipal opera house has helped to satisfy the citizens craze for distraction from the mortal threat they face.

‘An anomaly in Camus’s plague is that people are satisfied with watching, over and over again, the same film or play or opera, because no new material is coming into the city. In Camus’s hands, this restricted repertoire, and audiences’ acceptance of it, becomes an especially apt way to typify one effect of the epidemic – limited choices, repetitive behaviour, numbing distractions, the sense, familiar today as well, of living on a treadmill, in a closed circle.

‘But why select Gluck’s Orphée as the one opera played weekly throughout the long months of the Oran plague? Orpheus is one of the most symbolic of all mythological figures: in Western aesthetics and consciousness; he epitomises the power of art (specifically music), a power stronger than death. In operas by Monteverdi, Gluck and others, his lyre and his voice work the miracle of rescuing his wife from Hades – from death itself.

‘Attending one of Oran’s weekly performances, Jean Tarrou (one of the narrators) is intrigued by the posh audience as couples begin to file in ostentatiously, well-dressed, mingling and clearly regaining some of their habitual (pre-plague) assurance. During the performance, Tarrou begins to notice something unusual on stage. The Act I ‘ariettes’, we are told, are sing by principals and chorus with “facility” and “grace”. Then, almost imperceptibly, the Orphée (a male singer, as was traditionally more common with French performances) “inserted tremolos” that were not part of his Act II aria and, “with a slight excess of pathos, beseeched the master of Hell to heed his pleas. Certain jerky gestures escaping him seemed, to the more savvy spectators, a stylistic effect that added appreciably to the singer’s interpretation”.

‘Only during the duet in Act III, “the point where Eurydice escaped Orphée” does the audience begin to react. And, “as if these noises from the audience confirmed the singer in what he was feeling, at the moment he advanced to the footlights, Grotesquely, stretching his arms and legs in his antiquarian costume, and collapsed,” overturning scenery in his fall. The orchestra falls silent, and the audience begins to leave the theatre “at first discreetly (as they would leave a church, or a funeral) and then in a desperate, disorderly rush”.

‘The narrator and his companion are left alone, confronted with an image “of what their life had become: the plague onstage in the form of a contorted tragedian and, in the hall, signs of luxury now useless … forgotten opera glasses, and lace garments discarded against the crimson upholstered seats”. Art – like its more frivolous accessories among the elite audience – falls prey to the ravages of the epidemic.

‘Opera audiences in 2020 are being spared such dreadful scenes, thanks to the precautions taken during “our” pandemic. We are also deprived of live opera altogether. How significant is this aesthetic and social loss in the greater scheme of the pandemic? Should we complain about the plight of the opera world when we appreciate the mortal risk of the coronavirus – which, in a small distortion of a word used by Sartre and Camus, we can call an “existential threat”?

‘At the end, when normal life returns, one minor character says: “What does the plague really matter? It’s life, that’s all”. Afflicted for years with tuberculosis, and starting this novel during the war, Camus saw life as struggle and resistance, a response to our “absurd” condition. In a less momentous sense, this philosopher, novelist and playwright may have seen opera, too, as not without absurdity. Perhaps, in presenting a company and a theatre with a repertoire of just one opera, he was presciently suggesting one of the weaknesses of this art form as it is practised  and marketed today; the opera scene in La peste could be taken as parody, as a metaphor for opera’s basically fixed, unchanging repertoire. Few new works keep the repertoire alive and growing; what we see on stage, as in Camus’s scene, is a form of death.

‘When the curtain goes up again – on our cities, and in our opera houses – we can hope that it’s not just a return to business as usual. Our pandemic has brought painful reminders of social disparities, prompting calls for reform. What remains to be seen is how our plague will affect arts institutions. Will we return to the opera marketplace as Camus depicted it so starkly, in his exaggerated dramatization – as a shrinking repertoire, a moribund institution, a privilege for the few?’

