A solo tour-de-force from violinist Monique Lapins

St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series
MONIQUE LAPINS (solo violin)
A concert for solo violin – music by Georg Philipp Telemann,
Erwin Schulhoff, and Jacob Ter Veldhuis (a.k.a. Jacob T.V.)

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace Church

Wednesday, 8th June 2022

I left this concert on a high, and started composing my notes and comments on the way home in the bus!

One violin, one solitary violinist at the centre of the stage, and a program of music largely unfamiliar to concert audiences; this promised to be an exceptional musical experience. Monique Lapins is a very versatile musician, a member of the NZ String Quartet, of the Ghost Trio with Gabriela Glapska (piano) and Ken Ichinose (cello) and, of the contemporary group, Ensemble Gô. She presented a programme that ranged from the first half of the eighteenth century to the 21st century – all on just four strings!

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1761)
Fantasias for solo Violin – No. 1 in B-flat TWV 40.14 / No.6 in E Minor TWV 40.19 / No. 7 in E-flat Major  TWV 40.20

Telemann, a contemporary of JS Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, was a self-taught and immensely prolific composer. He wrote operas, church music (cantatas and oratorios), orchestral and chamber music, keyboard and other instrumental music (both concertos and works for various solo instruments). Among these were 12 Fantasias for solo violin.

The great violin makers of the age, Nicola Amati and Stradivari in Italy, and Jacob Stainer and the Klotz family in Germany, greatly exploded the potential of the simple fiddle. These Fantasias, like Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin should be seen in this light, that complex polyphonic music can  be produced, played on a simple instrument with only four strings.

These works, based on elaborations of simple dance tunes and rhythms evolve into major musical statements, involving technically challenging double-stopping and rapid, spectacular ornamentation. Monique Lapins played these with a clear tone that easily filled the hall – she articulated each phrase distinctly so that they each became part of a musical narrative. She played with ease, as if these complex dance fragments had come to her spontaneously.

Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942)
Sonata for Solo Violin (1927)

Schulhoff was a significant Czech composer from the post-World War One years, who experimented with the new styles of music which emerged in the wake of the cataclysm of the war. This Sonata opened with a fast, manic first movement, followed by a slower movement that was tinged with sadness and nostalgia. Then came a scherzo with folksy rhythms, and finally a movement made up of more barbarous sounds of a kind the composer intended would shock the status quo.

The whole Sonata, but particularly the last two movements evoked Bartok’s use of Hungarian peasant songs and dances, but Schulhoff also employed tone rows, the result of the influence of Schoenberg and his school. It is a fiendishly difficult piece, seldom heard; and yet an important work from the 20th Century’s violin repertoire.

Jacob Ter Veldhuis – a.k.a. Jacob T.V. (b.1951)
The Garden of Love, for violin and soundtrack (2022)

Another war, with further destruction of civilisation, and here was another composer of this later time, exploring what others such as Steve Reich were doing with their music. The Garden of Love is a poem by William Blake, whose words here are uttered in sound-bytes, together with others from voices, oboes, harpsichord, bird-song and electronic sound. The violin is here in dialogue with the machine producing these sounds. It must have been incredibly difficult to keep this dialogue going in a convincing manner, but to the great credit of Monique Lapins she did this, so that the audience was at first puzzled and bewildered, but responded to the challenge by the end.

This was an amazing and unique concert, quite unlike other violin recitals. It’s a great pity that Radio NZ’s Concert Programme no longer records concerts like this. There was a time when people could share such musical experiences no matter where they lived, anywhere from Kaitaia to the Bluff., with those who were fortunate enough to live in the main centres Perhaps with the shakeup of Radio NZ and TVNZ room will be found for those whose interests go beyond the latest popular tunes, nostalgia and selected news handouts, even if there is no money in it and no-one makes a profit. There is value in expanding and challenging the interests and cultural horizons of people, citizens, taxpayers, no matter where they live.

Steadfast Wellington Chamber Orchestra brings off an exhilarating concert to finish an eventful year

Wellington Chamber Orchestra presents:

R.STRAUSS – Wind Serenade for 13 instruments
VIVALDI – Double Flute Concerto
ARNOLD – English Dances (Set One)
TCHAIKOVSKY – Symphony No. 2 in C Minor Op.17  “Little Russian”

Kirstin Eade and Bridget Douglas (flutes)
Ian Ridgewell (conductor)
Wellington Chamber Orchestra

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday, 12th December 2021

Congratulations right at the outset are in order to whomever devised such a scintillating programme for the Wellington Chamber Orchestra to finish this remarkably unpredictable year of years with!  It certainly was one that made up in part for earlier schedules being plagued by the vagaries of Covid-19 and the resulting ripplings of disruption! Here we were freely delivered plenty of satisfyingly full-blooded excitements and festive revelries, side-by-side with contrasting episodes of great beauty, resonant circumspection and purposeful action – a living, breathing entity of life-giving expression!

A lot of the credit must go to conductor Ian Ridgewell, whose direction of much of this eclectic range of music was focused and very much to the point, directly and unfussily intent upon bringing out the music’s “character” in each of the pieces presented. I liked how the conductor left the flute duo of Bridget Douglas and Kirsten Eade entirely free to interact with the continuo instruments in the Vivaldi Concerto’s slow movement as if sharing amongst themselves some exquisite chamber music!  Just occasionally elsewhere I felt a slight “tug” of discrepancy between the conductor and his players, most notably in the Tchaikovsky Symphony’s Andantino movement, the strings in particular wanting to push the march rhythm along more tautly in places – and there were dovetailing difficulties aplenty between orchestral sections in the same work’s treacherous Scherzo movement that required watchful shepherding from the podium!

The concert began most winningly with the early (1882) Richard Strauss work for winds, the piece a kind of homage by the seventeen year-old composer to Mozart’s own Wind Serenade in B-flat Major for the same number of instruments (Mozart’s work is sometimes performed with a string bass, sometimes with a contrabassoon), one obviously a model for Strauss.  I thought the performance by the WCO winds a most affectionate one, a beautifully easeful opening, with the contourings of melodic lines both gorgeous-sounding and characterful, and the different dynamic levels of the music consistently producing ear-catching results. I particularly liked the sonorous contribution of the tuba to the music’s foundations, and relished the crunchiness of the harmonic changes that accompanied the oboe’s lead-in to the piece’s second half. The ensemble’s blend grated ever so slightly once or twice in places during the latter half, but the final paragraph of the work, with its beautiful ascending flute-line, was most felicitously essayed by all concerned.

I was surprised to learn that the Vivaldi Concerto for two flutes and strings was the composer’s only essay for this combination, particularly as the soloists Bridget Douglas and Kirsten Eade amply demonstrated the manifold delights of the work’s seemingly endless invention, aided by some on-the-spot playing from the WCO strings in the outer movements. Straightaway the music captivated one’s attention with its gaiety and exhilarating energies, the dynamics placing solo-instrument delicacies alongside rumbustious tuttis that made the most of both the contrasted and concerted sounds. Though short, the work added a dimension of intimacy with the player-directed slow movement (simply flutes and continuo – two ‘cellos and a harpsichord), beautiful canonic writing alternating with passages in thirds – exquisite in effect!

Ian Ridgewell returned to direct the finale, consisting of more gallivanting and frolicking in Vivaldi’s most ingratiating style, though closer attention also heightened my appreciation of both the composer’s and the players’ skills in realising the singular beauties of the music’s interspersing of solo, chamber and ripieno sequences. It all demonstrated how the composer’s justly famous “Four Seasons” concerti ought to be a “starting-point” and not merely a “one-work” experience for the Vivaldi listener!

