“Under every grief & pine/runs a joy with silken twine” – Martin Riesley plays unaccompanied Bach at St.Andrew’s, Wellington

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace Church presents:

JS BACH – Sonata in G Minor BWV 1001
Adagio / Fuga / Siciliana / Presto

JS BACH – Partita in B Minor BWV 1002
Allemanda / Corrente / Sarabande / Tempo di Borea

Interval –  Talking about the organ
Susan Jones (minister) and Peter Franklin (organist)

LYELL CRESSWELL – “Burla” for solo violin (from “Whira”)

JS BACH – Sonata in A Minor BWV 1003
Grave / Fuga / Andante / Allegro

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

Friday 24th May, 2019

This was a benefit concert to help raise funds for refurbishing the Church’s pipe organ.

Bach himself wasn’t known as a violinist to the same extent as he was a keyboard player, yet according to his son, Carl Philippe Emanuel, “he played the violin cleanly and powerfully”, and his familiarity with the instrument is evident in the way he wrote his six Violin Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1001-1006), so they could “stand alone” as compositions without the customary basso continuo (“senza Basso”), as were the six Suites for Violincello solo (BWV 1007-1012). All were written during the years around 1720, while Bach was Court Musician to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cőthen, at a time when he was taken up with secular music – his Brandenburg Concerti and Orchestral Suites also date from the same period.

In his excellent programme note accompanying the concert (though it was uncredited, the use of the first person singular pronoun when talking about performing this music was an obvious giveaway!) violinist Martin Riseley refers obliquely to Bach’s possible intention, as expressed on the autograph with the words “Sei solo” (You are alone), of enshrining something deeply personal within this music. In 1720 the composer’s first wife had died, even more tragically, unbeknown to him while he was absent from the court, perhaps giving rise to the remark “the loneliness and intimacy of the violin, without bass” in Riseley’s commentary, examples of which quality abound in these works.

As with the playing of a different soloist in a concert last year here in Wellington featuring Bach’s music (Raeul Pierard playing the ‘Cello Suites – see the review at https://middle-c.org/2018/11/baching-at-the-moon-cellist-raeul-pierard-at-st-peters-on-willis-wellington/)  it was revelatory to experience this music in an “ongoing” rather than a “single work” context, with Riseley also making reference to the “journey” made by this music across the different individual pieces, for him, unequivocally linking the music in between the opening G minor Sonata and the Chaconne of the D Minor Partita – something of a pity, therefore, that we weren’t able to physically experience this entire span, here, in a single concert. Still, the point was made sufficiently by what WAS played this evening – and despite both an interval and a separate, unrelated item by New Zealand composer Lyell Cresswell interpolated in the flow, the connections seemed to “crackle into life” again when the violinist returned to Bach’s music, the A Minor Sonata BWV 1003, to conclude the evening’s concert.

Beginning with the Sonata No.1 in G Minor, I was immediately struck by the violinist’s variety of timbre, colour, tone and intensity as the music’s phrases were “sounded”. It was as if my sensibilities were being taken on a constantly augmented journey whose trajectories were beguilingly difficult to predict, and diverting to try and follow. Following the opening Adagio, the Fuga (Fugue) presented us with an equally compelling game of double-voiced propositions and potential resolutions. The voices were inseparable, yet constantly seeming to challenge one another to undertake intervals or harmonies that led to worlds of expression one didn’t anticipate. And what trenchant intensities at the end of the movement!

Angular, almost awkward-sounding in places, the Siciliano seemed “overladen’ with its own material at first, before the gentle rhythms gradually shaped the figurations with resonances of what had gone before. By contrast, the Presto’s tumbling 3/8 urgency teased my ear with its rhythmic ambiguities in places, Riseley marking the repeats with great flourishes and compelling attention with his playing’s molto perpetuo energies and variety of touch.

Each of the movements in the following B Minor Partita were followed by a “double” or variation, thus named by the ‘halving” of time values and the resulting “doubling” of note numbers. Hence the opening Allemanda, with strong, stately dotted rhythms whose figurations alternate between a ‘snap” and a triplet, was transformed into a dance of evenly-paired semiquavers for its “double”. The Courante (taken from a French term, to “run”) had a strength and rigour which in the “double” became a Presto, marked by bowing whose variety gave great cause for delight.

Next came the dignified Sarabande, profound and ritualistic with spread chords and sustained tones of great intensity – perhaps not every single note here hit its mark directly, but the commitment to the task was compelling. The “double” used triplet quavers to enliven the Sarabande’s stateliness, the piece’s beautiful symmetries filled with variations of touch and tone. Finally, the Tempo di Borea (like a Bouree) featured a well-known double-stopped opening, by turns energetic and whimsical, its “double” a more flowing, less “punctuated” outpouring, emphasising the piece’s line rather than its rhythm, with plenty of variety of touch, if a somewhat po-faced concluding note.

At this point in the concert we were “diverted” by an interval with a special feature, a plea for “organ donors” to make themselves known, re the individual pipes of the somewhat ailing St.Andrew’s organ. With the parish minister Susan Jones and the organist Peter Franklin providing an entertaining commentary with music, they made the best possible case for the cause of making a commitment to the organ’s refurbishment, suggesting individual donors “sponsor a pipe” from the organ – a brilliant and attractive idea!