The author is identified thus: David J Baker, whose translations of the Camus excerpts appear here, taught La Peste and other novels to undergraduates while preparing his PhD in French.

Opera News is a relatively low-priced opera magazine. New Zealanders can subscribe for US$69.99 per annum, for 12 issues. It was the price that first attracted me about 30 years ago and I have been a subscriber ever since.
Opera News has for many years been much more than simply a newsletter for well-healed ‘Friends’; it offers a fair view of the surprising extent of opera in the United States and Canada (there are about 150 professional opera companies, members of Opera America), as well as some news and reviews from elsewhere.

Apart from the injury currently being inflicted on the performing arts world-wide, opera is flourishing in terms of the numbers of opera companies. The wretched condition of opera in New Zealand is not typical of its extent elsewhere. 

Lindis Taylor

Ghost Trio haunts sensibilities long after final notes in concert sounded

A remarkable lunchtime concert by the Ghost Trio at the Adam Concert Room….

Ghost Trio – Monique Lapins (violin), Ken Ichinose (‘cello), Gabriela Glapska (piano)

BEETHOVEN – Piano Trio In C Minor Op. 1 No.3
MARTIN LODGE – Summer Music (2001)
SHOSTAKOVICH – Piano Trio in C Minor No.1  Op.8

Adam Concert Room, Te Kōkī NZ School of Music, Victoria University of Wellington

Friday, 17th July 2020

I had heard the Ghost Trio perform the same Beethoven work more than a fortnight previously (a concert reviewed below by my colleague, Steven Sedley), though this time round it was coupled to a different programme. Instead of the remarkable Piano Trio Op.1 by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik (which I would have liked to hear again), the musicians chose to branch out in a different direction,  with each of the accompanying works expressing what I thought was a certain affinity with Beethoven’s music. We heard Kiwi composer Martin Lodge’s engaging “Summer Music”, whose effect was a kind of miniature out-of-doors, “Pastoral Symphony-like” sound-adventure, interlacing both natural and human noises. This was followed with a Piano Trio written by the then sixteen year-old Dmitri Shostakovich, a work whose Beethovenian “charge” of emotion alarmed the young composer’s professors at the Petrograd Conservatory as profoundly as was Josef Haydn disturbed by the boldness of his most famous pupil’s Op.1 C Minor Piano Trio.

As with the St.Andrew’s performance, the players drew their listeners into the composer’s world of dark and serious purpose from the very opening phrases, the sequences generating a disturbing quality throughout the instrumental interactions which never relinquished its grip. Sitting closer to the players in the Adam Concert Room this time round I felt involved all the more in the constant flow and ebb of  intensities, the explosive nature of the music’s dramatic contrasts, and the disconcerting upward\downward semitone shifts of the opening theme in places. Though the gloom was occasionally leavened by a contrasting, if briefly-wrought lyrical theme, any sunnier prospect was quickly clouded over again in no uncertain terms, the first-movement repeat emphasising the thrall in which we were held – and the development was similarly charged with tensions, light and darkness unceasingly pushing and shoving one another to one side – it was quite a ride!

The theme-and variations second movement promised some relief from Beethovenian brow-beating, and the players responded at the opening with some nobly-wrought sounds – perhaps it was partly due to the music’s playfulness but I found myself listening as much to the playing’s solo lines as to the concerted effect of the music-making throughout, the dialogues and “trialogues” as involving as the ensembled sounds – I relished the playful pizzicati of the third variation, the soulful cello solo of the fourth, and the sparkling chromatic keyboard runs of the fifth (all beautifully executed and characterfully dovetailed), to mention but a few ear-catching features.

As much scherzo as minuet, the third movement fused a certain wistful quality with playfulness, the piano’s frequent decorative figurations making a marked contrast with the occasional emphasised accent – again, the musicians gave the music’s angularities full scope to proclaim the work’s character, while allowing a fantastic element (those strangely-echoed resonances which suggested in places hidden voices directing the ebb and flow of things) some treasurable moments of sleight-of-hand, even magic.  As for the prestissimo finale, the players found more character than mere “virtuoso roar” with which to give voice to the music’s agitations, their nimble articulations (the pianist especially fleet-fingered!) creating wonderment and delicious anticipation as well as excitement, with the composer reserving the biggest surprise for the hushed, somewhat “spooked” coda, the musicians voicing the mystery and unease of it all to perfection at the end.

I hadn’t heard Martin Lodge’s “Summer Music” for some time but thought its appeal as instantly-involving as ever, with “hit the ground running” energies at the outset leading the listener into a world of vividly-wrought happenings. Both music and performance came across as remarkably organic, with swirling piano figurations and swinging thematic lines eventually giving way to sequences of stillness, the world stopping to listen to itself and inviting us to eavesdrop. Out of these breath-catching pointillistic etchings returned those same songs, a yearning for the natural world amid “humanity’s mad inhuman noise”, perhaps? – all very “Scene by the Brook”-like in its rediscovered innocence –  and leading into and through various undercurrents of pulse  to a beautiful and wistful blending of action, nature and memory at the end. The performance here caught me up in its vivid response to the music’s “story” and its accompanying array of alternating bustle and beauty.

So to the Shostakovich Trio, an equally remarkable evocation of the sixteen year-old composer’s thrall to a young woman, Tatyana Glivenko, whom he had met on holiday in 1923 in the Crimea (he was actually convalescing from tuberculosis at the time) – the music grew partly out of material he’d written for other works he had since abandoned, a Piano Sonata and a Quintet. Though nothing serious developed from the encounter with Tatyana, Shostakovich kept in touch with her by correspondence for many years. Two years after completing the Trio, the youthful composer performed the work as part of his application to continue his musical studies at the Moscow Conservatory, and was actually accepted, though his continuing ill health in the end forced him to remain at the Conservatory in Petrograd.

This single-movement work owed much of its bold, almost cinematic character to the composer’s part-time job as a cinema pianist playing the accompaniment for silent films. Shostakovich’s sister Zoya remembered that her brother and two of his friends actually used the cinema accompaniment as a rehearsal for the Piano Trio on one occasion, remarking that “the people whistled and booed!” But Shostakovich’s music from an early age seemed to revel in these characteristics, a family friend, the novelist Konstantin Fedin recalling hearing the boy playing his own compositions to guests at the family home – “….unexpected works which forced one to listen as if one were in the theatre, where everything is so clear that one must either laugh or weep.” Despite, or perhaps because of this ready accessibility, the Trio wasn’t published during Shostakovich’s lifetime, and had to be reconstructed from various sources, the missing last twenty or so bars of the piano part in fact “recomposed” by his pupil Boris Tishchenko.

Again, this was a remarkably involving performance, the players at full stretch in the more virtuoso, densely-woven ensemble passages, but “owning” their full-blooded expressionist character as great-heartedly as they did the more lyrical and unashamedly romantic passages, the whole almost Mahlerian in its all-embracing fervour. To comment on this or that individually-wrought passage seems of less importance than marvelling at the concerted “sweep’ of the music’s realisation by the ensemble – long may the Ghost Trio’s efforts continue to thrillingly haunt their audience’s sensibilities thus!

Wellington Chamber Music attracts full house for its first post-Covid appearance at Sunday concert

Wellington Chamber Music

Vesa and Friends: horns and strings
Vesa-Matti Leppänen (violin), Andrew Thomson (violin and viola), Andrew Joyce (cello), Nicholas Hancox (viola), Samuel Jacobs and Ian Wildsmith (French horn)

Beethoven: String Trio in E-flat, Op 3
Mozart; Horn Quintet in E-flat K 407
Beethoven: Sextet in E-flat major Op 81b

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 12 July, 3 pm

The first in Wellington Chamber Music’s 2020 concert series attracted a near full house (though without the gallery open), for a programme that looked very attractive. Though, in the event, neither of the two Beethoven works would have been familiar to most.

