“Passion” for once an apposite description of a stunning NZSO Concert with conductor Gemma New

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra presents:

Works by Robin Toan, Elgar and Tchaikovsky

TOAN – Tu-mata-uenga “God of War, Spirit of Man”
ELGAR – Concerto for ‘Cello and Orchestra in E Minor, Op. 85
TCHAIKOVSKY – Symphony No 6 in B Minor, Op. 74  “Pathetique”

Andrew Joyce (‘cello)
Gemma New (conductor)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Live televised broadcast without an audience, due to Covid-19 restrictions
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

In response to the “social distancing” restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has, since March 25th of this year been giving free premieres of online performances on a newly-employed “microsite” enabling supporters of the orchestra and lovers of music in general to view some of the concerts originally scheduled for 2020. To this end, the orchestra has made available for free viewing a mix of 2020 concerts and several notable past events previously captured on video.

As with initiatives and activities associated with on-line digital content in general, I confess to being something of a tentative user of the technology, and, as such, have been slow to “take up” the opportunities afforded by the orchestra’s recent activities in this area.  Curiosity, however, got the better of me on the occasion of the concert scheduled to be conducted by Gemma New, the New Zealand-born conductor who’s been making a name for herself overseas for the past few years. As I was originally scheduled to attend the event in situ, and review it for “Middle C”, I was thus left with the singular option of getting to grips with the technology and watching the concert streamed “live” on my computer/television. Relieved that the directions for setting this up weren’t exactly “rocket science”, I managed to actually make it work (a small step for man, etc…), and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy the concert!

Being a “veteran listener” to numerous RNZ Concert broadcasts of presentations by both Wellington orchestras over the years, I was anticipating the enjoyment of informed commentary from the announcer on this occasion, not so much in terms of the music, but regarding something of the history and personality of the New Zealand conductor Gemma New.  Though I found Clarissa Dunn’s generous speaking tones at the outset ambiently over-projected in relation to the orchestra’s sound (a volume adjustment did the trick), I thought her mid-concert interview with New (was it “live” or pre-recorded, I wonder?) splendidly informative, asking most of the questions I’d hoped she would ask, and establishing what sounded like a fruitful rapport of exchange.

We got from New something of her all-abiding enthusiasm for music-making, of her experiences as an orchestral violinist, of her early equating score-reading with a fondness for mathematics and its order and discipline, and of the steps of her career-path, from her first, youthful conducting experiences with the Christchurch Youth orchestra through to her current position as Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in Ontario, Canada, and her most recent appointment as Principal Guest Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. We learned something of her attitudes towards her craft as exemplified by people she’d encountered and come to admire in the conducting role – Simone Young, Andris Nelsons and Yannick Nézet-Séguin were names mentioned as exemplars for her. Her New Zealand roots remain very much in Karori, otherwise home is “where her suitcase is” for the moment – an apposite commentary on the nature of a top-flight performer’s existence, I would think! She opinioned that New Zealanders ought to be justly proud of their national orchestra, being able to cope so well and perform so amazingly under the present Covid-19 regime!

All of this was expressed mid-stream, of course, as far as we listeners were concerned, whatever the actualities – and it helped make for a truly absorbing amalgam of music-making and relevant commentary throughout the concert-time, beginning with a piece that New remembered as a player in the NZSO National Youth Orchestra in 2005, the premiere performance of Robin Toan’s “Tu-mata-uenga “God of War, Spirit of Man”, one which she apparently requested specifically to perform at this concert. I well remember the impact the piece made at its premiere, which I think I reviewed on “Upbeat” all those moons ago – on the strength of this present performance the music had lost none of its capacity to grip the listener’s attention and hold it fast throughout.

The thunderous opening, a portrait of the god himself, vividly recalled the characterisation I remember as a child when reading the AH&AW Reed retellings of the Maori Creation Story – that of Tu, “the warlike one”, whose response to the problem of his parents’ embrace giving their children no room to freely move about their mother’s earth-body was to suggest they be killed! The music ebbed and flowed with layered intensities, giving way at one point to a more spaciously-wrought ambience, albeit with the warlike spirit hovering over the scenario – and as the decision was made and agreed upon to separate the parents rather than kill them, the tensions broke out in full hearing once again.

It struck me while listening how much Toan’s music resembled Sibelius’s Tapiola in its maintaining of an unrelenting basic mood and how its constant reiteration of figures related to the overall characterisation of the piece’s subject, the war-god. It was interesting, too, that the composer took pains to emphasise in her title for the piece a kinship with mankind in Tu’s makeup, as if indicating a blueprint for ever-present conflict and strife in humanity, to this day. The piece’s climax, the cruel severing of the parents’ limbs by Tu, their separated bodies awash with blood, had an unrelenting quality that reminded me also of Holst’s climax to his Mars, the Bringer of War in The Planets, one that continued unabated to the end, vividly characterising the act of making a “new world to view” as something often brutal and destructive.

A different kind of a response to human savagery, even though never actually stated or portrayed in the music, informed the programme’s second piece, Elgar’s elegiac, and often grief-stricken “Cello Concerto, written during 1919, in both the wake of the catastrophic First World War, and the shadow of his wife Alice’s physical decline (she died the year after). The composer swore it would be his last work – “there is no inducement to finish anything”, he wrote to a friend later that same year; and though he lived on for another fourteen years, only sketches remained of the works that still occupied him. The music sums up both a life and an era, but continues to fascinate and captivate to this day, over a century onwards.

The work had been scheduled by the NZSO this year for a performance with German ‘cellist Johannes Moser, but the orchestra’s principal cellist, Andrew Joyce, was ideally equipped to “take over” the task, having played the work numerous times. Joyce’s opening recitative was an eloquently declamation rather than an assertive call to attention, musing his way into the music’s sobriety – not until the ‘cello made its first heartfelt ascent did an orchestral tutti give full tongue to the composer’s anguish. The winds’ wistfulness was lovely, as was the cellist’s long-breathed response, with the briefly, bravely-smiling second melody giving rise to further ebb-and-flow of emotion, New and the orchestra reiterating the material searchingly, sorrowfully, and hauntingly, the  soloist’s chilling vibrato-less reiteration of the main theme accompanied by ascending figures by winds and strings. A second desperate ‘cello ascent and an even more powerfully punched-home tutti left the timpani gloomily resonating and the ‘cello faltering as the movement’s main theme (which the composer said would be heard on the Malvern Hills long after he had departed) gradually took its leave.

Joyce gave the instrument’s gestures their due in the recitatives which followed, pizzicati followed by tremolandi, with a touch of bowed “sighing” to boot!  The winds finally sparked a committed response, the cello launching into the second movement’s running figure, the playing catching more and more of the music’s physical excitement, with the mood switching kaleidoscopically between humour and anxiety. The “real” business of the music returned with the Adagio third movement, its tragedy/tenderness ambivalence fully realised, with the great upward leaps having all the “hurt” one could imagine. Finally, the fourth movement’s gruff outbursts, fuelled at first by anger and frustration, were here dissolved movingly into sorrow, soloist and orchestra seeming to weep in turn in places, the emotion incredibly candid and properly “squared up to” in this performance – the beauty of the work’s final vision of happiness forever fled was movingly voiced, before the musicians between them abruptly consigned all such dreams to oblivion.

The interview with Gemma New came and went, and in what seemed to us no time at all we were back in front of the orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s sixth and final symphony, the justly-renowned “Pathetique”. New had briefly characterised some of her thoughts regarding the work in the interview, equating the opening movement with a Russian winter’s darkness, and the second, 5/4 movement containing a lament on the composer’s part  over his mother’s death from cholera, to quote two instances. I’d thought the idea of such an emotionally driven approach to the work most stimulating, the opening paragraph of the first movement confirming this approach with its evocation of intense darkness, followed by an exquisitely-nuanced main theme, one whose repetition conveyed as much hurt as intense joy. The allegro outburst mid-movement had real “bite”, and built the tensions up to an impressive “wall of tumultuous sound” by the time passions had exhausted themselves, and the clarinets had expressed the big theme’s loneliness and resignation.

New drove the 5/4 waltz movement quickly and urgently, as if the extra beats were to be “shaken off” rather than allowed their long-breathed expansiveness – this, plus the “trio” section’s tense, anxious aspect gave the movement extraordinary vitality, as if the music was trying to actively “redeem” itself. Came the reprise, and there was, or there seemed, more breathing-space for the melody’s framework, more tenderness in the phrasing, and a sense of resignation, reinforced by the beautiful wind descents at the movement’s end.

In contrast, the March had plenty of swagger, along with its vitality and bustle, without being febrile and “possessed”, the triplet accompaniment sufficiently pronounced as to generate plenty of underlying drive, allowing the clarinet sufficient room in which to “point” its phrases. New generated a frisson of excitement around the build-up that grew out of the famous brass shouts and sudden silence, holding the intensities in check while allowing the excitement to gather, the great march statements kept steady, the whirling figurations arching like well-oiled windmill-blades, and making a more-than-usually powerful impression for that! After such an intense marshalling of forces the silence at the tumult’s end was deafening (and especially with no audience to be fooled into clapping too early!).

But it was the finale which set the seal on this performance through its maintaining of tension and focus – New got the strings to convey a most extraordinary sense of pain with their falling phrases, everything so beautifully layered and nuanced, the winds replying in kind with their counter-phrases, the second of these cleverly varied, so withdrawn and desolate-sounding. The major-key middle section of the movement developed incredible thrust, the brass adding their weight of emotion with desperately flailing phrases. From there onwards the phrases of all the instrument groups became more and more disconnected, leaving telling “spaces” between the utterances that seem to denote a soul who had “lost the way” – with desperation then taking hold and resulting in dissolution, the gong-stroke was allowed to really “speak” for once, and the ensuing silence recalled the darkness of the work’s opening, the trombones deathly angels, and the strings simply laden with grief! – like the Elgar work earlier in the programme, this was music that could and did, in places, weep! The depth of utterance found by the lower strings at the end left us in places where no light or life held sway.

One groans at the all-too-frequent use of words such as “passion” in publicity statements these days, one of a number of words that have become cliched and meaningless through over-use – however, on this occasion, the epithet did in fact convey what Gemma New and the NZSO players managed to so wholehearted achieve on behalf of the music’s composers, but especially in the Tchaikovsky – a stirring achievement by all concerned.

Young musicians of Poneke Trio deliver singularly revelatory concert

Lunchtime Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral

Trio Pōneke
Claudia Tarrant-Matthews (violin); Sofia Tarrant-Matthews (piano); Bethany Angus (cello)

Haydn: Piano Trio No 26 in C minor, Hob.XV:13
Shostakovich: Trio no.2 in E minor, Op 67

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul

Friday 28 August, 12:45 pm

This was a promising recital by three young women who have lived around Worser Bay in Wellington: two are sisters, the cellist a long-time friend. Both Tarrant-Matthews are violinists who have played in Orchestra Wellington and the NZSO, but are also proficient pianists; both graduated in music from Victoria University. Claudia who is violinist in the trio, has been studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London while pianist Sofia plans to study in Germany.

The Haydn trio* is a two-movement work which I didn’t know; from the first charming phrases I was disconcerted to realise that I had not heard it before. However, I wondered how well the players would cope with the famously challenging acoustics of the cathedral. But I was immediately surprised and reassured, and wondered just how much of their handling of the sound was careful calculation of the acoustic or was simply their instinctive response to what they could hear; it was hard to know.

The main melody in the Andante, first movement, is a delight. It asks to be played calmly, rejoicing in its beauty which was revealed in playing of considerable subtlety, with a calm, piano sound volume. In achieving that, all three responded, in the Andante, with what I could only describe as extraordinary delicacy and sensitivity. The sound that seemed to emerge secretively as if from distant parts of the nave, was magical, with balanced dynamics from each instrument. Though violin and piano tended to be the most audible, the cello could be heard in the role of a sort of basso continuo, or in careful harmony with the violin.

The second movement, Allegro spiritoso, might have invited more forthright playing but the players again resisted any attempt to exaggerate the ’spiritoso’ marking. Instead, there was a fairy-like lightness here, through most of the movement, though the score certainly offered chances to sound mezzo forte; but they were resisted.

Guessing that this trio is typical of Haydn’s trios generally, I am inspired to explore more of them, which seem (to me anyway) to be seriously neglected, overshadowed by and in comparison with the string quartets.

The Shostakovich piano trio is well known, a singularly memorable work that I got to know well many years ago, not least as it was played by the sadly short-lived Turnovsky Trio which flourished in the 1990s.

Here again, the cello’s opening by playing scarcely audible harmonics, certainly demonstrated Bethany Angus’s talents, even if they’d not been so conspicuous in the Haydn. The violin soon joins and both complied fully with what their mutes were designed to do. The hard part is for the piano to match its partners in a comparably secretive spirit: Sophia Tarrant-Matthews did. The dynamism of the central part of the first movement slowly emerged, and revealed for the first time, the impressive technical abilities of the three players.

While the ‘con brio’ second movement invites a display of energy, their restraint paid dividends, and its frenzy seemed to be moderated by a slightly sinister character. The third movement, Largo, can be heard as some kind of return to the mystery of the first movement. Claudia Tarrant-Matthews ’s violin seemed to emerge from a darkened cavern, while Bethany Angus’ cello complemented that disturbing atmosphere. The sombre, uneasy atmosphere seemed to find its perfect partner in the acoustic, though I doubt that reading a sinister message in a cathedral would meet with widespread approval.

The Largo merges seamlessly into the last movement, whose marking ‘Allegretto’ cannot be read as suggesting anything light-spirited, with its incessant pulse, driven by emphatically strong down-bows from the stringed instruments as well as the striking piano part that underpinned the rhythm; at moments the piano’s tone suggested the sounds of the small bells of a carillon.

In the end it seemed to me that, far from being any kind of handicap, the cathedral acoustic had proved a perfect vehicle and environment for this extraordinary music.

This was a singularly successful recital; I hope that Trio Poneke can find time, or that concert promoters will find ways for them, to perform again in Wellington before the two Tarrant-Matthews head again for Europe.


* Appendix

As an aside, from one who has an unhealthy fascination with lists, schedules and catalogues, the identification of Haydn’s works offers particular interest.

That the programme note takes care to employ the accepted scholarly classification, referring to both the authoritative Haydn catalogues (Anthony van Hoboken and H C Robbins Landon), is evidence of the players’ proper attention to such matters.

Hoboken’s catalogue was the earlier, dividing the works into genre groups, employing Roman numerals: thus symphonies are I, string quartets III, piano sonatas XVI and piano trios, XV. Hoboken lists 41 piano trios, paying less attention than Robbins Landon to dates of actual composition. His numbering for this trio is misleadingly early, at XV:13.

Robbins Landon’s massive catalogue was published later, between 1976 and 1980. It lists the works in strictly chronological order of composition rather than publication date, and in this case his number for the C minor trio is 26 of the list of 45 trios. Many of Robbins Landon’s ‘early’ trios have late Hoboken numbers because they were actually composed long before they were published.  

So this piano trio is one of Haydn’s later works, 1789 (not conspicuously influenced by the French Revolution), the year before Haydn went to London and composed the 12 great Salomon symphonies. One notes that Haydn composed twenty more piano trios after this one, most after the age of 60; there are plenty of riches to explore!   



At last! Chamber Music Hutt Valley’s 2020 Season!

Georgian England: Country Fiddle to Court – Music by John Playford, Joseph Gibbs, and Georg Frideric Handel

PLAYFORD – “Paul’s Steeple” and “La Folia” (from “The Division Violin”)
GIBBS – Sonatas for Violin and Continuo Nos. 4, 5, 6, and 8
HANDEL – Sonatas for Violin and Continuo HWV 361, 364a and 371

Lara Hall (baroque violin)
Rachael Griffiths-Hughes (harpsichord – instrument courtesy of Douglas Mews)

St.Mark’s Church, Woburn Road, Lower Hutt

Friday 28th August 2020

If ever an organisation merited a special award for stickability in the face of troubles, it would, in my book, be Chamber Music Hutt Valley – after facing dissolution at the end of 2019 through difficulties in finding enough people “on the ground” to assist with running the concerts the Society overcame that problem only to find its well-crafted 2020 programme severely disrupted by Covid-19! The response was a reorganisation of the season which resulted in the year’s first two concerts having to be cancelled and a substitute found for the final concert’s would-be performers, prevented from visiting the country by the pandemic! Somewhat bloodied, but still unbowed, the Society made the changes and finally opened the doors for its first 2020 concert on Friday 28th August, one which appropriately marked the occasion with distinction as regards both the artists and their presentation – violinist Lara Hall and harpsichordist Rachael Griffiths-Hughes brought to us a delightful programme of music from Georgian England.

Until relatively recently the Georgian era of music and music-making in England was popularly thought to have been dominated by non-English composers such as Handel, Corelli, Geminiani and Veracini, a historical perception that in its way underpinned the development of the idea (particularly opinioned in nineteenth-century Germany) that England had indeed become “Das Land ohne Musik”. But harpsichordist Rachel Griffiths-Hughes in her excellent notes for the programme accompanying this concert, pointed to a more recent resurgence of interest in the contributions made to Georgian musical life by English composers hitherto neglected, prominently figuring one Joseph Gibbs (1698-1788) in these explorations.

Born in Dedham, Colchester, Gibbs was the son of a musician, John Gibbs, who played in a shawm band called Colchester Waits. The son became an organist, firstly at Dedham St.Mary’s Church, in 1744 and then, more prestigiously, at St. Mary le Tower, in Ipswich, a post he remained in until his death – he was obviously an all-round musician, being (a) in considerable demand as a performer in Ipswich’s musical life and (b) producing collections of both violin sonatas and string quartets, though unfortunately only a few pieces of his organ music seem to have survived time’s ravages. His fame did spread beyond these regional confines with the publication of the sonatas, subscribed to by composers William Boyce and Maurice Greene, to name but two contemporary sources of interest in his work. The Sonatas have more recently been praised by various commentators as representative of the finest work of that era by an English composer, and they have actually been recorded – by both the Locatelli Trio on Hyperion (CDA 66583, unfortunately deleted!) and Eboracum Baroque (on a hard-to-find “Sounds of Suffolk” issue!) – frustration, I fear, awaits the enthusiastic collector!