To my great delight, Bridget Douglas and Kirstin Eade acknowledged the concerto’s brevity by way of playing us an encore, the final movement from a work by an American composer, Gary Schocker, Three Dances for Two Flutes and Piano, one divertingly subtitled Coffee Nerves, Prestissimo! It’s a very bluesy-vigorous piece with driving rhythms for the flutes in unison lines breaking occasionally into thirds, and with the piano (played by Heather Easting, who had also contributed the harpsichord part in the  Vivaldi concerto’s continuo) punctuating the discourse with droll interludes – also one of the flutes (Kirstin’s on this occasion) indulged in startlingly “ornery” deviations, which were “coaxed” back into seemliness by the other flute – an interesting relationship between the two!

Malcolm Arnold’s invigoratingly breezy English Dances (the first of two sets of four of these) came next, works I’ve always loved for their colour, energy and original inspiration (the melodic invention throughout is the composer’s own, rather than the pieces being orchestrated versions of English folk-songs). I greatly prize a set of these richly and lovingly recorded by Arnold himself, though Ian Ridgewell’s direction took a rather more direct and vigorous view of the music, the opening Andantino’s bell-like awakenings on the move here right from the outset, and a central section sounding like a fairground in the middle of the countryside! If a shade raucous in full tutti, this could be put down to the effect of a largish orchestra playing in a smallish venue. Amends were made by lovely descending wind figurations at the piece’s end.

More chimings, this time vigorous and arresting, were brought into play throughout the second movement’s Vivace, with great work from the horns and winds throughout, the brasses capturing the music’s roisterings most excitingly, and the tutti filled with ear-catching detail.  The following Mesto (“sad and pensive”) flipped the mood of the sounds into melancholy, with tremolando strings, harp and bassoon joined by strings in a most authentic-sounding folk-melody, the wind-choir also making the most of their expressive opportunities, a strongly-focused mood beautifully sustained throughout by the players.

The final dance, Allegro Risoluto, allowed conductor and players to really let their hair down, the uproarious opening “nailed” by the brasses, here, punctuated by squawks of approval from the winds, catching the music’s unbuttoned and celebratory mood – I particularly loved the sound of the tuba’s star turn, egged on by the winds! The whole performance resounded with high spirits and jocularity, the composer here mercifully untroubled by the mental storms and stresses which throughout his life beset his sense of well-being.

A similar sense of well-being over-riding troubles and anxieties also permeates Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony which took up the concert’s second half. Called the “Little Russian” (though not by its composer) because of the frequency of its use of Ukrainian folk melodies, the music has a joyous energy throughout, which the playing readily capitalised upon, coming to fruition in the final movement with its racily colourful variations on a folksong called “The Crane”. I particularly enjoyed the “Russian Sailors’ Dance”-like energies of the strings in places, along with the finely-played antiphonal brass calls punctuating the blending of the finale’s two themes, and the skitterish sequence which featured the piccolo (beautifully played) and the other winds towards the work’s end, immediately prior to the tam-tam stroke which calls the band to order for the work’s “give it all you’ve got” coda!

The horn-playing at the symphony’s beginning beautifully set the atmosphere, carried forward by soulful wind-playing, building the tensions towards the allegro’s snappy beginning, both winds and strings excitingly on the button! Ridgewell kept things on a tight rein throughout, getting good ensemble from the players, though I thought he might have allowed the second allegro subject a bit more breathing-space, the players sounding a little “pushed” here and there. However, the lead-back to the horn’s repeat of its opening solo was nicely controlled, the playing leaving us eager for more.

The March was beautifully brought into being, even if the strings seemed to want to slightly push ahead of the winds’ pointed drolleries – when the march rhythms resumed after the heart-easing middle-section, some of the opening “swagger” seemed by then flattened out, but the grandly ceremonial utterance of the “tune” was brought off nicely by strings and brasses. The Scherzo was a mixed bag, with the dovetailed syncopated figures struggling at times to “fit themselves in” – however the Trio worked beautifully, with the winds enjoying themselves, the flutes being especially on the ball (a lovely solo over pizzicato strings), and with clarinets, oboes and bassoons in full accord.

Altogether, a most successful concert, and a heart-warming way to conclude a somewhat troubled season – and how encouraging to be given notice of the orchestra’s plans for 2022 as well, consisting of four varied concerts, the first commemorating the band’s 50th Anniversary season! One wishes all involved in the undertaking the very best for it!

 

Dramatic and innovative Haydn in the Church from Camerata with soprano Carleen Ebbs

Camerata – Haydn in the Church

HANDEL – Overture Berenice
HAYDN –  Scena di Berenice (from Metastatio’s “Antigono”)*
HAYDN – Symphony No. 14 in A Hob 1:14

*Carleen Ebbs (soprano)
Camerata
Anne Loeser (leader)

St.Peter’s-on-Willis-St
Wellington

Friday, 5th November 2021

At the end of a busy and distracted Friday I found myself headed for St.Peter’s-on-Willis-St Church for Camerata’s latest “Haydn in the Church” concert series, which I’d been looking forward to ever since attending and enjoying the last one, though on this occasion I’d not been as assiduous in my preparation for the evening’s music as per usual – I had seen the programme on-line a couple of days previously, and was, of course expecting the accustomed delight of an early Haydn symphony to match that readily afforded by others in the series thus far, but I found myself scratching all about my memory-banks to recall what else I’d glimpsed on the  items “list”. I definitely recalled a soprano’s name, and an operatic scene to do with “Berenice”, which I had always thought was a work by Handel! – so I think at that point I gave up the conscious struggle, and consoled myself at the thought of everything being “revealed” once I’d gotten into the church.

Even then I didn’t get my hands on an actual programme, but  did talk briefly with Greg Hill, who was sitting next to me in a socially-distanced sense, and who actually had written the programme notes for the concert – at the interval he was able to confirm that there had been both a Handel and a Haydn work, each with the name Berenice, on the items list! So I had been on the right track after all.

I knew the Menuetto from Handel’s “Berenice” as my parents had owned a 78rpm disc of the work which I’d often heard when a child, and still remembered. This was, however, the whole of the Overture, a sprightly beginning, with the dotted rhythms beautifully “sprung”, leading to an Allegro whose trajectory had a joyous kind of enlivening energy, the oboe attractively colouring the string textures. The Menuetto featured the oboe-and-string sound prominently at first, before the strings repeated the material, playing the concluding lines of the second part with a beautiful and graceful legato. A lively Gigue rounded off the Overture in suitably festive fashion.

The name of the soprano Carleen Ebbs was one to conjure with, as she had made a richly favourable impression on the one occasion I’d previously seen and heard her, as the nymph Calisto in Cavalli’s eponymous opera, performed in 2015 by Days Bay Opera – on that occasion I was moved to voice the opinion that “Ebbs’ is a voice to listen out for”. She’s now returned to New Zealand after being based in London for 15 years, training at the Guildhall in London and at the Cardiff International Voice Academy, and working with a variety of prestigious coaches and at the great UK Opera Houses.

On the strength of her performance this evening of Haydn’s 1795 Scena di  Berenice, that promise, evident in the Days Bay La Calisto, has been more than fulfilled – Ebbs took us right inside the character of Berenice’s plethora of moods from the outset, capturing our sympathies from the very opening recitative Berenice che fai?, in which she first bemoans her own fear and weakness at the prospect of her lover Demetrio’s death, then expresses a longing to die alongside her beloved, through to the first impassioned aria in which the singer begs to be allowed to “cross that river” with him; and, finally, in some kind of delirium, raging against the cruelty of the gods with a fiery vocal brilliance throughout a second recitative and aria, the music storming to a passionate (and virtuosic) conclusion – tremendous stuff!

It seems from her website information that Ebbs has commitments in the UK regarding ongoing tutelage, and has already made the most of freelancing opportunities with various UK companies, activities which would have established her as a “sought-after” performer, particularly with her avowed enthusiasm for Baroque and early classical repertoire – whatever the uncertainties of the present situation world-wide regarding opportunities for performing musicians, one hopes for her continued successes, including, wherever possible, more appearances back here in New Zealand.

While all eyes (and ears) were on the singer during the drama of Haydn’s “scena”, the ensemble again became the centre of focus for the performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 14, the latest in Camerata’s exploration of the composer’s early symphonies. I note that, in a diverting on-line Classic FM post which featured a music critic asked to numerically “rank” the qualities of ALL of these  works, the hapless commentator gave this Symphony No.14 a high rating, after according some of the other “early” works what I thought were some unduly harsh verdicts regarding their “quality” – this A  Major work Hob 1:14 was actually placed 35th, ahead of many other “tried-and-true” works such as the “Military”, the “Farewell” and the “Surprise” symphonies – doubtless a case of “chacun a son goût” with the choices, as much as any other considerations!

This work’s high-spirited opening featured a repeated octave descent, followed afterwards by an even more vertiginous downward leap of a 10th (I think!), giving the music an attractively energetic character underpinned by the unrelenting bass line – I loved the horns’ ascents into high-wire material,  the oboes providing a less strenuous “echo” effect with their material, joining forces with the horns to great effect in the development, before the energetic rhythms marshalled their forces, the splendid playing driving the music to a part festive, part rustic conclusion.

The Andante moves a dignified but characterful processional along its course, the striding aspect of the melody augmented with graceful decorative notes upon repetition, the strings alone supplying the melodic interest. More fun was to be had from the Minuet (Menuetto)  with its ceremonial horns and chuckling winds, though the oboe introduced a sombre note with its minor-key melody in the trio – all very pastoral, with its hunting-horn ambiences and touches of out-of-doors melancholy!

The finale builds its material almost entirely on a descending figure (the reason for the aforementioned “critic” rating the work’s cleverness and innovation so highly), giving the whole movement a festive, bell-like atmosphere. Here the playing imparted a real sense of “schwung”, the musicians seeming to make their instruments dance to the joyous strains of the figurations, alternating delicacy with delight, and grace with energy. As is often the case with delectable pleasures, it all seemed over in a trice – so it was a good thing that Anne Loeser bade us remain for an “encore”, one which happened to continue the concert’s connection with the story from which Haydn’s scena had been taken. This was an excerpt from Gluck’s Overture to his opera seria Antigono, one which again featured the character of Berenice, the Egyptian princess in love with Demetrio, son of the King of Macedonia, to which monarch Berenice had been “promised” in marriage. Being Gluck, the music had a lyrical “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” quality, the two flutes adding to the ethereal character of the string-writing, and the sensitive accompaniments similarly transported, the whole given a resonant “music of the spheres” kind of sonority, which continued to enchant the senses long after the sounds had ceased.

 

 

 

Individual and ensembled tributes to JS Bach from Pohl-Gjelsten and Friends at an inspired St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert

J.S. Bach: Chaconne from Partita in D minor
Helene Pohl, violin

Eugene Ysaye: Sonata No. 5 for solo violin
Peter Gjelsten, violin

Johannes Brahms: Sonata in E minor
Rolf Gjelsten, cello, Nicole Chan, piano

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series 2021

Thursday 14th October

J.S. Bach: Chaconne from Partita in D minor
A well planned concert has an underlying narrative. In this case it was twofold, Bach, and the scope of a solo violin. Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin are landmarks in the violin repertoire and indeed in the development of the violin as a solo instrument. The Chaconne is the final movement of the second Partita. The great violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, describes it as “the greatest structure for solo violin that exists”  (Menuhin, Yehudi. 2001. Unfinished Journey,) It involves a set of variations based on a simple phrase repeated in harmonic progression in the bass line, but for the present day listener it evokes a whole world of emotions, and for the performer a whole array of technical challenges. Although by Bach’s time works for solo violins were well established, with Biber and Telemann among others writing pieces for solo violin, there was nothing comparable to this monumental work. Bach develops 64 variations from the simple basic theme of four measures. These become increasingly complex of increasing emotional intensity. It may, or may not have been written in memory of Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, who died during a time while Bach was away, but there is no historical evidence for this apart from the date of composition. Helen Pohl’s performance was absolutely convincing. Her playing was clear and unforced as she did justice to the contrasts within the piece and played with a beautiful rich tone. It was a moving performance.

Eugene Ysaye: Sonata No. 5 for solo violin
Although Ysaye was quite a prolific composer, he is now mainly remembered for his six solos sonatas for violin, each dedicated to an eminent violinist, No. 5 to Mathieu Crickboom, second violin of the Ysaye Quartet for a time. Ysaye himself was one of the great violinists of his era, an exponent of the French- Belgian school of violin playing of the tradition of Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps. He was a friend of Debussy and César Franck. Ysaye’s solos sonatas are fiendishly difficult. No.5 is in two sections ,L’Aurore, atmospheric, evoking the mood of the dawn, and Danse Rustique, with its strong rhythms, that of a peasant dance. The piece has a whole bag of tricks, double stop chords, harmonics, fast passages on top of held notes, plucked pizzicatos marking the melodic line of double stops, demonstrating what is possible to play on a violin. It is a great challenge for a young violinist on threshold of his career. Peter Gjelsten coped with these difficulties amazingly well. He gave a convincing reading to this seldom-heard piece .

Johannes Brahms: Sonata in E minor
This is a passionate and lyrical work, written when Brahms was 30 and had just arrived in Vienna. It is one of the few memorable cello sonatas of the nineteenth century. Brahms thought of it as a homage to Bach, and indeed he quotes from the Art of Fugue in the fugal passage of the third movement, but Brahms’ world is very different from that of Bach. This a world in which the emotional world of the artist is paramount. Although the form of the piece is strictly that of classical sonata, it is far from the restrained expression of Bach’s age. It is a very captivating work that calls for a deeply felt response from performer and listener alike. Rolf Gjelsten and Nicole Chao played it as a like minded partnership. Gjelsten played with a lyrical singing tone beautifully balanced by the piano. Emanuel Ax, the great American pianist, wrote in his notes for his recording of this work with Yo-Yo Ma that “The cello is often the bass support of the entire harmonic structure, and the piano is often in the soprano in both hands. This constant shifting of registers, with the cello now above, now below, now in between the hands of the pianist, creates an intimate fusing of the two instruments, so that there is no feeling of a more important voice that is continuous – the lead is constantly shifting.”

We have heard Nicole Chao as half of the delightful Duo Enharmonics, a piano duo with Beth Chen, Peter Gjelsten was the soloist with the Wellington Youth Orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto last week, while Helen Pohl and Rolf Gjelsten are half of the the NZ String Quartet. Like many of the St. Andrews concerts, this lunchtime concert celebrated the vast pool of musical talent in Wellington.

 

Sounds of friendship from Vieux Amis at Wellington Chamber Music’s St.Andrew’s concert

Wellington Chamber Music presents:
Vieux Amis (Old friends)

Arvo Pärt Für Alina / JS Bach Viola da Gamba Sonata in D Major, BMW 1028

Arvo Pärt mozart adagio / JS Bach Violin Sonata in E Major, BMW 1016

Dmitri Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op. 87.No. 4 /

Piano Trio No.2 in E minor Op. 67

Vieux Amis –
Justine Cormack (violin) / James Bush (’cello) / Sarah Watkins (piano)

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday, 15th August 2021

Vieux Amis (Justine Cormack, James Bush and Sarah Watkins), are old friends indeed. They grew up together in Christchurch, they were neighbours and long-standing colleagues, and their bonds run deep. They put together an innovative programme of music that is, apart from the Shostakovich Trio,  seldom heard in concerts. To add to the innovative aspect of the programme, they asked the audience not to applaud between the Arvo Pärt and the Bach works, and between the Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue and the Trio, so that these pieces became introductions to what followed.