How appropriate that the group’s first post-lock-down concert should be music by two of the world’s very greatest composers.

Throughout his earlier years Beethoven wrote several ‘miscellaneous’ chamber works. Some are familiar because they are so engaging, such as the Octet Op 103, reworked as a string quintet; and the Quintet for piano and winds; Op 16 probably inspired by Mozart’s Quintet K 452, for those instruments; and a Septet in E flat, Op 20 for strings and winds, which probably inspired Schubert’s Octet. Not forgetting the delightful Sextet, Op 71 is for winds alone. I used to have a cassette tape with some of these on it which was much played on car journeys years ago, alternating with Mozart’s Posthorn and the Haffner serenades; two young sons rarely complained.

Beethoven’s first string trio 
But neither of the Beethoven pieces this afternoon was quite as familiar or were in the class of Mozart’s wonderful Divertimento, K 563, which had been published the year Beethoven before wrote his Op 3. One knows the charming Serenade for string trio Op 8 and perhaps the three trios of Op 9, but I was surprised to realise I didn’t know Op 3.

Viola and cello seemed to lead the way at the beginning and indeed throughout the first movement, their weight seemed to dominate, which may have been produced mainly by Andrew Joyce’s particularly rich and warm instrument. It was not a matter of balance, but rather the fact that Beethoven provided music in which equality between the three was unusually conspicuous. The Andante was similarly democratically distributed among the three players; and again the rather low-lying, delicate, triple-time music created an unusually serious feeling. The Trio is in six movements, like the Mozart Divertimento, with two minuets separated by an Adagio. There’s a feeling of unusual uniformity of spirit in the work, even as the movements change tempo, sometimes key, and whether it’s a Menuetto or a gently paced Adagio.

Mozart’s horn quintet, K 407, was one of several remarkable pieces that he wrote for long-standing family friend, horn player Joseph Leutgeb. Instead of the conventional string quartet (plus Samuel Jacobs’ horn), the second violin is replaced by a second viola (Andrew Thomson), which naturally tended to subdue some exuberance. But the horn flourished in the church acoustic, perhaps rather too much at times, though that’s the result of our ears having been seduced by the engineered sound during the recording process: the normal imbalance is suppressed. The Andante, middle movement, was seductive, while the last, Allegro, revealed the nature of the challenges the Mozart threw at his friend (as he also did with the four horn concertos), such that even on a horn equipped with valves, and played by a superb executant, one could be rather filled with wonder – and delight.

Beethoven Sextet Op 81b 
Beethoven’s Sextet for string quartet and two horns (Jacobs of the NZSO and Orchestra Wellington principal horn, Shadley van Wyk), is also a somewhat less familiar work; it’s again in the key of E flat (a favourite for horn players). The sounds produced by the pair of horns was so enchanting in itself that their tendency to outpace the strings was hardly noticeable, and it was certainly a nice partnership. The pair of horns dominated the quietly lyrical slow movement too and again they demonstrated how a beautifully composed horn duet can rather capture the attention, though the in-between remarks by the strings seemed perfectly appropriate and they remained true to themselves.

So by the end, one could reflect that neither Mozart nor Beethoven had failed to recognise that way winds, and especially horns could enhance the delight that’s already plentiful with a plain string quartet.

Wellington Chamber Music can be well satisfied with their break-out from lock-down, both musically and with a numerous audience; and many, particularly Samuel Jacobs, introducing the Sextet, exclaimed at the delight of being at a real, excellent chamber music concert again.