All the more reason to welcome the advocacy of Lara Hall and  Rachael Griffiths-Hughes, whose playing brought the music and its composer to life with considerable elan and winning sensitivity. One of the articles  I read in an on-line interview with a violinist who had played these sonatas mentioned Gibbs’ extraordinary “eye to the future” in the music’s portrayal of “realistic characters and raw emotions”, going on to further comment that while Gibbs, compared with Handel and Geminiani “perhaps lacks (their) innate understanding of the violin and the finesse of their compositional idioms”……one has the sense that he (Gibbs) “….understood the drama of performance”. He went on to comment that the brilliance of the writing seemed often to demonstrate an eagerness to explore as many performance and music-character ideas in the shortest possible time!

The programme featured four of Gibbs’ Sonatas, along with two by Handel, and two sets of Variations  by John Playford (1623-1686), from a collection called “The Division Violin” – Playford took popular tunes of his day and wrote elaborate-sounding sets of variations on each of them. In the midst of all of this rather more consciously-contrived “display”, Handel’s music from two of his Violin Sonatas actually sounded somewhat more conventional to the ear, given that it was characterised by the strength, nobility and lyrical feeling we have come to expect from this composer. Next to the music of his great contemporary, however, Gibbs’ work held its ground by dint of the playing’s focused engagement with the music, the conveyance of something special and characterful. Rachael Griffiths-Hughes’s helpful introductions to each piece gave us something to listen out for, encouraging us to pick up on certain things the music was doing, the rest being up to us!

First up was John Playford’s Variations on the tune “Paul’s Steeple” a song which appeared in the wake of St.Paul’s Cathedral being struck by lightning and catching fire. In the manner of all good ballads the tune began in sombre fashion, then surrendered itself to all kinds of variant treatments, angular, mischievous, melancholic and ceremonial –  Lara Hall’s fleet-fingered playing brought out a kind of narrative folksiness, the sounds vividly conveying an actual story.
Then, the first of Joseph Gibbs’ Sonatas on the programme (No.VI in F major)  continued in this same almost “pictorial” vein, a sprightly swinging dotted-rhythm introducing the piece, Hall teasing out the voicings of the line, and suggesting a certain “restlessness” about the music. A busy and energetic Allegro ended in an almost stately manner, succeeded by a Largo e piano which spoke of solitude and loss, beautifully “emoted” by Hall’s discreet touches of vibrato, and a lovely accord between the instruments, before we were suitably “sprung” by the energetic concluding Gavotta.

Handel’s appearance in the programme brought a marked majesty and serenity to the lines, a beautiful inevitability of grace and repose in the opening Andante of his A major Sonata HWV 361. The succeeding Allegro grew out of the poise and solemnity, the playing triumphantly astride the music’s energy and graceful movement. A brief Adagio brushed in a
winsome gesture of melancholy before the Allegro skipped our sensibilities away with the wind, the players catching the notes’ strength and exhilarating “fizz” of the composer’s invention. Before proceeding with the next work, Gibbs’ Sonata V in F major, Hall alerted us to the latter’s relative volatility compared to Handel’s lofty serenity, telling us to expect a caprice-like feel to the music, and some extraordinary “flights of fancy”. The opening Adagio soared from the outset, before digging in with some vigorous figuration mid-stream, and continuing with impulse-like gestures. Then, the Vivace was a fugue, no less, with plenty of virtuoso double-stopping – perhaps not every note was hit perfectly, but certainly  the fiddling conveyed a sense of the music’s forceful flow. A lovely contrast was given by the Sarabande, both instruments in serene, thoughtful accord, a brief respite before the Gigue’s life-enhancing energy burst upon us, tumbling warmth alternated with touches of rustic drollery, Gibbs’ music leading us a merry dance via Hall’s and Griffiths-Hughes’s eloquently nimble fingers!

Again, Handel’s music “lifted” our threshold of awareness, the opening music of his D Major Sonata HWV 371 somehow having a “marbled” aspect suggesting great columns of nobility and strength – and how the phrases of the Allegro which followed the opening leapt from the instruments with god-like confidence! What, then, a difference in the Larghetto! –  the first minor-key phrase seemed to take us to a well of worldly sorrow  – the lines beseeched us with a candour and then a sweetness which captivated the ear! Then, the Allegro, with its strong, running passages and its chameleon-like easeful moments made one catch one’s breath – Hall and Griffiths-Hughes resisted the temptation to “indulge” the music’s mastery of utterance at the end, though we would have allowed them a certain expansiveness with the last few phrases had they been so inclined!

After the interval came what Griffiths-Hughes described as the most demanding of Gibbs’ Sonatas by dint of its key-signature – Sonata VIII in E-flat Major, a challenge particularly for the violinist re the “remoteness” of the key to the violin’s own tuning. Adding to the difficulties were Gibbs’ “inventive” touches, the opening Grave continuously double-stopped, here richly and gloriously voiced, the subtleties closely and meticulously worked. The Siciliana’s grace and poise momentarily relieved some of the intensity, though the music abounded with spontaneous impulse denoting light-and-shade – then the Fuga, in no less than four parts, drew us into an amazingly complex web of sounds, relieved by the finale’s “hunting-horn” aspect – “Corno poco allegro”, if you please! – vividly trenchant “digging in” by both instruments vividly recreated a sense of the chase – a remarkable evocation which brought a visceral response from both musicians! Handel’s G Minor Sonata HWV 364a which followed had its share of evocation, too, the opening Larghetto sounding as if borrowed from/loaned to the composer’s own “Water Music” – such beautiful, buoyant gravitas, leading to flourishes introducing – no, not the famous “Hornpipe” from the latter work, but an equally brilliant Allegro of another provenance! The succeeding Adagio, brief as it was, had as well an air of familiarity; but there was no time to ponder its associations before the final Allegro swept everything before it in Hall’s and Griffiths-Hughes’s hands with an irresistible flow of notes – “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing” were words that came to my mind……..

And so to Gibbs’ last Sonata of the evening, the fourth of the set, in B-flat major, one whose first half my violinist who had recorded these works had described as, for him, “the trickiest”, with a challenging cadenza, and demanding double-stopped passages, not to mention some triple-stopping later in the work! The opening Largo was filled with extravagant gesturings, in both major and minor key sequences, beautifully “thrown off” by Hall,  the melodic lines seemingly more extravagant than were Handel’s, more improvisatory, the “flow” being frequently broken by impulsive gesturings. After a more conventional Allegro (demonstrating that Gibbs could fingerlines with the ease and fluidity of Handel), the concluding Affetuosa and Variations revisited the composer’s fondness for detailing a melody with echo phrases and triplet sequences, the concluding Minuet Allegro again horn-like in its display-mode and disarmingly compelling in its single-mindedness! And after the rigours of these structured displays, it seemed fitting that Hall and Griffiths-Hughes go back to the beginning, and another of John Playford’s Variations sets, this one most enticingly titled “La Folia” (The Madness), reckoned by some to be the most enduring tune ever devised, one whose history derived from the folk music of Portugal, spreading to Spain and thence across the Mediterranean, where it reached its peak of popularity at the end of the seventeenth century, though still exerting creative impetus today.

The tune seemed here to coalesce from the instruments’ tunings, the simplicity of the line having its shape, its figuration, its texture and its gait reinvented by Playford to remarkable effect, profoundly satisfying our by now finely-honed taste for variation of the most diverse kinds, here concluding with a vigorous running sequence rounded off by a brilliant flourish! A triumph, in short, to “finish off” the evening, and one for everybody concerned!

Camerata’s latest Haydn in the Church concert elegantly “framed” by youthful endeavours

Camerata presents:
Music by Mozart, Haydn and Grieg

MOZART – Sinfonia K.V.35  from the Singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes
HAYDN – Symphony No. 11 in E-flat
GRIEG – From Holberg’s Time – Suite in Olden Style Op.40

Concertmaster and Director: Anne Loeser

St.Peter’s-on-Willis.St, Wellington

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

With a single downbeat at the beginning of this concert from Camerata we were taken, it seemed to me, into a kind of youthful magicland of creative wonderment, via the eleven year-old Mozart’s Sinfonia from a sacred Singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes  (translated as “The Obligation of the First and Foremost Commandment”), a kind of allegorical depiction of the trials of a Christian soul. This was Mozart’s first opera, premiered in Salzburg in 1767, a shared endeavour (a not uncommon occurrence at the time) with two other composers, Michael Haydn and Anton Adelgasser, organist at the Salzburg Cathedral – for whatever reason, only Mozart’s contribution, which was the first of the work’s three parts, has survived.

We heard only the Overture to the work, but it was enough to give notice of the budding genius of its composer, the music having a buoyancy and confidence that I recall marked my first encounter with some of the young Wolfgang’s wonderful early symphonies in those late 1960s’ Argo recordings made by Neville Marriner’s St.Martin’s Academy, recordings which were made in a similar kind of church acoustic. Here, Camerata’s bright and energetic playing instantly brought back to me something of that long-ago thrill of discovery – in fact, the relative unfamiliarity of the first two pieces of the concert had the effect of entering into a “bright new world”, while the better-known Holberg Suite by Grieg which concluded the concert itself still had a freshness of approach here from the players that further added to our sense of rediscovery.

