Website problems: acknowledgement of Turnovsky Endowment Trust grant

Because we have been unable to carry out certain functions on this website, our mast-head still bears our acknowledgement of sponsorship by the Adam Foundation which gave us greatly appreciated support in the early years. Late last year we were given a generous grant by the Turnovsky Endowment Trust, and that should have been published at once on the home page.

We are very embarrassed about this. The problem arises because we have lost contact with the person who set up our website using WordPress and our failure to find anyone who can manage it technically.

This handicap has also affected other functions.

Readers will no doubt have observed that our ‘Coming Events’ section has been neglected so far this year, as we simply cannot load anything new in that space. Nor is the facility for ‘comments’ operational. None of our efforts so far to manage these difficulties have been successful.

We would welcome offers of assistance from anyone with technical familiarity with WordPress.


Beautiful Britten, sterling Brahms – a heartfelt tribute to Norbert Heuser

Old St. Pauls, Thorndon Lunchtime Concert Series presents:
Peter Barber (viola) / Catherine McKay (piano)

BRITTEN – Lachrymae, for viola and piano (after John Dowland)
BRAHMS – Viola Sonata No.2 in E-flat Op.120/2

Old St.Paul’s Church, Thorndon

Tuesday, 17th June 2014

What would have been planned originally by violist Peter Barber and pianist Catherine McKay as an occasion featuring a richly-wrought and most gratifying pair of contrasting works for viola and piano took on an additional note of elegiac sadness by the time the two musicians came to present their concert. Two days before, the death had occurred of a former NZSO colleague of Barber’s – in fact, a fellow-violist, and a prominent member of the orchestra for no less than thirty-eight years, Norbert Heuser.

How appropriate and moving, then, to hear Peter Barber speak of his esteemed colleague and friend before the concert, in effect dedicating the performances to Heuser’s memory. Fittingly, the music we heard featured the viola, the instrument that each of these musicians played, of course – but even more appropriately, the venue (the exquisite and richly-appointed Old St.Paul’s Church in Thorndon) was that which was to be used the following day for the memorial service – a circumstance which obviously carried its own particular poignancy.

And what music had been chosen! – unwittingly, of course, as regards making any specific commemorative gesture, but with an unerring instinct on the part of both players for focusing on love and its power to heal all sorrows and restore what could be held fast of “this worlde’s joye”. The Britten work, which I had not heard previously, was particularly enthralling in this respect, though the Brahms sonata had, too, the capacity to express a kind of fierce joy occasionally tinged with loss and regret.

What power music which one encounters for the very first time can sometimes have! – and especially so when the performances are proper, flesh-and-blood, live, here-and-now experiences, delivered with skill, focus and rapt concentration! True, in situations such as these one’s critical responses are perhaps coloured (I very nearly wrote the word “clouded”!) by the delight of first sensations – rather, in fact, like falling in love! Thus it was here with me, upon hearing the Britten work.

A rich, sombre opening brought forth sounds that seemed to be wrung and resonated from the depths of feeling – in places tremulous and almost Mahlerian in effect (reminiscent of the finale of that composer’s angst-ridden Sixth Symphony). Here, the piano constantly oscillated with tremolando-laden emotion while the viola sounded Aeolian-like strands which were stretched across the vistas as if to resonate in sympathy.

More angular and quixotic, the following sequence exchanged ascending/descending figurations between piano and viola, before halting the vertiginous flow and setting viola pizzicati against richly-sounded piano chords – for all the world the sounds to my ears conveying the sense of a beating heart…..the string textures graduated towards rich double-stoppings as the piano’s chordings climbed, explored and intensified.

Britten was reputed to be no lover of the music of Brahms – in fact he’s on record somewhere as remarking to an acquaintance: – “I make a point of playing one Brahms recording a year, just to remind myself how awful the music is!”……such anecdotes are often relished more for their wit and outrageous sentiment than for veracity, and perhaps aren’t as such to be trusted. In point of fact, the very next exchange between the instruments – the piano stern and commanding, the viola dogged and determined – sounded to my surprised ears extremely Brahmsian, especially the way the piano chords were echoed and resonated by the viola’s energetic figurations.

