Cantoris Choir celebrates its fiftieth anniversary with the help of Te Kōkī NZSM Orchestra and Mozart

NZSM and Cantoris Choir present:
MOZART –  Symphony No. 35 in D K.385 “Haffner”
– Mass in C Minor K.427 “The Great”
– Motet “Ave Verum Corpus” K.618

Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music Orchestra
Reuben Brown (conductor – “Haffner” Symphony)

Cantoris Choir
Georgia Jamieson Emms, Michaela Cadwgan (sopranos)
Jamie Young (tenor), William King (bass)
Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music Orchestra
Thomas Nikora (Music Director, Cantoris Choir – “The Great” Mass)

St.Peter’s-on-Willis, Wellington

Saturday, 24th April, 2021

“The devil take organisations that programme concerts for Saturday nights” I muttered repeatedly to myself, driving around Wellington’s busy streets, and looking for a car-park with mounting desperation as the Cantoris/NZSM concert’s starting time drew nearer and nearer! Eventually, after hurriedly walking to the church from a circuitously discovered parking space several blocks away, I arrived to find the front door closed and everybody else seated! I was, however, admitted, and, thanks to some introductory preamble from the concert’s organisers, actually got to my seat before a note had been played, as a result admitting to myself grudgingly that my near-lateness was really my own fault!

Such a good thing that I’d “made it” though, despite my organisational misjudgements – because the concert’s opening item, Mozart’s joyous and celebratory “Haffner” Symphony was given a totally invigorating performance by the student musicians under the direction of their conductor, Reuben Brown, one whose every note I thought tingled with life in the playing! – nowhere could I sense a mechanical or a “going through the motions” impulse, be it those opening shouts of octave-spanning exuberance or the murmured exchanges that contrasted with the enthusiastic outbursts.

Throughout, the dynamics constantly made us prick up our ears to exhilarating effect, as did the balancing of winds and strings in the upward flourishes, the winds elsewhere making the most of their expressive passages, conductor and players together shaping the themes with real feeling, but without ever letting the life-pulses of the music slacken.

The exquisite slow movement was given the space its themes needed to work their magic, the string passages having a delicacy that charmed our senses, as did the bassoon’s droll accompaniments, the lyrical lines singing their hearts out, with strings, then winds taking the lead, the oboes’ partnership a pleasure,  and the horns discreetly colouring the ambiences.

I thought the Minuet needed a touch more rustic bravado for the opening to make the most of its “swagger set against elegance” exchange, but the point was made, and the trio allowed the winds, led by the oboes, to emphasise the “grace” of the sequence.

The finale I thought terrific, the control by conductor and players over the accented dynamics of the contrasting phrases was so very ear-catching, done with a feeling of spontaneity that gave it all an edge and an excitement that I thought captured the composer’s youthful genius – a most enjoyable performance that was enthusiastically received at the end, and justly so!

And so, after an interval, it was Cantoris Choir’s turn, this evening celebrating its fiftieth anniversary year by showing what it could do with a work reckoned to be one of Mozart’s finest, his Mass in C Minor K.427, often called the “Great Mass”. Mozart was no stranger to settings of the liturgy, having produced at least fifteen settings of what was known as the “Ordinary” (the Latin text) of the Mass during his early Salzburg years, besides various other “sacred” works for different forms of worship, However, once he had left Salzburg for Vienna, he concentrated almost exclusively on secular works, apart from this “Great Mass”, and the later Requiem (1791), both works being left unfinished. The Great Mass was actually written for the occasion of his first return visit to Salzburg with his new wife, Constanza, in 1783 – in fact Constanza sang the “Et incarnatus est” section from the “Credo” at the work’s premiere in Salzburg. Interestingly, Mozart never attempted to finish the mass’s uncompleted parts (such as in the “Credo”), or add the missing “Agnus Dei”.

Beginning with a great archway of sounds growing out of a sombre instrumental beginning, the work’s opening Kyrie here sang out splendidly, the textures rich and full, thanks to adroit balancing of the forces, with perhaps the brasses being accorded slightly more ear-catching prominence than we needed, exciting though the sounds were. Thomas Nikora and his singers brought out plenty of sonorous tones and dynamic variations leading up to soprano Michaela Cadwgan’s serene entry at Christe Eleison, her soaring lines confidently rising to meet the tessitura, as well as relishing the interactive moments with the choir.

A solo voice intoned the opening line of the “Gloria”, to which the choir burst out in response, everything festive and joyous, with the music quickly and adroitly switching moods between the opening joyfulness and the serenity of “Et in terra pax hominibus”. The following “Laudamus Te” sparkled both instrumentally and vocally, Michaela Cadwgan’s firm, focused singing putting one in mind in places of the vocal energies generated by the composer’s “Queen of the Night” arias from “The Magic Flute” without the latter character’s angst and malevolence, the “Glorificamus Te” sections being particularly florid.

A sudden dramatic shift at “Gratias agimus tibi” from the chorus became more fraught with the words  “Propter magnam Gloriam Tuam”,  this somewhat awe-struck reverence happily leavened by the music for the two sopranos at “Domine Deus”, Georgia Jamieson Emms and Michaela Cadwgan teaming up beautifully, and making a virtue of their different vocal timbres in the exchanges at “Agnus Dei”, thrilling us in places with their stratospheric note-swapping. The dotted Handelian rhythms of “Qui tollis peccata mundi” brought forth an amazingly incisive sound from both choir and orchestra, the rawness of the louring brass in places either (depending on one’s tastes as a listener!) overbearing or excitingly “present”, but dramatically telling in the contrast with the hushed pleas of “Miserere nobis” which followed, before building again towards further waves of cataclysmic energy! – what an amazing build-up of intensity was got here at “Qui sedes a dextram Patris!”, with by turns, haunting, then full-throated cries of “Miserere nobis!” – astonishing!

Both sopranos with tenor Jamie Young then made a remarkable trio of voices for the amazing “Quoniam Tu Solus Sanctus” the writing as florid as could be imagined, partly canonical, and partly fugal, the singers hanging onto the precarious solo lines with terrific elan! A great orchestral chord announced the words “Jesu Christe”, majestically delivered by the combined forces, before the men’s voices began a fugue with “Cum Sancto Spiritu”, spreading like wildfire and as excitingly through the voices before introducing the “Amens”, combining these with both fugue and inversion in a ferment of exhilaration before hurling the final “Amens” heavenwards with great surety and gusto!

The Credo, such as it was, began with a solo voice, answered by rumbustious orchestral figures over which the choir vigorously proclaimed the prayer’s basic tenets of faith and belief, breaking into decorative contrapuntal lines at the words “Ante omnia saecula “(before all time began), and giving the words rapid canonic treatment from men’s and women’s voices ( some briefly blurred lines here entirely forgiveable) from “Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine” (God from God, Light from Light), as far as Descendit de Caelis (Descended from Heaven), the voices suggesting similar trajectories.

This was followed by the heavenly “Et incarnatus est”, soft strings, organ and celestial winds introducing the soprano voice of Georgia Jamieson Emms, the voice here beautifully “floated”, negotiating both the high notes and the torturous coloratura which follows with great aplomb, and given sterling support by the various wind instruments. In fact her voice seemed to grow in surety and confidence as she approached the cadenza-like sequence again accompanied by the winds, both singer and players drawing on some kind of alchemic quality of loveliness throughout – a memorable performance!

There was little time to reflect on what we had been denied through the rest of the Credo’s absence – for here was the “Sanctus”, grand and imposing, with the brasses echoing the choir’s shouts, and a beautifully deep organ pedal accompanying the words “Domine Deus Sabaoth”, the atmosphere joyous and celebratory! Conversely, the fugal “Hosanna” was excitable and energetic, but with Thomas Nikora’s direction allowing the girth and “swagger” of the music to cone through, up to the great shouts of “In excelsis” at the end, though the strings continued, leading on to the “Benedictus”, featuring all four soloists for the first time,  bass William King making his long-awaited entrance! All the soloists acquitted themselves beautifully, the individual voices resounding like church bells with their repeated “Benedictuses” and blended lines, all coping with some particularly demanding concerted writing towards the end with great credit, their final “In Nomine Domini” as vigorous and incisive as any of the evening’s utterances.

It remained for the choir to deliver the final moments of the Sanctus’s return,  and the work’s journey was completed – well, actually, not quite, as we had been promised at the beginning that, to make up for the parts that the composer DIDN’T write, we would be given a kind of “bonus”, one that would “finish” the Mass in a more appropriately closing kind of manner. For this reason the work and the evening were both “rounded off” by another of Mozart’s works, the motet “Ave Verum Corpus” K.618, written in 1791 for a choirmaster friend in Baden, Anton Stoll, who had helped the Mozarts find lodgings in the town for Wolfgang’s wife Constanze, who was pregnant and needed the relief given by the local mineral springs.

Lasting only two-and-a-half minutes, this astonishing piece captures a tranquility that would have been entirely absent from Mozart’s life at that time  – he was currently working on the opera “The Magic Flute”, and still to come that year (the year of his death) were the opera “La Clemenza di Tito” the Clarinet Concerto and the unfinished Requiem. Perhaps the inner peace of this work expressed an outward longing for the same, freed from the difficulties he was at that time embroiled with. Its performance here, one infused with light and warmth, made an entirely appropriate conclusion to a concert whose undertaking and execution Cantoris Choir and its Musical Director, Thomas Nikora, could be justly proud of.











NZSM Orchestra with conductor Hamish McKeich showcases achievements by 2020 award-winning composer and instrumentalist at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music presents:
Music by Mica Thompson, Carl Reinecke and Johannes Brahms

REINECKE – Flute Concerto In D Major Op.283
BRAHMS – Symphony No. 2 in D Major Op.73

Isabella Gregory (flute)
Hamish McKeich (conductor)
New Zealand School of Music Orchestra

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

Saturday, 26th September, 2020

Pandemic restrictions having been relaxed of late (though judiciously more “on hold” than entirely done away with), we were allowed more-or-less regularly-spaced seating at St. Andrew’s to hear the most recent of the NZSM Orchestra’s public concerts, one featuring the recent winner of the School’s Concerto Competition, flutist Isabella Gregory (see the review at, playing the Reinecke concerto with which she won the prize, though on this occasion with a full and proper orchestral accompaniment! Flanking her polished, sparkling efforts were two other items, the concert beginning with a work for orchestra  entitled “Song” by Hawkes Bay-born composer Micah Thompson, and concluding with the well-known Second Symphony by Brahms.

Thanks to the aforementioned ravages of Covid-19 upon the present year in respect of public music-making and -presentation, this was, I think, the first 2020 NZSM orchestral concert I’d attended , though I had seen a few of the individual players in other orchestral and chamber presentations at various times. It was certainly one worth the wait for, and promised much beforehand, with the NZSO’s principal Conductor-in-Residence Hamish McKeich due to rehearse and direct the performances. Also, one of the NZSO’s recent Guest Conductors, Miguel Harth-Bedoya apparently worked with the orchestra during this period – though it’s not clear whether the latter had any direct involvement with the orchestra’s preparation for this concert.

The evening began with “thanks and praise” from the director of the School, Prof. Sally Jane Norman, thanks for the efforts of people in staging the concert in the face of near-insuperable difficulties, and praise for the efforts of the musicians and their tutors – mixed in with all of this was warm appreciation for people’s actual attendance at the concert, supporting the school’s activities in fostering the careers of young composers/musicians.

First we heard a work by composer Micah Thompson, called “Song”, and inspired in part by the poetry of British poet Ted Hughes (1930-1998), specifically in this case a 1957 poem “The Hawk in the Rain”. Thompson explained, both in a progamme note and by means of an internet post ( how the poet’s interest in the “identity, history and mythologies of particular animals” had informed his own approach to exploring musical instruments’ characteristics and their use – he used Hughes’s “wild, sometimes brutal, but always expressive and melancholic” verses as a kind of counterpoint to his own creative impulses. As the programme printed the text of Hughes’ verses, I couldn’t help comparing his earthier, more confrontational expressiveness to that of an earlier poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins, in the latter’s comparatively rarefied (but just as dramatic and musical) poem from 1877, “The Windhover”, describing the flight of another bird of prey, a falcon.

Thompson’s work also took a number of previously-composed solo pieces, for piano, clarinet and flute, and “collaged” them into what he called “an orchestral space”. This space coalesced into life, the ambient beginnings featuring slivers of percussion, mingled with taonga-puoro-like calls, creating an atmosphere of wildness and vast resonances of possibility – long string lines were punctuated with birdsong and wild gesturings, the sounds suggesting flight both with impulses of wing-beatings and the stillnesses of soaring. Long-held notes for cello, winds, brass and violins accentuated the spaces while various scintillations suggested light-changes, both osmotic and sharp-edged. The celeste brought an almost cow-bell nostalgia into play, contrasting with the increasing combatative-edged intrusions from both clarinet and horn solos, the implicit violence of the poem’s words here suggested abstractedly, one of a number of “perceptions” hinted at by the music. Returning to whisperings, the sounds took on a kind of “mystic” feeling, the flute playing a fanfare-like birdcall, a cadenza-like passage which seemed to awaken the surrounds more markedly, the strings rustling, the percussions tinkling, the basses gently rumbling, the piano chirruping, everything freely modulating before drifting into a silence coloured only by the flute’s gentle call. I like the “assuredness” of it all, its focus supporting tangible imagery and feeling amid all the ambient suggestiveness.

Carl Reinecke’s Flute Concert has long been regarded as the instrument’s principal Romantic flagbearer, given that the composer was of the Romantic persuasion  along the lines of Mendelssohn and Schumann, rather than of Liszt or Wagner – though befriended by Liszt and given introductions by the latter to contacts in Paris, Reinecke remained a firm adherent of the more conservative 19thCentury school. The work’s gentle, Brahmsian opening was essayed beautifully by the players, here, with some lovely horn playing, and beautiful phrasing from the flute at the player’s entrance. The soloist’s “big tune” was answered by the brasses the exchanges taking us into a melancholic, romantic world of feeling, rounded off by a stirring orchestral tutti. I thought Gregory’s playing even more astonishing than when encountering her in the competition’s final, the orchestral accompaniment perhaps giving the soloist more variety to react to and establish a personality very much her own.

The slow movement took on the character of a kind of “Romantic legend”, a gift for a skilled storyteller, dramatic brass and timpani preparing the way for the flute’s narrative, which was here developed with a real sense of occasion and adventure, the ensemble seizing its chances to dramatize the music at every opportunity, an impulse somewhat tamed by the flute’s bringing the ending of the movement into the major key, as an antidote to the relative darkness! Horns and wind threw out a jaunty aspect at the finale’s opening, the flute taking up the polonaise rhythm with gusto, throughout the movement steadfastedly steering the music back to the dance whenever different episodes sought to diversify the expression – a charmingly winsome game of dominance, in which the flute was triumphant, the work’s coda featuring exciting exchanges between Gregory and the musicians, Hamish McKeich keeping the momentums simmering, right to the work’s festive conclusion.

Concluding the programme was a quintessential conservative-Romantic work, the Brahms Second Symphony, one which gave  the composer opportunity for some impish fun in describing the music beforehand to his friends – his tongue-in-cheek characterisations of parts of the work were reproduced in the excellent programme notes, comments such as the words “so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it – I have never written anything so sad, and the score itself will have to come out in mourning”. If at times gruffly expressed, Brahms certainly didn’t lack a sense of humour!

I enjoyed the performance enormously, in the first movement right from the near-perfect horn-playing at the work’s beginning, with its answering winds and floating string responses, through the “lilt” of the playing of the second subject theme by all concerned, and the stirring brass response to the increasing ferment of the development’s exchanges, to the lovely “spent” character of the climbing strings and the glowing wind replies when the opening was recapitulated (I loved the confidently-produced “zinging” quality of the strings’ playing of the dotted-rhythm fanfares shortly afterwards!). And though not absolutely note-perfect, the solo horn’s valedictory passage towards the movement’s end was so beautifully shaped and sounded, the string-playing that followed couldn’t help but sound ravishing (ravished, perhaps?) in reply.

The strings dug into the second movement’s opening as if the players really meant it, the top note of the succeeding upward phrase a bit shaky first time round, but more secure on its repetition – again the horn-playing shone, with the strings, and the winds following, and similarly shining   in succession. As the music floated over graceful pizzzicati both winds and strings sang full-throatedly, confidently leading from this into the music’s darker-browed sequences and holding their ground amid the storms and stresses, the winds eventually coming to the rescue, encouraging the strings to pick their way through the wreckage, putting the crooked straight and making the rough places plain as they went……the return of the opening sequence by strings and winds here made such a heart-warming  impression, even if  the horizons were again darkened and the brasses and timpani held sway for a few anxious moments – amid the uncertainties, winds and strings registered a further brief moment of apprehension with the timpani, before squaring up with a “let’s get on” gesture that brought the sounds to rest.

The third movement, an Allegretto grazioso featured a perky oboe supported by clarinets and followed by flutes  – lovely! The strings delicately danced into the picture, the tempi amazingly swift, the playing precise! – fabulous playing and skilful dovetailing when the oboe rejoined the mix with the opening theme – the lovely “flowering” of the wind textures was then matched  by the strings’ “darkening” of the same, after which the dancing resumed with earnest and energy – and I loved the re-delivery of the opening wind tune by the strings, the downward part of the phrase played with what sounded like a satisfied sigh! – very heartfelt!

The finale was, by contrast, all stealth and mystery at the start, creating great expectation before bursting forth, McKeich and his players creating an invigorating “togetherness” of ensemble, the winds gurgling with excitement when given their turn! The strings gave their all with their “big tune”, the tempo kept steady, the tutti blazing forth with excitement, the syncopations flying past at a tempo, and the sotto voce of the opening’s return maintained. Another excitable tutti was relished, before the triplet-led episode allowed a hint of melancholy to descend upon the textures before the movement’s opening sequence returned with a few ear-catching variants – a bit of scrawny playing here and there simply added to the excitement and abandonment, the brass heaving to with some elephantine comments, and the rest of the orchestra girding its loins for the work’s cataclysmic coda – noisy, but joyful and exuberant! It was a performance which got at the end a well-deserved accolade, doing the composer, as well as the conductor and players, proud!

Wellington entrants shape up for the National Junior Piano Competition Finals

Te Koki New Zealand School of Music presents

Otis Prescott-Mason (St.Patrick’s College Town, Wellington)
LISZT – Sonetto 104 del Petrarcha / JACK BODY – No.5 from Five Melodies / BEETHOVEN – Piano Sonata No.28 in A Major Op.101 (Ist.Mvt.) / PROKOFIEV – Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Minor

Ning Chin (Wellington College)
JENNY McLEOD – Tone Clock Piece No. 1 / JS BACH – Prelude from Partita No. 5 in G major / SHOSTAKOVICH – Preludes Op.34 Nos 2, 3 / MOZART – Piano Sonata in B flat Major K.333 (Ist Mvt.) / Schumann – “Abegg” Variations Op.1

William Berry (Hutt Valley High School)
CHOPIN – Scherzo in C-sharp Minor Op.39 / BEETHOVEN – Piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor Op.78 (2nd Mvt.) / WILLIAM BERRY – Spring Prelude / CARL VINE – Piano Sonata No.1 (2nd Mvt.)

Adam Concert Room,
Te Koki New Zealand School of Music,
Victoria University of Wellington

Thursday, 17th September, 2020

New Zealand School of Music Head of Piano Studies in Wellington Dr. Jian Liu organised this recital for the above three Wellington pianists, all of whom are finalists in next month’s 2020 NZ Junior Piano Competition in Auckland, as a means of giving them a little extra “fine-tuning” concert performance experience. All three replicated a 20-minute recital programme of their own choice, including examples from at least three musical periods, as stipulated by the competition for performance in the final.

Music competitions come in for a lot of criticism for a number of reasons –  it’s undeniable that, at the end of the “process” through which each of these performers are going to pass , there is going to emerge a “winner”, an essential by-product of competitions, as are the numbers of competitors left who don’t “win”! There’s therefore pressure  to “perform” at these events in an out-of-the-ordinary way, which can adversely affect the quality of music-making in some instances. The subjectivity of a judge’s or several judges’ decision can also seem a cruel and random way of evaluating music performance (as, of course, can reviews written by critics!). However, many successful performers in such events are those who are able to forget about the competitive aspect and “be themselves” and seek to communicate the music’s power and beauty rather than consciously “impress” listeners and judges.

I was impressed on the latter count by the playing I heard tonight from all three pianists, all of whom at different times seemed to immerse themselves totally in their music. Subjective a reaction though it is to an extent, I feel there’s a kind of “force” at work which is generated of itself at moments when composer, music and performer seem to the listener to “meet” in a transcendental fusion of vision, impulse and effect. They’re moments which a late and much-lamented music-lover friend of mine would say “one lives for” – and thanks to the sensibilities and skills of each of these young players this evening, I experienced a number of treasurable moments such as these.

Indeed, from the first rising impulses of intent at the beginning of Liszt’s Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, as played by Otis Prescott-Mason, I felt transported by the sounds to the world of the composer’s poetic inspiration, the music beginning life as a song, a setting of one of Francesco Petrarch’s sonnets to a beloved, conceived as such by Liszt when holidaying in Italy with Marie, Countess d’Agoult, but transcribed later as a piano solo as part of the Second Book of the composer’s Annees de Pelerinage. After the initial upward flourish, the music was bardic at the song’s outset, but became more and more impassioned, with mood-swings alternating between tenderness and anguish, as per the words of the poem. These moments were all, by turns, poetically and impulsively shaped by Prescott-Mason – though I wanted him to hold his breath for the merest milli-second around the delivery of the highest of the pairs of notes during the epilogue – the poet (and composer) identifying in that moment of frisson just who it was that had caused so much delight and grief!

Jack Body’s piece (No.5 from “Five melodies”) exerted its accustomed hypnotic spell, the notes seeming to “happen” rather than being played,  the pianist enabling and then going with the music’s spontaneous flow. After this, Prescott-Mason brought the opening of Beethoven’s A Major Op.101 Sonata into being as if it were an enthralling “ritual of early morning” the textures delicate and freshly-awakened, with each phrase nicely engendering the next one, and the dreamy syncopations magically floated all about us. As with the other items he played, the music’s dynamism unfolded from within itself so that nothing sounded forced or over-modulated. Only the opening of the Prokofiev Third Sonata’s performance lacked that last bit of surety for me, the opening needing to be crisper, the rhythms a bit less clouded – however, the rest was vividly characterised, a lovely wistfulness in the second section. a Janus-faced eeriness/grotesquerie in the third “episode”, and the impishness brilliance of the finale, all glowed and sparkled under Prescott-Mason’s fingers.

Ning Chin, the second pianist, began his recital with a Tone-Clock Piece by Jenny McLeod, the first of the set (and, incidentally, a tribute-piece to fellow-composer David Farquhar, for his sixtieth birthday!) – the music Ravel-like in its crystalline clarity and gentle melancholy, the phrases seeming to pair up to answer, or “round off” any questioning or unfinished statements. A great piece of programming followed, the bracketing of music by JS Bach and Dmitri Shostakovich – Shostakovich, of course, wrote a couple of sets of keyboard preludes, Op.34 and Op.87 (the latter with fugues a la JS Bach), Chin playing Nos 2 and 5 from the Op, 34 set. I couldn’t help feeling how “modern” Bach was made to sound in retrospect once I’d heard the Shostakovich pieces, the first an elaborately decorated waltz-tune, and the second a droll left-hand melody ducking for cover beneath whirling right hand figurations. Chin’s sparkling fingers made for beautifully-wrought passagework in all instances.

Chin’s next piece was the first movement of Mozart’s B-flat Major Sonata K.333, given here in a straightforward manner (“It should flow like oil” said the composer) which gradually “warmed” over time, though the repeat didn’t seem to change its expression very much, the minor-key episode calling, I think, for just a wee bit of “sturm und drang” feeling – a bit more “relishing” of the music and its more palpable features, such as the flourishes and occasional spread chords –  to be fair, I thought more of a sense of the music’s “fun” began to appear towards the movement’s end.

I thought the Schumann “Abegg” Variations teased out the best playing from Chin – dynamics were interestingly and convincingly varied throughout the opening, and the pianist demonstrated a real “ring” in his tone that helped the second piece sparkle. Brilliant playing also marked the running-figure waltz variation, not without the occasional slip, but with such things merely adding to the excitement. I liked the “arch” gesturings, both musical and physical, of the next variation, which contrasted with the following sequence’s deftly nimble fingerwork, and the throwaway impudence of the finale – not a note-perfect performance but a characterful one!

William Berry was the third and final performer, his playing of the terse, uncompromisingly abrupt utterances  opening Chopin’s third (Op.39 in C-sharp Minor) and most enigmatic of his four Scherzi instantly grabbing our attention, before we were plunged into the presto con fuoco agitations of the opening theme, the playing suggesting its wildness and incredibly Lisztian surge before relaxing into the gentle grandeur of the E major chorale, with its accompanying filigree arpeggiations. Interestingly, I felt the pianist “grew” the filigree decorations from out of the chorale more organically when in the minor key, giving them more space in which to “sound” as if resonating in sympathy. Afterwards, he oversaw a most resplendent building up of the big chorale theme before breaking off with some astoundingly-wrought whirlwind-like agitations carrying us to the wild defiance of the final crashing chords.

Next was Beethoven’s richly enigmatic finale to the two-movement Op.78 F-sharp major Sonata, a transition from the Chopin which took our sensibilities a while to adjust to – I wondered whether Berry would-have been better served by the music to have begun his presentation with this work, both playing-in his fingers and “energising” his audience sufficiently for the Chopin piece’s coruscations to then have their full effect…….to my ears, and perhaps in the wake of the Chopin’s high-energy afterglow, he rushed the playful drolleries of Beethoven’s toying with the major/minor sequences and missed some of the humour. Still, enough of the glorious incongruities and resolutions of the dialogues which brought so much delight in this piece was caught, here – and delight, too, was to be had from Berry’s own brief but vividly expressed “Spring Prelude”, which depicted in lush Romantic terms a kind of awakening and a burgeoning of seasonal delight.

Knowing the composer of the final piece’s name but not his music, I was intrigued by Berry’s choice of a movement from a Piano Sonata by Australian Carl Vine to finish his recital – this was the second movement, marked as “Leggiero e legato”, of Vine’s two-movement Piano Sonata No. 1.  Composed in 1990 for the Sydney Dance Company (ballet rehearsal pianists beware!!) the work has since achieved full stand-alone concert-hall status, its dedicatee, Michael Kieran Harvey performing and recording the work to great acclaim, one review of his performance remarking of the work “eighteen minutes of piano dazzlement combined with a profound melodic sense”.

Berry certainly had the requisite energies and pianistic agilities to tackle this torrent-like music – beginning with a molto perpetuo, the racing energies eventually gave way to a chorale-like section, a somewhat plaintive “can we come out, now?” sequence of “eye of a hurricane” tranquilities, a suspended calm which then engendered its own burgeoning detailings to the point where the music sprang into angular declamation, then motoric action once again – one had to admire Berry’s stamina and clear-sightedness amid the plethora of pianistic incident, augmented by portentous bass rumblings, with Herculean upward thrusting gestures giving their all, and then surrendering to silence with a wraith-like final gesture. After Berry’s stunning performance I was reminded of a review I once read of one of pianist Anton Rubinstein’s American recitals given somewhere in the Mid-West, the climax of the evening’s music-making summed up by the reviewer, writing in the vernacular: ‘ “I knowed no more that evening”……..

What more can one say, but to wish these three gifted young pianists all the best in the oncoming competition……..

Seven voice students from Victoria’s school of music present varied and well delivered recital

Classical Voice Students of the New Zealand School of Music, Victoria University
Accompanied by David Barnard, head accompanist and vocal coach

Simon Hernyak: ‘O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion’ (Messiah – Handel); ‘In the silence of the secret night’ (Rachmaninov)
Shaunagh Chambers: ‘Mein gläubiges Herze’ (Bach, BWV 68); ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’ (Ned Rorem)
Zoe Stocks: ‘Zeffiretti lusingieri’ (Idomeneo – Mozart); ‘Adieu notre petite table” (Manon – Massenet)
Emily Yeap: ‘Batti, batti’ (Don Giovanni – Mozart); ‘Silent Noon’ (Vaughan Williams)
Samuel McKeever: ‘Vous qui faites l’endormie’ (Faust – Gounod); ‘Sorge infausta una procella’ (Orlando – Handel)
Jennifer Huckle: ‘Soupir’ (Ravel); ‘En vain, pour éviter’ (Carmen – Bizet)
Elian Pagalilawan: ‘Widmung’ (Schumann); ‘Chanson Triste’ (Duparc)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 16 September, 12:15 pm

Here was one of the frequent recitals by Victoria University’s school of music’s students – this time voice students: two second years, the rest third years.

Rather than plod through the two songs each by the seven singers, it might be interesting to regard it as a concert that drew music of various kinds, chronologically, from 300 years of European music. I’ll start with the earliest:

From Bach’s Cantata no 68, Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, Shaunagh Chambers sang ‘Mein gläubiges Herze’, a warm and joyous aria that she sang well, if in a rather uniform manner, rhythmically and dynamically. Then two Handel arias: Simon Hernyak with ‘O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion’ from Messiah and Samuel McKeever with ‘Sorge infausta una procella’ from the opera Orlando. Simon’s voice in the Messiah aria was attractive though perhaps too quiet and unvarying to enliven the aria’s sense very well. ‘Sorge infausta…’ is hardly over-familiar: the magician Zoroastro intervenes in the story from Ariosto’s famous Renaissance epic, Orlando furioso. It was a well-placed and striking, resonant aria to bring the recital to its end.

Mozart represented the latter 18th century. From Idomeneo, Zoe Stocks sang the charming ‘Zeffiretti lusingieri’ in her attractive voice that captured the feeling of the breeze rustling the garden. Emily Yeap chose the very different placatory aria that Zerlina sings to Masetto in Don Giovanni, ‘Batti batti’, displaying a good upper register; though its complex emotional sense somewhat eluded her.

I’d have welcomed more German Lieder: Schumann’s hugely popular ‘Widmung’ to a poem by Rückert (‘Du meine Seele, du mein Herz’) in the large Op 25 collection, Myrthen, represented the period well. It’s one of the best loved of the abundant riches of Schumann’s songs and Elian Pagalilawan’s approach, in vocal quality and feeling was a lovely fit.

Gounod’s Faust comes next chronologically; it was Samuel McKeever’s first song and his distinctive bass proved a convincing vehicle for Mephistopheles’s ‘Vous qui faites l’endormie’, with a cruel, mocking laugh. Fifteen years later came Bizet’s Carmen from which Jennifer Huckle sang convincingly, ‘En vain, pour éviter’, her awakening to her fate as revealed by the cards: each word carefully enunciated.

Staying in France, Manon by Massenet provides the touching soprano aria, ‘Adieu notre petite table”, that captures her self-aware fickleness; some lack of verbal clarity was not really a problem.

Duparc has a very special place in French song, or ‘Mélodie’, in spite of the very few songs that survived his self-criticism. ‘Chanson triste’. Elian Pagalilawan sang with a calm, nicely projected voice that captured its poetic character. Staying in France, mezzo Jennifer Huckle sang Ravel’s ‘Soupir’ (one of the Trois poèmes de Mallarmé, originally with instrumental accompaniment), handling both the lower range and some high passages, as well as the second more vivid part, comfortably, in a calm voice that suited the music very well.

Vaughan Williams and Rachmaninov were also, like Ravel, born in the 1870s. Vaughan Williams’s ‘Silent Noon’, a setting of a Rossetti poem, and Emily Yeap here found a setting that suited her voice a little better than ‘Batti batti’ had. She sang calmly, capturing lovers in the romantic countryside very effectively.

The Rachmaninov song was ‘In the silence of the secret night’; like others, she carefully named the poets of each piece, an admirable practice that I have always believed important to be aware of. It applies even more to opera librettists. Even if one has never heard of the poet, as I hadn’t of Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet; but he’s interesting to pursue in Wikipedia or your encyclopedia. Her dealing with this song was rather more nicely controlled and atmospheric than had been her Messiah aria earlier.

Finally, the mid-20th century was represented by American composer Ned Rorem who seems to be still alive at 96. I’ve come across him before, perhaps in student recitals, and he’d made an impression on me. So did this song, to a Robert Frost poem, the musical setting clear-sighted. The programme leaflet named the tutors of each singer (another admirable practice), and Jenny Wollerman’s name was by Shaunagh Chambers’ who sang Rorem’s attractive song; I could hear Wollerman’s voice and influence clearly enough in both the song and in her student’s performance.

I very much enjoyed this recital, as much for the performances, the admirable accompaniments by the school’s vocal coach, David Barnard, and the choice and range of songs as for each singer’s efficient movement on and off: no waiting, no delays; fourteen songs in just 45 minutes.


Four-handed piano delights from Sunny Cheng and Kris Zuelicke at the NZSM’s Adam Concert Room in Wellington

Te Koki NZ School of Music presents:
Sunny Cheng and Kris Zuelicke – Piano Duo

MOZART – Fugue for Piano, four hands K.401
DAVID HAMILTON – Five New Zealand Characters
SCHUBERT – Grand Rondo in A Major D.951
POULENC – Sonata for Four Hands
MENDELSSOHN – Andante and Allegro brilliant Op.92

Lunchtime Concert
Adam Concert Room, NZSM Kelburn Campus
Victoria University of Wellington

Friday 11th September 2020

I didn’t leave home early enough to find a park, or be able to walk to the concert venue in time for the first item’s beginning – so I came in with the first item still in midstream, actually waiting outside the door, so as not to disturb the music’s flow or the listeners’ concentration. I could hear it all reasonably clearly, and was soon caught up in the intricacies of what was left of the music. This fugue was originally composed and played by Mozart as a solo piece, a commentator at the time noting that  the composer “played this piece with no help, while others could manage it only via a four-hand execution”. There’s been a suggestion that the work was devised for a “modified keyboard instrument with pedals like an organ” – Mozart’s father made reference to Wolfgang owning one of these instruments in a letter to his daughter Nannerl – “he has had a big pedal-fortepiano made which stands under the grand piano, is three spans longer, and surprisingly heavy!”

Having settled myself in after the Mozart had finished, I was ready for David Hamilton’s “Five New Zealand Characters”, which was next on the programme – they turned out to be pieces the composer had written for two children of friends he had stayed with in the UK some years ago – Hamilton comments in a note accompanying the music that the pieces “are written with an easier primo part, but both parts contain some challenge especially in the rhythms”. The pieces’ titles refer to various birds and animals “which have a special place in the biosphere of New Zealand”.

Because of the intricacies of trying to find a seat I missed hearing clearly the spoken announcement introducing the five sections of the work, and so wasn’t sure of the order the pianists had adopted – I discovered later from the SOUNZ website that opening the set was “The Sleepy Tuatara”, the music consisting of a lyrical, repeating figure sounded over a chordal, hymn-like melody, with ear-catching dynamic variations, and a swopping to the treble of the melody over a bass ostinato for the second part. The piece’s title seemed to fit the music, but I was worried regarding the second piece’s title in view of its music –  a chirpy staccato mood with angular hopping set against running figures, quirky harmonies and textural changes – were these really “Pekapeka – long-tailed bats”? And “The Little Spotted Kiwi” was a wistful figure seeming to inhabit vistas reminding one of Monet’s water-lilies, an all-pervading 3-note figure sounding over a murmuring, watery bass.

The two remaining were less problematical – I loved the music for “The Fantail (Piwakawaka)”, a playful romp of a piece, with running figures answered with a cheeky chirp! – and the swaggering cake-walk-like rhythms of the last piece fitted the picture of  “The Yellow-Eyed Penguin (Hoiho)” like a glove!

Worshipping the Schubert four-handed pieces for piano as I do, I confess to being slightly disappointed with Cheng’s and Zuelicke’s performance of the Grand Rondo in A Major D 951  I thought their pacing of the work was nicely judged, but found much of it too dynamically unvaried  – I wondered whether a bright-sounding instrument and a forward, lively acoustic in the Adam Concert Room was something players new to the venue perhaps needed to be wary of. But, right from the very beginning, where I wanted the music to “steal in” more winningly, I felt the tones seemed too forward, too “beefy” in places, and, of course, left the more forthright episodes little room in which to really expand and make their point via contrast. Just occasionally the players did drop their tonal levels, but not for long enough – the music didn’t maintain the more inward character the playing all-too-briefly suggested. The change of accompanying figuration to triplet figures would have been an appropriate place to intensify the tones and build to an “opening up” of the dynamics, but by then my ear had been over-sated and I was wanting some relief – it was as if the composer had been talking to me in a somewhat mezza-forte voice the whole time, and I was craving something different. They played as if performing in a much larger hall, and for some reason feeling a need to reach out to its extremities – a manner of presentation not needed in this venue!

Fortunately, both the Poulenc and the Mendelssohn items that remained gave a lot of pleasure by dint of the players’ responsiveness to the music’s “character”. I enjoyed the motoric “charge” of the Poulenc Sonata ’s opening, a mood that changed to wistful wandering for a while before the opening “clattered” back again, only to be abruptly “kicked downstairs” for its pains!

The second movement’s ostinato-like figurations alternated charming sequences with acerbic gestures, the playing’s tonal variation of a range that the Schubert item should have had; while the last movement playfully tossed figures between the hands, before building up a growling, insistent bass to near orchestral splendour – Poulenc’s melodies had such insouciance, such a simple, casual manner, with a ‘kind of “nudge-wink” ending proclaiming “That’s all, folks!” Most engaging!

I thought the Mendelssohn work “Andante and Allegro Brilliant” got the concert’s best playing from the pair, the playing romantically full-throated at the work’s beginning, with plenty of light and shade and rhythmic pliancy of phrasing, all of which gave the onset of the Allegro a sparkling energy which conveyed rippling fun and enjoyment, including some great swirling bass figurations! A more lyrical, gently swaying episode mid-movement captured a trio-like contrasting relaxation, the minor-key moments conveying a real sense of the music’s melancholy – some additional swirling arpeggiations  brought back the lyrical “trio” section in a heart-easing way, Cheng and Zuelicke pulling out the pianistic throttle with a Lisztian deluge of running figures that together brought the music home – a whirlwind triplet-driven coda left us breathless and satisfied at the end – great stuff!


Stimulating, evocative recital from NZSM piano student Liam Furey at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Liam Furey – piano

Schoenberg: Sechs kliene Klavierstücke, Op 19
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op 12
Liam Furey: Silence of Kilmister Tops and six Preludes for piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 5 August, 12:15 pm

A month ago Liam Furey was one of several piano students representing Victoria University in St Andrew’s lunchtime concert; then, he played Beethoven’s Op 49 No 2. This time he moved some distance from the sort of music played and enjoyed around 1800: into what must still be regarded as music that after more than a century has still not found anything like comprehension, acceptance and enjoyment, among 90 percent of music lovers: Schoenberg’s six short piano pieces.

Setting one’s mind adrift and following Schoenberg’s demand to banish notions of all the music written before 1910 (and almost all that has been written since then), with no expectation of attracting a big fan mail, is still an interesting experience. Yet at the time Schoenberg was still working on the reasonably accessible Gurre-Lieder. While I’ve heard most of Schoenberg’s music over the years, and enjoy all that was written before 1910 and some later, music like these pieces generates no positive emotions, apart from a kind of dismay.

Nevertheless, each piece is clearly differentiated and that demands the arousal of emotions; in spite of the composer’s determination to rid his music of conscious harmony and pathos and a simplification of emotion and feelings. Though the sixth piece, a sort of lament on the death of Mahler, can hardly not be based on an expression of feeling.

Nevertheless, no one can complain about challenging oneself with such a set of short pieces, and seeking to register the feelings that result – though Schoenberg would undoubtedly condemn a listener seeking to pin down specific feelings. I was pleased to have heard this well-studied, serious-minded performance.

The only similarity with the next group – Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op 12 – was the heterogeneous nature of a variety of pieces.  The juxtaposition of Schumann and Schoenberg, in itself, invited expectation, mystification, artistic curiosity. Both are technically challenging and their performance must be regarded as marks of very considerable technical skill and intellectual achievement.

One difficulty I had with them, and surprisingly perhaps with the Schumann, was dynamics. In order to play them with the occasional, unrestrained outburst of passion, there was no need for the piano lid to be up. Apart from Aufschwung, I’ve never felt they called for fortissimo playing, even in pieces like Grillen and In der Nacht.

But generally, these pieces were rich with emotional and impressionistic variety: the glimmering light of Des Abends, capturing the enquiring, endearing sense of Warum?, even the nightmarish story that Furey seemed to read into In der Nacht: sure, it goes fast, but I’ve never experienced the feelings that he seemed to seek. All was forgiven however in the last piece, Ende vom Lied (never mind a few little smudges). Though they could have used more magic and subtlety, these are typically 1830s Schumanesque pieces, and the performances were enchanted and enchanting.

His own music 
Then Furey played a couple of his own pieces: the first playing of Silence of Kilmister Tops inspired by the atmosphere of the hill-tops west of Ngaio, during the Lock-down; the uncanny calm, the sudden wind gusts, but an underlying unease.

Then Furey presented his own take on the form of impressionistic pieces in Preludes for Piano – six of them. They depicted the weather and nature’s response to it. Some rather weighty leaves in the first piece, icicles that sounded threatening, clusters of wide-spaced raindrops that were suddenly disturbed by violent wind gusts in Raindrops dancing on the lake; but I didn’t recognise the wind’s performance on the Aeolian harp in the next piece. Nor did I really hear  the tremors on the sea floor, but that’s perhaps because I’m not a diver. The joyous birds in the morning might rather have introduced the suite of preludes, but it brought the attractive set of pieces to a genial finish.

They were charming, evocative pieces, which the composer played, as you’d expect, with understanding and pleasure. In spite of certain interpretive details, this was a recital that stimulated, tested and afforded considerable interest for the audience.

NZSM Concerto Competition – an evening of elegance, frisson and feeling

Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music Concerto Competition 2020 – Final


Lucas Baker (violin) – BARBER: Violin Concerto
Isabella Gregory (flute) – REINECKE: Flute Concerto in D Major, Op.283
Otis Prescott-Mason (piano) – SAINT-SAENS – Piano Concerto No.2

Collaborative Pianist: David Barnard
Adjudicators: Catherine Gibson (CMNZ)
Vincent Hardaker (APO)

Adam Concert Room, NZSM Kelburn Campus
Victoria University of Wellington

Thursday, 30th July 2020

This year’s final of the NZSM Concerto Competition provided something of a musical feast, even if one of the concertos performed (Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto) was presented with a somewhat truncated finale, for whatever reason. With three promising and extremely accomplished performers playing their respective hearts out (and admirably supported by the efforts of collaborative pianist David Barnard, whose playing of the orchestral part of the Samuel Barber Concerto was a treat in itself to experience), it made for an absorbing listening experience, one to rate at least equally with the actual result of the contest, at least for this listener, with no “affiliations” connected with the outcome!

First up was violinist Lucas Baker, whose chosen work (Samuel Barber’s beautiful Violin Concerto) brought out the young player’s seemingly instinctive feel for the “shape” of the composer’s largely rhapsodic phrases and larger paragraphs – throughout, I was convinced by Baker’s heartfelt approach to both the work’s lyrical and more heroic sequences, his instantly characterful tones enabling us to quickly enter the “world” of the music, despite some untidiness of rhythm and intonation in some of the transitions. The player then confidently attacked the angularities of the second movement, and nicely brought out the fervour of the lyrical writing and the silveriness of the contrasting stratospheric section, concluding with beautifully withdrawn tones at the movement’s end.

The finale’s technical difficulties were also most excitingly squared up to by Baker, his fingers flying over his instrument’s fingerboard to exhilarating effect, with his pianist an equally committed and involved participant in the composer’s vortices of note-spinning – the spills were as exciting and involving as the thrills, both players capturing the devil-may-care spirit which abounds throughout this final movement. Whatever niceties of detail were smudged or approximated, Baker readily conveyed to us an engaging sense of “knowing how it should go”, which carried the day as a performance.

No greater contrast could have been afforded by both the player to next appear and the work chosen! – this was flutist Isabella Gregory, and the work Carl Reinecke’s D Major Flute Concerto, written (somewhat surprisingly, I thought, upon hearing the piece) in 1908, the composer hardly deviating from his early enthusiasms for the music of Mendelssohn and Schumann. In effect, the work is that rarity, a romantic flute concerto – here, it was given a sparklingly lyrical performance by its gifted performer, obviously in complete command of both the piece’s overall shape, and the mellifluous detailings that gave the music such a unique character – complete with a surprisingly abrupt conclusion to the first movement! The sombre nature of the second movement’s opening accompaniment contrasted with the solo instrument’s more carefree manner, played here by Gregory as a somewhat easy-going accomplice to rather more stealthy mischief-making, though I found the Moderato finale a wee bit under-characterised – I thought the rhythms could have a bit more “kick” in places, though this was something which the more energetic concluding sequence in due course suitably enlivened, the virtuosity of the soloist making a breathlessly exciting impression to finish! Altogether, a delightful and suitably brilliant performance!

The evening’s final contestant was pianist Otis Prescott-Mason, who had chosen Saint-Saens’s wonderful Second Piano Concerto – a work whose character I recall once described as “beginning like Bach and ending like Offenbach”! Throughout the first movement I found myself riveted by the young musician’s spell-binding command of the music’s ebb-and-flow, the “spontaneous” element of the opening improvisation as finely-judged as I had ever heard it played, Prescott-Mason truly “making the music his own” and working hand-in-glove with his collaborator to create the sense of Baroque-like splendour that informs the music – what I particularly liked was the spaciousness of it all, allied to the clear direction of the underlying pulse of the music, to the point where the sounds had an inevitability of utterance which perfectly fused freedom and structure, Saint-Saens at his most potent as a creator. What a pity, then that such poised, and finely-tuned focus seemed to me to be then somewhat impatiently cast aside, the second movement’s playfulness over-rushed and the rhythmic deliciousness and delicacy of it all to my ears duly lost – Saint-Saens’s humour is always po-faced and elegant, and the playing in this movement I thought unfortunately failed to realise that “insouciance” which keeps the music’s character intact. I then hoped that the whirlwind brilliance of the finale might have restored some of the impression created by the pianist in that superbly-crafted first movement – but the work was unexpectedly and severely shortened, allowing little opportunity for a “renaissance” of identification with the music’s world on the young player’s part.

All in all, the result of the competition very justly, I thought accorded the laurels to flutist Isabella Gregory, whose performance indicated an impressive totality of identification with the music she played, as regards both execution and interpretation. Both her rivals, Lucas Baker and Otis Prescott-Mason, I thought, turned out most engaging performances of their pieces, without quite rivalling the winner’s consistency and strength of purpose. But what things all three achieved in their different ways!  And how richly and gratefully we all relished their talent and musicality in entertaining us us so royally during the evening!

Ghost Trio haunts sensibilities long after final notes in concert sounded

A remarkable lunchtime concert by the Ghost Trio at the Adam Concert Room….

Ghost Trio – Monique Lapins (violin), Ken Ichinose (‘cello), Gabriela Glapska (piano)

BEETHOVEN – Piano Trio In C Minor Op. 1 No.3
MARTIN LODGE – Summer Music (2001)
SHOSTAKOVICH – Piano Trio in C Minor No.1  Op.8

Adam Concert Room, Te Kōkī NZ School of Music, Victoria University of Wellington

Friday, 17th July 2020

I had heard the Ghost Trio perform the same Beethoven work more than a fortnight previously (a concert reviewed below by my colleague, Steven Sedley), though this time round it was coupled to a different programme. Instead of the remarkable Piano Trio Op.1 by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik (which I would have liked to hear again), the musicians chose to branch out in a different direction,  with each of the accompanying works expressing what I thought was a certain affinity with Beethoven’s music. We heard Kiwi composer Martin Lodge’s engaging “Summer Music”, whose effect was a kind of miniature out-of-doors, “Pastoral Symphony-like” sound-adventure, interlacing both natural and human noises. This was followed with a Piano Trio written by the then sixteen year-old Dmitri Shostakovich, a work whose Beethovenian “charge” of emotion alarmed the young composer’s professors at the Petrograd Conservatory as profoundly as was Josef Haydn disturbed by the boldness of his most famous pupil’s Op.1 C Minor Piano Trio.

As with the St.Andrew’s performance, the players drew their listeners into the composer’s world of dark and serious purpose from the very opening phrases, the sequences generating a disturbing quality throughout the instrumental interactions which never relinquished its grip. Sitting closer to the players in the Adam Concert Room this time round I felt involved all the more in the constant flow and ebb of  intensities, the explosive nature of the music’s dramatic contrasts, and the disconcerting upward\downward semitone shifts of the opening theme in places. Though the gloom was occasionally leavened by a contrasting, if briefly-wrought lyrical theme, any sunnier prospect was quickly clouded over again in no uncertain terms, the first-movement repeat emphasising the thrall in which we were held – and the development was similarly charged with tensions, light and darkness unceasingly pushing and shoving one another to one side – it was quite a ride!

The theme-and variations second movement promised some relief from Beethovenian brow-beating, and the players responded at the opening with some nobly-wrought sounds – perhaps it was partly due to the music’s playfulness but I found myself listening as much to the playing’s solo lines as to the concerted effect of the music-making throughout, the dialogues and “trialogues” as involving as the ensembled sounds – I relished the playful pizzicati of the third variation, the soulful cello solo of the fourth, and the sparkling chromatic keyboard runs of the fifth (all beautifully executed and characterfully dovetailed), to mention but a few ear-catching features.

As much scherzo as minuet, the third movement fused a certain wistful quality with playfulness, the piano’s frequent decorative figurations making a marked contrast with the occasional emphasised accent – again, the musicians gave the music’s angularities full scope to proclaim the work’s character, while allowing a fantastic element (those strangely-echoed resonances which suggested in places hidden voices directing the ebb and flow of things) some treasurable moments of sleight-of-hand, even magic.  As for the prestissimo finale, the players found more character than mere “virtuoso roar” with which to give voice to the music’s agitations, their nimble articulations (the pianist especially fleet-fingered!) creating wonderment and delicious anticipation as well as excitement, with the composer reserving the biggest surprise for the hushed, somewhat “spooked” coda, the musicians voicing the mystery and unease of it all to perfection at the end.

I hadn’t heard Martin Lodge’s “Summer Music” for some time but thought its appeal as instantly-involving as ever, with “hit the ground running” energies at the outset leading the listener into a world of vividly-wrought happenings. Both music and performance came across as remarkably organic, with swirling piano figurations and swinging thematic lines eventually giving way to sequences of stillness, the world stopping to listen to itself and inviting us to eavesdrop. Out of these breath-catching pointillistic etchings returned those same songs, a yearning for the natural world amid “humanity’s mad inhuman noise”, perhaps? – all very “Scene by the Brook”-like in its rediscovered innocence –  and leading into and through various undercurrents of pulse  to a beautiful and wistful blending of action, nature and memory at the end. The performance here caught me up in its vivid response to the music’s “story” and its accompanying array of alternating bustle and beauty.

So to the Shostakovich Trio, an equally remarkable evocation of the sixteen year-old composer’s thrall to a young woman, Tatyana Glivenko, whom he had met on holiday in 1923 in the Crimea (he was actually convalescing from tuberculosis at the time) – the music grew partly out of material he’d written for other works he had since abandoned, a Piano Sonata and a Quintet. Though nothing serious developed from the encounter with Tatyana, Shostakovich kept in touch with her by correspondence for many years. Two years after completing the Trio, the youthful composer performed the work as part of his application to continue his musical studies at the Moscow Conservatory, and was actually accepted, though his continuing ill health in the end forced him to remain at the Conservatory in Petrograd.

This single-movement work owed much of its bold, almost cinematic character to the composer’s part-time job as a cinema pianist playing the accompaniment for silent films. Shostakovich’s sister Zoya remembered that her brother and two of his friends actually used the cinema accompaniment as a rehearsal for the Piano Trio on one occasion, remarking that “the people whistled and booed!” But Shostakovich’s music from an early age seemed to revel in these characteristics, a family friend, the novelist Konstantin Fedin recalling hearing the boy playing his own compositions to guests at the family home – “….unexpected works which forced one to listen as if one were in the theatre, where everything is so clear that one must either laugh or weep.” Despite, or perhaps because of this ready accessibility, the Trio wasn’t published during Shostakovich’s lifetime, and had to be reconstructed from various sources, the missing last twenty or so bars of the piano part in fact “recomposed” by his pupil Boris Tishchenko.

Again, this was a remarkably involving performance, the players at full stretch in the more virtuoso, densely-woven ensemble passages, but “owning” their full-blooded expressionist character as great-heartedly as they did the more lyrical and unashamedly romantic passages, the whole almost Mahlerian in its all-embracing fervour. To comment on this or that individually-wrought passage seems of less importance than marvelling at the concerted “sweep’ of the music’s realisation by the ensemble – long may the Ghost Trio’s efforts continue to thrillingly haunt their audience’s sensibilities thus!

Well contrived and performed recital of piano music from NZSM students at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Piano students of the New Zealand School of Music
Shangrong Feng: Haydn: Sonata in C, Hob. XVI 48
Liam Furey: Beethoven: Sonata in G minor, Op 49 No 2
Boulez: Douze notations pour piano (1945)
David Codd: Chopin: Nocturnes Op 27, nos 1 & 2
Vincent Brzozowski: Mendelssohn: Variations sérieuses

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 8 July, 12:15 pm

This was a thoughtfully contrived hour-long recital: and an interesting range of music, even if only one piece was composed after 1850.

Haydn Sonata
Shangrong Feng’s sonata by Haydn is one of the 50-odd that he composed, which have not till recently been universally considered worthy of performance by professional pianists even though they were generally written for eminent adults. No 48 in the exhaustive Hoboken catalogue (1789/90) was among the last of the 52 recognised by Hoboken. The first movement is marked Andante con espressione; it was at the indicated pace although I’d have described Shangrong’s playing as thoughtful, even analytical, rather than expressive. Her touch was subtle and discreet, sometimes Scarlatti-like, particularly in her handling of the little ornamental phrases. And the second movement, a Rondo (Presto), was in sharp contrast, by no means pitched at a less than highly accomplished player.

Is it time for someone to undertake a series of Haydn piano sonatas? Just the kind of exploit that would sit interestingly in a St Andrew’s series…

Liam Furey played the second of Beethoven’s two Op 49 sonatas, generally regarded as ‘easy’, and they are indeed generally tackled by students, around grade IV (speaking personally). But in the hands of someone who is conspicuously far beyond that, it responds to the attention of an accomplished, mature performer. In some ways it represented a nice affinity with the preceding Haydn sonata and the second movement, a minuet, with two contrasting ‘trio’ sections, is gentle and superficially undemanding; Furey played it charmingly, seriously.

Boulez’s Notations
There could scarcely have been a starker contrast than the twelve ‘notations’ by Boulez. One shouldn’t allow the name Boulez immediately to shut down one’s expectation that nothing comprehensible is about to be heard. These extremely varied pieces had the virtue both of not being too long, and of actually persuading the listener to set aside prejudice and to find the whole package interesting and genuinely musical. The second of the short pieces brought something of one’s usual Boulez experience, and from then one’s curiosity and attention was sustained.

Their performance by Furey was rewarding, both in admiring his courage and tenacity (and did I really observe that, like all the other players, he played from memory?), and in exposing one to a major figure in the musical world of the last century.

David Codd played Chopin’s two nocturnes of Op 27: both are around five minutes in length. The first two minutes of No 1 are very subdued while the middle section is quite animated with Chopin’s typical melodic flavour. The second Nocturne (in D flat major) is the more familiar; it was a delight to listen to both in such sensitive performances.

Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses
Finally, from Vincent Brzozowski came a relative rarity: Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses. It’s regarded as his best piano composition and one can recognise that. It’s attracted admiration from critics and many pianists and of course it stands in sharp contrast with most of Mendelssohn’s other piano music; it was written in 1841 in response to an invitation to contribute to the cost of a Beethoven monument in Bonn. Musically, it’s challenging in performance and musically impressive. Its title “sérieuses” sets it apart from most of the similar works of the period which tended more commonly to be virtuosic show-pieces rather than serious musical structures.

I’ve heard it several times though only once in a live performance. Its serious character and its descending, minor key theme are neither charming nor engaging (to me anyway); its academic and formal character has always seemed too conspicuous, at the expense of melody and emotional expressiveness. So it has never taken root in my memory and I have never come to like it particularly.

However, Brzozowski’s playing of this rather formidable, if undeniably bravura music was impressive. Though it was not flawless (and such an achievement is limited to only the most distinguished pianists), it was certainly thoroughly studied and its forbidding difficulties were handled ably.

I should comment here however, that these thoughts have prompted me to dig out and listen to various recorded versions (Nikita Magaloff, Richter, Brendel, Perahia) and my admiration for it has grown as a result.

In all, this was an excellent recital, and again we are indebted to the School of Music, exposing the surprisingly big audience to some slightly off-the-beaten track music in very capable performances.


“Kristallnacht” at the Wellington Jewish Community Centre – brilliant and deeply-felt performances of significant music

Beth El Synagogue (the Wellington Jewish Community Centre), in partnership with
Te Kōki New Zealand School of Music (Victoria University of Wellington) presents:
KRISTALLNACHT – Unity Concert, 2019

This concert was a commemoration of the anti-Jewish events of 9/10 November, 1938, (“Kristallnacht”) which took place throughout the Third Reich

Music by Schulhoff, Weinberg, Farr, Korngold and Pigovat, along with jazz and cabaret selections

Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942) – Five Pieces for String Quartet
Sixteen Strings: – Toloa Faraimo/Shanita Sungsuwan (violins)/Peter Gjelsten (viola)/ Emma Ravens (’cello)

Miecyzslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996) – Piano Trio Op.24
Te Kōki Trio: Martin Riseley (violin)/Inbal Megiddo (‘cello)/Jian Liu (piano)

Gareth FARR (b.1968) – He Poroporoaki (A Farewell)
New Zealand String Quartet (Helene Pohl/Monique Lapins (violins)/Gillian Ansell (viola)/Rolf Gjelsten (‘cello), withy Ruby Solly (taonga puoro)

Erich KORNGOLD (1897-1957) – Marietta’s Song, from the opera Die Tote Stadt (arr. for voice and piano quintet)
Margaret Medlyn (mezzo-soprano)/New Zealand String Quartet/Jian Liu (piano)

Boris PIGOVAT (b.1953) – Nigun, for viola quartet
Lucy Liu, Grant Baker, Sophia Acheson, Donald Maurice (violas)

Selection of jazz and cabaret music from the camps
Barbara Graham (soprano)/David Barnard (piano)/Ben van Leuven (clarinet)
Te Kōki Trio

Beth El Synagogue (Wellington Jewish Community Centre)
Mt.Cook, Wellington

Sunday, 10th November, 2019

We were welcomed to the Beth El Synagogue (the Wellington Jewish Community Centre) by Rabbi Ariel Tal, our host for the evening, who talked about the words of the Torah as having a similar “song of life” quality to that of the concert we were about to hear; and then by Deborah Hart, the Chair of the Holocaust Centre, who drew a poignant and powerful comparison with the events of Kristellnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”) throughout Hitler’s Reich in 1938, and the recent attack on the mosques in Christchurch, contrasting the sounds of glass shattering with the comforting and restorative strains of the music programmed for tonight’s concert.

Other speakers were Adam Awad from Somalia, now a resident of New Zealand and an advocate for refugees through organisations he helped to found such as the Changemakers Refugee Forum and the National Refugee Network, and Professor Donald Maurice, presently the Acting Head of Te Koki New Zealand School of Music, who talked of the collaborations that have taken place between the NZSM and The Holocaust Centre since the historic concert of 2008 at which Boris Pigovat’s Holocaust Requiem was premiered.

Introductions completed, the first performers were welcomed to the platform to begin the evening’s music, which was for the most part written by composers of Jewish ancestry, though included in the programme was a piece by one of New Zealand’s leading composers, Gareth Farr. First to be performed was a work by the Czech-born Erwin Schulhoff, whose career as a composer and pianist brought him considerable acclaim at its outset, his radical, forward-looking music influenced by jazz and contemporary trends such as Dadaism. All of this was effectively ended by the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 – too late, Schulhoff applied for and was granted Soviet citizenship, but he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis before he could leave the country. He died in a concentration camp in Wülzburg in 1942.

His Five Pieces for String Quartet from almost twenty years previously proclaimed happier times – dedicated to the French composer Darius Mihaud, the sections of the music commanded instant attention with their invention and variety. They were splendidly performed by a group of young musicians called Sixteen Strings – Toloa Faraimo and Shanita Sungsuwan (violins), Peter Gjelsten (viola) and Emma Ravens (‘cello), a group that, having formed in March of this year, had then actually carried off the top award at the 2019 NZCT Secondary Schools Chamber Music Competition.

Right from the opening Viennese Waltz the players “owned” both the music’s “point” and “line”, characterising its angular aspects with both wit and insouciance. The Serenade sang its droll swagman’s song, its brief “circus act” in the middle section as deftly managed as the subtle gradations towards the end; while the Czech Folk Music was a wild ride whose energies contrasted beautifully with the sultriness of the Tango, the musicians beautifully and instinctively “feeling” when to hold, and when to let go. Finally the Tarantella displayed ear-catching dynamics, the trajectories by turns ‘weighted” and “whispered”, here beguiling and there dangerous-sounding! – and all done with razor-sharp ensemble that left us all breathless with exhilaration! Well done!

Better-known, perhaps, though with a name suffering under a confusing plethora of different renditions and translations (variously Weinberg/Wajnberg/Vainberg and Vajnberg, with the former emerging as the most frequently-used in recent times), Mieczyslaw Weinberg, born in Poland in 1919 to Jewish parents, came from an artistic family, his father a conductor and composer, his mother an actress, both in Warsaw’s Yiddish theatre. The year he graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory (1939) he had to flee Poland for the Soviet Union, leaving his parents and younger sister in Poland, all of whom eventually perished at the hands of the Nazis. Weinberg’s meeting and subsequent association with Dmitri Shostakovich changed his life, the older composer regarding him as an artistic “brother” and supporting him through various conflicts with the authorities, at least one of them a potential death-sentence.

Though strongly influenced by Shostakovich’s work, Weinberg’s music has its own unique personality and qualities – native Polish, Jewish and Moldavian elements are common, as is a fondness for humour and satire, balanced against a feeling for epic structure. His output was enormous, comprising 156 opus numbers (and still remaining for most concert-goers largely undiscovered territory). Te Koki Trio, comprising Martin Riseley (violin), Inbal Megiddo (cello) and Jian Liu (piano) threw themselves onto the canvas of the composer’s epic Op.24 Piano Trio, launching the opening Prelude and Aria of the work with the kind of gusto one imagined would be inspired by a masterwork, the violin and ‘cello declamatory, even joyful, the strings swapping themes and the piano hammering out an accompaniment – gradually the intensities melt into the Larghetto, the piano joining the duetting strings with a bird-song-like obbligato, as the music alternated violin pizz. with ‘cello arco, and vice-versa, finishing sotto voce.

The Toccata:Allegro movement which followed had a Shostakovich-like insistence, the triplets hammered out by the piano and reiterated by violin and cello with nightmarish intensity, mingling sounds of war (air-raid siren-like modulations and the clamour of frightened voices  and running feet), each instrument intense and frenetic, expressing something all-pervasive and overwhelming, right to the concluding moment of silence. A Moderato which followed was subtitled “Poem”, allowing pianist Jian Liu whole moments of poetic musing before the string instruments’ pizzicati exchanges led to interactions whose intensities built up into a grotesque march, the energies of engagement remarkable and harrowing, and their gradual dissipation no less so. There came into view a different, though no less challenging world, a single violin note held plaintively and tragically as its strains were overcome by the resonances from piano and ‘cello…….

Into the void drifted the piano’s artless carefree theme, switching its mode to an accompanying one as first the volatile violin, then the carefree cello took the argument forward. The violin skirmished and the cello danced a circus dance, which the piano couldn’t resist, joining her in fugal style, the violin doing the same – the energy generated fired up the performers even more, the strings launching into a kind of danse macabre, building up the intensities until the performers seemed to plateau almost stratospherically, the air beneath pushing up the sounds, and trying to liberate some kind of grand statement! To the music’s near-impasse came the violin to the rescue, a wistful waltz-tune, one to which the other instruments seemed to want to align with, the ‘cello musing richly and almost contentedly, the piano suddenly intoning a hymn-like melody, restraining its own portentous reply, and giving way to the violin and ‘cello’s single, stratospheric concluding notes – (apologies for the long-winded description, but I found this music so gripping I couldn’t help myself!)

Gareth Farr’s “He Poroporoaki” (A Farewell) came afterwards like a kind of benediction following a soul’s torturous journey, the taonga puoro ambiences emanating from Kai Tahu musician Ruby Solly’s playing (assisted at the outset by quartet leader Helene Pohl’s activating of a gong-like instrument) imbuing the sounds and textures wrought by the New Zealand String Quartet players with a palpable sense of valediction relating to our time and place, the universality of lament given a home-grown identity, as it were. While the strings throughout remained largely elegiac in manner, the taonga puoro realised a range of emotions and evocations from anger and grandeur to tenderness and sorrow, the “Now is the Hour” refrain worked into the lines with a bitter-sweet sense of loss and grief, the poignancy of it all underlined by the sounds of breath accompanying the final strains.

An interval separated these larger-scale works from what seemed a more “relaxed” second-half, though with no lessening of focus or musical quality. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s opera 1920 “Die Tote Stadt”, a work banned by the Nazis, was represented with “Marietta’s Song”, here sung by mezzo-soprano Margaret Medlyn, and accompanied by string quartet and piano (the last-named instrument omitted in the programme). No-one could deny the distinctive “Viennese” quality of this music, with the vocal line so beautifully partnered instrumentally in places – real, lump-in-the-throat stuff! Medlyn’s phrasing and shaping of the vocal line  “placed” the emotion of the moment as exquisitely and easefully as did the instrumental-only central part of the music, with first the ‘cello and then the viola taking up the melody with the piano. Everything seemed to simply “float” on a sea of intense emotion, the violin harmonics before the voice’s re-entry and at the song’s end capturing the beautiful and bitter-sweet essence of the work with the most acute delicacy and sensitivity.

Boris Pigovat, the Israeli composer whose “Holocaust Requiem” began  in 2008 the  “Kristellnacht” series of concerts in Wellington, was represented here by Nigun, a work written to express the “tragic spirit” the composer felt informed Jewish traditional music without quoting any such specific themes. Originally written for string orchestra in 1996, this version for viola quartet was made by the composer earlier this year (2019), and was premiered in Poland by an ensemble led by Lucy Liu, the leader of the “consort of violas” performing the work in this concert.

Beginning with a solo played by the leader – a recitative-like opening, reminiscent in parts of Ernest Bloch’s “Schelomo” – the piece’s different voices cleverly explore contrasting registers to diversify the textures and intensities of the music, not unlike a Baroque concerto would do. The piece’s structure – an introduction, followed by an intense building-up to a central climax, followed by a partly valedictory, partly tragic conclusion – was vividly realised, with energies properly spent and feeling seemingly exhausted at the piece’s end.

The concert concluded with a “selection of jazz and cabaret music from the camps” – beginning with a tango number put across with tremendous flair and a good deal of power of presence and voice by soprano Barbara Graham, realising the song’s ever-agglomerating intensity and focus towards a terrific climax – it sounded like Kurt Weill and it was! – a work called “Youkali” a “tango-habanera”, written in 1934 for an opera “Marie Galante”, the song a plea for peace and love in an imagined land “Youkali” of hope and desire. Graham was accompanied by pianist David Barnard and clarinettist Ben van Leuven.

For Graham’s final three songs, David Barnard took up the piano-accordion – the first of these was called “When a small package arrives”. Sung in Dutch, Graham delivered the wistful opening with pent-up longing, which broke into a polka-rhythm for the song’s main body, the singer charmingly translating the words for us during the music’s middle instrumental section.  Then came the “Westerbork Serenade”, famously and bizarrely recorded by two of the transit camp’s inmates, a popular singing duo ”Johnny and Jones”, in 1944, and here sung by both Graham and Barnard with fervour and energy. The Te Kōki Trio joined the duo for the final “Auschwitz Tango”, the words of the song, incredibly, written by a twelve year-old girl in Auschwitz, and translated by Graham at the song’s beginning – the music was dark, tragic and incredibly defiant, and the performance by the singer exemplary. It was all put across with almost unbearably laden strength of feeling, and so very movingly strong and resistant-sounding at the end, a veritable ballade of courage in the face of adversity and persecution – which, of course, was what the concert and its context was all about. An extraordinary experience!