An unusual and striking St.Andrew’s Lunchtime presentation – Aroha Quartet’s ASQ International Music Academy Tutor’s Concert

The Aroha String Quartet presents:
The ASQ International Music Academy Tutors’ Concert

Aroha String Quartet
Donald Armstrong (NZSO Associate Concertmaster) – Violin & string orchestra conductor
David Chickering (NZSO Section Principal Emeritus) – Cello
Sasha Gunchenko (NZSO) – Double Bass
Tom McGrath (Teaching Fellow in Accompaniment, University of Otago) – Piano

Richard Strauss – String Sextet from “Capriccio”
Igor Stravinsky – Concertino for String Quartet (1920)
Gioachino Rossini – Duet for Cello and Double Bass movements 2 and 3
Antonin Dvorak – Piano Quintet No 2 in A Op 81, Finale: Allegro

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert

Wednesday. 14th July, 2921

This was a strikingly unusual and interesting programme spanning different musical eras and musical languages. It was a showcase for the ASQ International Music Academy, which was holding its seventh week-long course of chamber music performance with participants from all parts of the country.

Richard Strauss – String Sextet from “Capriccio”

Donald Armstrong and Manshan Yang (violins), Zhongxian Jin and Michael Cuncannon (violas), Robert Ibell and David Chickering (cellos)

Richard Strauss’ opera, Capriccio premiered in 1942 while German soldiers were fighting, murdering and dying in the Russian front. There is something unreal about an opera buffa in which men and women argue about music and poetry, put on a pantomime to prove a point, and sing complex contrapuntal music for over two hours. This was Strauss’ response to the terrible world around him, to withdraw into music of the past, to avoid the confronting reality. Unusually, the opera doesn’t open with an overture, but with a string sextet, which, as becomes evident, is part of the story. Six musicians rehearse a work written for the birthday of the heroine, and it is this music that provokes the discussion. Musically the piece is full of rich counterpoint, with allusions to the music of the eighteenth century, and possibly a nod to Brahms’ string sextets, but the language is essentially Richard Strauss. There is tongue in cheek cynicism buried in the rich harmonies. The present six musicians give the work a vital, engaging reading. It was a rare opportunity to hear this seldom performed piece.

Igor Stravinsky – Concertino for String Quartet (1920)

Haihong Liu and Konstanze Artmann (violins) Zhongxian Jin (viola) and Robert Ibell (cello)

This short work by Stravinsky is a total contrast to the Strauss piece that preceded it. While Strauss’ Sextet is overwhelmingly rich in texture, the Concertino for String Quartet is sparse, rooted in Stravinsky’s own musical idiom, strongly rhythmic fragments, vivid contrasts, manic allegros interspersed with dirge like adagios. It was written for the Flonzaley Quartet, but it is nothing like traditional string quartets. It is a short experiment in writing a work a work for string players with a bravura solo violin, accompanied by the rest of the quartet. It is challenging, but not endearing music. Trust Stravinsky to make you sit up and listen!

Gioachino Rossini – Duet for Cello and Double Bass movements 2 and 3

Robert Ibell (cello) and Oleksandr Gunchenko (double bass)

Cello and Double Bass is a most unusual combination, but this work was commissioned by the amateur cellist Sir David Salomons for performance at a soiree with the double bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti. This is an immensely loveable curiosity piece, with opera like flowing melodies. The music has its technical challenges, but Robert Ibell and Oleksandr Gunchenko played it with a beautiful lyrical singing tone. Both they and Rossini had lots of fun, and the audience responded with enthusiastic applause.

Antonin Dvorak – Piano Quintet No 2 in A Op 81, Finale: Allegro

Tom McGrath (piano) Haihong Liu and Donald Armstrong (violins) Brian Shillito (viola) and David Chickering (cello)

Dvorak’s Second Piano Quartet is one of the gems of the chamber music repertoire. It is a pity that within these lunch-time concerts time didn’t permit the performance of the whole work. As it is, we had to settle for the last movement. It is light-hearted, spirited, scintillating music. It was played with great aplomb. The end of the movement, the tranquillo passage was like a ray of sunlight. My one quibble was that, either because of the acoustics of the church, or because of the placement of the piano, the top strings were swamped by the piano. Not withstanding this, it was a fine performance.

We are very fortunate in Wellington that we have the opportunity to have such free lunchtime concerts in the heart of the city by some of the best musicians in the country, week after week for most of the year. It is something to be valued. These are the kind of things that make Wellington the greatest little capital.