Piano chords turned into flowing rivulets under Catherine McKay’s fingers, along with string figures coalescing into melody, seeming to want by this time to clothe the gestures in less angular and disparate utterances – though the night ride had a little way to go still, before the sunrise. The muse was yet to show her hand, waiting for her moment while still more quixotic gestures mockingly returned to the piano, Peter Barber’s viola dancing to the mood, though impishly punctuating the phrase-ends with pizzicato notes.

And then it was as though worlds gradually began to intertwine – at first through the gloom, then through coruscation and upheaval, and finally through rapture and ecstasy! Firstly pianistic tintinabulations sought to comfort the viola’s sorrowful sighings, but then tried a different tack, building huge blocks of sound with progressive portentous chords, the viola running between the great columns of sound towards the growing light, becoming more and more excited, and finally throwing itself into the piano’s open arms in a passionately-voiced embrace, an unashamed love-song!

From this it seemed at first something of a Brahmsian (sorry, Ben!) take on an Elizabethan melody, rich and pulsating! But both musicians were inspired at this stage, moving with ease and fluency into those leaner, sparser, more focused realms of Elizabethan sensibility – Peter Barber’s viola “centered” the melody as if it were a prayer, and Catherine McKay’s piano song resounded like a lute paying homage to love. How touching it all seemed by the end – more powerfully so, I think, by Britten’s deconstruction of his own sound world to connect with Dowland’s.

My apologies to the reader for indulging thus far in what seems far more like a fanciful commentary on the music itself rather than the performance of it – though having never seen nor heard the music previously, my remarks above can be taken as a set of reflections on the way it was played and interpreted, just as relevantly as regarding the actual work.

I almost needed somewhere to go and lie down after such an intense listening experience – but there was no rest for the wicked, as, after a short re-alignment of things we were off again, this time into a world of expression the previous composer loved to hate! The work by Brahms was a transcription by the composer of a sonata originally written for clarinet, one of two such pieces (incidentally both have been thus transcribed, to my great delight!).

The string timbres really make the sonata a freshly-minted work, more youthful, immediate and “striving” I think than does the rather more serene, somewhat Wordsworthian clarinet. Thus it was that, despite its opus number it seemed in places a young man’s work, borne out especially by the piano part. In places, it’s really of an order of difficulty which another pianist at the concert with me confirmed afterwards, by laughingly describing a certain sequence on the opening pages as “a pianist’s graveyard”!

Catherine McKay’s playing was, however, seized with such purposeful focus that the music, spills and all, leapt off the page most satisfyingly!  Neither player emerged completely unscathed from the more agitated of the opening exchanges, but the energy and teamwork was of an order that carried the music’s message with all the élan and presence that one would want for these sounds.

No let-up for the second movement’s Allegro appassionato – at the outset a dark, impetuous waltz-like trajectory gripped the music’s order, Peter Barber’s playing digging deeply into the instrument’s tones, and Catherine McKay’s in turn responding with real heft and passionate utterance. What a gorgeous hynm-like middle section this work has! – part ceremony, part deep forest mythology music, the Old St.Paul’s piano speaking in suitably nostalgic, somewhat forte-piano-like tones in places, charming and even rustic in effect. Processional-like, too, was the Andante con moto opening of the finale, in these players’ hands sounding like a “turn for home”, the tones and phrasings speaking to this listener of places “where the heart is”.

The variations that followed explored both according and contrasting exchanges between the instruments, with the players barely able to contain themselves in the excitable fifth variation, piano, then viola tearing into the fray, pulling the melody about every which way!  Finally the sounds were allowed a brief few moments of composure before a brilliant and emphatic coda gave us an ending we acclaimed with enthusiasm.