In no time at all we were off again, on a different kind of diversion, one involving the music of New Zealand composer Lyell Cresswell, a piece  called “Burla” (suggesting a kind of burlesque?) , written for Douglas Lilburn’s eightieth birthday, but also part of a larger work “Whira” (Maori for “violin” or “fiddle”). The music in effect sounded not unlike overtures made by a terpsichordian wasp attempting to form a dance-duo with a somewhat reluctant hornet! The piece had a striking “visceral” effect in places, employing some deep, grainy “horse-hair on gut” sounds which illustrated the mechanics of friction rather than the latter’s more conventionally musical application – and then included a throwaway fragment of what sounded to me like the phrase “Sings Harry” from Lilburn’s eponymous song-cycle, right at the end. An Antipodean, heat-of-day variant of Bartok’s “Night Music” perhaps? Whatever the case, a brilliant and engaging performance of the piece by the violinist.

Concluding the programme was Bach’s A Minor Sonata for Solo Violin BWV 1003. The music’s dignified, easily-moving opening encompassed both contemplation and exploration at the beginning, while opening the music’s vistas as it proceeded. Riseley’s performance  didn’t hold anything back, embracing whole moments of circumspection and ambivalence of intent, even as the music went straight into the Fuga, maintaining an alternate relaxation and emphasis that brought out an extraordinary kind of 3-d aspect to the music, a view encompassing both the immediate and the middle distance – masterly playing! He had the measure of those seemingly endless”spins” which transcend time and place so that we were ourselves transported, particularly throughout the Fuga’s second half.

The C Major Andante was compellingly and expansively-phrased – it had something of the itinerant fiddler about it, something big-boned, yet with a “musing”, self-absorbed trajectory, sounding very “folky”, and with a suggestion of the “drone” in the bass – almost a kind of “Winter Journey” in itself – amazing music! The minor-key figurations of the Allegro finale had echo-like phrases following one another in quick succession, filled with suggestiveness and playful touches amid the po-faced purpose of it all – the piece’s concluding low A was enough, I would think, to ensure that we would all want to come back to St Andrew’s in a fortnight’s time to conclude the music’s journey!

Note: Martin Riseley will be playing the three remaining Sonatas and Partitas of JS Bach at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace Church on Friday 7th June, at 6:30pm

Legal choristers and instrumentalists in anniversary class action supporting child cancer campaign

Crown Law Presents: Counsel in Concert: Musical Anniversaries; in aid of the Child Cancer Foundation

Items by Monteverdi, Telemann, Haydn, Gershwin, The Beatles

Lawyers’ choir and orchestra, with soloists. Conducted by Owen Clarke

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Tuesday, 19 November 2017, (12.15pm); 5.30pm

It was heartening to see such a large bunch of lawyers who enjoy making music – and the large, mainly young audience who came to hear their second performance.  The 38-strong orchestra included some 21 players from the NZSO and Orchestra Wellington, but only one lawyer – the indefatigable Merran Cooke, who rehearses the performers and organised the concert.  The choir consisted of 53 singers.

The composers selected were a heterogeneous bunch, chosen for their anniversaries this year.  The programme notes gave details: 450 years since the birth of Monteverdi, 250 years since the death of Telemann, 250 years since the composition of Haydn’s ‘Stabat Mater’, 80 years since the death of Gershwin and 50 years since The Beatles’ ‘Sergeant Pepper’ album.

The first item, which included a harpsichord continuo, was the opening movement from Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610: ‘Deus in adjutorium’.  Those opening words are intoned in plainchant, followed by the magnificent ‘Domine…’ from choir and orchestra, each part singing on its own single note for a couple of pages.  The heightened drama of this effect is resolved in triumphant fashion when all parts shift on the word ‘Alleluia’.  It was a very effective performance, even if the splendid brass almost drowned out the choir at times.  It made a great opening for the concert.

Next was a welcome from the Solicitor-General, Una Jagose.  She spoke of the health and social benefits of making music in groups.  Telemann’s Der Tag des Gerichts, or The Day of Judgement (appropriate for legal professionals to perform).  Two choruses from this religious work were given: ‘Schallt ihr hohen Jubellieder’ and ‘Die rechte des herrn’.  Only a slight knowledge of the German language is needed to deduce that the first was about sounding jubilant songs, while the second deals with another suitable subject for lawyers – the rights of men.

A line-up of five soloists from the choir sang well in these excerpts, particularly Amanda Barclay, soprano, apart from starting slightly off-key.  Then the choir gave Telemann all they had, in a very vigorous performance.

The soloists sounded more comfortable in Monteverdi’s ‘Beatus vir’, a setting of Psalm 122 from his Selva Morale e Spirituale of 1640.  It is probably his best-known choral piece.  Four of the five soloists from the Telemann appeared again, with the addition of two other male singers.  The women on the whole acquitted themselves better than the men, and again, occasionally the choir and soloists were drowned by the orchestral sound.  However, with strings only, we heard more from the soloists.  The choir sang well, with plenty of lung power; the orchestra played with appropriate style.  Rhythm and articulation were good, and the beauty of the woodwind playing stood out particularly.  The choir parts were clear and confident.

Owen Clarke has conducted the annual concert for a number of years, even after moving to Auckland, and now Australia.  He spoke briefly to the audience about how he enjoyed taking part in this annual event.  He was followed by Lara Cooke (no relation to Merran Cooke), a teenager who has suffered two major bouts of cancer.  She spoke clearly, fluently and unemotionally about her experiences, and the help she and her family had received from the Child Cancer Foundation.  It was a moving experience to learn a little of what she had gone through, including having to move to Christchurch and Auckland at different times to receive treatment.

A medley from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess followed; an arrangement by Ed Lojeski.  ‘I got plenty o’ nuttin’ opened for the orchestra, and the wind players certainly opened their lungs.  Anna Rowe sang ‘Summertime’, amplified, to excellent effect – although in St. Andrew’s acoustic I did not think that amplification was necessary.  The choir came in too, and piano and percussion were added.  The choir reiterated the opening number, using the pronunciation ‘nothing’.  Then there was ‘It ain’t necessarily so’, with Ken Trass an excellent soloist, along with the choir.  ‘Bess, you is my woman now’ had similar treatment.

Idiomatic, well-rehearsed singing of a good standard were the marks of the entire medley, with clear words.  There were some delightful clarinet passages before the medley ended strongly with ‘O Lord, I’m on my way’.

Three Beatles songs concluded the programme, the music arranged by Daniel Hayles, a New Zealander who teaches jazz at the New Zealand School of Music here in Wellington, the skilled arrangement being commissioned for this concert.  The soloist was Mauricio Molina, a Wellington singer originally from Argentina.  I found his amplified voice too loud in the first song, in the St. Andrew’s acoustic.  The choir also sang, in Sergeant Pepper, Penny Lane  and All you need is Love, but in the first song they could hardly be heard.  Things were much better in the gentler Penny Lane.  The soloist was not too loud, his words could be understood, and the choir could be heard.  The triumphant ending of the last song had the audience joining in clapping the rhythm.  The beginning and ending of the song features phrases from La Marseillaise – a great effect.

Sponsors contributed to the cost of the concert; all audience donations would go to the Child Cancer Foundation. I trust this was a considerable sum; the musicians worked hard for it.




Benefit for organist Thomas Gaynor, studying in United States, covers satisfying range of organ masterworks

Thomas Gaynor, organ

Louis Vierne: Allegro, 2nd movement from Deuxième Symphonie, Op.20
J.S. Bach: ‘Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr’, BWV 676 (from Clavierübung III)
Mendelssoh : Organ Sonata, Op.65 no.6
Mozart: Andante for mechanical organ in F, K.616
Liszt: Fantasie und Fuge über das Thema B-A-C-H, S.260iii

Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul

Friday 8 May 2015, 6pm

Approximately 50 people were there to hear Thomas Gaynor on a welcome return to his home city, from study in the USA

The opening  item was full-on organ music, from one of the masters of the French organ school (Vierne’s dates: 1870-1937), but there were subtle contrasts in texture and volume, and melodies interwove the more dogmatic passages.  The audience heard some magnificent sounds, demonstrating that the organ is a spatial instrument, producing sounds from different quarters; the acoustic of the building amplifies them and resonates with them, distributing them to all corners.

There was much fast foot and finger work required of the performer.  It was a grand, if portentous, composition, amply well played.

Bach followed, with a chorale prelude.  Here a gorgeous flute registration accompanied a light reed stop playing the melody clearly.  The registration added to the lovely flowing lines and the glowing, peaceful quality of the music.

Mendelssohn’s sonata in three movements was full of interest.  The first movement consisted of variations on a German chorale.  Grove says of the composer’s organ sonatas: “[in] the noteworthy organ sonatas op.65 (1844-5) he reverted to the contrapuntal style of Bach…”.   Wikipedia expands the description in Gaynor’s printed programme somewhat, to: “No. 6 in D minor (based on the Lutheran Bach chorale Vater unser im Himmelreich [Our Father in heaven], BWV 416) (Chorale and variations: Andante sostenuto – Allegro molto – Fuga – Finale: Andante)”.

The first variation was quiet, with running quavers beneath the melody; the next was chordal with running pedals below.  Then there was an oboe solo with flutes accompanying, followed by a very fast and much louder rendition on diapasons.  The melody line, with variations, was finally on the pedals.

The grand fugue featured counterpoint between the pedals and the inner parts.  A big, thick organ sound gave way to the fugal complexity.

A quieter, hymn-like passage followed, with singing tones.  This andante was most appealing in a typically Romantic genre, unknown to Bach (despite Grove’s writer).

The short work by Mozart was a complete change.  The mechanical organ, or musical clock, had limitations with only slight appeal to the composer.  Searching on the Internet turned up this comment: “Less solemn and complex than its two companions, K616 possibly reflects Mozart’s increasing irritation with a commission that obviously bored him from the outset (Letter to his wife of October 1790)”.

While charming, it was reminiscent of his writing for glass harmonica, and in its tones.  The latter was also an instrument also limited in its range and opportunities for Mozart’s inventive skill.  The piece was for manuals only.  The cast of Thomas Gaynor’s head while playing this music indicated that this and perhaps other parts of the programme were played from memory. 

Despite the limitations, there was complexity and much modulation in the piece.  Rhythm and timing were nicely nuanced.  The music was pretty, but it was not a substantial work and became overly repetitive.

Liszt’s work was, as usual, full-on.  The organ got a good pedal work-out both near the beginning and again later.  Bach would not have approved of such shifting tonalities employed in the celebration of his name!  Rippling arpeggios made a grand effect in the fantasia.  The fugue left little doubt as to the theme.  It started quietly, with spooky notes on the pedals followed by the exciting stuff.  Much virtuoso playing was required, not least on the pedals.  Towards the end the music blazed out, Liszt being really carried away.  After a short quiet passage, Liszt let ‘em have it!

For an encore, Thomas Gaynor played one of Bach’s beautiful chorale preludes on the chorale ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’.  In a couple of places, I would have liked a little more of a break at the end of the text’s phrases.  However, the ornaments were beautifully managed and the whole effect was supremely musical and delightful.

There is no doubt that Thomas Gaynor is a talented young organist on the way up.  A varied, interesting and inspiring recital made good use of the splendid organ under his hands and feet.  The recital was  fundraiser for Thomas’s continuing studies in the US, in which all will wish him both pleasure and success.


