Breathtaking NZSM wind and brass at St.Andrew’s

St. Andrews Lunchtime Concert Series
NZSM Wind and Brass Solo Recital

Flute: Keeson Perkins Treacher
Oboe: Amy Clough
Piano: Ziqian Xu
Tuba: Sam Zhu

Eugene Bozza – Image
Jacques Ibert – Deux Interludes I. Andante Espressivo, II. Allegro Vivo
W.A. Mozart – Oboe Concerto in C Major (K. 314) II. Adagio ma non troppo
Madeline Dring – Trio for Flute, Oboe, and Piano. I. Allegro con brio, II. Andante Semplice, III. Allegro Giocoso
Roland Szentpali – Variations on a Children’s Hungarian Song

St Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday, 29th May, 2024

It’s not often I get to share my lunchtime concert routine with others, but this week I was joined by my friend (and flatmate). Thankfully, she’s a flutist, and was very generous in helping me with my terminology. As someone with a background in strings, it was very useful to have her point out parts that I may have missed otherwise.

Prior to the concert, I was already impressed by every wind or brass player simply because of their breathing skills. I think I was short changed at some point with my lungs, because I could never achieve their level of breath technique .

The beginning of the concert had a last-minute change from Gabriel Faure’s ‘Fantasie for Flute and Piano’ to Eugene Bozza’s ‘Image.’ Last-minute implies rush, perhaps some panic, but there was none of that in St Andrew’s. Keeson Perkins-Treacher’s performance was a wonderful start to the concert, with lovely phrasing and incredibly smooth trills. My friend made sure that I noticed that the runs were especially smooth.

‘Image’ was followed by Jacques Ibert’s ‘Deux Interludes,’ for the flute, oboe, and piano. The first movement was gorgeous, with a mournful, beautiful melody. It had a great sense of movement. The second movement was fun, but still melancholic, so there was a wonderful tension and energy to it. To be honest, I enjoyed this piece so much that I forgot to take notes.

Amy Clough then took over, with the second movement from Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major (K. 314). From the jump, Amy was brilliant. She has such a smooth, even tone, and a real poise. It all just flowed seamlessly, she essentially sings with the oboe. I could listen to her for hours. Sadly, the concert was only an hour.

Continuing with another piece for a trio, this time by Madeline Dring. The first movement started in full unison, which can be tricky to get right, but they did it perfectly. It’s a fun movement that surprises you, but still feels seamless, with some really nice call and response. The second movement started with Ziqian Xu on the piano, which was just gorgeous. Then the flute came in, and then the oboe. The layering of these parts was so beautiful, and showed great ensemble skills, even in a solo recital. The third movement had slight dissonance, which made the piece all the more exciting. Again, lovely call and response throughout, plus a really great moment where just the flute and oboe played, and then merged into the piano. A great job from all three musicians.

We then switched over to the tuba, which was very exciting. I feel like you rarely get tuba solos, so I was eager to see what it would be like. My first impressions of the tuba was the stereotypical “womp womp” of marching band tubas, but Sam Zhu proved this impression very wrong. He had such smooth and fast runs, which was very impressive. At one point, he sang while playing, which I didn’t even know you could do. I think my jaw may have dropped slightly when my friend explained what he was doing. Everyone in St Andrews were incredibly impressed with his performance, and rightly so.

I left St Andrews in total admiration. The immense skill of these musicians is just breathtaking. Pardon the slight pun, but I genuinely can’t find a better word, or at least, one that I haven’t already used throughout my review.

Intensity, conflict, and resolve from the Aroha Quartet and oboist Robert Orr at Lower Hutt

Chamber Music Hutt Valley presents:
The Aroha String Quartet and Robert Orr (oboe)

Aroha String Quartet: Haihong Liu, Konstanze Artmann (violins)
Zhongxian Jin (viola) / Robert Ibell (‘cello)

BRITTEN – Phantasy Quartet for oboe and string trio
BEETHOVEN – String Quartet in F Major Op.59 No. 1 “Rasumovsky”
ALEX TAYLOR – Refrain for String Quartet
BLISS – Quintet for oboe and string quartet Op.21

St.Mark’s Church, Woburn Road, Lower Hutt

Tuesday 8th September 2020

I thought this concert featured a most enterprising programme, a combination of familiar and relatively unfamiliar music, with works for oboe and strings framing two strings-only pieces, providing continual interest and variety for listeners. With each of the concert’s “halves” featuring a shorter, followed by a longer piece, the presentation had an unforced ease of both delivery and reception, the ensemble’s efforts warmly acclaimed at the concert’s end.

Beginning the evening’s music was a remarkably precocious work by the nineteen year-old Benjamin Britten , a Phantasy Quartet for oboe and string trio, the title referring to a genre dating back to Elizabethan and Jacobean times of instrumental music whose single-movement form was “free”, varied and spontaneous in effect. One analysis of the music I read was that which described the piece as “a sonata movement with a slow section inserted between the development and recapitulation sections”. Britten’s very individual way with his compositions seemed to have confused rather than impressed his Royal College professors, and only one of his pieces was given a performance by the College during his three years as a student there, with a number of his works (this Quartet included) getting performances in London independent of the College’s influence.

The Phantasy Quartet was first performed by Leon Goossens, the leading English oboist of the period, in 1933 with members of the grandly-named International String Quartet in a BBC broadcast, the work then being repeated in concert in London by the same players later in the year. Its symmetrical construction features marching sections beginning and ending the piece, the oboe singing over the marching rhythms. The work’s themes are then given quicker treatment similar to a development before a central, lyrical section for strings alone arrives. After the oboe re-enters, the music “mirrors” the opening, with a return to the quicker exposition, and then to the opening slow march.

I enjoyed the freedom and exuberance brought to the work by the Aroha players and oboist Robert Orr, here, the march rhythms by turns strongly and variedly etched by the strings, and  the oboe intoning its song with the freedom of a bird’s flight; and the quicker expositions becoming more argumentative and combatative. The slower strings-only section slowly transforms a gently-swaying manner into surgings of strongly-expressed feeling, one which the oboe again floats over at first as before, then helps to crank up the energies briefly. The return of the marching rhythms of the opening delights the oboe even more, soaring like a bird rising up to meet its mate mid-flight, then becoming as one in song, one whose resonances gradually recede as the march-rhythms of the strings stutter into a richly-wrought silence!

Next was the well-known Op.59 No.1 “Rasumovsky” Quartet of Beethoven’s, here, to my ears, given an almost disembodied kind of texture by the Quartet players at the outset, whose effect I found hauntingly attractive  – I admit I was sitting towards the back of the auditorium, and not in my accustomed listening-place nearer to the players, which would account for some of the more “distanced” kind of ambience. But it was more than that – I thought the playing had a “liquidity” which tended to smooth over the usually-encountered angularities of some of the writing – it made for some exquisite sounds, and extraordinarily deft pairings of voices, as in the antiphonal exchanges near the exposition’s end, those “refracted” chords which I imagine are the aural equivalent of a revolving mirror, bringing images into unexpected proximity and letting them go just as easily. The quartet also got a lovely ‘layered” effect during the development in letting the motive “descend” through the textures, with detail sometimes merely “brushed “ in, all very spontaneous in its realisation, which was a hallmark of the performance as a whole.

The “drum-tapping” beginning of the Allegretto drew our attentions into the musical argument, the phrases deftly tossed between the instruments at first before excitingly progressing towards a full-blooded announcement of the melody – it all made a colourful contrast with the poignancy of the minor-key melody that followed, a melody that the composer wove back into the opening rhythms of the movement, creating incredible expectations and wonderments as to where the music was next going to go, playing with both harmonies and trajectories in masterly fashion. The recapitulation of the opening melody’s most engagingly “grunty” form was a great moment here, as was the continued integration of the yearning melody in the music’s flowing sweep – the players seemed to have tapped into some kind of inexhaustible energy-source, giving the music all that it needed up to the drollery of the movement’s ending.