Rare and strange to find oneself within what seemed a matter of hours back in that same building, with the previous day’s concert’s tribute to Norbert Heuser still faintly resonating as people gathered for the memorial service. Came spoken tributes and more music from family and friends and ex-colleagues – daughter Brigitte Heuser sang JS Bach’s Erbarme dich mein Gott from the St.Matthew Passion, and a quartet of string-players performed Haydn, the “Emperor” Quartet’s well-known Adagio cantabile – and we watched projected images and heard recordings of other music that, with the spoken reminiscences very properly brought both laughter and tears. Life, as with music-making and concert-giving, is what happens when you’re planning something else. What happened here – sadly, not the life’s “something else” that was originally planned – was instead a response to the unforeseen that was on all sides affecting and memorable.





R.S.Thomas – a centenary remembered in poetry, scripture and music

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul presents:
Choral Evensong marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Priest-Poet R. S. Thomas

Choir of Wellington Cathedral of St.Paul,
Director of Music: Michael Stewart
Sermon: Rev. Dr. Tim McKenzie

Wellington Cathedral of St.Paul

29th September 2013

R. S. Thomas was a 20th Century Anglican Priest-Poet who died in the year 2000 after 40 years in the priesthood. He was a passionate Welsh nationalist, and a pacifist active in the C20th Nuclear Disarmament movement. Throughout his life he expressed his  spiritual explorations in poetry whose highly abstract language would sound unfamiliar to most young ears today. Over his ministry he moved progressively further and further from urban centres to ever more rural environments which doubtless nurtured his deeply contemplative writing. A revealing snapshot of the man and his life can be found at

Some of his poetry is, however, fresh and unambiguous, such as The Bright Field which was selected for the Introit at this Evensong service. Exquisitely set to music by former Kings Singer Bob Chilcott, the choral idioms were perfectly suited to the Wellington Cathedral, with the sound floating free and un-muddied by the acoustics. This is a startling feat, given the reverberation times typical of such churches, but then Chilcott was Kings College trained in the long traditions of English church choirs and the huge spaces they often sing in. The Cathedral choir did full justice to the beauty of both music and words:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The following Evensong service observed the traditional format with the theme being set by the First Lesson read in the King James version from Isaiah 45:1-8 – the godhead is hidden and entirely beyond human reach or comprehension. Traditional Welsh hymns were selected in keeping with the R. S. Thomas theme: God, that madest earth and heaven (Ar hyd y nos), Immortal, invisible, God only wise (St. Denio), and Guide me, O thou great Redeemer (Cwm Rhondda). These were all conveyed to full breadth and effect with the support of the cathedral choir and acoustics, despite an only modest congregation.

Both the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were Leighton settings which were realised by choir and organist very much in the European cathedral tradition –a wide dynamic range was used to full dramatic effect, from the blast of triple forte to breathless hushed pianissimo, expressing the whole gamut from divine majesty to mystery in the godhead imagery. The acoustics of the cathedral ruled out any possibility of clear diction, but this too is very much in the European tradition of creating an atmosphere of awe and devotion through the powerful medium of the music.

The second lesson from John 6: 63-69 was read in a modern translation which seemed a less appropriate choice than the King James within the context of this particular Evensong; but the Anthem, composed by Director of Music Michael Stewart, was a very effective setting of R. S. Thomas’s haunting poem “The Other”, which was beautifully rendered by the musicians:

There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl
far off and a fox barking
miles away. It is then that I lie
in the lean hours awake listening
to the swell born somewhere in
the Atlantic
rising and falling, rising and
wave on wave on the long shore
by the village that is without
and companionless. And the
thought comes
of that other being who is
awake, too,
letting our prayers break on him,
not like this for a few hours,
but for days, years, for eternity.

 The service closed with Vaughan Williams’ organ voluntary on the Welsh hymn tune Hyfrydol.  This concluded an Evensong which offered a very interesting and rounded insight into R. S. Thomas, not only through an apposite selection of music and verse, but also through the obvious commitment from both musicians and preacher to conveying a meaningful understanding of the man and his works.