Ben Morrison and friends at St.Andrew’s

Two Great Piano Trios

BEETHOVEN – Piano Trio in B-flat Op.97 “Archduke”

SCHUBERT – PIano Trio in B-flat D.898

Benjamin Morrison (violin) /  Jane Young (‘cello) / David Vine (piano)

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

Sunday 8th July 2012

It was really Christchurch-born violinist Benjamin Morrison’s show, though, of course he couldn’t have played the “two great piano trios” on his own. So, joining him for this concert and making up what one might call an “ad hoc” group,  were ‘cellist Jane Young, currently principal ‘cello in the Vector Wellington Orchestra, and David Vine, well known Wellington-based pianist, conductor and scholar.  The ensemble had come together primarily for Ben Morrison’s benefit – he’s on a visit “home” from his current studies in Graz, Austria, where he’s completing a Masters degree in Solo Violin and Chamber Music. He’s played a good deal of chamber music while in Europe (and it shows), as well as competing and winning prizes in several competitions – for example, the National Chamber Music of Austria Competition,”Gradus ad Parnassum”.

Throughout the afternoon the three musicians played as their lives depended upon the outcome, with all the attendant thrills and spills one might expect from the circumstances. Of course, given the popularity of each of these wonderful trios, one can too easily take for granted their ever-present difficulties – while the music , in each case, can survive less-than-capable performances and still make an impression, everything properly blossoms and beguiles when, as here, the playing demonstrates a certain level of skill and understanding. There were moments which brought certain individual insecurities, but the ensemble rarely, if ever, faltered, and the essential strength and lyricism of each of the works was conveyed with enthusiasm and commitment.

While St. Andrew’s Church wasn’t filled to bursting, there was a sufficient number present to generate a keen listening atmosphere, with tingling lines connecting the sounds made by the players to their listeners’ ears. In this respect I thought Morrison’s playing in particular outstanding, his tone having a vibrancy at all times that, whether loud or soft, conveyed to us exactly what degree of feeling or colour was required of each phrase. I write this somewhat guiltily, as I’m realizing the extent to which I focused my attentions upon him throughout the concert, probably to the detriment of my registering what the others were doing. But I thought his playing most deservedly compelled such attention throughout.

First up was the Beethoven, marked here by restrained, very “reined-in” playing from pianist David Vine at the outset, obviously taking some time to settle, but nevertheless establishing a pulse which enabled the string players to fill out their lines amply with plenty of inflection and subtle colorings that suggested a conversation of equals. It was good to get the exposition repeat in that respect – twice the pleasure, and filled with interest registering the effects of “experience” upon the music, the interaction between Morrison and ‘cellist Jane Young a particular delight. The players enjoyed the “misterioso” elements of the development’s beginning, as well as relishing the exchanges of pizzicati notes, managing a proper surge of energy taking the music to the reprise of the “big tune”. In other words, the music’s ebb and flow was shaped most satisfyingly throughout.

The scherzo was distinguished by fine rhythmic pointing, apart from a slight hiccup at the top of one of the fugal-like phrases early on. The players made something terrific of the more trenchant passages, burgeoning their tones excitingly during each crescendo, and leaving us expectantly awaiting each subsequent wave of energy. Again, Ben Morrison’s playing projected a real sense of relishing both strivings and outcomes, giving plenty of musical substance to both his colleagues and to the audience. And the slow movement grew from the hymn-like opening throughout its variation movements as flowers gently and gloriously open in the sun, the players giving all the time in the world to the process of integrating a sense of arrival with a feeling of further exploration, thus preparing the way for the finale.

Here, the trajectories were delightfully bucolic, the performance surviving a bumpy patch amidst the tremolando-like pianistic figurations, and keeping its poise right through to the coda, which was excitingly done, the “schwung” of the of the music kept to the fore despite the occasional spills. What was particularly thrilling was the élan with which Ben Morrison threw off those concluding figurations, serving notice of an artistic coming-of-age which we all anticipate enjoying on occasions in the years to come.

After the Beethoven, the Schubert seemed more relaxed, the opening having a “Frei, aber froh” feeling about its forthright energies, not epic, heroic statements here, but still very Schubertian, very “gemächlich” or relaxed, a feeling further underlined by the lyrical second subject. I got the feeling throughout this movement, rightly or wrongly, with Ben Morrison’s playing, that he “sees” the music as if from a great height, and so is able to shape each paragraph of the symphonic argument with great surety, ably supported here by ‘cello and piano. The trio caught the music’s physicality in places, coming through not exactly unbloodied, but definitely triumphant.

The gem of this Trio is, of course, the slow movement, containing one of the composer’s loveliest melodies, and here sung to great effect by all concerned, especially by the violin. Ironically, it was in this movement, during the violin’s chromatic ascent from the central agitations back to the melody’s reprise, and again, briefly with the ascent to the final note, that the player’s intonation uncharacteristically wasn’t spot-on; but the ‘cello’s heavenly accompanying of the violin throughout this section, underpinned by the murmuring piano, banished all thoughts of human fallibility for just a short, treasurable moment in time.

Though I thought the Scherzo took time to settle rhythmically, the players managed the trickily-stressed dovetailing in places with great nimbleness, then relished the “cradle-song” aspect of the Trio for their own and for our pleasure. The cheekily-played opening of the finale had the theme passing from player to player, then adding to the insouciance with a strutting “Hungarian-like” episode, and further flavoring the experience with some ghostly shimmering from the strings – all very discursive, but held together with fine concentration, and a flair for characterization, the violinist demonstrating by turns his accompanying as well as his “leading” skills throughout.

At the piece’s conclusion, the audience was quick to show its appreciation of the performances, and in particular of Ben Morrison’s remarkable talent as a musician.













Paekakariki’s ‘Classics for Christchurch’ with the Kapiti Orchestra

A reflective musical event in support of the Christchurch Earthquake Relief Fund

Music by Albinoni, Mozart, Fauré, Barber, Michelle Scullion, Lilburn, Poulenc, Haydn and John Dankworth; poems by Apirana Taylor, waiata sung by Hinemoana Baker

Kapiti Concert Orchestra led by Douglas Beilman, Mary Gow (piano), Moira Hurst (clarinet), Erica Challis and Kirsten Sharman (horns), Janet Holborow (flute, piano), Kate Lineham (soprano), World of Flutes, conducted by Michael Joel; presenter, Lee Hatherly

Paekakariki Memorial Hall

Sunday, 13 March 2011, 2pm

A well-filled Memorial Hall proved both the level of interest in music in the community, and its willingness to support such a worthy cause. There must have been around 100 people present.

The orchestra, led by Douglas Beilman, a member of the New Zealand String Quartet, had a good sound, and its level of accuracy and versatility, based, I understand, on one rehearsal, was most commendable. Janet Holborow and the others involved in quickly organising this concert are to be thanked for their work in getting together such a diverse and enjoyable programme.

It was pleasing to see numbers of children present, and their level of attention and behaviour was excellent, aside from rather a lot of chair-scraping towards the end of what proved to be a long concert. Many were sitting on the stage (the performers were at the other end of the hall) from where they could see well.

It may have been decided that the number of separate items and the nature of the concert, made it desirable to have a compère, but this undoubtedly contributed to the great length: two hours and 40 minutes, which is rather long for adults who are seasoned concert-goers, let alone for children. A late start, due to people dribbling in late, did not help. The printed programme contained adequate information, so the talking could have been abbreviated.

However, this was an appreciative audience, as the standing ovation at the end proved, and the breadth of music performed was wide. The wooden floor and walls (up to window height) made for a bright sound.

Albinoni’s Adagio suffered from a little untidiness in rhythm, but on the whole was smooth and euphonious. Douglas Beilman’s solos in this item were strong, and superbly played.

Continuing the theme of reflective music, the next item was the Adagio from Mozart’s piano concerto in A, K.488, played by the orchestra with Mary Gow as a sympathetic, restrained and highly competent soloist. While the orchestra was a bit insecure in places, especially in the woodwind, this didn’t apply to the marvellously flexible clarinet playing. The ensemble was good, and the mood was conveyed well.

Apirana Taylor read some of his poems, and played the putorino (?) most evocatively. His loud utterances of ‘Mauri ora’ were most appropriate to the occasion, while his striking short poems were mainly in a delightful combination of te reo and English.

The slow movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A, K.622 was quite sublime. The bright sound suited Mozart, though of course the instruments in his day were quieter. This was very fine music and very fine playing from both the orchestra, and especially from soloist Moira Hurst. While the orchestra played extremely well for a small, mainly amateur group, the playing of the soloist would have stood up in any company. I found it very moving.

Next was Fauré’s Dolly Suite, for piano duet. The pianists were Mary Gow and Janet Holborow. The lively ‘Kitty Valse’ and ‘Berceuse’ gave a welcome lighter touch between more sombre works.

Following this, a poem was read by Lee Hatherly. It was written by Pam Vickers, a Sumner resident, on her experiences during and after the earthquake. It surely expressed what many residents of Christchurch must have been feeling, and probably still are.

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is somewhat of a cliché for this sort of occasion, and did not show the orchestra at its best, intonation-wise. Because the work is slow and so well-known, it demands to be played more expertly.

After the interval, following a few words from MP Kris Faafoi, the World of Flutes played pieces by Michelle Scullion. The first, ‘For Ike in memory of Snoo’ was for five players, including a bass flute. It was an enchanting piece, especially for the juxtaposition of bass flute and sopranino recorder. Next we heard ‘Arabian Reverie’ for two alto flutes. I found this rather dull at first, but it developed into being quite a lively piece. The third piece was entitled ‘A crumpled town to return’, written for four flutes (including bass and alto) as a tribute to Christchurch, a city Scullion said in her introduction that she knows well.

Hinemoana Baker sang a waiata by Hana O’Regan, then the well-known lullaby, ‘Hine e hine’. She used an interesting contrast in styles and tones. The first was sung in a traditional Maori style, from the throat, barely using the breath, whereas the second was in a more European manner, singing on the breath. Both were telling, in their very different ways.

The piano returned, with Mary Gow playing first a charming, simple prelude by Douglas Lilburn, then a Novelette by Poulenc – an interesting and satisfying piece, and a Nocturne by the same composer. The harmonies in this were more conventional than I expected from Poulenc. Both pieces were somewhat improvisatory in nature; the nocturne was certainly reflective.

Haydn’s Double Horn Concerto is seldom heard; the Romance from that work featured two consummate soloists, though the orchestra was not at its best.

Moira Hurst played again, with Kate Lineham this time. John Dankworth’s ‘Thieving Boy’ was rather too low in the voice for Kate Lineham (she’s not Cleo Laine), and thus she did not project enough to prevent the clarinet being too loud and bright as an accompaniment. In between the two programmed items, Shona Holborow read the poem ‘Death and the Nightingale. An Estonian folksong (sung in English) was in a higher register, and suited Lineham’s voice much better.

The final item was another Mozart Adagio, this time from his Flute Concerto in G major. The solo flute was played by Janet Holborow. It was a very peaceful and reflective piece to end the concert with, featuring not only beautiful flute playing, but lovely muted violins.

Altogether, this was a fine musical experience, and should have raised a substantial sum for the relief of those badly affected by the earthquake in Christchurch.

In Memoriam: organ restorers remembered at St Peter’s

Organ recital to remember three members of the South Island Organ Company killed in Christchurch on 22 February.