Arvo Pärt Für Alina

This is a simple piece, but its simplicity is deceptive. The music follows strict mathematical rules, the melody grows by one note in each bar, reaching its maximum of eight notes, then it begins to diminish again. The free-flowing melody is united throughout the piece with the so-called tintinnabuli, bell like voice. The long pedalled and held notes are separated by significant pause. This is considered to be one of the most significant works of all Arvo Pärts oeuvre. Its performance requires very sensitive reading attuned not only to the changing notes, but also to the silences separating them. It was a very appropriate introduction to the Bach Sonatas, preparing listeners for the subtleties of the complex baroque works that folloowed.

Johann Sebastian Bach Viola da Gamba Sonata in D Major, BMW 1028

Although this sonata was written for the viola da gamba, it was played by James Bush on a modern cello, with its more powerful tone. He played it with a beautiful, rich, romantic, sound, and the performance was more pleasing for that. The sonata starts with a gentle adagio and a lovely interplay between the cello and the keyboard. The second movement is an unhurried dance movement, the third is a meditative slow movement with keyboard and cello evaluating each evolving phrase, while the last movement is again a relaxed joyful dance. Parts of this sonata were used  in Bach’s St Matthew Passion [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonatas_for_viola_da_gamba_and_harpsichord_(Bach)]

Arvo Pärt mozart adagio

This is an arrangement, or more appropriately, a reinterpretation of the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F minor, K. 280. Pärt explores new sonorities between the strings and piano.

Johann Sebastian Bach Violin Sonata in E Major, BMW 1016

Like the viola da gamba sonatas, these sonatas with keyboard are, unlike the solo partitas and sonatas, seldom played in concerts. They follow the pattern of sonatas by Corelli and Handel, but are more complex, more ornamented. The second movement of this sonata echoes Bach’s earthy cantatas such as the Peasant Cantata. Like James Bush on the cello, Justine Cormack made no concession to the tradition of authentic baroque performance. She played with a vigorous, full-bodied violin tone and her performance was more interesting and enjoyable for that, and appropriate for present day musical tastes. She shed a contemporary light on this seldom heard work.

Dmitri Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op. 87.No. 4

It was inspired programming to follow the Bach Sonata with one of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues, which were tributes to Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues. But these were written in 1950, in the shadow of the Second World War and the brutal twilight years of Stalin’s reign. Although the form is Bach’s, the language is very much Shostakovich’s Russian idiom. No. 4 of the Preludes and Fugues is full of despair and sorrow which served as a very appropriate prologue to the great Piano Trio No, 2 that followed without a break.

Dmitri Shostakovich Piano Trio No.2 in E minor Op. 67

This Trio is one of the greatest chamber music works of the twentieth century. It was written in 1944 in the midst of the Second World War. Right from the barely audible harmonics on the cello, followed by the violin then the piano, we know that we are in for music that captures the profound sadness of the time. The earthy themes would have sounded corny in anyone else’s hands, but in Shostakovich’s hands they make a point about the universality of the message of the music. One can read all sorts of things into the manic second movement, but there is no doubt about the tragic sadness of the third movement. The last movement uses a klezmer theme, stated by pizzicato on the violin and then elaborated until the sad yet jaunty music dissolves into the final tragic adagio, the violin reiterating tearfully the klezmer theme. Shostakovich was said to have said “The distinguishing feature of Jewish music is the ability to build a jolly melody on sad intonations. Why does a man strike up a jolly song? Because he is sad at heart.” Shostakovich was aware of the fate of the Jews and the Babi Yar massacre, but this music is not just about Jews. It is about the great tragedy of the war and perhaps of the Russian people. This is overwhelming sad music.

These three musicians, Vieux Amis, old friends, growing up in peaceful Christchurch, had the empathy to do justice to this profound work. It was deeply felt, profound performance.

The Shostakovich Trio was received by a resounding applause, quite out of character for the largely elderly audience. For an encore Vieux Amis played the Largo from Bach’s Trio Sonata.

This was an outstanding, fine concert, and the Wellington Chamber Music Society deserves our appreciation for bringing  to Wellington this group of fine artists, with their imaginative programme.

 

 

The Queen’s Closet at St.Andrew’s – a window into a seventeenth-century world of music

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series presents:

The Queen’s Closet – For the Chapel at the Table

Agostino Steffani Sinfonia from Niobe
Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky Sonata Tribus Quadrantibus
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Serenata con alter arie
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber Sonata VII, Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes
Philipp Jakob Rittler Ciaccona a 7

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

The Queen’s Closet is a baroque orchestra that uses historically inspired performance practice, on period instruments at baroque pitch. Their concerts at various venues have been reviewed on Middle C, but this is the first time that I had heard them play as part of the regular Wednesday Lunch Time Concert series at St Andrews.

The music in this programme was pleasant occasional music, but it also represented the musical world of the late seventeenth century, which was the soil from which sprouted the great works of the next generation, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann and other notable early eighteenth century composers. It was a rare opportunity to hear this music, performed by such highly skilled professional musicians.

For those used to the standard concert repertoire, this was a journey of discovery. Steffani, Vejvanovsky, Schmelzer, Rittler, and even Biber are hardly household names. The theme of the concert was music ‘for chapel and table’, music that is suitable for all occasions. The common bond of the composers was that they all worked in Hapsburg lands. The program featured works that were written for the trumpet especially. The court trumpeter was a person of significance with special privileges at the time when these pieces were written.

Agostino Steffani’s Sinfonia from Niobe featured the following musicians:

Sarah Marten, Emma Brewerton, CJ Macfarlane (violins),Sharon Lehany (hoboy), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young, Robert Ibell cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord), Gordon Lehany, Chris Woolley, Peter Maunder (trumpets) and Sam Rich – (timpani)

Steffani was a cleric and a courtier, but he was also a prolific composer, who wrote sacred works, numerous operas, songs and cantatas. This Sinfonia was from Niobe, one of his operas. It is scored for a chamber orchestra with three trumpets with a prominent timpani part.

Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky’s Sonata Tribus Quadrantibus followed, with Gordon Lehany (trumpet), Peter Maunder (sackbut), CJ Macfarlane (violin), Robert Ibell  (cello) and Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord).

Vejvanovky was one of the outstanding trumpet virtuosos of his age. One of his more remarkable talents was the ability to play certain chromatic passages on the trumpet, which is not normally possible on the largely diatonic natural trumpet.  He wrote this piece while employed at the Court of Kromeriz where he was librarian of music and music copyist as well as composer.

Next was Johann Heinrich Schmelzer’s Serenata con alter arie, with CJ Macfarlane, Emma Brewerton, Sarah Marten, Gordon Lehany (violins), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young and Robert Ibell (cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord, Peter Maunder (guitar) and Sam Rich (percussion).

Schmelzer was one of the most important violinists of his time and made substantial contribution to the development of violin technique. He was composer and musician at the Habsburg court where he was appointed Kapellmeister and was ennobled by the Emperor Leopold 1. This piece was for strings, harpsichord and percussion and song-like passages contrast with orchestral tutti.

A more familiar name is that of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, who contributed a Sonata VII, Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes to the concert, played by Gordon Lehany (trumpet), Sharon Lehany (hoboy), Sarah Marten and CJ Macfarlane  (violins), Jane Young (cello), Kris Zuelicke  (harpsichord)and Sam Rich (percussion).

Biber, like Schmelzer, was an outstanding violinist and was influenced by Schmelzer. He is now mainly remembered for his works for violin, with his sonatas seen as precursors of Bach’s solo sonatas. This sonata written for a group of instruments that includes a trumpet, and percussion is one of a set of 12. As the title suggest, these are occasional pieces that can be used in the chapel or around the table.

Finally we heard the music of Philipp Jakob Rittler – his Ciaccona a 7. This was performed by CJ Macfarlane, Sarah Marten, Emma Brewerton (violins), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young and Robert Ibell  (cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord), Peter Maunder (guitar),Gordon Lehany, Chris Woolley (trumpet), Sharon Lehany (hoboy) and Sam Rich hPercussion).

