RNZAF Wind Quintet plus piano, in diverting programme closes Marjan van Waartenberg’s era at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s Lunchtime concert
RNZAF Wind Quintet: Rebecca Steel – flute, Calvin Scott – oboe, Moira Hurst – clarinet, Vivien Reid – horn), Oscar Lavën – bassoon; with David Codd – piano

Giulio Briccialdi: Wind Quintet, Op 124 (the Allegro marziale)
Poulenc: Sextet for piano and winds, Op 100
Bizet: Jeux d’enfants, arranged by Gordon Davies: 1. Trompette et tambour, marche; 2. Petit mari, petite femme; 3. La toupie
Zequinha de Abreu: Tico-tico (‘Bird in the cornmeal’)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 9 December, 12:15 pm

Not only was this the last in the 2020 St Andrew’s lunchtime concert series (not counting the church’s Christmas carol service next Wednesday, 16 December); but the last concert organised by Marjan van Waardenberg at St Andrew’s: a voluntary job she has done since 2005. The concerts have been transformed dramatically during the time she has led them, from short series of concerts through the year to an unbroken series usually starting in February, sometimes twice in a week, apart from their disturbance in the face of pandemics. The church’s generous role in allowing free use by musicians, without fees, dependent solely on donations, has also been singular. Such is their support by musicians that there’s often a waiting list for performance dates. Free concerts are a valued benefit for many audience members who might be unable to afford to pay for weekly concerts.

There is no comparable series of free, weekly concerts anywhere else in the country. They have become a very significant concert series in the city, enhancing the Wellington’s reputation as a leading musical centre; in particular, providing excellent opportunities for students from Victoria University School of Music to be heard in a down-town venue.

Marjan’s organisational role will be taken by Kristina Zuelicka while actual hosting of each concert will be done by other individuals; the programme encouraged ‘concert host’ volunteers to approach Jillene Everett in the church office; office@standrews.org.nz.

The concert 
The last appearance by the RNZAF Wind Quintet at St Andrew’s was reviewed in July 2019 by Steven Sedley. This, led again by flutist Rebecca Steel, with the same colleagues, elegantly dressed in formal air force uniforms attracted a bigger-than-average audience to this memorable recital.

There were two rather unfamiliar names among the composers represented at this week’s concert: the mid-19th century Italian, Giulio Briccialdi and the Brazilian composer, Zequinha de Abreu (really known solely for the popular Tico-tico), who lived in the early 20th century.

Briccialdi was a distinguished flutist and composer, and the melodious piece with which the recital began makes his popularity during his life very credible. Though the flute was prominent, it was far from the dominant instrument in the piece, which, apart from the repetitive bassoon motif, offered attractive passages for the other three instruments.

Poulenc’s Sextet
The main work was Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and winds, probably written in 1932. Its most distinctive feature is its variety in the treatment of musical ideas as well as the variety offered each instrument at various times. The first such case was a dreamy solo from the bassoon, more than compensating for its treatment in the earlier piece, and the horn enjoyed occasional solo episodes. The music typified Poulenc with its almost rude dissonances, but which actually delight, not merely because they shift suddenly into a reflective mood but because it’s wit that characterises them.

No movement remained consistent. Though the second movement starts quietly, its title Divertissement soon took over with the reappearance of first-movement liveliness. Unfortunately, the church’s teasing acoustic occasionally interfered with clarity, blurring the amusing character of both individual instruments and ensembles. So the most satisfactory parts were those in which only one or two instruments led the way. Though the third movement, Finale, is marked ‘Prestissimo’ it is only partly accurate as there’s a sudden slowing of speed halfway through, allowing the three treble clef instruments to be heard with closer, more rewarding attention.

Its last few minutes are both surprising and charming, as the mood – the tempo – suddenly changed: enigmatically. In spite of little shortcomings this performance was a delight.

I realise I haven’t mentioned the piano: that’s simply because David Codd’s playing integrated so well with the wind players. Poulenc was in fact a fine pianist and chamber pieces for piano and various solo-string and wind instruments are significant though not numerous.

I’ve been a Poulenc captive since my late teens, when I heard the witty ballet Les biches on the radio. It could still be worth an airing.

Jeux d’enfants  
Three pieces from Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants provided music that is somewhat related to Poulenc, and these twelve purportedly children’s pieces rested interestingly alongside him, making one aware how Bizet’s Mozart-aged death was such a tragedy for far more than simply opera. Though I can’t remember who played them, I can recall quite a while ago hearing the full suite of twelve piano pieces played in Wellington. And of course, apart from piano and chamber music there’s the evidence of a gifted symphonist in Bizet’s now famous, eighteen-year-old Symphony in C, lost for eighty years in the Paris Conservatoire archives.

The quintet played just three of the Jeux d’enfants: La toupie, Trompette et tambour and Petit mari et petite femme (in their published order).

Trompette et Tambour was an appropriate opening: a nice arrangement of this prancing, jaunty piece while Petit mari, petite femme, a dreamy middle movement, featured the horn nicely; and the brief but lively Toupie was a well-chosen conclusion. The quintet justified their appropriation of Bizet’s piano duet original, or its orchestrations by Bizet and others, very persuasively.

Finally, perhaps a time-filler, was Tico-tico, once familiar on radio in all sorts of versions. It proved a lively arrangement for the wind quintet’s closure.

Marjan: “duizendmaal dank”.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *