Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

Unusual trio ensemble with a highly satisfying, widely international series opens Wellington Chamber Music year

By , 18/04/2021

Wellington Chamber Music: first concert in 2021 season

Trio Elan
Donald Armstrong (violin)
Simon Brew (saxophone)
Sarah Watkins (piano)

Russell Peterson: Trio for alto saxophone, violin and piano
Peter Liley: Deux Images for Trio: Small Scurrying and Glimpse
Albeniz: Evocación, from Iberia (piano solo)
Barry Cockcroft: Beat Me (tenor saxophone solo)
Debussy: Violin Sonata in G minor
Marc Eychenne: Cantilène et Danse
Piazzolla: Otoño Porteño 
Farr: Tango: Un Verano de Passion

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 18 April, 3 pm

The first concert in Wellington Chamber Music’s 2021 season attracted a fairly full audience, no doubt partly a response to their deprivation in 2020. It would have appealed to chamber music aficionados on account of the three well-known musicians and the inclusion of at least one well-known work, plus a couple of others by familiar and attractive composers – Albéniz and Piazzolla, and a popular New Zealand composer – Gareth Farr. That offered the prospect that the rest might be interesting: it certainly was.

Russell Peterson
It opened with a trio by American saxophonist and composer, Russell Peterson. It troubled me almost at once. Though it was a vigorous, rhythmic piece, throwing violin and saxophone against each other, each delivered such individual sounds that the wide spacing of the two gave the impression that unity could be in conflict. But rhythmic unity was always conspicuous and superficially disparate sounds were clearly studied and not simply tonal antipathy.

The second movement, Adagio, was more audibly genial, occupying the space in the church more comfortably. A congenial duet between violin and saxophone might have been rather shrill but the piano’s steady pace imposed a calmer spirit. The last movement, labelled ‘moto perpetuo’, again given to repetitive rhythms and terse themes, created an excitement that might again have been taxing in the church’s acoustic. Nevertheless, the performance of this deliberate music was admirably studied, displaying the trio’s vigour and unanimity, and however the instruments were assembled in performance, there was no doubt that it was a carefully studied, meaningful interpretation.

Deux Images by young Wellington saxophonist and composer, Peter Liley, created contrasting sound pictures with darting, tremulous motifs; first by the violin, then the saxophone. Its two movements seemed to vary mainly through the music’s general pitch; a hypnotic quality pervaded both movements, creating a distinctly enchanted feeling.

Albéniz 
It was good to hear Sarah Watkins in a solo piano piece such as one of Albéniz’s Ibéria: ‘Evocación’, the first of the twelve pieces. They are rarely played in New Zealand, as far as I can recall, and the likelihood of their being heard on Concert FM gets increasingly dim. Sarah Watkins’ playing was beautifully idiomatic, capturing both the essential Spanish spirit and her own obvious admiration for the composer’s music.

Next was a piece for solo tenor saxophone: Beat me, by Australian composer, Barry Cockroft. It was a display of the varied sounds available, including many that were unpitched, essentially non-musical; but it was driven by rhythmic, dancing or percussive sounds; a repeated bleat around bottom G or A flat offered a kind of stability. It was an intriguing experience, though I confess to being somewhat unclear about the purpose of and relationships between many of the sounds. I felt indeed that its formidable technical difficulties might take a very long time to master.

Debussy violin sonata
After the Interval, violin and piano played Debussy’s last piece, from 1917: the third of his planned six sonatas far various instruments: he died of cancer in 1918. This was an admirable performance of a piece that ends in a spirit of sheer delight; and it was an opportunity to hear both a pianist that Wellington rarely hears since she left the NZTrio, and a violinist who is conspicuous mainly at Associate concert master of the NZSO and leader of the Amici Ensemble (they give the last concert, in October, in this Wellington Chamber Music series). Their performance was multi-facetted and as near to flawless as you’d get.

Marc Eychenne is a French composer born in Algeria in 1933. In some ways, not merely because it called for the same instruments as the Peterson piece, the two seemed to have similar, or at least related characteristics, even though Eychenne’s piece was composed before Peterson was born. There was no sign of any attempt here to draw attention to the dissimilarity between violin and saxophone; in fact when the saxophone entered several bars after the violin had established itself, the two seemed to seek common elements, to find considerable homogeneity. The effect was certainly in contrast to that in the Peterson piece. The contrast between the ‘Cantilène’ and the ‘Danse’ in itself was engaging: once again, in the writing and the playing of the two movements there was a sense of unanimity as well as contrast.

It encouraged me later to look (through the inevitable YouTube) for other pieces by Eychenne; it proved a rewarding excursion. Both works were obviously composed in the post-Serialist, post extreme avant-garde era, neither seemed persuaded to employ such defeatist techniques in an attempt to emulate the influences that so alienated much music composed in the late 20th century.

Piazzolla and Farr
The same goes, of course for the last two pieces, by Piazzolla and Gareth Farr. The Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (‘Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’) by Piazzolla have become very familiar and the Otoño (Autumn) movement in its attractive arrangement including saxophone was charmingly idiomatic.

It was a nice idea to link Piazzolla’s piece with a piece that Farr wrote for a TV series, The Strip. In the words of the programme note, it was “incidental music for a smouldering scene between a stripper and choreographer”; as described, it proved dreamy and seductive. A nice way to bring the wholly attractive concert to a close.

The remaining six concerts in Wellington Chamber Music’s series look most interesting: chairman David Hutton mentioned special concessions available to those attending the concert to subscribe for the rest of the year.Don’t hestitate!

 

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