I’ve been delighted with Camerata’s presentations of Haydn’s early symphonies thus far, and was as charmed as before with the ensemble’s “latest”, the Symphony No. 11  (which, incidentally, was given a remarkably high rating (7th out of 104!) in the canon by an on-line commentator who set himself the task of evaluating in order ALL of the Haydn Symphonies!). One could immediately “feel” the music’s distinction – the beautiful opening processional aspect, hinting at a deeply-felt sense of occasion, with the horns’ “held” notes beautifully opening up the vistas created by the strings’ silken lines, prepared the listener for an allegro which had C.P.E-Bach-like touches (the vigorous downward phrase that “answered” the opening, and the tremendous energy that drove the music on), with momentary minor-key sequences breaking into smiles as the sounds rolled forward.

The Minuet had both weight and “snap”, the players bringing out the angularity of the “leaned on” accents, with festive, trumpet-like figurations proclaiming the “country sports” aspect of the music. And I loved the way the winsome, wispy syncopated-note texture shrouded the trio in a bit of “elsewhere business” mystery, with one voice leading the other a merry dance! After this the Finale’s Presto opening theme snorted and snuffled its way through the textures, the hi-jinks punctuated by horn calls and reinforced by chattering winds whose sounds coloured the ample St.Peter’s acoustic in a pleasingly ambient fashion. The sleight-of-hand off-beat figures of the second episode had my ears pricked for a few moments, wanting a place to safely put my two left feet! – but the playing’s control was never in doubt, the music’s recapitulation nicely keeping us guessing as to which way our antennae would point in pursuit, and the sheer elan of it all encouraging us to hang on as best we could, with breathlessly exhilarating results.

Though more familiar territory, Grieg’s Holberg Suite (despite its piano version origins one immediately senses how the music “blooms” in its string orchestra version!) came up here right from its opening “as fresh as paint” (that phrase has unaccountably “stuck” with me from somewhere!) with playing that never looked back from the ensemble’s lively accenting of the very first note, the ascending phrases almost trenchant in their “digging into” the music, and contrasting beautifully with the light-as-air, flowing replies. The brisk tempo brought some smartish scampering from the inner voices, and some exciting descending spirallings which reprised the (now augmented) opening theme – and how the players relished the grandeur of the final statements!

How beautifully sounded was the opening of the Sarabande, hymn-like in effect, but enlivened by the energised echo-phrase at the end of each sentence – there’s some lovely work by the ‘cellos, with their individual lines drawing us into the detailings of the texture, and then followed by a wondrously-glowing reiteration of the opening theme from the ensemble, the music singing like crazy! The next movement , the Gavotte/Musette, featured violins and violas introducing the folkish opening strains, answered by the full orchestra, with lovely antiphonal statements adding to the music’s out-of-doors ambiences – the Musette, taken a bit faster, brought out the drone bass and folk-fiddle sound more pictorially, over which the melody was allowed to blossom with each succeeding phrase.

What really caught me up in the music’s flow was the Air, here launched with great concentrated purpose, and built with finely wrought tensions from the upper strings to a full-throated climax, the combination of a sombre bass and  anguished upper string lines making for a moving effect. The major key sequence featured some heart-warming exchanges between solo cello and the violins, before the other cellos joined in, taking the lead, and drawing with them the upper strings towards a reiteration of the earlier outpourings of feeling, before everything rapidly and circumspectly fell away to silence. Out of the somewhat “spent” ambience then began the Rigaudon, the solo violin cheekily enjoining its companions to “cheer up” and join the “life-dance” , underlining its enjoiner with a saucy ascent to its final throwaway note – lovely, delicate solo  playing by Anne Loeser! The ensemble then acquiesced with a flourish – and, a brief introspective sequence later, the invitation and its response was repeated – the day had been won!

Most unexpectedly and  charmingly, we were given a brief encore – a piece of Sibelius’s music I didn’t know existed, one called Vesipisaroita (Water droplets), supposedly his  first composition, written at the age of nine, for violin and ‘cello – a far cry from the masterpieces that had brought the composer world-wide fame (and including several beautiful, if lesser-known works for string orchestra), but certainly ending the concert as it had begun, with youthful endeavours, and in the process underlining a kind of “return to simplicity” which we could take unto ourselves into the night comfortably and reassuringly…….




Baroque Voices’ “Bingen to Becker” a harmonious celebration

Baroque Voices presents:
BINGEN TO BECKER (Vocal music from the 12th to the 21st Century)

A Concert of Music by Hildegard von Bingen, Morley, Dowland, Hume, Monteverdi, Poulenc, Durufle, Pepe Becker, Jack Body, Constantini, Handel, Annea Lockwood, and Anon/Trad…..

Baroque Voices: Pepe Becker (director), Anna Sedcole, Jane McKinlay, Rowena Simpson, Andrea Cochrane, Katherine Hodge (with Robert Oliver – bass viol)

The Third Eye – Tuatara’s Temple of Taste, Arthur St., Te Aro, Wellington

Sunday 16th August, 2020

Thanks to a newly-emerged Covid-19 chapter in Auckland we were a precautionary “restricted” audience for this concert, but of good cheer, nevertheless, with convivial company and food and drink available at the venue, the evocatively-named “The Third Eye – Tuatara’s Temple of Taste”, from out of which scenario “emerged” the musicians, informally dressed and congregating at the platform end of the listening-space, six singers and a bass violist, all as relaxed as if spontaneously inspired to entertain the company! By way of settling both the ensemble and its audience in, we were treated straightaway to the programme’s first two items, the first something of a “Pepe Becker Special”, Hildegard of Bingen’s O ignis spiritus, the soprano having made Hildegard’s resonant, ecstatic vocal lines music very much her own of late in these parts, and deservedly so – this was followed by an anonymous 14th-Century 3-part Canon “O Virgo Splendens” whose catchy dance-rhythms combined sacred worship and secular energy in a wholly delightful way, the ensemble’s six voices imitating a flowing river of streamlets intertwining and separating within the irresistible flow of the whole.

The introduction having “cleared” all throat and nasal (singers) and auricular (listeners) passages, Becker officially welcomed us to the concert, intended as a 25th Birthday affair for the ensemble, but “extended” to being closer to a 26th  celebration by dint of the aforementioned worldwide events exerting their influence to within Aotearoa’s shores. She talked about the concert’s themes, the items prominently figuring both love and death, and suggesting that, with humanity still in the grip of an on-going ailment, the music was expressing something of where we all were at present. Thomas Morley’s Arise, get up, my dear appropriately “revitalised” the programme from this point onwards, the singing confidently resounding through the range of tones from the altos’ beginning phrases to the silvery utterances of the sopranos at the top. “Semper Dowland semper dolens” went the name of one of the composer’s songs, and came to characterize Dowland’s oeuvre in the public’s mind – and Can she excuse my wrongs? proved no exception to this mood, Pepe Becker’s plaintive tones given a sure trajectory by Robert Oliver’s nimble accompaniments.  The changes were further rung by Oliver’s sure-fingered solo rendition of Tobias Hume’s A Pavin, featuring some extremely deft double-stopping enlivening the second part of the dance’s ritual of elegant sobriety!

Again Dowland figured with a characteristically-titled song Flow my tears, the Becker/Oliver combination suitably sombre in effect, the soprano doing well in a vocal range I wouldn’t have associated with her natural gifts, achieving dignity and clarity – the second half of the song brought forth a degree of liberation into the light, with phrases such as “Hark! – you shadows!” ringing out clearly. What a difference in every way was wrought by Monteverdi’s Madrigal Come dolce hoggi (How sweet is the breeze!) from the composer’s Book 9, the singers’ tones appropriately bright and outdoors-ish at the beginning, the vocal expression thrown widely and exploringly, the vocal ornamentations strengthening on repetition as the voices accustomed themselves to each frisson of energy, the piece’s ending expansive and resonantly lingering in the silences – lovely! The unaccompanied Poulenc Ave Verum Corpus bore an attractive, melancholy colour,  the “open” harmonies occasionally adding a medieval-sounding touch – and while the Durufle piece Tota pulchra es shared some features with the Poulenc, a pleasing melancholy, and “older” touches of harmony, the piece had a livelier, more insistent and declamatory texture, kept airborne by a lovely rocking rhythm, here beautifully regulated by the singers.

To finish the half, Becker introduced her Taurus 1: Night and Morning, a setting of Robert Browning’s pair of poems “Meeting at Night” and “Parting at Morning”, wryly mentioning to us the piece was now twenty years old (an “excesses of youth” commentary, perhaps?)  – the singers’ mingling of exhalations of breath, charged utterances and harmonic tensions, with the darkness lit by occasionally soprano soarings, all established the “romantic tryst” mood, the brief (and presumably heartbreaking) epilogue of the morning’s parting encapsulating the experience as a recalled moment in time.

On to the concert’s second half, then it was, beginning with two “Nowel/Nowell” settings (though unseasonal, it hardly matters, as each Christmas comes so quickly on the heels of another in any case, these days!) – both lively, “ringing” kinds of evocations in their different ways, the first revolving the joyous message in an infectious “back-and-forth” way, with acclamation-like cries at the end. Jack Body’s “Lithuanian manner” Nowell began with characteristically crunchy harmonies exchanged by two pairs of singers facing one another, something Mussorgsky (of “Pictures from and Exhibition” fame) would have, I think, relished, in memory of his similarly sequenced dialogues between voices in “The Market Place at Limoges” – here, the singers  built on the earthy figurations’ growing excitement and accumulations of joy and certainty as the exchanges reached a plateau of exhilaration, humanity enlivened by tidings from on high!