Well contrived and performed recital of piano music from NZSM students at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Piano students of the New Zealand School of Music
Shangrong Feng: Haydn: Sonata in C, Hob. XVI 48
Liam Furey: Beethoven: Sonata in G minor, Op 49 No 2
Boulez: Douze notations pour piano (1945)
David Codd: Chopin: Nocturnes Op 27, nos 1 & 2
Vincent Brzozowski: Mendelssohn: Variations sérieuses

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 8 July, 12:15 pm

This was a thoughtfully contrived hour-long recital: and an interesting range of music, even if only one piece was composed after 1850.

Haydn Sonata
Shangrong Feng’s sonata by Haydn is one of the 50-odd that he composed, which have not till recently been universally considered worthy of performance by professional pianists even though they were generally written for eminent adults. No 48 in the exhaustive Hoboken catalogue (1789/90) was among the last of the 52 recognised by Hoboken. The first movement is marked Andante con espressione; it was at the indicated pace although I’d have described Shangrong’s playing as thoughtful, even analytical, rather than expressive. Her touch was subtle and discreet, sometimes Scarlatti-like, particularly in her handling of the little ornamental phrases. And the second movement, a Rondo (Presto), was in sharp contrast, by no means pitched at a less than highly accomplished player.

Is it time for someone to undertake a series of Haydn piano sonatas? Just the kind of exploit that would sit interestingly in a St Andrew’s series…

Liam Furey played the second of Beethoven’s two Op 49 sonatas, generally regarded as ‘easy’, and they are indeed generally tackled by students, around grade IV (speaking personally). But in the hands of someone who is conspicuously far beyond that, it responds to the attention of an accomplished, mature performer. In some ways it represented a nice affinity with the preceding Haydn sonata and the second movement, a minuet, with two contrasting ‘trio’ sections, is gentle and superficially undemanding; Furey played it charmingly, seriously.

Boulez’s Notations
There could scarcely have been a starker contrast than the twelve ‘notations’ by Boulez. One shouldn’t allow the name Boulez immediately to shut down one’s expectation that nothing comprehensible is about to be heard. These extremely varied pieces had the virtue both of not being too long, and of actually persuading the listener to set aside prejudice and to find the whole package interesting and genuinely musical. The second of the short pieces brought something of one’s usual Boulez experience, and from then one’s curiosity and attention was sustained.

Their performance by Furey was rewarding, both in admiring his courage and tenacity (and did I really observe that, like all the other players, he played from memory?), and in exposing one to a major figure in the musical world of the last century.

David Codd played Chopin’s two nocturnes of Op 27: both are around five minutes in length. The first two minutes of No 1 are very subdued while the middle section is quite animated with Chopin’s typical melodic flavour. The second Nocturne (in D flat major) is the more familiar; it was a delight to listen to both in such sensitive performances.

Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses
Finally, from Vincent Brzozowski came a relative rarity: Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses. It’s regarded as his best piano composition and one can recognise that. It’s attracted admiration from critics and many pianists and of course it stands in sharp contrast with most of Mendelssohn’s other piano music; it was written in 1841 in response to an invitation to contribute to the cost of a Beethoven monument in Bonn. Musically, it’s challenging in performance and musically impressive. Its title “sérieuses” sets it apart from most of the similar works of the period which tended more commonly to be virtuosic show-pieces rather than serious musical structures.

I’ve heard it several times though only once in a live performance. Its serious character and its descending, minor key theme are neither charming nor engaging (to me anyway); its academic and formal character has always seemed too conspicuous, at the expense of melody and emotional expressiveness. So it has never taken root in my memory and I have never come to like it particularly.

However, Brzozowski’s playing of this rather formidable, if undeniably bravura music was impressive. Though it was not flawless (and such an achievement is limited to only the most distinguished pianists), it was certainly thoroughly studied and its forbidding difficulties were handled ably.

I should comment here however, that these thoughts have prompted me to dig out and listen to various recorded versions (Nikita Magaloff, Richter, Brendel, Perahia) and my admiration for it has grown as a result.

In all, this was an excellent recital, and again we are indebted to the School of Music, exposing the surprisingly big audience to some slightly off-the-beaten track music in very capable performances.