Paul Rosoman, Dianne Halliday, Richard Apperley, Michael Fulcher

St Peter’s Church, Willis Street

Friday 4 March 5.30pm

Only two weeks after the inaugural concert for the restored organ at St Peter’s three of those who had worked on the project were killed on their next assignment, the organ in the Durham Street Methodist Church in Christchurch; this extremely beautiful church built in 1864, called the “Mother Church of Methodism” in the South Island, was totally destroyed.

One has to hope that the focus of the city’s recovery will quickly start to dwell on the vital importance of rebuilding the city’s most important and beautiful buildings. If Dresden and Warsaw and many other war-wrecked cities of Europe could take their time to restore the physical element of their spirit, calmly and determinedly, so can Christchurch.

Four Wellington organists took part; a fifth, Douglas Mews, was unable to participate as he was overseas. Paul Rosoman opened the programme with Bach’s Partita on ‘O Gott, du frommer Gott’, BWV 767, unfamiliar to me. It was one of Bach’s earliest organ works, a set of variations rather than what we now understand as a partita. Its solemn opening of the Lutheran hymn on the pedals made an imposing statement, though it is alleviated by more lively, and light-spirited sections as it progresses.

Dianne Halliday followed with Lilburn’s Prelude and Fugue in G minor, subtitled ‘Antipodes’ of 1944 sounded uncharacteristic of Lilburn. In fact, being unable to see the organists who slipped unobtrusively from a door beside the console, I wondered for a while whether I was listening to the Herbert Howells piece that Richard Apperley was scheduled to play. None of the familiar Lilburn melodic and rhythmic ticks were there, and it seemed as if the composer, dealing with an instrument that till then had no significant body of New Zealand music, placed himself almost entirely in the hands of English organists of the first part of the 20th century. Nevertheless, its weight and its evident accomplishment made it a particularly valuable contribution to the concert.

Her second piece was Bach’s ‘Schmücke, dich o liebe Seele’, BWV654.

Richard Applerley played Howells’s Master Tallis’s Testament, beginning in a state of calm but slowly creating a remarkable and portentous essay during which the sun suddenly broke through the clouds and the west-facing stained glass, after which the sound subsided. For me it was a moving discovery.

And he followed it with Théodore Dubois’s ‘In paradisum’ a spirited, somewhat insubstantial (in the best sense) and glittering piece.

Michael Fulcher concluded the concert with Franck’s Third Chorale, all three from his last year, 1890. My pleasure in Franck may be driven by an all-embracing franc(k)ophilia which withstands the deprecations of unLisztian and unFranckian friends. I greatly enjoyed Fulcher’ rendering, with its shimmering opening, its impressive contrapuntal progress and its final triumphant ending.

I had missed the inauguration of the restored instrument and relished this chance to hear it put through its paces in a good variety of music. It sounds admirably in tune with the church’s acoustic and in both its loudest and quietest moods produces sounds that are beautifully right. The reed stops caught my ear for their unusual, slightly nasal character, but they seemed in perfect accord with the charmingly decorated pipes and the meticulously restored wooden case.

All donations were sent through the Red Cross to help with their work in Christchurch


Benefit duet for mezzo and piano

Felicity Smith (mezzo-soprano) and Catherine Norton (accompanist) Benefit Concert


St. Mark’s Church. Lower Hutt


Saturday 8 May, 3.30pm


A delightful recital by two well-qualified young musicians, both already having quite impressive track-records took place on Saturday.


Felicity Smith has a strong voice, well supported, with warm and full tone.  Her opening aria, ‘Parto, parto’ from La Clemenza di Tito by Mozart made a stirring opening.


The church’s acoustics are good, and it was notable (compared with some recent venues for recitals) that it was not too resonant, enabling the accompanist to have the piano lid on the long pin. 


The balance was good at all times between the two performers.  However, the acoustics could not cope with announcements of the items made far too quickly and quietly.  There were over 60 people in the audience; they all need to hear what the items are.  A larger building demands slower speech; conversational speaking will not do, nor will speaking at the bottom of the voice.  (I obtained the titles and composers of some of the items after the concert).


Three Roger Quilter songs were very expressive, and the words clear. They were ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’, ‘Weep you no more’ and ‘Fair house of joy’ (as a poem, probably better known by its first line, ‘Fain would I change that note’.)  The accompaniments were beautifully realised throughout the recital, but especially in these songs.  The accompaniment for the Mozart aria, being written for orchestra, does not come off so well on piano.


A piano solo followed: the first movement of Mozart’s sonata K.333.  While well played overall, some notes, particularly at the ends of phrases, were indistinct, and pedalling occasionally blurred the line.


The aria ‘O ma lyre immortelle’ from Gounod’s opera Sapho, followed, sung in excellent French (which Felicity Smith studied for her BA).   The singer projects well, which is so essential in an opera singer.  Perhaps she needs to relax a little; a  slight tension appeared sometimes reflected in the voice, and in noisy breathing as the recital wore on.


Purcell’s lovely song ‘Music for awhile’ was sung with beautiful control, including the singing of ornaments.  It was followed by a spirited rendering of an aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare.

After the interval, Chopin’s enchanting Berceuse was sensitively and attractively played by Catherine Norton.


This was followed by three folk-songs arranged by Benjamin Britten: ‘The Ash Grove’, ‘Ca’ the Yowes’ and ‘The Brisk Young Widow’; these were very effective, and featured sympathetic expression of the words.  Then, also in the 20th century, Prokofiev’s lively piano solo Sarcasm, an excellent piece in bracing style.

‘Spiel’ auf deine Geige’ by Robert Stolz about a gipsy violin and ‘Youkali’, a French song by Kurt Weill about a utopia, ended the programme.  The former revealed very characterful singing, while the latter, which employed a large range from contralto into soprano, was quite charming, and provided a lovely ending to the recital.


This was a very musical presentation by a fine singer and a very good accompanist.  We can but wish them well in their overseas studies and their careers to follow, and hope that they return to New Zealand before too long.


Further concerts will take place: 9 June, 12.15pm at St. Andrew’s on The Terrace (Felicity), 2 July (tbc) St Peter’s Willis St (Felicity), 1 August, St. Andrew’s on The Terrace (Catherine’s farewell concert), mid-late August (date and venue tbc), Felicity’s farewell concert.


Benefit Concert as Paris Calls Barbara Graham

Benefit concert: Barbara Graham and friends including memebrs of Boutique Opera, in opera excerpts and other songs

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 18 April, 2pm

For a young soprano, Barbara Graham already has an impressive list of accomplishments: Bachelor of Music in vocal performance, Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology, PwC Malvina Major Emerging Artist with NBR New Zealand Opera, performances with New Zealand Opera, oratorio soloist, roles in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen with NIMBY opera, and recently, playing a superb Susanna in the garden performance of The Marriage of Figaro at Days Bay.

In the last-named she exhibited not only assured, beautiful singing, but also characterful acting.  The words of the witty, modern translation could be heard to good effect from her, as from all the singers.

On Sunday, she was surrounded by friends and mentors as fellow performers, in a well-filled church.  The programme began with excerpts from the afore-mentioned opera with her Days Bay Figaro, Daniel O’Connor, but this time they sang in Italian.  Sadly, we heard only three other operatic solos from Barbara – a fine aria from La Fille du Régiment, a pleasing ‘Je suis encor’ from Massenet’s Manon, and ‘Bess, you is my woman now’ from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, again with O’Connor.  This was well sung, but did not convey an image of earthy Bess, who has seen a lot of life. 

You may wish to include West Side Story as opera;‘A Boy like that’ was sung by Barbara with Jess Segal (mezzo-soprano) as Anita, with suitable style.  Appropriate movement and gesture were used, as indeed in many of the items.

The lovely trio ‘Soave sia’il vento’ from Così Fan Tutte was sung by Lesley Graham (Barbara’s mother, and her first singing teacher), Linden Loader (her current teacher) and Roger Wilson.
As always, it is a delight to listen to, though I thought Wilson could have been a little stronger.

Two duets from Barbara and tenor James Adams (who sang with great distinction) from Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne (performed by Boutique Opera last year) were effective.
Frances Moore (soprano) sang ‘Una voce poco fa’ from The Barber of Seville well, but in places it was a little insecure.

Most of the remainder of the programme was in the light music category.  Notable was the ironic song ‘The Alto’s Lament’ wittily rendered by Wellington entertainer (of American origin) Jane Keller.  As an alto myself, I could empathise with her singing the various alto lines regretting that the sopranos carry the melodies.  Accompanist Julie Coulson entered into the thing, with appropriate gestures and facial expressions.

The singers were fortunate in the accomplished services of not one, not two, but three accompanists.  In addition to Coulson, there were Fiona McCabe (on a brief visit from her present base in Sydney) and Catherine Norton, shortly to take off for study in London.  It was impressive to hear these fine pianists tackling such a variety of music.

The remainder of the programme consisted of music from shows; they were performed with panache by the singers, who included, in addition to those already mentioned, Michael Gray (tenor), and Charles Wilson. Gray is always confident, projects well and delivers the character he is portraying.  Charles Wilson was part of a quartet with Lesley Graham, Linden Loader, and Roger Wilson in ‘Java Jive’.  He proved to have a pleasing baritone voice.

All the singers, plus other members of Boutique Opera, ended the concert with the beautiful chorus ‘Placido e’il mar’ from Mozart’s Idomeneo.  This was sung most attractively, and made a fitting conclusion.

A standing ovation proved that everyone present not only enjoyed the programme, but also wished Barbara Graham all good fortune in her vocal studies in Paris.  I am sure we will hear more of her.  Indeed, she would like to hear more from us: she still needs financial support for her travel and studies.  She can be contacted at 91 Fraser Avenue, Johnsonville, Wellington 6037; email igraham@paradise.net.nz.

Benefit concert for James Rodgers

James Rodgers, tenor, with Jillian Zack, piano

Songs by Tosti, Duparc, Rachmaninov; Winter Words cycle by Benjamin Britten; Arias from Don Giovanni by Mozart and Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky; ‘Sings Harry’ cycle by Douglas Lilburn

Adam Concert Room, Victoria University

Sunday 14 March 2010 7pm

It was good to hear James Rodgers again, after his years studying in the United States.  He provided a generous recital of an interesting variety of works, accompanies by his girlfriend, an excellent pianist.  His spoken introductions were informal and succinct.

The Tosti songs proved that Rodgers has become an very accomplished singer.  But both he and the accompanist had not taken sufficiently into account the size and acoustics of the room they were performing in.  One was reminded of the phrase ‘Never sing louder than lovely’.  Unfortunately, he did – frequently.

I began to wonder if the singer had lost some of the lyrical tenderness his voice formerly had.  I found that he had not, in quiet passages. 

On the whole his words were clear, but less so when the tone was too loud.  Singing in five different languages, Rodgers demonstrated mastery in all of them.

Benjamin Britten’s fine cycle drawn from poems of Thomas Hardy conveyed humour, pathos, and gave scope for variety, which the singer portrayed well.

Three lovely songs of Duparc needed more caressing than they received, especially ‘Chanson Triste’.  I could not help but contrast the performance with the way Gerard Souzay sang these masterpieces.  While Rodgers cannot be expected to be at the level of the mature Souzay, the latter’s is a model worth aspiring to.

‘Il mio tesoro’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni suited Rodgers well; both that aria and ‘Kuda, Kuda’ from Eugene Onegin were rendered in excellent fashion, with subtlety and variety of timbre and volume.

NZSO players entertain their friends

Wellington Friends of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra: End of Year celebratory concert

Ilott Theatre, Sunday afternoon 15 November 2009 

The Friends of the NZSO exists partly to give themselves musical entertainment and background, and partly to raise money for the orchestra.  To help promote those aims around twenty NZSO players plus guest pianists and mezzo soprano Annabel Cheetham took part in a highly entertaining potpourri of mainly chamber music before a full Ilott Theatre.

The concert began with Carolyn Mills on the platform, alone with her harp, to play Autumn Arabesque by her former colleague Kenneth Young, achieving music beautifully adapted to the harp; at first ethereal, later adorned with arpeggios that no harp piece could be without, moving to its heart in which it was hard not to remark a palette and melodic characteristics suggesting the sounds of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, coloured with comparable charm. 

Other orchestral instruments that are less common in recital appeared throughout; the next, cor anglais, played by Robert Orr as part of a Cor Anglais Quartet by Françaix; his companions were the members of the Iota String Trio – Haihong Liu, Lyndsay Mountfort and Eleanor Carter. Françaix is not a major composer, at least, not of deep and weighty music, but the three of the five movements played were lively, somewhat irreverent and were played accordingly.

The violin sonata is not a rarity, but Strauss’s youthful Op 18 is not often heard; violinist Cristina Vaszilcsin was joined by Mary Barber to play the Improvisation (second) movement. It marked Andante cantabile, it is romantic and rich in tonal variety, hardly improvisatory at all.

This item demonstrated a theme that ran through most of the programme: performances that I’d heard in various places over the past few months: this one in a ‘Mulled Wine’ concert at Paekakariki. 

I heard the Trombone Quartet, as ‘Bonanza’, at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson in January; it is a brilliant ensemble. There were some different players; one new embouchure was Mark Davey, a new graduate from the New Zealand School of Music and a player in the Wellington Orchestra; he took the main line, with easy lyricism, in their arrangement of Mendelssohn’s song Die Nachtigall. ‘Achieved is the Glorious Work’ from Haydn’s The Creation seemed an unusual piece to give to a trombone quartet, but its realization was convincing. To read interesting comment on the role of the trombone in this chorus by a trombonist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, go to: http://www.yeodoug.com/resources/handbook/image_files/text_files/creationexc.html. I would guess that the New Zealand players had read and taken on board Mr Yeo’s counsel, They also played a fugue in D minor by Bach, and the party piece for all trombones by Meredith Willson (though they were 72 trombones short of the prescription).

The Cecilian Ensemble, for this purpose at least, comprised Rebecca Struthers and Elizabeth Patchett (violins), Belinda Veitch (viola) and Roger Brown on the cello, together with guest trumpeter Cheryl Hollinger (she was heard at a St Andrew’s lunchtime concert a few months ago). Using a baroque soprano trumpet, she led Purcell’s Sonata for trumpet and string quartet. If it hadn’t been for the strings-only second movement in which the string players did indeed reveal energy and warmth, the brilliance of Hollinger’s virtuosic trumpet with the most adroit and tasteful ornaments, would have made it a rather unfair contest,  

Stille Liebe was the title given to a recital at the Cambridge Terrace Congregational Church two weeks before, which had included the song of that name in a cycle that Schumann composed to poems by Justinius Kerner. But we didn’t hear that; instead, three songs by Frank Bridge which called for mezzo soprano Annabel Cheetham and Mary Barber (piano) along with Peter Barber with the obbligato viola part. The poems, by Shelley, Arnold and Heine, seemed oddly assorted, but Cheetham’s voice was a good fit, given her distinctive timbre and character.

The Zephyr Wind Quintet consists of wind principals from the orchestra (Bridget Douglas, Robert Orr, Philip Green, Edward Allen, Robert Weeks). They gave two concerts with different programmes in July and August, in another ‘Mulled Wine’ concert at Paekakariki, and in Wellington; both the pieces here were played at Paekakariki, and both repaid further hearing.

This was one of the most striking groups of the afternoon; they played Barber’s beguiling but quite unsentimental Summer Music with singular instinct, as well as skill and musicianship; flute and oboe had prominent parts in episodes where the music danced. It was followed by Opus Zoo by Luciano Berio, an eccentric, witty piece, but also one with a social and political message, calling for each player to recite texts.  Musically, it shows neo-classical influence, and the overlay of words suggest The Soldier’s Tale, but there is no consecutive story and it uses a sort of animal allegory to cautionary purpose.

There is an uneasy air about the music that was confirmed by the disparate texts: each of the four movements seems distinct though united by a common idiom. The second movement deals with war: “the cry of bombs…the scream of distant fields… what madness of men…to blast all that is lively, lively, proud and gentle. What can the reason be?”; which is intoned repeatedly by several players. The other movements use animals to exemplify innate weaknesses that lead humans to disaster.

Finally, after the stage was rearranged by timpanist Laurence Reese (whose purposeful stage management throughout won a round of applause), he wheeled a side drum from behind the curtain, sat at it, and set up the rhythm for Ravel’s Bolero, The two cellists carried their instruments out, plucking the bass ostinato strings as they came, and they were followed by winds, with the tune, violins and violas, and finally the four trombones which lent some real swagger to the performance. Naturally, it was much abbreviated, but it brought the house down.