Alessandro Constantini’s Confitemini Domino continued the festive mood, resounding with joyous and angelic utterances, Oliver’s accompaniments reinforcing the Alleluia’s dancing rhythms with gusto. A remarkable and contradictory precursor of a similar mood evoked by the great Handel was the following duet No, di voi no vo’fidarmi, here sung superbly by Becker and Rowena Simpson, with Oliver’s assured bass viol accompaniment,  the familiar lines of “For unto us a Child in Born” from Messiah  used in the service of a completely different text, one of accusation and dismissal of love – Handel had written this (and another duet Quel fior che all’alba ride similarly re-used) a matter of weeks before beginning work on Messiah, and duly incorporating the music into the larger work! – what a delight to encounter the “original” version of such well-known music, and to hear such a committed and assured performance!

Gentler, with longer-breathed lines, and tensions of a different kind brought into play was another work by Handel, Amor, gioie mi porge, a somewhat calmer portrayal of the hardships of love, one which gathered weight and darkness as it proceeded, taking in a central, more energetic section allowing the sopranos to soar, but returning to beseechment and despair at the end, the two singers, Anna Sedcole and Becker sustaining their lines throughout with great spirit! The prospect of hearing any of Annea Lockwood’s music always excites interest, though I was disarmed by the simplicity of her 1983 work Malolo, (Rest), a Samoan lullaby using hypnotically repeating sounds, the singers “terracing” their utterances to enable all kinds of echoes and resonances, the lower voices finishing the piece as hauntingly as  it began.

Three traditionally Irish folk-song settings arranged by Pepe Becker were filled with drollery, melancholy and gentle wit, my favourite being “The Galbally Farmer”, with its rhythmic “snap”, earthy, drone-like accompaniment, and wryly-sounding vocal reinforcements of some of the text’s phrases, concluding with the tried-and-true existentialist lament “I wish I had never seen Galbally Town!”. Becker’s compositional skills were again evoked by When will we know?, a gentle balled-like setting whose closely-worked harmonies had a cool, even bluesy colouring from the viol’s plucked-string accompaniments and wind-blown vocal abandonments at the song’s end. We thought at first the evening’s music would finish by circling back to its opening, with another of Hildegard’s hymns, O viridissima Virga – this one a long-breathed unison for all the voices, ambiently accompanied by Becker’s shruti box and Oliver’s viol, the whole a kind of ritualized “bringing together” of elements presented in a flexible, organic, very human manner, the voices not perfectly together, but in expressive purpose acting as one – to our surprise and delight, we were treated to a brief encore, which deserves its own paragraph……

Once attributed to Henry Purcell, How Great is the Pleasure – Canon for Three Voices was actually written by Dr. Henry Harington (1727-1816) an English physician, composer and author, and was published around 1780 with the title Love and Music – a Favourite Catch for Three Voices. Beginning in unison, with accompaniment from the viol, the melody soared like a Shaker Hymn, then divided among three parts, finishing with words that could have described the evening’s music-making – “When harmony, sweet harmony, and love do unite!” Most satisfying!…….




Musical gems at lunchtime

I Tesori (Treasures) – The Queen’s Closet with Pepe Becker (soprano)

Sharon Lehany (hoboy) – Gordon Lehany (baroque trumpet, recorder) – Peter Maunder (sackbut, recorder) – Jane Young (baroque ‘cello) – Kristina Zuelicke (harpsichord)

Lunchtime concert at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Friday 7 August, 12:45pm

My horoscope for Friday 7th August predicted that I “may get tempted to steal a short vacation in the midst of work” and, as it turned out, this prediction was indeed fulfilled when I entered St. Paul’s Cathedral at 12:40pm to thank God it was (finally) Friday.

It was then and there that soprano Pepe Becker and the local early music group The Queen’s Closet presented a delightful selection of 18th century Italian arias, all for soprano voice, basso continuo, and obbligati wind instruments, and all about the varied allurements and ensnarements of love, attraction, and associated drastic emotional torments, mood and hormonal fluctuations (my horoscope also mentioned that “a golden opportunity is likely to present itself on the romantic front, so be prepared to seize it.” However, that chalice thankfully passed me by).

The settings by Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747) of amatory Italian verse were a real discovery for me at this concert. I for one had never encountered this music before. Afterwards, following my curiosity, I found out that Bononcini enjoyed considerable success in London during the 1720s and that his popularity rivalled that of Georg Friedrich Händel.  In the political life of the city at the time, the Whig party apparently favoured Händel, while the Tories favoured Bononcini, and their competition inspired the epigram by John Byrom that made the phrase “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” famous:

Some say, compar’d to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel’s but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be
‘Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee

So was it Bononcini and Händel whom Alice met through the looking glass so many years later in 1871? And could Bononcini be of any help or interest to our centre-right politicians at the moment?

The concert opened with an aria by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) for soprano, baroque trumpet and basso continuo – Mio tesoro per te moro  (Darling I would die for you) – that unfolded as a lyrical dialogue between the voice and the trumpet, both reverberating to great effect in the large space of the cathedral. It was an achievement of the early music revival in the 1980s, and of Dame Emma Kirkby in particular, to popularise a vocal aesthetic centred around natural declamation, minimal and finely controlled vibrato, agile coloratura and sensitivity to the words of the song. Wellington’s Pepe Becker is a specialist in this beautiful style of singing and demonstrated throughout the concert how well it serves the interpretation of this wonderful Italian baroque music.

The second aria, Alme Ingrate (Ungrateful soul) was composed by Emperor Joseph I of Austria (1678-1711) who was Bononcini’s employer during Bononcini’s time in Vienna from 1696 to 1711.  Emperor Joseph must have learned a thing or two from his Italian court musician. The aria is a duet between soprano voice and obbligato sackbut (an early form of the trombone). Compositions featuring voice and obbligato sackbut or trombone had reached an artistic peak in the Hapsburg Empire and at the Imperial Viennese Court at the time. Pepe Becker with Peter Maunder on the sackbut demonstrated the attraction of this combination with the smooth velvety sound of the sackbut melting together with the crystalline timbre of Pepe Becker’s voice.

Two arias by Bononcini followed, the first featuring the voice accompanied by the baroque oboe and the recorder. The instrumental parts were played dexterously by Sharon Lehany on the baroque oboe and Peter Maunder (who had quickly exchanged his sackbut for a recorder). The oboe and recorder were nicely balanced, again showing the great advantage of performing this repertoire on original or replica instruments of the day: the sound of the recorder can otherwise have trouble being clearly heard over modern instruments. Period instruments are lighter and allow for greater transparency in drawing out the lines of the music without any one voice inadvertently predominating. The basso continuo, capably provided by Kristina Zuelicke on harpsichord and Jane Young on baroque ‘cello gave a clear and nuanced the impetus to the aria, allowing the singer also to savour some delicious chromatic moments in her line. Jane Young’s baroque ‘cello has a beautifully carved lion’s head scroll, prompting her to give the instrument a name: Walter. The next Bononcini aria was again for voice and baroque trumpet, played by Gordon Lehany. This aria depicted love as form of ardent yet feigned hostility, as if Mars and Venus did not want ever to admit that they actually like each other. There was a sense of heroism and defiance in this aria with fanfare patterns, exquisite ornamentation in the vocal part, and some nicely imitated bugle calls from voice, trumpet and their echoes from somewhere or everywhere within the cathedral’s cavernous space. The valveless baroque trumpet is a fractious beast, and sometimes it was evident that it is hard to tame.

A lively ciaconna aria by Agostino Steffani (1654-1728) followed that seemed so cheerful and joyful in character considering that the aria’s base text was about jealousy and betrayal. The two obbligati recorders did not seem to be accusing one another of anything but seemed to chirp, flit and scurry about nimbly together like two spirited fantails. The basso continuo group, with Walter leading the charge, held their ground excellently throughout the brisk repeated ostinato figure, Jane Young every now and again placing a subtle emphasis to keep everyone in time.

A further bracket of Bononcini arias closed the programme. The aria Nel mio seno va serpendo was, of all the presented arias, the only real sorrowful lament. In a minor key, the aria interwove the expressive lines of the voice and the baroque oboe, drawing in particular on the oboe’s plaintive qualities.  The concert concluded joyfully with all instrumentalists accompanying the singer with assured vibrancy in a bold and triumphant display of vocal virtuosity and instrumental skill, giving the audience a final flavour of Bononcini’s achievement as a composer and demonstrating how, back in the day, he really was considered Händel’s only serious rival. What further treasures lie here? I wonder.

The phenomenon of Beethoven – celebrated here by Wellington Chamber Music with Te Kōkī Trio

Wellington Chamber Music presents:

BEETHOVEN – Sonata for Violin and Piano in C minor Op.30 No. 2
Sonata for ‘Cello and Piano in A Op.69
Three Duets for Violin and ‘Cello WoO 27
Piano Trio in E-flat Major Op.70 No.2

Te Kōkī Trio – Martin Riseley (violin) / Inbal Megiddo (‘cello) / Jian Liu (piano)

St.Andrew’s -on-The-Terrace

Sunday, 9th August 2020

It’s a bit of a truism to say that Beethoven and his music represent a kind of apex of enduring creative expression for modern-day humankind; and while such pronouncements can be literally questioned in terms of world-wide demographics and cultural bias, they still carry weight in a kind of “perceived-by-many” fashion – it would be difficult to think of another composer whose music has penetrated such widespread spheres of human awareness, however deep or superficial. Certainly, there’s a ready and ongoing perception of Beethoven’s “everyman” quality, which, aided and abetted by popular legend regarding many aspects of his life with all of its struggles, and setbacks, has resulted in widespread “identification” with what’s regarded as his essential character, one of wholehearted and unquenchable energy and purpose, and emergence from it all as a figure of the utmost inspiration. His music triumphantly supports  this “wholeness”, its many-faceted characters having, it seems, something to say to all peoples engaged in the business of simply being human.

At this point I could exclaim “Goodness! – I don’t know what came over me!” – or even whisper as an aside, “Sorry! – that just slipped out!”, having stepped down from my self-proclaimed orator’s dais and realised what pompous utterances I’d just finished making. But the concert I attended on Sunday at St.Andrew’s of Beethoven’s music was so very replete with human personality and engagement I could straightaway concur with those words that I had read in the afternoon’s printed programme by none other than Igor Stravinsky (expressed much more simply and effectively than my high-flown observations!) – and felt “inspired” on re-reading them at this point, unaccountably enough to add my above two cents’ worth!

One of the intentions of the musicians in presenting this concert was to, as per programme, “demonstrate many facets of Beethoven’s craft”, which aim they succeeded brilliantly in doing. Most democratically the items chosen featured three appearances by each of the afternoon’s performers, and even included a work I wasn’t familiar with – the first of Three Duets for Violin and ‘Cello, WoO 27, a work whose actual authorship is still being contested in some circles, but whose energy, wit and grace certainly resulted in some “Beethoven-like” sounds! I thought the “creative contrast at the outset between Martin Riseley’s violin’s bright, silvery tones and Inbal Megiddo’s  ‘cello’s warmer, richer resonances created a fascinating kind of process throughout these three movements of the sounds from both players gradually “connecting” – whether that process of frequency-sharing was unique to my peculiar “listening sensibility” I’m not certain, but by the time the pair had plunged into the opening piece’s “second episode” I felt their different sounds had begun to resonate more surely together – and the dovetailing of detail was certainly exciting!

The work’s Larghetto second movement featured a dialogue between violin (so very graceful) and ‘cello (sonorous and romantic) which together developed into a kind of “communion” in the quieter exchanges, again demonstrating  a kind of “opposites attract” concourse of sensibilities from both players – but in no time at all, the sounds had energised into the Rondo-finale, the ‘cello breaking off from the lively opening exchanges to sing an “out-of-doors” theme with the violin continuing to dance in attendance, with some minor-key wistfulness along the way creating some distinctly Beethovenish moments, a forthright unison episode notably among them!

Having jumped precipitately into a description of the music that began the concert’s second half, I feel I owe it to the reader to introduce a semblance of order and backtrack to the first half’s beginning, which featured Martin Riseley and pianist Jian Liu in one of Beethoven’s characteristically up-front C Minor works, the Op.30 No, 2 Violin Sonata. How directly this music speaks! – the terse opening piano figure descending into darkness, the violin’s reply intensified by keyboard agitations, and a brief confrontation between the two instruments suddenly transforming into playfulness! – as Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote in a poem about the flight of a kestrel, “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing…” – meaning that here, exposition and development are made to the composer’s own specifications, the “playfulness” evident in the music, for example, drawing on darker, more serious elements which extended the emotional capacities of the sounds beyond where we might have expected. Riseley and Liu generate terrific tension in places, their sharply-honed teamwork focusing on the music’s volatility of invention in a way that left us disconcertingly breathless after only the first movement!

The piano’s troubadour-like song which began the slow movement was here echoed almost privately by the violin, the players musing their way through the melody’s second half, the instruments then taking turns to “augment’ their partner’s reprises of the theme, the violin contributing decorative birdsong counterpoints, to which the piano replied with swirling counterpoints above and below the music’s surface. A couple of disruptive outbursts apart, the music enchanted in this performance, Liu’s gossamer fingerwork the perfect foil for Riseley’s silvery tones. The Scherzo galvanised these realms of poetic utterance into places of action, playfully at first, but with sudden intent to sting, the piano in response effecting to try and  “swot’ the offending violin! – again such surety of contrast on the composer’s part! Without being too pronounced a contrast, the Trio’s rumbustion was delightfully enabled, Liu’s nimble reflexes and Riseley’s silvery lines carrying the day.

The finale’s brief but characterful repeated opening crescendo here made me think of a train bursting out of a tunnel and into the open, the biting accents having their moment before exchanging  grimaces for grins as the players launched into the dancing measures that followed, even though the minor key sequences furrowed the brows once again. With the train’s every re-emergence came a different mood, a sunny rondo whose performance brought smiles to listeners’ faces, a darker, more purposeful venture into the light in search of a resting-place, and, finally, a wistful remembrance of times past, until a burst of no-holds-barred energy seized both performers and their instruments and drove the music home!

It was then Inbal Megiddo’s ‘cello’s turn to take us on a different creative strand’s exploration, in the composer’s Sonata for ‘Cello and Piano No. 3 in A Major – here, the exposition began lyrically instead of tersely, the ‘cello singing its opening phrase, and the piano replying as would a sweetheart, with equally fond sentiments, and a show of gallantry, before each “exchanged” blandishments with comparable gestures. After some shared minor-key complainings, Mediggo’s ‘cello began the first of those wondrous ascending phrases that seemed to lift our sensibilities to a higher plane of feeling, Liu’s piano following suit before joining in with the ‘cello in a heartwarming affirmation of shared purpose. The turn towards the darker regions of the development brought out, by turns, plaintive and passionate playing, Beethoven presenting us with impulsive, but organically-flowing contrasts of light and energy,  Megiddo and Liu then beautifully returning us from the depths of one of these exchanges us to the recapitulation’s reaffirming light. A jumpy scherzo, filled with syncopation, followed – Liu’s piano was away first, vaulting over hedges and other obstacles, the ‘cello drawing level in time for both to board the contrasting Trio’s droll roundabout, each instrument lending a hand to the music’s droning momentums and self-satisfied ditties.

A punchy “tutti” and a mysterious, sotto voce conclusion to this brought us to the final movement, one containing an Andante Cantabile introduction – what a melody! – and here, made into such a beautiful moment by these musicians! –  Megiddo’s ‘cello so lovingly preparing the way for the piano’s delightful energisings, Liu’s nimble-fingered tattoo of repeated notes buoying the ‘cello’s lyrical pronouncements along and giving rise to exhilarating exchanges, major key effervescence alternating with darker insinuations – again one marvelled at the music’s sheer articulateness of interchange, generating such momentums while maintaining a play of light and dark, strength and lyricism in the ebb and flow of it all.

Following the aforementioned Duos it was “all on stage” for the concert’s finale, The Op.70 No.2 Piano Trio in E-flat Major, a work somewhat in the shadow of its “Ghost” companion, but nevertheless having a definite character of its own. The programme-note writer particularly mentioned Schubert in connection with this work, a kinship which particularly resonated for me in the piano writing throughout the Minuet and Trio, but which was evident in the freedom of the work’s treatment of contrasting moods. At the work’s beginning, Megiddo’s cello led the way into exquisitely-shaped portals of melody, the outpourings unexpectedly galvanised by a sudden irruption of energy which served notice that anything could happen during the work’s course! The players brought out the Allegro ma non tanto’s attractive swaying motion, making the rhythm’s sweep central to the argument, fitting the motifs (including the dreamy second subject) into the music’s rounded corners with grace and ease, but also with plenty of forthright energy as those same motifs in other places jostled for position – I would have thought Brahms’s sturdy treatment of his themes in his chamber music owed something to this work as well.

The courtly grace of the second movement’s opening proved deceptive as the music served up variation after differently-characterised variation, hugely enjoyed by the players, and ranging from impish scamperings to vigorous Cossack like stampings! Eventually, the music’s inventive energies dissipating as quickly and po-facedly at the end as surely as the final forthright payoff suddenly slammed the last word home! The third movement’s gentle lyricism maintained the work’s varied character, Beethoven (somewhat surprisingly on first hearing) opting for a kind of old-world grace as a contrast to what had gone before, instead of giving us one of his physically trenchant scherzi – but in view of the finale’s unbridled exuberance and the players’ astonishing “give-it-all-you’ve-got”, response to the writing, things couldn’t have gotten much more involved or exciting as here! Those incredibly “orchestral” upward rushes repeatedly essayed by the piano crackled with firework-like energy in Jian Liu’s hands, inspiring his companions to generate their own versions of brilliant, coruscated response, leaving us at the work’s end both exhilarated and exhausted, though at the very end we greedily implored them for more, and were rewarded for our acclamations by a repeat of the graceful Minuet and Trio – a judicious “return to our lives” epilogue to an exhilarating concert experience !

Violin and piano recital in a new concert hall makes life worth living again

Chamber Music New Zealand

Amalia Hall (violin) and Stephen de Pledge (piano)

Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 5 in F, Op 24 “Spring”
Gao Ping: Bitter Cold Night
Gershwin (arr.Heifetz): Three Preludes
Mozart: Violin Sonata No 19 in E flat, K 302
Saint-Saëns: Violin Sonata No 1 in D minor, op 75

Public Trust Hall, Corner Lambton Quay and Stout Street

Thursday 6 August, 7:30 pm

The first concert, post-Covid-19 lock-down from Chamber Music New Zealand was held in a new auditorium which was opened in September last year: in the former Public Trust Office headquarters. The hall, presumably the former public area, with ceiling decoration that survived in banks half a century ago; a well-proportioned, elegant space. It seats 300 people, about the same size as the Ilott Theatre in the old Wellington Town Hall (and what, exactly, is planned for the Town Hall?).*

The concert attracted a full house. It was the second to last in a 12-concert tour of the country.

