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!