Rittler was a priest as well as a composer. He composed primarily instrumental music before 1675 and after this time he composed mainly music for the church. His instrumental pieces are distinguished by their inventive orchestration and demanding solo parts. This Ciaccona for seven parts grows from a simple ground bass that circles gently in continuo instruments, the work expands outwards, adding ever thicker and more exuberant instrumental embellishments from trumpet and strings, to turn a graceful dance into an ecstatic musical celebration, before reversing the process and dying away to nothing [https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W20784_GBLLH1852607].

The Queen’s Closet, under their musical director, Gordon Lehaney may be the only baroque orchestra in Australasia using authentic instruments, for example natural trumpets. Their presence enriches and expands the musical experience of the people of Wellington. I cannot do better than quote from the group’s website, which states their goal thus: “….TO BRING MUSIC OF THE BAROQUE ERA TO LIFE IN WAYS WHICH ARE FAITHFUL TO THE PERFORMANCE PRACTICES OF THE TIME AND MAKE IT RELEVANT AND ALIVE FOR MODERN AUDIENCES……TO PROVIDE A TRULY IMMERSIVE AND AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE OF THIS WONDERFUL MUSIC.”

Henry Purcell’s “Food of Love” at Wellington’s Cathedral of St.Paul

Wellington Cathedral’s TGIF recital series presents:
HENRY PURCELL – Songs and Duets
Anna Sedcole (soprano) / Helene Page (mezzo-soprano)
Michael Stewart (harpsichord)

Wellington Cathedral of St.Paul

Friday, 23rd July 2021

There is a particular pleasure in hearing a duet sung by two voices that are well-matched in timbre, especially when the singers obviously share not only a vocal quality but a musical sensibility and a personal rapport.  Such were the harmonies on offer at this presentation of Purcell songs, performed by old friends Anna Sedcole and Helene Page, and accompanied fluently and unobtrusively on harpsichord by Michael Stewart, the Cathedral’s Director of Music, who also happens to be married to Sedcole — completing the sense of a musical afternoon among friends.  At its best, the concert felt almost spontaneous, as if the three felt a common impulse to burst into song. Such a carefree effect, of course, bespeaks careful and devoted preparation.

The recital opened with “Music for a while” from the incidental music to Oedipus, sung by Page in a warm but austere mezzo-soprano reminiscent of a Baroque recorder. While the vast vertical space of the Cathedral did its best to swallow her low notes, she made a compelling case for the “beguiling” properties of music, which was amply borne out by the next two numbers, “Let us wander” and “Lost is my quiet.” Here we got to appreciate fully how well-suited the two voices were to each other, each striking overtones off the other that showcased Purcell’s harmonies beautifully.  Ornaments and fast-moving passages were clearly articulated for the audience to appreciate.  Next came “If music be the food of love,” showcasing Sedcole’s agile, flute-like soprano.  I especially appreciated her sensitive dynamics (again not easy given the voracity of the space) and bright, clean articulation, so necessary in this music (and the polar opposite of the viscous legato required for the Russian choral repertoire the singer would be performing the following night as a member of the Tudor Consort!).

Page then returned and the two sang a gorgeous love duet, “My dearest, my fairest,” making the most of long, languishing melismas, suspensions, resolutions, and a hocketing “no, no” at the end that recalled bird song (and made one wonder whether a tragic ending was secretly encoded in this otherwise idyllic pastoral-sounding romance.  Having now looked up the play for which Purcell wrote this song, Pausanias, the betrayer of his country: a tragedy by Richard Norton, I find it indeed precedes a scene in which the eponymous hero’s lover, Pandora, attempts to seduce his lieutenant — so Purcell seems to have caught the mood here exceptionally well).

A slight technical malfunction in the harpsichord recalled us to Michael Stewart’s labours at the keyboard, and afforded an opportunity to marvel a second time at the family likeness between Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and the opening bars of the next duet, “Sound the trumpet” (from Come Ye Sons of Art, one of the odes Purcell wrote to commemorate the birthday of Queen Mary II in 1694).  Appropriately jubilant, it was sung with fine rhythm, vigour, and precision, and went with a swing.  The next piece was a total contrast in all but the technical excellence of the performance: the slow, melancholy and poignant “O Solitude,” sung by Helene Page in a tender legato which reminded one of liquid honey, the vocal decorations — mordents and small trills — offered to the listener precise and unhurried.

The final two songs, both duets, were drawn from King Arthur, an opera I’m now extremely curious to see performed in its “Restoration spectacular” entirety.  The first of these, a duet of shepherdesses entitled “Shepherd, shepherd, leave decoying” was the highlight of the program for me: witty and nimble. I would have placed it last on the program instead of “Two daughters of this aged stream” (a song for two sirens), whose more languid tempo and theme (and final refrain of “And circle round, and circle round”) suggested intrigue rather than peroration.  Intrigue, however, was there none; the performers ended their recital promptly at the destined hour, leaving their audience satisfied but not surfeited with Baroque harmonies.

“Strings for Africa” joyously fill the vistas of St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace

Sinfonia for Hope and Stringendo presents:
STRINGS FOR AFRICA

JS BACH – Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D Minor BWV 1052
Antonio VIVALDI – Concerto for 4 Violins and ‘Cello – No.10 of Op.3 “L”estro armónico” RV 580
Gabriel FAURE – Cantique de Jean Racine (arr. for ‘cello ensemble)
JS BACH – Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 BWV 1051 (arr for viola/’cello ensemble)

Diedre Irons (piano),
Amelia Hall, Martin Riseley. Monique Lapins, Konstanze Artmann, Rupa Maitra, Martin Jaenecke, Lucas Baker, Claire Macfarlane, Sandra Logan, Sarah Marten, Robin Perks, Lucy Maurice (violins),
Sophia Acheson, Peter Barber, Elyse Dalabakis, Xi Liu (violas)
Inbal Megiddo, Heleen du Plessis (‘cellos)
Chris Everest (continuo guitar)
Stringendo
Sinfonia for Hope
Donald Maurice (conductor)

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

Back In November of 2019 I attended an event called “Cellos for Africa”, at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua City,  one described by its organisers as “a multi-institutional and multi-cultural collaboration”, featuring a variety of performing individuals and groups brought together by Heleen du Plessis and Donald Maurice. The event’s primary purpose was to raise funds for a school in Africa which had been established in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011 by New Zealander Denise Carnihan and her husband Chris. More than $8,000 was raised by this Porirua concert to support the venture, named the “Tamariki Educational Centre”, and situated in the poorest part of Nairobi. This latest concert, “Strings for Africa”, was a kind of follow-up, the funds intended to help establish a fully-fledged music programme at the school.

Both Denise and Chris Carnihan were present at this latest concert, and at the conclusion expressed their heartfelt thanks at the efforts of the event’s organisers and the assembled musicians, as well as acknowledging the support of the members of the audience. We were, throughout the evening,  treated to what could be best described as a kind of “string-fest” – if one forgot official designations and regarded Diedre Irons’ piano as a “stringed instrument”, one could indeed say that the entire company of musicians were string-players!

As befitted the occasion’s focus on the establishment of a school music programme, a goodly number of the evening’s instrumentalists were school-aged children, members of a group called Stringendo, a Wellington-based children’s string orchestra, one which opened the evening’s programme with a performance of JS Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D Minor, conducted by Donald Maurice, the soloist with the ensemble being none other than the aforementioned Diedre Irons! Playing the St.Andrew’s grand piano set back amidst the ensemble players as befitted a kind of “sinfonia concertante” work,  Irons gave a sturdily-focused and clearly-articulated reading of the first movement’s solo part, duetting most charmingly with the violins in a number of places, and plunging into a mini-cadenza which sparked and scintillated like a firecracker, the pianist’s characteristic spontaneity of manner keeping us nicely guessing as to the moment of her instrument’s reunitement with the orchestra!