The Spring Sonata
I was sitting in the front row, rather too close for a balanced impression of both the players and the acoustic of the space. It began with Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, and at once the acoustic had the effect of amplifying the piano to the disadvantage of the violin’s voice, particularly in the opening Allegro. My seat, to the left of the players, with the violinist’s back towards me, didn’t help. The result was that subtleties of both instruments were somewhat diminished, while a bit too much of the ‘mechanics’ of hammers and bows on strings was audible.

Nevertheless, the happy rapport between the two players and their feeling for the music were clear enough. Balance between them seemed more normal in the lovely second movement, Adagio molto espressivo; and the brief Scherzo too, with sparkling staccato playing from both, handled the spatial conditions well.

Gao Ping and George Gershwin
Bitter Cold Night, the piece by Gao Ping, who lectured for some years at Canterbury University, had its genesis with the pandemic. Gao composed this bleak piece in memory of the Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, who broke his government’s silence about the Corona virus, was punished and he subsequently died of it. There was a brief, sunnier episode led by the violin, discreetly supported by the piano, but then came a burst of anger. It spoke clearly and movingly, as music can often do, better than other arts; let’s hope that Gao Ping will not be treated as was Li Wenliang.

I hadn’t come across Jascha Heifetz’s arrangement for violin and piano of Gershwin’s three Preludes for piano. Not only were they so successfully modified, but they were played with a delightful naturalness, with almost more sophistication and musicality than the plain piano versions, as if that had been the way Gershwin had conceived them.

The second half comprised two more sonatas: Mozart’s No 19, in E flat. I don’t suppose it’s too embarrassing to confess that I couldn’t recall hearing this before: just two movements: Allegro and Andante grazioso, as De Pledge told us, along with remarks about Mozart’s relationship with the Elector Palatine’s court and the musicians, based in Mannheim through the middle of the 18th century. (His interest flowed partly from the Elector’s excellent orchestra, particularly its clarinets, and his unrequited love for Aloysia Weber – the fall-back position was her sister Constanze whom he did later marry).

I might remark that the programme, A4 size, had a striking cover, a message from the chief executive of CMNZ, another from Anne Rodda, the executive director of the Michael Hill Violin Competition, large photos and brief biographical notes about the two performers, and the back page filled with logos of the sponsors; but no information about the music.

The music gives more equal attention to both instruments than was normal at the time. It’s a charming piece, especially the second movement; and I enjoyed it better since a friend, seeing where I was sitting, had offered to exchange seats so I might enjoy a better balanced experience, in the fourth row. I was grateful, for the balance and coherence were distinctly better, in particular exposing properly Amalia’s warm, lyrical playing.

The final work was Saint-Saëns’s first violin sonata, of 1885 when the composer was 50: I suspect it’s probably unfamiliar, but I knew it from a performance that had stuck in my heard thirty years ago. The Japanese violinist, Midori had played it in a recital at the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts in 1990 or 1992. The last movement is a splendid, endless bravura experience of demi-semi quavers, and Midori’s playing had, naturally, remained in my head over the years, when I may have heard it no more than a couple of times on Concert FM.

I suppose the sonata’s unfamiliarity is a result of the common tendency to denigrate Saint-Saëns as conservative and unadventurous; not a view I share. Happily, many of us have long felt that such intellectual pretentions are not a sensible way to pass one’s life. There’s an infectious melody in the first movement, and it presaged the warm, melodic character of the entire piece. It moves without a break into the second movement, Adagio, which they played thoughtfully, with touches of whimsy. The third movement, an Allegretto moderato, Scherzo in triple time which fades and then suddenly bursts into the moto-perpetuo kind of Finale. Perhaps it looks more difficult than it actually is but it served as a splendid conclusion. I hope it has had a joyous effect on the hundreds of audience members in the eleven towns where it’s been heard so far.

So it proved a splendid way to help restore a sort of normality to the fortunate few who go to chamber music concerts. The music and its performance by these two genial and highly musical players, as well as the feel of the new venue that has been transformed so effectively into a concert hall, must have done something to make life worth living again.

*The Public Trust Office dates from 1908, designed by the then Government Architect, John Campbell, who designed many state buildings such as the General Post Office in Wellington (sensibly! replaced by the Intercontinental Hotel on Featherston Street), and the Central Post Office in Auckland which survives at the bottom of Queen Street, and the House of Parliament, which disappointed the architect when the south wing, a mirror image of the existing building was never built.

The Wellington Architecture Centre describes the building as “possibly the most architecturally elaborate façade in the capital – if not the entire country, and is without doubt … Government Architect John Campbell’s finest work outside of his design for Parliament House.”

After the Seddon Earthquake in 2013 the Public Trust building was sold to Maurice Clark whose firm McKee Fehl and architects Warren & Mahoney carried out its strengthening and renovation. It is a Category 1 Historic Building.

Mr Clark spoke at the Interval, noting that the hall’s use for classical music was free – a stark contrast to the cost of venues owned by the city council which are widely known to be the dearest in the country: as you’d expect from a city that boasts of being ‘the cultural capital’.  

Simon O’Neill generates plenty of “Spirit” in NZSO Podium Series Concert

NZSO Podium Series
SPIRIT – with Simon O’Neill

Simon O’Neill (tenor)
Hamish McKeich (conductor)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Berlioz – Overture “Le Corsaire” Op.21

Mahler – Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen

R.Strauss – Lieder – Allerseelen Op.10, No. 8 (orch. Heger) / Ruhe, mein Seele, Op. 27 No. 1 (orch. R.Strauss) / Cäcillie, Op 27 No. 2 (orch. R.Strauss) / Heimliche Aufforderung, Op. 27 No. 3 (orch. Heger) / Morgen, Op 27 No. 4 (orch. R.Strauss) / Zueignung, Op. 10 No. 1 (orch. Heger)

Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 in B flat Major, Op. 100

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Thursday 6 August

Hurrah for the NZSO, one of the very few orchestras anywhere in the world able to give live concerts. The large audience showed its appreciation. For reasons not clear to this writer, the concert was labelled “Spirit” though there was nothing particularly spiritual about the programme.

There was no narrative theme to the programme, but this didn’t matter. Many in the audience came especially to hear the renowned New Zealand heldentenor, Simon O’Neill, star of the greatest opera houses and concert halls of the world. They were not disappointed. He presented an uncompromisingly challenging fare, Mahler’s song cycle, Songs of a Wayfarer, and a selection of six songs by Richard Strauss from his Opus 10 and Op. 27 series, composed ten years apart, between 1884 and 1894. These were orchestrated later by Richard Strauss himself and by the German conductor and composer, Robert Heger.

On the face of it, there was much in common to these selections of songs by Mahler and Strauss. They were all composed in broadly the same period, they could all be described as late romantic works, yet they reflect the different personalities of the composers, Mahler deeply introspective, Strauss detached, the thorough professional, focused on his craft. Mahler wrote these songs when he was only 24, getting over a disappointing love affair. The songs, words by the composer, trace the journey of a distraught young man from desperation to acceptance: “I weep, weep! For my love” and “I think of my sorrow” in the first song, but by the second song it is “Good day! Good day! Isn’t it a lovely world?” The words are set to a joyful theme that Mahler used later in his First Symphony. In the third song he has a vision of his lost love, but the final song is about acceptance: “Love and sorrow, and world and dream”.

Simon O’Neill sang these with feeling and empathy, reflected in his powerful yet controlled voice and in his clear diction. His singing touched all by its emotional intensity The orchestra supported him with beautiful responses and echoes to the vocal line, which involved notably fine solo instrumental playing.

The six Richard Strauss songs were originally written for voice and piano and were later arranged for voice and orchestra. The songs are set to poems written by now largely forgotten poets. Strauss wrote the four songs from Op. 27 as a wedding present for his wife, soprano, Pauline de Ahna. These were bracketed by two from the earlier Op. 10. Significantly Strauss added the orchestral accompaniment to the song, Ruhe, meine Seele (Rest thee, my Soul), many years after the song was composed, in 1948, just before his death at the age of 85. The words “Rest thee, rest thee troubled spirit and forget all, thy sufferings will soon be over” had a special meaning in the years after the war. The orchestral accompaniment to these songs added a striking colour, with a fine violin solo in the penultimate song, Morgen, beautifully played by Vesa-Matti Leppänen . This was a memorable performance that will stay in the memories of all who were there to hear it.

The major symphonic work on the programme was Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. It was written in 1944, by which time the war was turning in the Allies’ favour. It is a work written for a very large orchestra. There were 94 players on stage. It is full of rich melodies and strong Prokofiev rhythms. It is a long 46 minute colourful work. Prokofiev claimed to have conceived it as a symphony on the greatness of the human soul. This might have satisfied Stalin and his cultural henchmen at the time, but there is a sense of cynicism behind the lovely melodies and exaggerated bombast. It is a challenging work for the orchestra and without any question, the orchestra coped well with the difficult passages, with some outstanding solos and great brass chorales. A wide range of instruments were at work, including something of a solo passage for the wood block. It would be ungenerous not to acknowledge that the work was thoroughly well prepared and performed with dedication. Yet there was something missing, the passion, the warmth of the melodies, the striking contrasts. It was a deliberately careful, but understated performance.

The concert opened with the vigorous start of Berlioz’s Le Corsaire Overture,  followed by a rich extended melody, then more tempestuous music. The contrasting passages represented the adventurous life of a pirate at sea. The title was a clear reference to Lord Byron’s poem of that name. It is attractive programme music which gave an opportunity to every section of the orchestra to shine, with busy strings and great brass chords. The music embodies the emotional extremes of Romantic music, adventure, pirates, tender nature and love. It was cheerful music, and a contrast to the melancholic mood of the Mahler songs, but it foreshadowed the rousing energy of the Prokofiev Symphony of the second half of the concert. It was an appropriate introduction to a varied evening of music that followed.

This was a great concert with which to open a shortened concert season. It was recorded and is available on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watchtime_continue=823&v=6hFqcxikBYY&feature=emb_title and will go on tour of to many of the main and provincial centres, so that people can access it anywhere in the country.










Attachments area

Preview YouTube video NZSO: Podium Series – Spirit with Simon O’Neill

Following last year’s NZ Opera production, another local “take” on Henry James’ famous ghost story “The Turn of the Screw”

THE TURN OF THE SCREW – A film (2020) by Alex Galvin  after the novella by Henry James (1898)

Cast: Greer Phillips (Julia/Governess) / Ralph Johnson (Richard) / Ben Fransham (Uncle/Peter Quint) / Jane Waddell (Mrs Grose) / Ella Olssen (Flora) / Alex Usher (Miles) / Sarah Munn (Miss Jessel)

Writer – Alex Galvin
Producers – Alex Galvin, Emma Beale, Nicola Peeperkoorn, Edward Sampson
Production Designer – Debbie Fish
Costume Designer – Sally Gray
Music – Ewan Clark
Musicians – NZSM Orchestra
Sound – Matthew Lambourne, Callum Scott, John McKay
Cinematographer – Mark Papallii
Editors – Elizabeth Denekamp, Edward Sampson, John McKay
Executive Producers – James Partridge, John McKay

Embassy Theatre, Wellington

Thursday, 6th August, 2010 (NZ Premiere)

A recent feather in the cap of New Zealand film-making has been the inclusion of “The Turn of the Screw”, an adaptation of Henry James’s classic ghost story by Wellington director Alex Galvin, in the recent Shanghai film Festival. Within a few days of the Shanghai showing the film had its New Zealand premiere at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington, an event that was sold out. Its audience witnessed an intriguing “take” on James’ novella, one which effectively paralleled the way the author “framed” his original story by having a guest at a country house party produce a written account of a new governess’s experience with two children she claimed were “haunted” by two dead servants wanting to “possess” them. Here, the story was enacted as a dress rehearsal for a stage production at the Wellington Opera House,  where a replacement actress for the part of the governess (Greer Phillips) arrives by taxi just before the rehearsal is about to begin, and is quickly and somewhat bewilderingly thrust into her stage character by Richard, her director (Ralph Johnson). The latter’s slightly creepy fulsomeness supported James’s own observation that there should be “a suggestion of strangely gruesome effect” in the story from the beginning, and even if none too subtly as the action proceeded, this state of things was certainly engendered here.

What was also straightaway evoked as the story itself began, by dint of superbly-wrought lighting and properly-suggestive music (a tangibly atmospheric, if perhaps sometimes over-wrought, score by composer Ewan Clark) was a sense of disorientation on the part of both Julia, the actress, and her character the governess, most convincingly “inhabited” by Greer Phillips at this and every other point. This was aided by a prevailing opaque luminosity of visual effect working hand-in-glove with a soundscape that engendered and harboured all-pervading unease – unlike with the written word, which the reader can modulate at his or her pleasure in terms of a time-frame, a spoken narration or drama grips the listener or observer in a more-or-less continual flow – so James’s story was here essentially telescoped into what seems like a much shorter period, having the effect of taking over in real time a “house of horrors” from which there could be no relief. The reader might register with the story’s telling the gradual disappearance of summer into autumn, and the succession of days passing “without another encounter” (with the ghosts), but we in the theatre seemed as prey to omnipresent interaction with these spectral forces, or the threat of it, as seemed the story’s ill-fated governess to be.

The effect of this concentration of untoward incident I thought akin to a ride on one of those “ghost trains” of my youth set up in the amusement parts of fairs, with bangs, screeches and crashes at regular intervals, each played for its maximum effect!  At first the sheer visceral impact of each “scare” I found overwhelmingly sonorous and atmospheric but soon felt the too-frequent scares becoming counter-productive with every irruption (one has only to recall F.W.Murnau’s silent film “Nosferatu” to remind oneself how the visual alone can make as terrifying an impression). I thought the “bird” incident, for example, the killing of a stray sparrow by the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, gratuitous in effect, accompanied by a noise out of all proportion to the action. Still, there were places during which  the camerawork allowed images to create their full effect largely unaided, generating enormous tension and anxiety – the governess’s discovery of and approach towards the veil worn by Miss Jessel, for example, let us for a few moments ourselves do some of the work towards creating tensions in our own minds, culminating just as fraughtfully with the shock of our unexpectedly encountering the housekeeper.

Something the film certainly conveys is the ever-burgeoning obsessiveness of the governess regarding the presence of the ghosts and their intent regarding the children, a point which has taxed analyses of the original James story since its appearance – there have been various “stances” taken by critics, ranging from those who regard the story as an out-and-out supernatural tale, to the argument that the governess herself is an “unreliable” narrator, bringing her own imaginative, deluded and, ultimately fatal obsessions to bear on the situation. Complicating the ambiguities of James’s own colouring of the character’s narrative is the stress and uncertainty the film’s setting and action puts her as an actress under from the outset, so that we are having to take into account her having to “feel her way” through the stage business’s unknown territories irrespective of her knowledge of the script – her “off the cuff” expletives in response to various happenings are mere tips of the iceberg which compound her uncertainties (and her reactions) in this role, and effectively “run together” the strains of motivation for her actions.

Generally I thought the actors’ characterisations had a basic and attractive naturalness and ease, cleverly contrived to create tension whenever this was disturbed. Alongside, and a perfect foil for, the governess of Greer Phillips was the non-imposing figure of the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, played by Jane Waddell with disarming literalness – in James’s narrative she is described by the governess as “a magnificent monument to the blessings of a want of imagination” (itself an intentionally spontaneous self-revealing remark), and Waddell’s unequivocal, if occasionally uncertain response to the governess’s quickness of supposition effectively throws the latter’s obvious susceptibility to such things into bold relief.

The children, Ella Olssen as Flora, and Alex Usher as Miles, both looked and lived their respective roles most assuredly, playing their part in heightening the ambivalence of our feelings towards their states of awareness, the camera-work a particularly candid exploration of skilfully-wrought expressive nuance on the young actors’ part delineating their interactions with the governess. With Miles, the elder of the two,  around whom an aura of misconduct had already been created by his supposed expulsion from school, the sexual tensions which are contrived via the governess’s superheated protectiveness of the boy from the house’s malignant presences, are inversely reflected by her earlier alienation from the girl, Flora, in dramatically confronting her with a kind of  supposed “guilt of awareness” of those same presences. Each of the encounters exploits the full impact of one’s immersion in appropriately dramatic visual and sonic happenings – climaxes in a veritable symphony of drama, and appropriately full-blooded at those particular moments.

Regarding the “ghosts”, both brought to their respective presences a time-honoured frisson of fearful thrill through their unerring immersion in the drama’s capacities for shock and surprise, however much I thought some of the gestures might have been wrought or framed in a less obvious kind of way. An interesting touch was having Ben Fransham play the roles of both the Uncle (in the story’s Prologue) and the ghostly manservant, Peter Quint, underlining the elsewhere-expressed theory of Quint being a kind of “alter ego” of the Uncle (whom the governess gives every indication of being infatuated with), a juxtaposition which would heighten her “reverse abhorrence” of the idea of Quint having anything to do with Miles. The other ghost, Miss Jessel, an even more enigmatic presence (James deliberately sparing with his detailings concerning her, with Mrs Grose being the “agent” of information for the governess in each of the ghost’s cases, rendering the unfortunate pair in terms mixing memory and heresay. Sarah Munn as Jessel fully matches and fills out whatever projection of fear and unease we might bring to an encounter with her character in such a context.

How these “onion layers” of supposed actuality, conjecture and fantasy play themselves out is a process which I thought here made by and large a riveting experience in the cinema/theatre. And the drama’s closing post-rehearsal scene presents a final enigma, one that bonds with the film’s opening circumstance of the young replacement actress, Julia, tossed into a kind of maelstrom of her character’s overall fantasy and (possibly) self-delusion. Interestingly, the circumstance is presented plainly and simply, its stark actuality all that is needed to suitably disturb. Writer, producer and director Alex Galvin has here formulated an absorbing “take” on a much-examined story, at once “bringing it home” to us in a localised and contemporary way via the setting, and expanding our own sensibilities and visions in the context of a vibrant occasion of world-wide currency.