Cantatas in their proper place at St.Paul’s Lutheran


Cantata BWV 47 “Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden”

Rebecca Woodmore (soprano) / Jenny Potter (alto) / John Beaglehole (tenor)

Timothy Hurd (bass)

Richard Apperley (director)

Ensemble Abendmusik (leader: Martin Jaenecke)

St.Paul’s Lutheran Church,

King St., Mt.Cook, Wellington

Saturday 29th September, 2012

In presenting performances of JS Bach’s sacred cantatas in their original liturgical settings, Wellington’s St.Paul’s Lutheran Church is unique in New Zealand. The church is part of a network of world-wide Lutheran worship offering this same ministry, including the composer’s own St.Thomas’s Church in Leipzig.

This practice was established at St.Paul’s in 2007 by Mark Whitfield,  President of the Lutheran Church in New Zealand, and Pastor at St.Paul’s in Wellington since 2001.  Prior to this he had taken up a scholarship to complete a Master of Sacred Music Degree at Luther Seminary and St.Olaf College, Minnesota, where he majored in organ (his skill on the instrument evident at various times during the service in which this cantata was presented).

Collaborating in this ongoing enterprise are well-known choral conductor and organ recitalist Richard Apperley, and a group of singers and instrumentalists who perform under the name of Ensemble Abendmusik – the group’s personnel varies from occasion to occasion, depending upon the performers’ availability and according to the requirements of each cantata. This is the second such performance I’ve attended, and the singers and some of the musicians were different on each occasion.

The church itself is smallish, and has a chamber organ, though its vaulted ceiling does give the sounds of the music some resonating-space.  The first time I attended one of these services the day outside was gloomy and grey, and something of the oppressive atmosphere seemed to colour the proceedings – however, my recent experience had a completely different ambience, everything warm and glowing  from the late afternoon sunbeams which had found their way inside the space, so that I felt a kind of sacramental ‘illuminating from within” this time round.

The service in each case “framed” the cantata performance, choral singing preceded by chorale preludes played on the organ, and liturgical prayers, responses and chanting, and followed by some preaching, readings from the Bible and prayer and singing. The congregation was asked not to “applaud” the music presentations during the course of the service, keeping the focus throughout on the overall service and its various acts of worship, of which the cantata performance was an integral part.

When it came to the cantata, following the Epistle and Gospel readings and a congregational “Magnificat” composed by a sixteenth-century composer Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi, the music seemed to flow from the performers as part of a continuum, rather than resemble something brought in for the occasion. The work was BWV 47 Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden (Whoever exalts himself will be abased) – and its instrumental opening brought forth playing whose sweet tones and simple, direct focus seemed to draw both strength and beauty from its purpose as much as its intrinsic value. The quartet of soloists, though varying in strength and projection of voices, made the most of the opening fugal chorus, with only a slight uncertainty of attack at the harmonic lurch into the movement’s coda.

The soprano soloist, Rebecca Woodmore, I liked very much indeed – her aria featured strong, direct vocalizing, and graceful handling of the long lines. Martin Jaenecke’s solo violin obbligato supported her truly almost all the way, perhaps tiring a little during the reprise after the aria’s central, more agitated section, where the intonation was less consistent. During this vigorous middle section, the soprano caught the sense of anger and agitation in her singing, even if some of the figurations were blurred at speed – still, the energy and bite made a telling contrast with the aria’s outer sections.

Bass Timothy Hurd relished the juicy admonitions of his recitative text, with references to “Du, armer Wurm”, giving the delivery proper force and colour. His aria, Jesu, beuge douche mien Herz (Jesus, bow down my heart) was a bit more effortful, the voice having to be pushed through the lines, with breath occasionally an issue – though he managed to inflect the text tellingly in places, while keeping his tones true and focused. I wished we had heard a little more of the alto and tenor as well, but the work had no “solos” for either of them.

Instrumental lines (Jane Young’s ‘cello work a particular delight) nicely augmented the work of soloists and chorus, the final chorale a case in point, which here received a properly dignified rendition – one had a real sense of Bach’s work as music that contributed to a community’s expression of spiritual strength and determination. At the end of the service we were able to express our appreciation of the performers, which also included the auspices of the church and its ministers. The result of all of these people’s efforts seemed to me something eminently rich and worthwhile.