The sombre, unison statement of the slow movement’s opening theme gave it all great gravity, and a modicum of tension as to its eventual destination! I enjoyed the accompanying strings “sighing tones”, a touching sensitivity evident in the young players’ relating their phrases to the soloist, and the latter in turn elaborating upon the simple, emotionally-direct string figurations. The final  episode enchanted as well, with the strings quietly joining Irons’ melodic line in unison, the utterances spare, and extremely moving!

Sprightly, energetic and animated at the outset, the finale began with the piano creating its own frisson of excitement, and the orchestra its own version of exhilaration, the notes clearly played and their energies well-conveyed. The soloist was never left unattended by the strings for long, the fount of Bach’s invention astonishingly vigorous and varied throughout, and the detailings never less than ear-catching, such as the observance of different dynamic levels and the setting of soaring lines against rapid-fire accompaniments. Irons’s solo part became somewhat fired up towards the piece’s end, but the orchestral musicians maintained active participants right to the final exchanges – well done!

One couldn’t help catching one’s breath as the soloists for the next work on the programme, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins RV 580, came on to the platform – it was as though the concert had momentarily “cornered the local market” regarding violinistic talent! With Amalia Hall and Martin Riseley on one side, and Monique Lapins with Konstanze Artmann on the other, sparks were ready and set to fly in this work, the music catching into conflagration from the very opening, Amalia Hall and Martin Riseley setting things in motions, answered by Monique Lapins and Konstanze Artmann with the ensemble’s support, straightaway establishing a dynamic variation in the exchanges by way of indicating that no stone of interpretative contrast would be left unturned.

Every solo was characteristically “eventful”, not only notes-wise, but in dynamics and antiphonal direction and its augmentation by any one or more of the “company”, the interchanges filled with the drama of variety of utterance – what to the casual listener might have at first seemed a “sameness” of texture and figuration, with the propulsive opening theme driving the music along, drew us with each repetition further into the panoply of the music’s fantastic world.

The slow movement began with a series of dramatically-delivered gestures, the big dotted-note chords alternating with shimmering arpeggiated figures for both the soloists and the ripeno  – a central episode contrasted this solemn mood with a ghostly dance, as if a chorus of sprites lurking behind the great columns of sound briefly and impishly showed themselves, enjoying their “moment” before dancing out of sight once more.

The sprightly, triple-time finale reinvigorated the sound-picture, the company bending all backs in delivering the vigorous opening theme, before each of the soloists launched by turns into an elaborately modulated discourse, Amalia Hall getting the lion’s share at first, but with the others joining in the rapid-fire exchanges, Inbal Megiddo’s cello as well reminding us at times that the concerto is actually designated “for four violins AND ‘cello” in its place in the Op.3 “L’Estro L’Armonico” collection! What else could one feel when it was all over but privileged to have “been here” to witness the euphoric joy of such music making!

The next item was “unprogrammed” in a written sense, being intended as something of a “surprise”. A group of ‘cellists currently under the tuition of Inbal Megiddo, here gave us a transcription  of an 1865 choral work by Gabriel Faure, Cantique de Jean Racine, originally a four-part work for mixed choir and keyboard. I forgot to actually count the cellists in the group, but there must have been at least eight, including Inbal herself – a gorgeously rich sound! The players infused their various lines with plenty of feeling, nicely inflected and tellingly shaped – I thought there was remarkable strength and confidence in the lead cellist’s playing (at the opposite end of the line from where Inbal was sitting). I liked the group’s intensities in the softer moments of the piece, catching the feeling as readily as during the more outwardly-expressive moments in the music, concluding with a particularly touching final phrase.

Finally, it was the turn of the Sinfonia for Hope to perform for us, an orchestral group established in 2018 for fundraising purposes supporting humanitarian causes, the present Nairobi project being the group’s 2021 focus. Before the group’s item got underway conductor Donald Maurice expressed thanks to both Inbal Megiddo and Heleen du Plessis, describing them as central to the organisation of the evening’s music-making, after which he invited the organisers of the Nairobi Project, Denise and Chris Carnihan, onto the stage as well, the couple expressing their thanks to the musicians, organisers and the audience for their support for the Nairobi venture via the evening’s musical activities. It was gratifying to be told that, as a result of this evening’s concert, the projected music programme at the “Tamariki Educational Centre” in Nairobi would be able to be established.

The Sinfonia’s item was one with a difference, a performance of JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 played by an astounding assemblage of no less than twenty-four viola players, along with a large group of ‘cellists, plus a continuo guitar, all conducted by Donald Maurice. It all began with a will, the rich massed viola sound rolling around and about the church’s vistas, each group’s phrases gleefully bouncing off the other’s with almost bumptious heft in places, though allowing ample spaces for the lines of the two ‘cello groups to come through as well. At the outset I found the reiterations of the main theme exciting when re-emphasised by each of the groups, but my ear began increasingly to listen for and appreciate the less assertive lines and phrases and their interplay, finding a different kind of excitement in the play of the “terraced” sounds at the varied dynamic levels.

The slow movement then provided the greatest possible contrast to what we had heard thus far, with solo strings and guitar continuo, the four players, Peter Barber and Sophia Acheson (violas), Inbal Megiddo (‘cello) and Chris Everest (guitar) transporting our sensibilities in the most delightful fashion, a truly memorable performance expressing such finely-wrought contrasts of light and shade, warmth and focus, and strength allied to delicacy as to disarm critical processes…..

After this, the finale’s “jolly hockey sticks” effect of the massed strings’ return brought us back down to earth in the most appropriate way, with sequences of tumbling warmth vying with moments of delicacy and playfulness.  I enjoyed the music’s modulatory swerves into more distant realms, and the dogged meticulousness of the figurations’ homeward journey to the point where the main theme relievedly gathered the threads together and roared out for the last time – what palpable pleasure there was in its final delivery, and in the audience response , a moment to acknowledge and truly cherish as a memory of the evening’s delights!

Camerata at St.Peter’s-on-Willis does Haydn (and others) proud…..

CAMERATA  – Haydn in the Church

JS BACH – Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major BWV 1049
MOZART – Serenade No. 6 in D Major K.239 “Serenata Notturna”
HAYDN – Symphony No. 13 in D Major Hob.1:13

JS Bach – Kamala Bain, Louise Cox (recorders), Anne Loeser (violin)
Mozart – Anne Loeser, Ursula Evans (violins), Victoria Jaenecke (viola),
Joan Perernau Garriga (bass), Laurence Reese (timpani)
Haydn – Ken Ichinose (‘cello)
Camerata
Anne Loeser (director)

St. Peter’s-on-Willis, Wellington

Saturday, 1st May, 2021

Camerata’s leader, Anne Loeser was kind enough to alert us to two musical anniversaries on this particular day, opening the concert at St.Peter’s-on-Willis with one, and concluding the evening’s music with another as a delightful “encore surprise”, more of the latter in a moment.  It was in fact the 300th anniversary of the presentation by JS Bach of his six Brandenburg Concertos to Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg, though not of their first performance in this form, as Bach had assembled a collection of already-composed works for purposes of the gift. No record exists of their performance for Christian Ludwig, whose ensemble in Berlin seems not to have contained the players needed to perform these highly variegated pieces; and the original manuscripts were rediscovered in the Brandenburg archives only in 1849, and published the following year.

So this music had waited an incredible hundred and twenty-eight years for the re-discovery that led to its publication in its “Brandenburg” form, though it’s hard to imagine Bach himself resisting opportunities to perform these works with his own ensemble at Köthen, which DID have the players to do so – but we don’t know for sure whether this ever happened. The earliest known recordings come from the 1920s from ensembles with “historic” names such as the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra and the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. As Bach had written for almost every instrument in the orchestra known to him in these works, twentieth-century ensembles would at first have had to do a fair amount of “adapting” the music for modern instruments, though more recent advances in historical knowledge of and skills in early music performance practice have resulted in many successful performances and recordings of these works more akin to what Bach himself might have imagined (or heard!).

