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


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 [].

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.”

Fever’s Candlelight Jazz Standards with Retro Pack at Wellington’s Public Trust Hall

Retro Pack at the Public Trust Hall
Andrew London (guitar); Kirsten London (bass and vocalist); James Tait-Jamieson (saxophone); Lance Philip (drums); and April Phillips (vocalist). 

Public Trust Hall, Stout St, Wellington

Wednesday 21 July, 2021

Jazz is a polarizing genre. For aficionados, it’s all about innovation, pushing the boundaries, expanding the genre whilst respecting its traditions. Technical skill is prized, but always in the service of new ideas. For your average classical concert-goer, it’s pretty much a mystery, and sometimes incomprehensible.

But everyone loves a jazz standard. Jazz musicians know them inside out and sometimes reference them on their way to something else. Every Wellington Jazz Festival includes two or three gigs that incorporate standards in some way – this year Whirimako Black performed ‘Cry Me a River’ and’ Summertime’ alongside traditional Tūhoe waiata, while Ruth Armishaw channelled Ella Fitzgerald at Cable Top.

This concert of jazz standards by candlelight, presented by Fever Original, was commercially well judged. There were two concerts on the same night. I went to the 6.30 pm concert, and the Public Trust Hall was almost full. The audience was pretty mixed in age – from RNZ Concert to the Rogue and Vagabond crowd. Someone had done a great marketing job.

The quintet, billed as the Retro Pack (an indication to expect some Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin), wore dinner suits with bow ties or sparkly dresses. The volume was on the low side for a jazz concert, so it was perfectly comfortable for a non-jazz audience. And the stage area was marked by a bank of electric candles, flickering pleasantly.

Of the members of the Retro Pack, only James Tait-Jamieson (saxophone) and Lance Philip (drums) were familiar to me. Lance Philip has taught percussion in the jazz programme at Massey since the early 1990s and now at NZ School of Music. James Tait-Jamieson is a Massey graduate in saxophone who has also spent time on cruise ships. Lance plays all around town and is always excellent; Tait-Jamieson is a good sax player. The ones I didn’t know were Andrew London, guitar (ex-Hot Club Sandwich); Kirsten London, bass; and April Phillips, vocalist. The Retro Pack goes back to 2002, and the line-up has been remarkably constant over the years, though April Phillips seems to be a recent addition. She is billed elsewhere as a ‘singer, actress, playwright and movie-maker’. She researched, scripted, and delivered all the song intros, and did much of the singing.

The repertoire was, as promised, jazz standards, from the 1920s to the 1960s. The programme began with ‘Summertime’ from Gershwin’s groundbreaking opera Porgy and Bess, but there was no hint of the stage production in this version, just a tasteful cover version that showed off April Phillips’s low notes, with lovely vibrato. She had a nice duet with the saxophone, subtle, tasteful, understated, and all too short. And that was how the show went. The bass player took the vocals for Jerome Kern’s ‘Can’t help lovin’ that man’, with harmonies from the guitarist and lead vocalist, and another short sax solo.  I felt that the key was too low for Kirsten London, who has a pleasant, untrained voice; and I felt the same about the other songs she sang, Peggy Lee’s ‘It’s a Good Day’ (livened up with close harmonies from the others) and ‘Why don’t you do Right’ (with the sax solo providing some heat).

I would have preferred to hear more from April Phillips, who has a wider vocal range, and offered more colour and more power, with a gorgeous lower register. But that is a minor quibble.

April Phillips was a dab hand at suggesting whose version of a well-known song she was channeling. She did Ella Fitzgerald’s version of ‘Cry me a River’, and Ella’s version too of ‘Night and Day’ and ‘Witchcraft’, but the Billie Holliday version of ‘The Man I love’, complete with Holliday’s choppy phrasing and asthmatic in-breaths. It was subtle, and would have provided reassurance to someone less familiar with the repertoire than me. Andrew London did a couple of great Louis Armstrong covers, ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ and in ‘Mack the Knife;’ where the vocals were shared around, and he provided the Satchmo growl. Even Tait-Jamieson got in on the act, in his pleasant light baritone, doing a passable Frank Sinatra. The audience loved ‘Mack the Knife’, but not being a jazz audience, they left their applause until the end of the song.

It was all a bit too tasteful for me, I’m afraid. There is a terrific singer inside April Phillips who barely got allowed out – we had just a glimpse of her in Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day’. There were some classy tempo changes. The sax solos were all well-judged and, I thought, too short. This is a polished act. But it wasn’t until the encore, a Cuban number made into a hit by Dean Martin, that the band showed what they are capable of. A faster tempo at last. Lance Philip was even allowed a (very short) solo, and the higher energy swept the audience away into raptures. The welcome rise in temperature made me sorry that there wasn’t a Cuban set to follow.




Voices of Women – A New Zealand sufferage celebration by Janet Jennings


Music by Janet Jennings
– a celebration of the successful struggle by women to gain the vote

Magnificat (soprano, violin, marimba)
A Daughter of Eve (soprano, piano)
Sit Down With Me Awhile (mezzo-soprano, piano)
Myself When Young (soprano, piano)
Voices of Women (voices, violin, marimba, piano, percussion)

Voices: Jayne Tankersley (soprano) Stephanie Acraman (soprano) Felicity Tompkins (soprano) Cartrin Johnsson (mezzo-soprano) Mere Boynton (voice)
Instrumentalists: Maia-Dean Martin (violin) Yoshiko Tsuruta (marimba) Katherine Austin (piano) Noelle Dannenbring (piano) Rachel Fuller (piano) Maria Mo (piano) Rachel Thomas (percussion)
Conductor (Voices of Women) Rachael Griffiths-Hughes

Produced by Wayne Laird for Atoll Records


Inspired by the 125th anniversary of the 1893 Electoral Act in New Zealand which gave women the right to vote in New Zealand, the first self-governing country in the world to enact such legislation, this CD collection of works by Janet Jennings was first performed as a single concert in Hamilton, at the Dr. John Gallagher Concert Chamber, University of Waikato, presumably by the same performers.

The opening work, Magnificat, brought to us ethereal visitations of sound from a solo violin, birdsong-like and wreathed in resonances from the marimba, and then joined by the more earthly but still exaltedly beautiful tones of soprano Jayne Tankersley, a human voice addressing heaven, and aspiring to a blessed state with her beautifully-floated omnes generationes. The long-breathed lines became animated at Fecit potentiam in bracio suo (He hath shewed strength with his arm) with voice and violin (the latter played by Maia Dean Martin) flexing their respective energies, after which the singing was increasingly visited with a kind of “possessed” aspect, a heightened presence, the considerations increasingly unworldly and spiritual. Added to this exultation were Yoshiko Tsuruta’s warm and energised marimba colourings at Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, continuing right through  the “charged” radiance of the Amens.

Whether “A Daughter of Eve” was the programme’s or the composer’s name for the group of three Christina Rosetti songs, I’m not certain – but the set began with Rosetti’s heartfelt exploration of feelings associated with motherhood in “Crying, my little One”, the vocal line beautifully and heartfeltedly maintained by Stephanie Acraman, with sterling support from pianist Katherin Austin. The musicians then relished the relatively unbridled energies of the jolly, angular ditty “Winter: my Secret”, a charming series of pacts made by the poet with Nature and its different moods, the mercurial word-patternings setting enigmas against enigmas in an idiosyncratic way. The lamenting, claustrophobically coloured “Daughter of Eve suggested a loss of innocence wrought by circumstance, poor judgement and little care, day giving way to night, summer turning all too soon to winter, singer and pianist expressing the song’s despair with a deft but always sensitive touch.

New Zealand poet Ursula Bethell’s verses from a collection called “From a Garden in the Antipodes” expresed an intensely personal pride in creating something beautiful, a garden in which the poet “laboured hour on hour”. In a group called “Sit Down With Me Awhile” mezzo Catrin Johnsson and pianist Rachel Fuller delineated both anecdote and detail with a good deal of personality and character. The eponymous opening song outlined the hard work of creation and celebrated the ensuing rewards.  The process was continued with Warfare, a part war-chant and part dance, making a gardener’s peace with adversarial pests, while Ado railed against nature for outstripping the gardener’s best attentions with what the poet called “orgies”! I loved “Easter Bells”, the ambience generously resounding with vocal and instrumental ambiences – Jennings’ writing evoked a powerful sense of ritual and heartfelt faith in the process of change and renewal.

The title of the next group “Myself When Young” was not, in this case, anything to do with Edward Fitzgerald’s “Omar Khayyam” verses – but were settings of poems by Jean Alison Bartlett (1912-2006), written when the poet was 18 years old – soprano Felicity Tompkins’s brighter, more youthful, if less detailed tones energetically conveying the excitement of the poet’s work being published in “My poem was printed”, and with pianist Maria Mo’s evocative, flexible phrasings, savouring the sensuousness of a poem’s words in “Stop, Look, Listen” – beautiful evocations from singer and pianist, here – a pity the on-line text of this song “broke off” mid-way through, denying us the full impact of the words’ meanings……

Finally, there was “Voices of Women”, an extended “sprechgesang” kind of setting which articulated speeches and writings by various women from different parts of the world. Conductor Rachael Griffiths-Hughes powerfully launched the music’s Shostakovich-like opening, the ensemble’s playing (joined to splendid effect by pianist Noelle Dannenbring and percussionist Rachel Thomas) giving the scenario all the tension and “edge” needed throughout the lead-up to the anguished, repeated cries of “Is it right!”, powerfully underlining the spoken words of the first of these women, Kate Sheppard. Unfortunately, the production didn’t signify more clearly which performer was singing and speaking at any one time during the work – but after the speaker’s eloquently-delivered Kate Sheppard quote came a stirring setting of a poem by American Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from 1911 (predating American women suffrage by nine years!), the unnamed singer brilliantly and sonorously articulating the text, particularly telling at the words “That not a woman’s child – nor her own body – is her own”.

The opening music returned to herald Kate Sheppard’s announcement (a different singer) of the passing of the suffrage legislation – I thought the newsreel-like progressions of comments and events had a direct sweep and energy which made for effectively powerful and theatrical listening, the instrumental-only sequence driving the times forward to the present day and the voice of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, “speaking from Parliament” – spoken at first, rather than sung, paying homage to Kate Shepherd and Margaret Sievwright, and containing the telling words “we stand on the shoulders of giants, and they stood on the shoulders of mothers…” Fittingly, the work ended with a fully throated paean of exultant praise and celebration from the ensembled voices, and suitably sonorous underpinning by the instrumental forces – a splendidly-voiced triumph of reason and justice. Janet Jennings’ powerful work has here given ample tongue to the fruition, then and now, of that resounding triumph.


Martin Riseley in the second splendid recital of Bach solo violin sonatas and partitas, benefit for St Andrew’s organ restoration

Martin Riseley (violin)
Bach solo violin partitas and sonatas plus New Zealand composers

Bach: Partita No 3 in E major; Sonata No 3 in C major; Partita No. 2 in D minor
Gareth Farr: Wakatipu
Psathas: Gyftiko

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Friday 7 June, 6:30 pm

At one of last year’s lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s Martin Riseley played one each of Bach’s solo partitas and sonatas, and it led to the suggestion that he might play all six of them. And so he did: he played the first three last month and here were the last three.

This second recital was a generous benefit concert to assist with the restoration of the pipe organ; and Susan Jones spoke about its necessity while organist Peter Franklin gave pithy demonstrations of the character of the organ and examples of its deficiencies.

I should also remark at my surprise that this splendid recital didn’t attract a full house, as I think there are no greater works in the violin repertoire, and Riseley is among the finest violinists in the country.

Though Martin’s notes printed in the programme leaflet are admirable and revelatory (and worth asking St Andrew’s whether they can be emailed), I cannot resist the temptation to share some other particularly illuminating remarks. Here’s what Hilary Hahn wrote to accompany her performances recorded on YouTube: Alongside Paganini’s 24 Caprices for solo violin and Bach’s six cello suites, his Partitas and Sonatas (three apiece) for solo violin stand out among their comparatively few siblings as magnificent music written for an unaccompanied stringed instrument. And while they also represent the zenith of polyphonic writing for a non-keyboard instrument, Bach’s sonatas and partitas were also crucially important in the development of violin technique. With their colossal scope, huge technical demands, and musical complexity, and notwithstanding their awesome intellectual intensity, these creations greatly transcended anything that had preceded them…’

Partita No 3 in E
Riseley began with the third partita and worked in the reverse of the order in which they appear in the Bach catalogue; so that he could end with the second Partita and its great Chaconne. 

The Preludio of the E major Partita is a cheerful, energetic movement to which Riseley contributed the warmth of his fine violin and his own expansive and generous playing. But it’s the Loure that strikes one as contributing something rather special. Forgive me for commenting on this unusual musical dances: best described, from an Internet site: ‘A slow, dignified, French dance of the 17th and 18th centuries usually in 3/4 or 6/4 time. The name derived from a bagpipe used in Normandy; the dance is usually in 6/4 time and has been described as a slow gigue. Examples are found in Bach’s E major partita and in the fifth of his French suites’ (  It’s a reticent, meditative piece whose spirit seems to remain throughout the whole partita.

The Gavotte is one of the more familiar pieces, fresh and spontaneous, while the obligatory menuets are more subdued, the second one takes a more subdued character, almost sounding as if it’s moved to the minor key, though it hasn’t.

Psathas: Gyftiko 
Then came the first of the New Zealand interludes: Psathas’s Gyftiko (or γυφτικο; though not in my Greek dictionary, ‘daddy’ according to ‘Google translate’). Though a test-piece for the Michael Hill Violin Competition, it’s quite an elaborate and substantial piece: melodic, frenzied, unpredictable, and Riseley would presumably have impressed the judges if he had been a competitor.

Bach Sonata No 3 in C 
The third sonata is an imposing piece too: sombre, polyphonic in its Adagio, but its extended Fuga is its core and Riseley allowed its rather near spiritual affinity with the Chaconne of the last partita into view; its imposing fugal structure was its most impressive feature, often sounding as if two or more instruments were involved. Its tone was often so mellow and rich that I looked for a mute on the bridge, but it wasn’t there. The subdued Largo offered no foretaste of the splendid, well-known finale – an Allegro assai with which Riseley brought the first half to a joyous and brilliant conclusion.

Gareth Farr’s piece for the Michael Hill competition, Wakatipu, provided the filling before the second partita, and its Chaconne. Competition pieces have historically been little more than hair-raising technical exploits, but both Psathas and Farr offered much more significant and interesting works and I enjoyed the chance to hear both, so seriously and brilliantly played.

Partita No 2 in D minor 
The second Partita is about half an hour in length. Its movements were omitted from the programme: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue, Chaconne. Riseley noted that it should really be heard in the order that Bach prescribed – after the A minor Sonata (unlike other sets of pieces, the first four sonatas and partitas are in minor keys; only the third of each is in the major). Its D minor key takes charge of its spirit: sombre and serious and profound. The Allemande opened with a sense of wonder, with long, even passages that anchored it through its long piano episodes. The Courante can hardly be called jocular; neither is it spectacular technically, simply preparing us for the first of the two slow, triple-time movements: the Sarabande, which in turn offers in mood, a hint of the spirit and complexity of the Chaconne, though we pass through the humane, cheerful Gigue that’s not really a great technical feat, unlike the great Chaconne to come.

To be present for this performance was a wonderful experience: no hearing from even the greatest violinist on air or an excellent recording can match the live experience; certainly not one as excellent and as satisfying as we heard from Martin Riseley. All the complex emotional, technical and interpretative demands that Bach presents were so beautifully executed and revealed. Here was a performance that made me quite forget Busoni (whose famous piano version I do love), as I became enchanted and overcome by the music’s endless invention and the dynamic and rhythmic variety that the player must deal with. As a long-time lover of the cello suites, this made me realise that none of them contains a movement that approaches this Chaconne.

The audience response at the end was immediate, noisy, even rapturous, and they all knew they has made an infinitely better choice for a Friday evening than the unfortunates who weren’t at this unique recital.

Restorative music from the Restoration, performed by “The Queen’s Closet”

The Queen’s Closet presents –

Music by William Corbett, Matthew Locke, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, William Croft, Henry Purcell, Godfrey Finger, Godfrey Keller, Phillipp Jakob Rittler

The Queen’s Closet – ensemble
Peter Reid (trumpet and cornetto)
Gordon Lehany (trumpet and recorder)
Peter Maunder (sackbut and recorder)
Sharon Lehany (hoboy)
Hyewon Kim (violin)
Jane Young (‘cello)
Lachlan Radford (d-bass)
Laurence Reese (percussion)
Kris Suelicke (harpsichord)

City Gallery, Civic Square, Wellington

Saturday, June 1st 2019

A well-ordered programme, a cornucopia of colourful-sounding instruments, a group of skilled, expressive players and a relaxed, spontaneous-sounding presentation whose varied amalgam of fascinating and engaging sounds ensured a most attractive and resounding early evening’s music-making were the sure-fire ingredients of this concert from the early music group “The Queen’s Closet”. The ensemble’s name is derived from an eponymously-titled room found in a National Trust house located in Richmond, London, the room regarded as representing the most lavishly-detailed preservation of 17th Century fashion and style of décor in existence.

Considering the historical and cultural importance of such a place, one might expect any group aligning themselves to it by name to be somewhat rigorous in recreating authenticity of voice and perfection of detail, perhaps even to an inhibiting or stultifying degree. However, such potentially museum-like responses in performance seem unequivocally NOT to be the group’s raison d’etre, according to an open, freshly-expressed note in the concert’s written programme, which I’d like to quote:  – “What we aim to do is make the historic modern, rather than aiming to conduct historical enactments of the past. When this music was first heard it was fresh and modern – we seek to make the music new and contemporary for audiences in our time and place, recreating the joyous spirit of the Restoration”.

It seems to me a well-thought-out attitude to music-making in general, imbuing the sounds through skill, focus and enthusiasm with an immediacy of reaction, a living, breathing set of responses. Thus we in the audience were engaged by these ancient sounds through the music-making’s “living value”, one that easily transcended time and space, and imbued us with that same “new and contemporary” spirit, the sounds both joyous and captivating!

Kicking off this resoundingly festive event was an Overture in D major from an English composer William Corbett (b.1680) who played in and composed for both theatre and instrumental concert ensembles – he led theatre orchestras in London such as that at the Haymarket, and later became the Director of the King’s Band. His D major Overture made a bright, stirring initial impression, with percussion adding weight and brilliance to the brasses during the music’s introduction, before an allegro daintily danced in on the strings, soon being joined by the rest of the ensemble, everything then beautifully and variedly detailed over a number of movements.

A “Curtain Tune” (possibly one composed for a production of “the Tempest”) by Matthew Locke (b.1621) kept the “theatrical” aspect of things to the fore, with Larry Reece’s timpani making an exciting “opening-up” of the vistas towards the piece’s end. At first it made a marked contrast to the gentle stepwise opening of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Sonata VII, “Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes”, with the trumpets (Peter Reid and Gordon Lehany) answering one another across the platform, with violin and hoboy (oboe) adding their comments, the strings in a continuo kind of role throughout. The trumpets varied this with a dotted rhythm variation accompanied by a tambourine, after which the hoboy and violin had a charming, impish exchange, with the two trumpets joining in the discourse – a beautiful and graceful moment of solemnity! – following which the brasses called to one another to bring the work to its close. I was interested that Biber (b.1644), though not a “Restoration” composer as such through working in Salzburg, was said to have had a definite contemporaneous influence upon the English music of the time.

Throughout the evening the musicians took turns to demonstrate the efficacies of their particular instruments, a process that would have worked even better for me had I not been sitting in the very back row of the auditorium, as I found some of the voices difficult to properly hear. Peter Reid , the trumpet/cornetto player, presented no such problem, his voice happily emulating the instruments’ pleasing audibility, by way of demonstrating for us two kinds of cornetto (“little horn”, incidentally) including a larger “Cornetto Muto”. At the conclusion of a piece which followed, by an unknown composer (a jolly dance!) from a collection of music known as the Magdalene College Part-Books, percussionist Larry Reece talked about his timpani, built in 1830, brighter and sharper-toned than modern orchestral timpani. He also elaborated, most interestingly, upon the practical application of “kettledrums” (often mounted on horseback) in warfare, different sounds conveying different messages to troops on the battlefield.

Appropriately there followed an “Overture with Noise of Cannon” by William Croft (b.1678), very Handelian-sounding, trumpets and drums dominating, following which a fugue, instigated by Hyewon Kim’s nimble violin and Sharon Lehany’s hoboy, furthered the discourse most engagingly, the music’s energy further invigorated by Jane Young’s cello and Lachlan Radford’s double-bass! A beautiful and sombre processional followed, fraught with feeling and the players’ almost palpable engagement with the sounds, before violin and hoboy (again!) roused themselves and danced their way into and through the final movement – splendid!

Purcell’s Symphony from Act V of “King Arthur” here carried a dignity and quiet authority, with beautifully-voiced fanfares exchanged across vistas of imagination and recreation. However, Godfrey Finger (b.1660), I thought, provided one of the evening’s highlights with his Sonata for Trumpet and Hoboy – a heavenly discourse between the two instruments was beautifully supported by the continuo of Kris Zuelicke’s harpsichord and Jane Young’s ‘cello, morphing into a kind of running bass (reminiscent of that in Purcell’s “Sound the Trumpet”, from his “Birthday Ode for Queen Mary”). A stirring call to arms followed (great trumpet-playing from Peter Reid), was then overtaken by sudden melancholy! – the hoboy stricken with sorrow, solemn of movement, downcast of spirit – lovely, heartrending work from Sharon Lehany!  Eventually, he veil of angst was lifted by both instruments, and contentment restored.

Another Trumpet Sonata followed, this one by another Godfrey, with the surname of Keller. Beginning with a sprightly “statement and answer” sequence, the trumpet “played” with the endless permutations of this, before reversing the sequences in the next section, the ensemble “calling the tune” this time, as it were. A gentle 3/4 melancholy pervaded the next section, with lovely, delicately-moulded lines here for the sackbut, from Peter Maunder. A running bass, heroic trumpet and celebratory opening of the last movement brought out some lovely exchanges, the ensemble as a whole generating an almost alchemic “feel” for tempi and instrumental balances, producing mellifluous results – the timpani “rounded off” the festive ambience with suitably reinforced “effect”!

Sackbut player Peter Maunder talked briefly about his instrument, clarifying further for me its distinctiveness from a trombone, and telling us something I hadn’t before realised, that sackbuts and trombones were historically associated with church, as opposed to trumpets’ better-known martial connections and horns being always bracketed with hunting. In the next piece by Matthew Locke (Music for the play “Psyche”), Peter Maunder’s playing of his sackbut in a recitative-like passage during the introduction brought out the most beautiful tones, a lovely cantabile, followed by a stately dance movement.  The solo lines reminded me of the trombone solo in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture”, the playing beautifully-phrased and sumptuously-toned.

Last on the programme was the music of Phillipp Jakob Rittler (b.1637), the piece being a Ciaconna, or Chaconne. At the outset the music was slow, stately, relaxed and quietly joyous, with various percussive bells and cymbals adding to the gradual agglommeration of texture and ambience, everything more and more animated and wide-ranging! Antiphonal trumpets had a fine old time as did other instrument “pairs”, such as the violin and hoboy. The music reached its apex, then gradually receded, leaving us with dying tones and “fled is that music?” echoes of mingled regret and pleasure. At the concert’s end the weather outside was even more frightful than when I came at the beginning – but the palpable enjoyment of both the music and its performance throughout the evening amply compensated for my twice-told soaking!




Harmony of the Spheres in tandem with life on earth – Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) from Baroque Voices and instrumentalists

Loemis presents:
A Winter Solstice Offering in Medieval Song and Dance

Harmony of the Spheres
The music of Abbess Hildegard von Bingen

Baroque Voices, directed by Pepe Becker
Pepe Becker, Jane McKinlay, Virginia Warbrick, Milla Dickens, Andrea Cochrane, Alexandra Granville, Toby Gee
Instrumental Ensemble
Warren Warbrick (nga taonga puoro), Pepe Becker (shruti-box), Gregory Squire (medieval fiddle), Robert Oliver (rebec) Laurence Reece (drums, bells, shruti-box)

Hall of Memories, National War Memorial
Buckle St., Mt Cook, Wellington

Sunday 17th June 2018

More of a spiritual/aesthetic experience than merely a “concert” was Baroque Voices’ evocative and atmospheric presentation “Harmony of the Spheres”, triumphantly bringing together singers, instrumentalists and audience to share and delight in the joys of exploration, wonderment and celebration wrought by the music of the twelfth-century Abbess Hildegard of Bingen. No more ambient and timeless sounds than those of Hildegard’s music intermingled with both contemporaneous dance rhythms and the haunting strains of a taonga puoro instrument could have been conceived – and no better venue for such a venture in the capital could have been chosen than the Hall of Memories at the National War Memorial in Mt.Cook’s Buckle St., beneath the Carillon.

Added to this for we listeners was the sense of participation in a living form of ritual – we were encircled by the musicians, the seated instrumentalists in front, and the singers standing at the sides around the auditorium, the latter moving one position clockwise in between each of the sequences and chants, and in doing so enclosing us in a diaphanous web of vocal sounds, almost as if we were part of the choir itself. Of course the nature of such isolated voice-placements resulted in the unison lines acquiring for a number of reasons more of a soft-focused communal roundness throughout, instead of the ensemble’s usual sharply-etched homogeneity of sound. It seemed almost as if we were privy to worship carried out by an actual community of nuns and novices, as bent on connecting with the spiritually expressive content of the words they sang, as concerning themselves with a certain quality of sound.

I had previously heard Hildegard’s work performed in concert, occasionally by Baroque Voices themselves, though invariably in tandem with the work of other composers. Having her music presented with the kind of focus and historical context provided here couldn’t help but make a profound impression on anybody’s sensibilities, a feeling of tapping into some kind of transcendental creative force that simply couldn’t be denied or thwarted by earthly impediments – a notion which was afterwards reinforced by my reading Pepe Becker’s informative programme-notes, which included a brief biography of the composer, of the kind that makes one realise how puny one’s own achievements in life really are!

Included also in the printed programme (which I didn’t get to read until after the concert!) were translations of the original Latin texts of the Hymns, which were also written by Hildegard! What Pepe Becker calls her “expressive and rapturous” imagery in places predates that of the English metaphysical poets writing five hundred years later, in terms of physical and erotic imagery – the Antiphon “Hodie Aparuit”, for example, which speaks of the Virgin’s womb opening only for the Son of God – “from it gleams within the dawn the Virgin Mary’s flower”. The body for Hildegard is at once the holiest and most responsive of sanctuaries, as these words in praise of the third-century Saint Eucharius’s holiness show – “In your mouth Ecclesia (a female personification of the Church) savours the old and the new wine which is the potion of holiness”. There’s an exhilarating freedom about such use of imagery  – “from your womb, O dawn, has come the sun anew!” – which disarms with its wholeheartedness and candour.

Complementing the vocal performances were the efforts of the instrumentalists whose distinctive tones played their part in evoking the presentation’s duality of medieval ambience and timelessness. An extra dimension of place was wrought by taonga puoro player Warren Warbrick’s plaintive bird-like realisations on the pūtōrino, whose sounds began the presentation proper, then alternated utterances with the voice of Pepe Becker in “O Ignis Spiritus”, and the vocal ensemble in “O Euchari”. Both vocal and pūtōrino timbres drew from one another a common sense of something spiritual and extra-terrestrial, a girdle of sounds whose combination seemed to readily encompass the entirety of the globe.

Earthiness of a different order pervaded the contribution of the remaining instrumentalists, a quality readily conceded by the excellent violinist Gregory Squire, in his note about the presentation’s instruments-only contributions – he remarks that while song was a “constant” in the church, “dance was, more often than not, the preserve of the illiterate rabble”. As well as contributing these sequences the instrumentalists also provided discreet accompaniments to some of the singing, usually in the form of “drone-like” pedal notes from the string instruments, or occasional bell-chimes, with the aforementioned pūtōrino making its voice heard occasionally. There was also a kind of “squeeze-box” called a shruti-box whose delicate whisperings  nevertheless created telling ambiences.

But it was the dance music which made the most enduring impression, the players seemingly drawing from the earth itself the necessary energies and articulations that made this vigorous music “speak”. We heard quick music whose sequences were called Trotto (Latin – trottare – to trot) and Ghaetta (an Italian city’s name, and also Spanish for bagpipes), as well as a more extended sequence called “Lamento di Tristano”, a musical representation of the search for the Holy Grail, which contained various narrative references in the form of different tempi and moods for different parts of the piece. Both Robert Oliver (rebec) and Laurence Reese (drums, bells) hove to with a will in tandem with their violinist, generating as lively and visceral a response in the energetic sequences as, were, in contrast, their contributions to the slower pieces delicate and thoughtful.

Altogether we were transported by the sounds and their realisations to a time and place in keeping with a more natural order of things, our sensibilities delighting in the juxtapositioning of the sacred and profane, and marvelling at the ease and flow of co-existence between the two. It was part of the genius of Pepe Becker and her collaborators that such disparate elements as the creative genius of Hildegard of Bingen, popular medieval dance music and timelessly ambient sounds from Aotearoa were brought together with such memorable and resounding effect.






Unfamiliar but rewarding music to mark Conference on 17th and 18th century English music

‘My Sweetest Choice’

A Recital of English Music from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Rowena Simpson (soprano), Kamala Bain (recorders), Douglas Mews (harpsichord)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Thursday, 9 February 2017, 5pm

When on Wednesday after the lunchtime concert someone drew my attention to a poster in St Andrew’s Church foyer, advertising a concert the following early evening, I was unaware of its provenance.  It transpired that it was in association with the 11th Biennial Conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.  Therefore the substantial audience was largely made up of delegates to this conference.  It proved to be an intriguing sampler of unfamiliar music, beautifully performed, thanks in part to subtle rubati and tempi that were not too strict.  For nearly an hour we were treated to delights not usually heard.

Each musician gave clear but brief introductions to the music they were about to perform, and the nicely produced printed programme included words of the songs and biographies of the performers.  It was a pity that such a small typeface was used, but fitting everything into the space available, including a few artistic illustrations, was probably quite a feat.

Most of the pieces were quite short, giving the audience plenty of variety in a relatively short time.  First was one for unaccompanied descant recorder by Jacob van Eyck (1590-1657) on the tune of The English Nightingale.  There were certainly plenty of bird sounds in it.  It made a great introit to the concert.  Next was ‘The Primerose’ and ‘The Fall of the Leafe’ by Martin Peerson (c. 1571-1651), pieces for harpsichord, decorated by the recorder, in the second piece that was the tenor recorder.  The contrast in timbres was most pleasing.

Moving forward in time, we encountered Henry Purcell (1659-95).  Here were two ‘Grounds’, based on music and poems by others.  The first, for harpsichord only, was delicate and charming, while the second, on ‘O Solitude’, the translation of the French words being by Katherine Philips (1632-1664).  Rowena Simpson’s fine singing was enhanced by the splendid  acoustic of St, Andrew’s Church, which was in part responsible for the clarity of the words and for this being the best I have heard her sing, in numbers of times and venues.

Some sprightly pieces followed, all accompanied by harpsichord, the first by John Adson with descant recorder, one by William Brade using the tenor instrument, then voice and tenor recorder in ‘I prithee send me back my heart’ by Henry Lawes, and finally an anonymous ‘Second Witches Dance’, a jolly quick and even quirky dance employing the descant recorder.

Godfrey Finger (1660-1730) I had never heard of, but his ‘Ground’ was well traversed by the quick fingers of Kamala Bain on the treble recorder.  A familiar melody followed, in ‘Divisions on The Drunken Sailor’, an anonymous composition.  Douglas Mews informed us that it predated publication of the well-known song., so perhaps the music was written before the words were.  Its jollity lived up to the title.

Handel was the most celebrated composer represented in the concert and justly contributed the most music to the programme.  Settings of extracts from Milton’s L’Allegro and Il Penseroso were sung.  All were performed with great finesse, but also style and panache.  The music never sounded ‘precious’.  ‘Far from all resort of mirth’ was more intricate than the earlier songs by other composers.  The treble recorder and the voice both had opportunity for melisma. The composer’s Suite in D minor (HWV 428) was played by Douglas Mews.  He explained that its Prelude had an improvisatory style, while the Allegro was a lovely fugue in French style and the Air and Variations was a fast piece in this form.  Mews’s articulation at the keyboard gave the Prelude life, lightness and vigour, while the Allegro was indeed lovely, and the final movement was fast and exciting.

Two more Milton poetry settings ended the concert in fine style. Simpson’s voice was throughout clear and absolutely accurate.  ‘May at last my weary age’ was for voice and harpsichord only, and covered a wide range, but all was well managed. The last ‘Or let the merry bells ring round’, where the sopranino recorder joined in, was a suitably bell-like and happy conclusion to the concert.


Full vindication of the glories of the violin and piano repertoire, courtesy the Michael Hill violin competition

Suyeon Kang (violin) and Stephen De Pledge (piano)
Chamber Music New Zealand

Mozart: Violin Sonata in E flat, K 380
Ravel: Violin Sonata No 1 in A minor (posthumous)
Schubert: Sonatina in G Minor, D 408
Kenneth Young: Gone
Stravinsky: Divertimento

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday 2 July 7:30 pm

Suyeon Kang won last year’s Michael Hill International Violin Competition and it is thanks to the splendid relationship between the competition and the chamber music organization that the winners can be heard in a series of concerts throughout New Zealand.

There are others in this project: the Queenstown Winter Festival (where the preliminary rounds of the competition are held), Musica Viva Australia (where two of the concerts in the series take place) and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Together with pianist Stephen De Pledge, Suyeon is in the middle of a sixteen-concert tour of New Zealand and Australia.

Presumably of Korean descent, Suyeon is Australian, and her early training there culminated at 16, in winning the Symphony Australia ABC Young Performer’s Award.  Since then she has won major prizes at many international violin competitions, and has played with eminent orchestras, such as Camerata Bern and the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester (which was the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra till 1993), and in chamber ensembles with leading musicians. Clearly the Michael Hill competition attracts experienced violinists on the verge of major careers.

Stephen De Pledge, her partner in this concert series, was an Auckland University graduate who studied at the Guildhall in London and had a flourishing career in Britain and many parts of the world before returning in 2010 to teach at Auckland University.

While on the context of this concert, I might mention that those arriving a bit early were invited to listen to competitors in this year’s Schools Chamber Music Contest, finalists from Wellington’s preliminaries who competed for the semi-finals. I heard the final few minutes of the Apollo Trio playing part of Gareth Farr’s Mondo Rondo and then Trio Funky Dumky playing the Poco Adagio from the eponymous Dvořák piano trio: quite magically expressed, slow, hushed and breathless. See:

It might be fair to observe that, even more than solo piano recitals, duos involving violin or cello and piano, seem to have become rare events. And so, violin sonatas that remain in the memory from my teens have had very few occasions to be refreshed in recent years; which was the case with both the Mozart and the Schubert.

I was enraptured right away with the playing of Mozart’s E flat sonata.  The violin spoke with a febrile tenderness, elegant, her bow moving lightly over the strings, producing subtle colours; and De Pledge echoed her mood and expressiveness, producing from the Steinway a sound that approximated somehow the spirit of a fortepiano of Mozart’s era. There were no histrionics or false emotions. The Andante continued in a similar, thoughtful way, and although in the minor key, it wasn’t sadness so much as restlessness that ruled this beautiful movement.

There was pure classical levity and pleasure in the finale – Allegro, the playing confident yet discreet, phrased in the most sophisticated, sensitive way and, if you like, oblivious to the troubles surrounding Mozart’s world.

It is surprising that Ravel, whose output was not all that large, would have forgotten about a piece that he wrote aged 22, while at the Paris Conservatoire. But that’s the story of his sonata in A minor, not unearthed and published till the 1970s. It would take rather specially gifted ears and perhaps wishful thinking to hear much of the typical Ravel in it, but there’s Fauré and perhaps Chausson and perhaps Lekeu. In one movement, it reveals taste and a refined musicality, no tunes that are likely to pester you as you try to get to sleep, but just very agreeable music, and played with exquisite care and persuasiveness. In fact there were arresting passages which offered some contrast though nothing that could be mistaken for high drama.

Schubert’s ‘Sonatina’ in G minor is one of three that Schubert wrote in his teens and had called sonatas but were posthumously published by Diabelli as sonatinas; perhaps on account of the relative brevity. In some composers, brevity would be gratefully accepted, but not in these. Its strength is conspicuous at once as; in a fairly serious tone, the piano takes the tune through fast, pulsing violin figurations; then their roles reverse. It remains lively and interesting through the Andante, with agreeable understatement and restraint. But I wondered a little at the third movement – Menuetto, which purported to be allegro vivace, but where the energy seemed to ebb a little.

Competitions usually have a compulsory set piece, and it was Kenneth Young who was commissioned to write something that would expose weaknesses as well as strengths (am I right about its purpose?). His piece for solo violin was called Gone. The programme notes explained how emotional labels of many kinds could be attached to it, and so it was played. In the event, scope for identifying and exploring conspicuous pains seemed limited, which might point to emotional incapacity on my part; but Suyeon navigated its alleged storms and frustrations with technical ease and even a certain detachment.

Finally, Stravinsky’s Divertimento; four movements drawn from themes in the charming 1928 ballet Le baiser de la fée, which in turn had drawn on songs and other music by Tchaikovsky whom Stravinsky was particularly fond of. That is a sufficient reason to be predisposed to rejoice in its inventiveness, melodic charm and humour (a uniquely Stravinsky but hardly a Tchaikovsky quality) and, in this case, admiration for and delight at the ingenuity and awareness of its characteristics by both players who truly captured all its balletic and theatrical charm. It, and the Suite Italienne (which they play in the other programme which you could catch at Palmerston North on 8 July), are treasurable additions to the violin and piano repertoire.

They acknowledged the strong applause with the Heifetz arrangement of Debussy’s youthful song Beau Soir.

I began by reflecting on the supposed lack of interest in solo chamber music or duos such as for violin, and the not overflowing size of this evening’s audience did seem to justify my speculations. For me this was a quite delightful concert both for the choice of music and for its stylistically and technically superb performances.

Another appearance by cellist Rustem Khamidullin with Sarah Watkins, at Paekakariki

Mulled Wine Concerts Paekakariki

Rustem Khamidullin (cello) and Sarah Watkins (piano)

Schubert: Sonata in A minor ‘Arpeggione’
Schumann: Three fantasy pieces, Op 73
Rachmaninov: Sonata in G minor – the 3rd movement, Andante
Franck: Sonata in A (for violin, arranged for cello)

Paekakariki Memorial Hall

Sunday 19 June, 2:30 pm

I had gone to my third encounter with Rustem Khamidullin, not to write about it but just to enjoy without a pen in my hand, to hear him in another context. And of course, the pleasure of being able to get there by train, being able to look at the heavy seas and Kapiti Island from high on the cliffs north from Pukerua Bay rather than seeing little while driving on the road, and then a pleasant 12 minute walk to the hall. (Witnessing the thousands of one-to-a-car commuters from Kapiti, and their passion for Transmission Gully, I wonder that the population seems indifferent to its lovely train service).

It was such a treat that when I got home the computer keyboard seemed to plead for attention.

Word had got out that this would be a great concert, and so it was, with a full house. But it was not just the Russian cellist who made it such a fine recital; it was also his collaborator Sarah Watkins, well known at Paekakariki as part of the NZ Trio, who proved just as excellent in duo as in trio. I couldn’t help thinking that the cellist would have been delighted to find such a fine, totally empathetic pianist.

Khamidullin’s secret is the unusual subtlety and the secretiveness with which he handles soft passages, and which Watkins mirrors so perfectly so that neither ever obscures the sounds the other is making. That helped make the Schubert sonata, for the short-lived hybrid called the arpeggione, into a more interesting and attractive piece than I sometimes feel it is.

The Schumann pieces, which he cast primarily for the clarinet, are pretty familiar; he envisaged them also as suited for viola or cello. The three pieces hold challenges for both piano and cello and I was very impressed by the flights of virtuosity and the virtually flawless ensemble that the two maintained.

After the interval the duo played the slow movement – Andante – from Rachmaninov’s cello sonata (actually the only piece in the programme written specifically for the cello), where the wide-spaced melodies caught the spirit of the second piano concerto which he’d completed just before this sonata; some of the piano writing is of concerto-style virtuosity, though it was never cluttered as one instrument made room for the other to take the spotlight. My only problem was what wasn’t played before and after the Andante. But that would have taken over half an hour.

Finally Franck’s violin sonata, which is so emotional and unashamedly melodic that it gets borrowed by other instrumentalists, even the flute (recently by flutist Rebecca Steel with Diedre Irons, which I thought wonderful). But I’ve loved Franck ever since hearing the then National Orchestra play the Symphony in D minor in the 50s (I suspect) and then hearing this sonata shortly after.

This was a quite seriously passionate performance, starting with the calm Allegretto moderato which seems a sort of smoldering anticipation of the Allegro where, particularly, the piano part is excitable while the violin/cello maintains the lovely melodies.

A most enjoyable concert, that attracted a full house. We got two encores (Hora Staccato and Rachmaninov’s song ‘How fair this Spot’, Op 21 No 7), in response to the entire audience coming to its collective feet at the end of the Franck.


Diverting harp duo recital affected by too much musical competition

NZ Harp Duo
Michelle Velvin and Jennifer Newth, harps

John Thomas: Serch Hudol (Love’s Fascination)
Carlos Salzedo: Chanson dans la nuit and Pentacle
Granados: Spanish Dance no.5 in E minor Andaluza Op.37
Bernard Andrès: Parvis – Cortège et Danse
Debussy: La cathédrale engloutie
Caroline Lizotte: Raga for two harps, Op.41

St. Peter’s Church

Saturday, 28 May 2016, 7pm

This harp duo was enjoyed by all those present, but the atrocious weather and the number of other music events on in the city may have contributed to the rather small audience – approx. 40 people.

The Thomas piece made a good opening work for the concert with its robust tones, demonstrating that harps are not just other-worldly instruments. The beginning could have been a hymn tune, with cheerful chords. It was followed by variations in which the two harps worked beautifully together, and in contrast with each other.

After the bold came more subdued passages, and we moved from hymn tune to folksong. As the programme note said “Thomas drew on his Welsh heritage and folk-music background, to create fantasies on traditional melodies.” The fact that Thomas was a harpist himself (1826-1913) showed in his well-crafted music. It was a thoroughly delightful piece.

Jennifer Newth spoke to the audience about their duo and their forthcoming composition competition to encourage New Zealand composers to write for the harp. She spoke about the next piece to be played, written by Carlos Salzedo, an American harpist and composer (1885-1961), who was born and studied in France. Antiphonal playing between the two instruments was most effective, as was the variety of techniques employed. Plucking low on the strings made a very metallic and loud sound, in contrast with the more usual playing in the centre of the strings. Glissandi were not only of the kind we are accustomed to, but also sometimes using the backs of the hands, so that the fingernails produced a more brittle, less sustained tone. Knocking with the hand on the soundboard was another acoustic feature used here and in other works we heard.

The second Salzedo work was quite a long suite, Pentacle. It consisted of five movements. Jennifer Newth introduced some of the ideas behind the names of the movements. ‘Steel’ proved to create sounds of the industrial age, as she said. There were both loud and soft and repetitive phrases, and a variety of non-traditional harp techniques.

‘Serenade’ she described as having harsh nocturnal sounds, but I did not find it unpleasant. It was followed by ‘Félines’, which was fun, with lots of rapid high notes as of cats scampering lightly around. ‘Catacombs’ was spooky and dark in tone, with many different acoustic effects. I could see the multiple pedal changes Michelle had to make. Among the amazing effects the players achieved was one produced when one hand moved up and down a string while the other plucked, or sometimes stroked the strings in glissandi.

Hitting strings with rods; plucking a string and allowing a relatively long period of resonance were two techniques. In contrast to the latter, was playing in a high register with short, repetitive strokes, then fading to nothing. An ethereal sound was obtained by wiping down the strings with a cloth.

The final movement, ‘Pantomime’, was much jollier and livelier. A great variety of dynamics was obtained by plucking the strings more gently or more sharply. This piece involved quite a lot of playing around with intonation, by techniques involving the head of the strings where they went round the tuning pins. Many of these extended techniques I had never seen before.

After the length and intensity of the suite, it was quite a relief to hear something familiar: Granados’s piece for piano (which I played years ago) transcribed by Salvedo. It worked well on two harps, and the use of different tones made it interesting.

The Andrès work had one harpist tapping on strings with a short stick and then tapping the soundboard while the other plucked her strings as the music moved unrelentingly from solemn procession to dance.

Debussy’s well-known piano piece followed. It was good programming to play a couple of familiar works in a programme such as this. There was a lovely build-up throughout; the music depicts very well the story of the sunken cathedral that rises out of the water at sunrise. The transcription was by our two harpists.

The final work was a challenging one, by contemporary Canadian harpist and composer, Caroline Lizotte. Jennifer mentioned that, along with the obvious Indian characteristics, there was an element of imitated whale song in the work. The piece started with a rod being slid down a string while others were being plucked; a spooky effect. On the other harp there were gentle sounds. The pace and musical variation gradually picked up, switching between major and minor modes.

Suddenly there was a clash on a small Indian cymbal suspended from Michelle’s music stand, and a jingle of little Indian bells which I learned that she had round her ankle. Another element was twisting the strings to give a slow vibrato effect, such as Indian musicians obtain with the strings moved on the frets of their sitars. Along with this we had on the other harp knocking on the soundboard and using a drummer’s mallet on it. Jennifer struck a full-sized cymbal on a stand from time to time. There was yet another drumming sound that I couldn’t track down, though it seemed to come from Michelle’s side. Typically of ragas, the piece built in pace and intensity.

These young women are amazing in their skills, and a credit to their teacher, Carolyn Mills. Their playing seemed impeccable, and the range of techniques astonishing. St. Peter’s proved to be an excellent venue for such a concert, the bright acoustic enhanced by all the wood panelling and seating. There was much brilliance here from two highly skilled and talented performers, but despite this, there was a sameness of sound that palled somewhat by the end of the programme.

An encore was a slightly gentler, quite folksy piece with much variety. It was ‘Flitter Song’ by Charles Guard, a Manx harpist and composer.