Concerto No. 4 as performed this evening featured a solo violin and two recorders, along with strings and continuo, Bach’s score specifying a pair of “fiauti d’echo”, a description perhaps reflected in the pair’s playing of their instruments at the very back of the ensemble during the slow movement, as in a kind of “echo chamber”, most effectively conveying the music’s spatial characteristics in the ample St.Peter’s acoustic. I thought at the concerto’s beginning, the fleet-of-finger tempo conveyed a bright-and-breezy spirit, if in places the figurations sounded to my ears a tad breathless, with the recorders’ lines speeding by, and missing something of the charm of interplay. At times it seemed as if the lines were “running together” and thus sacrificing a little definition, even though the ensemble held, with Anne Loeser’s beautifully diaphanous solo violin-playing a tour de force of gossamer dexterity.

At the back of the ensemble for the slow movement Kamala Bain’s and Louise Cox’s playing blossomed, their instruments more clearly-defined and characterful than when in the front, their interplay beautifully filling the ambient spaces, the sounds remarkably “opened out” – and, by some alchemic means, maintained with the third movement’s beginning, even with the wind soloists returning to the front of the platform. I felt the tempi here sprang eagerly and naturally from the music’s character, a kind of out-of-doors ebullience driving it all. Bach delightfully “played” with his listeners by  blurring the distinctions between soloists and ensemble, making as if the movement was fugal at the beginning, but then introducing a violin solo (whose helter-skelter character was brilliantly thrown off by Anne Loeser), and going on to mix tutti and solo passages with fugal echoes, the ensemble relishing the accented dance-like hesitations towards the end as a precursor to a kind of “well, that’s it, folks!” concluding gesture.

Next came the adorable “Serenata Notturna” by Mozart, his “Serenade no, 6 in D K.239”. Despite being one of many originally written as background music for social occasions, this particular work merited direct listening attention, with its timpani-augmented introductory march, and quixotic middle section alternating arco and pizzicato figurations. Laurence Reese’s period timpani made a suitably pompous impression throughout the opening March, further enriched by the loveliness and variety of the ensemble’s “inner voices” and the warmth and vigour of Anne Loeser’s violin playing.

The middle movement Minuet began fairly conventionally with an engaging “kick” to its rhythmic gait, but with writing which constantly engaged one’s attention via the occasional unexpected modulatory “swerve” that delighted with its impudence. And the Trio’s garrulous triplet figures here and there over-ran themselves with cascading energies that sparkled and babbled impishly – here, altogether delicious in effect, as played by the quartet within the ensemble (with a double bass instead of a ‘cello), an ear-tickling contrast to the full band!

Straight into the finale we went, introduced by the droll opening violin theme, with its hearty answering phrase from the ensemble, and, to everybody’s delight, developing into an entertainment that the composer himself might well have relished, with the fun by turns hearty (buoyant timpani interjections), quizzical (“After you…” – “No, after you!” kinds of expressions shared in the exchanges between the Quartet’s Ist and 2nd Violins!) and faintly subversive (nonchalant interpolations of ANOTHER Mozartean Serenade, from the timpani and double-bass!). Happily, we all enjoyed the goings-on at least as much as the players did, and the music framing the fun was, as with the rest of the work, not just a pretty serenade, but filled with interest and variety.

For the final work on the programme the platform seemed to be suddenly crowded with extra players, most notably horns, whose contributions certainly added tonal weight and colour to the ensemble. Haydn’s Symphony No, 13 in D was in fact written for his largest orchestral complement to date available, with an extra pair of horns and timpani, even though the latter part in the autograph score seems to have been penned by someone else! The full-blooded D Major chord that began the work reflected this exciting new sonority, the winds and brass holding their lines through the strings’ and timpani’s sprightly opening figures – an extremely ceremonial and festive beginning! – rather like great and sonorous tolling bells sounding while human beings scurried busily about on the ground below!

The adagio cantabile that followed was notable for a solo ‘cello part accompanied by strings without winds, Ken Ichinose’s playing heartfelt and direct, the repeats giving the sequence something of an epic serenity, a mood which the following Minuet set about enlivening! Here, the timpani were a joy, and Karen Batten’s flute-playing eagerly took the chance to shine in the Trio. In my earlier Middle C review of the concert published a day ago I expressed puzzlement at the programme note-writer Gregory Hill’s comment that the finale, like the parallel movement in Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, quotes a theme based on Thomas Aquinas’s 13th Century Hymn “Pange Lingua Gloriosi”, which was one I thought I knew well, having frequently sung verses from it during my school days. By way of response I opinioned that the Haydn/Mozart “crib” could have been actually taken from the “Kyrie” of the sixteenth-century composer Josquin Des Prez’s Missa Pange Lingua, a work derived from Aquinas’s hymn. However, after a revelatory exchange of messages, I’m find myself both surprised and indebted to Gregory Hill, who precisely pinpointed for me the occurrence of the motif in the original hymn – thus, I stand corrected! Certainly Haydn’s “treatment” of the famous four-note sequence yielded little or nothing to his great contemporary’s better-known exercise, using a similar amalgam of sonata form and fugue to telling effect, ranging from magnificently-sounded horn statements to ubiquitious string and wind exchanges, the whole enhanced by the liberal observance of repeats, and making for a veritable feast of orchestral interaction.

At the symphony’s conclusion, Anne Loeser made her “anniversaries” announcement, the second of which involved one of music’s most notable “one-hit” composers, Engelbert Humperdinck, whose name is forever associated with the opera “Hänsel und Gretel”, first performed in 1893, and whose death occurred one hundred years ago this year. Perhaps too,  it was partly the presence of all of those horns for the Haydn Symphony which inspired the choice of music for the encore, the opening “Evening Prayer” sequence from the opera’s Overture, the melody here superbly sounded by the heroic quartet of players in their most meltingly heart-warming mode, with alternatingly sonorous and delicate support from the rest of the ensemble – Haydn would surely have approved!

 

 

 

“Gloria” from Nota Bene and The Queen’s Closet gladdens hearts and minds at St Mary of the Angels

Nota Bene and The Queen’s Closet presents
GLORIA – Music by VIVALDI and JS BACH

JS BACH – Cantata BWV 12 “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen”
Motet – “Jesu, meine Freude”
VIVALDI – Gloria RV 589

Nicola Holt, Jenny Gould – sopranos
Maaike Christie-Beekman – mezzo-soprano
John Beaglehole – tenor
David Morriss – bass

Nota Bene Choir  (director, Maaike Christie-Beekman)
The Queen’s Closet  (director, Gordon Lehany)
Solo oboe – Sharon Lehany / Solo baroque trumpet – Gordon Lehany

St.Mary of the Angels Church, Boulcott St., Wellington

Sunday 28th March, 2021

As it has happened the three concerts I have reviewed so far this year have taken place in various splendid Wellington churches, each contributing to the atmosphere, ambience and impact of the music and its making, spectacularly so in the case of the third occasion at St Mary of the Angels Church in Boulcott St., where a programme entitled “Gloria” was given by the Nota Bene Choir with the Queen’s Closet ensemble. There’s certainly a case for, wherever possible, presenting music such as on the latter programme in an ecclesiastical setting –it all seems to, in a generic sense, “go with the territory”, even if the purist might call to question the idea of music with such Lutheran austerities as Bach’s “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” Cantata being performed in a lavishly-appointed Roman Catholic Church such as St.Mary’s!

None of this seemed at all to matter as conductor Peter Walls set the music on its course, the plangent oboe tones of Sharon Lehany’s period instrument joining forces with the strings and continuo of the Queen’s Closet ensemble, immediately wrapping all about us the music’s inherent sorrow and depth of feeling, reflecting the idea that the way to Heaven for the Christian is a path of suffering and sorrow (an idea given voice in the work’s only recitative which follows). Here it is the Christian’s “bread of tears”, the Tränenbrot referred to by the chorus. From the choir’s finely-judged singing of the four opening words of the work, resounding across the soundstage, we were taken affectingly through the music’s “weeping” aspect and solemn processional mode, to the energising of the music at the words Die das Zeichen Jesu tragen (”These that bear the marks of Jesus”), before returning to the sorrowing cortege of feeling at the end.

The aforementioned recitative then brought mezzo-soprano Maaike Christie-Beekman to the platform, her aria which followed, Kreuz und Krone sind verbunden (“Cross and Crown are bound together”), involvingly delivered, both strongly-focused and  sensitively nuanced, the oboist most capable, by turns subtle and forthright, and the ‘cellist extremely attentive, binding the whole together with winning melodic shapes and phrasings. Bass David Morriss was next, with the lighter-toned Ich folge Christo nach (“I follow after Christ”), relishing the words, registering the almost visceral character of the phrase Ich kusse Christi Schmach (“I kiss Christ’s shame”) and unequivocal in his faith at the end. The same could be said for the tenor John Beaglehole’s performance, his voice rising to the challenge of the long, sinuous lines with great credit, managing elegantly in places, even if the crueller of a couple of sequences sounded a shade raw now and then. Here, the almost spectral trumpet tones, for the most part steadily and vibrantly delivering the chorale tune Jesu, meine Freude as a kind of counterpoint, seemed to “haunt” the tenor’s “stricken” phrases, such as  Alle Pein wird doch nu rein kleines sein (“All pain will yet be only a little thing”). Both trumpet and oboe join with the chorus for the final chorale, helping to make a more festively optimistic conclusion to the work.

Next on the programme was Bach’s motet Jesu, meine Freude, a work I can’t remember either hearing or seeking out previously in concert (a mis-spent youth listening to nothing but orchestral and piano music is partly to blame!) – having talked at length about the cantata, Peter Walls explained several points concerning this work as well. Talking can be a somewhat risky thing for musicians to do at concerts, as I know many people who can’t abide talk when they have come to an event to hear music! – however I was grateful to Professor Walls for his explanation concerning a work I didn’t know well, and particularly in the light of its singular structure.

Jesu, meine Freude was written in 1723, while the composer was cantor at St.Thomas’s Church, Leipzig. Its structure involves a combination of settings of Johann Franck’s verses for a 1653 Chorale of the same name with those of excerpts from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, eleven movements in all. There’s a kind of symmetrical “scheme” for the work – for example, the first two and last two movements are similar harmonizations of the chorale (based on a melody by one Johann Crüger, a well-known hymn composer and editor), and there are two groups of three (Nos. 3-5 and 7-9) which follow an identical pattern of chorale, trio and aria.

So, to the opening of the motet, warm, poignant-sounding phrases, shaped by heart-swelling sequences as the singers’ expression ebbed and flowed, with phrase following ingratiating phrase – Gottes Lamm, mein Bräutigam (God’s lamb, my bridegroom) being an example. A livelier sequence, beginning with Es ist nun nichts Verdammliches (There is nothing damnable) became energetically contrapuntal in its central section, the choir splendidly holding the lines throughout die nicht nach dem Fleische wandein (who do not walk after the way of the flesh), and triumphantly reaching the words sondern nach dem Geist (but after the way of the Spirit).

A sterner mood accompanied Unter deinen Schirmen (Under your protection), with the voices firmly withstanding “kracht und blitzt” and “Sünd and Hölle”, and finding peace in Jesus will mich decken (Jesus will protect me). And the following Den das Gesetz des Geistes (For the law of the spirit) was beautifully rendered by the three women soloists, sopranos, Nicola Holt and Jenny Gould, with Maaike Christie-Beekman, the lines by turns soaring and intertwining, reflecting the text’s life and freedom. Our sensibilities were arrested by the animated cries of “Trotz” (Defiance) and “Trobe” (Rage) from the chorus, Walls’s energetic direction bringing out the pictorial aspects of the text, the men’s voices enjoying themselves hugely in places such as Erd und Abgrund muss verstummen (Earth and Abyss must fall silent).

The men’s voices were to the fore at the beginning of the fugal Ihr aber seid nicht fleischlich (You are, however, not of the flesh) as well, music whose “unfolding” quality was here “danced” to its grateful, more majestic conclusion. And both a dancing and lyrical spirit engagingly informed the lively choral presentation of the following Weg mit allen Schätzen (Away with all treasures), combined with the “Jesu , meine Freude” hymn-tune.  Two combinations of soloists followed, firstly mezzo, tenor and bass, who gave us a nicely contrasting So aber Christus in euch ist (But if Christ is in you), comparing the death of the body with the life of the spirit, the music at der Geist aber is das Leben (but the Spirit is life) again dancing, the combination of voices beautifully realised. And the succeeding Gute Nacht, o Wesen das die Welt erlesen (Good Night, existence that cherishes the world) again featured some mellifluous teamwork, with soaring lines steadily and atmospherically supported by lower voices. Having dispensed with the world and its sins, the music turned to its beginning, with the chorale Weicht, ihr Trauergeister (Away, you spirits of sadness) leading to a reaffirmation of the opening Jesu meine Freud – a fulfilling and heart-warming conclusion to the performance of this demanding work.

Slightly more familiar ground for me was the programme’s concluding work, Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria RV 589. Written at around 1715, the work was probably intended by the composer for performance by female voices, those of the members of the female orphanage, the Ospedale della Pieta, where Vivaldi himself was a teacher – whether he adapted an originally SATB work for female voices, or vice-versa, nobody seems to be sure. It’s definitely more often heard, as here, in this mixed-voices form, though I know of at least two female-voices only versions on record.

The opening “Gloria” with its distinctive octave-leap figure was here energised by spot-on ensemble playing and beguilingly coloured by oboe and trumpet, the occasional “rogue” note adding to the excitement! The voices relished the music’s dynamic range to exhilarating effect, contrasting dramatically with the following Et in terra pax  (and peace on earth) , stately and serene, with lines and waves of deep, minor-key feeling (a wonderfully, intensely drawn-out melismatic figure at “bonae voluntatis”, for instance). Laudamus te went with a swing, thanks to some exuberant singing from Nicola Holt and Maaike Christie Beekman; and the sterner Gratias agimus tibi bent our ears back with the severity of the opening, before suddenly unfurling to great effect in a burst of fugal activity.

Oboist Sharon Lehany joined forces resplendently with Nicola Hunt for Domine Deus, the oboe having a lovely plangency, and Holt a winning command of the longer line at Deus Pater Omnipotens.  Vivaldi’s relish of contrast in this work then gave us a rumbustious Domine Fili unigenite, the textures building excitingly and effectively towards a climax, before again bringing time almost to a standstill with a sobering Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Maaike Christie-Beekman resplendently interacting with the choir to moving effect, aided and abetted by some empathetic ‘cello-playing, leading to the heartfelt plea to heaven of Qui tollis peccata mundi, the voices seeming to resound upwards through the firmament at Suscipe deprecationem meam (receive our prayer). And I liked the energy of the near-Brucknerian trajectories of Qui sedes dexteram Patris, and mezzo Christie-Beekman’s floating of the lines above the insistent instrumental energies.

With “Quonian tu solu sanctus” the work suddenly came full circle, via the return of the opening music, followed, just as exuberantly, by a fugue, Cum Sancto Spiritu which took us to the final joyous “Amens”. Again, oboe and trumpet added colour and festive excitement to the spacious ambiences, the work’s full-blooded conclusion giving rise to scenes of well-deserved acclaim and appreciation from the body of the church, for much of that evening a receptacle of festive and heartfelt sounds.