Such noble, dignified sadness was expressed by the slow movement’s opening paragraph, the cello’s first traversal of the theme capturing for me the very soul of the music, but matched in reply by the violin’s comparable eloquence with the second subject. I thought all the players responded wholeheartedly to the music’s “nowhere to hide” quality of candour, with voicings that readily conveyed the deep emotion of the composer’s well of sorrow – out of it all suddenly bubbled the first violin’s mini-cadenza leading to the cello’s forthright, striding into a new world of “taking arms against a sea of troubles”, and bidding all follow the lead, alike through jaggedly syncopated thickets and rolling, tumbling terrain, the mellifluous liquidity of the work’s opening left far behind by the players as they tackled what seemed like “the real stuff” here, a white-heat of intensity, as much spirit as substance dancing about the instruments and pushing the players to their limits at the end – inspiring work from all concerned!

A break, and the music was run again, this time with a New Zealand work I had heard before (and reviewed), in 2015, coincidentally, also played then by the Aroha Quartet, though with a different second violinist,  Alex Taylor’s Refrain for String Quartet – –   ‘Cellist Robert Ibell introduced the piece, getting the quartet players to play the “refrain” for us (a beautiful choral-like piece), and then talking about the composer’s used of a compositional technique called “shadowing” (the players demonstrating this as well), a line followed by another in close succession, almost like a echo effect, or a visual shadow. The actual piece itself began violently, in “tantrum” mode at first, before the first “refrain” or a chorale-like passage interrupted the agitations, the music’s extremes delineating the states of mind wrought by what the composer described as “social paralysis”, a chaos of confusion reverberating between action and inaction. The “shadowing” demonstrated by the players seemed to represent efforts at articulation, the result being an impulse-filled soundscape, in places chaotic, in others strangely haunting and vibrant in effect. The beauty of the “refrains” to my mind served to underline the dysfunctional ambience in which they existed and/or grew into or from, moments of lucidity marked by stillness and loneliness in which one could hear one’s own voice coming back at one, the shadowings underlining the futility of attempts at communication, everything Imagined rather than real and by extrapolation leaving us all in the same boat! Those equivocal feelings at the piece’s end which I commented on in my previous review here came back as confused as before regarding the “imprecise” nature of human interaction.

Finally we heard a work by Sir Arthur Bliss – I don’t believe in depriving musicians thus decorated of their honours, as seems to be the current custom – as WS Gilbert remarked: “If everybody’s somebody, then no-one’s anybody!”. His music I’ve never seriously “gotten into” – so it was a rare treat to encounter a work by the composer via such a committed performance as this one. Bliss’s Oboe Quintet, written in 1927, was commissioned by the American philanthropist and patron of the arts, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for a festival of music in Venice, where it was premiered by the same player, Leon Goossens, as was Britten’s work which we heard earlier in this concert. Though English, and influenced by the folk-song revival which gave English music such increased impetus in the early part of the twentieth Century, Bliss’s early work was thought of as avant garde by the critics – there were pastoral influences, but frequently unconventional, and at times experimental and exotic touches, the fruit of early dalliances with Stravinsky and the music of Les Six. Later his music moved towards a more richly conventional idiom, found in works like his Colour Symphony and choral work Morning Heroes.

The Oboe Quintet has become one of Bliss’s most-played and recorded works, written at a time when the composer was reconciling his contemporary interests with the sheer depth of his English heritage. I thought the mix brought out a certain restless quality, as if a number of creative elements were bent on “holding their own” in the music’s sonicscape. The work’s “sighing” opening, beautifully essayed by the violins plaintively invited the other strings to join in, the oboe songfully opening up the vistas further – a gentle dance ensued, the oboe maintaining its song while the strings gradually and deftly energised the accompaniment with nimble bow-bouncings and more trenchant accentings, their lines ascending, and delivering Holst-like astringencies – a “hurt” quality emerged from it all most effectively, the quietly melancholic song left to the oboe to resound at the end, like a bird crying out.

What a rich and sonorous melody from the oboe at the start of the Andante con moto slow movement! -so much so that the violins have to repeat some of it, reluctant to let it go! Throughout the movement’s first part there’s such a “lonely” quality of utterance,  sometimes led by the oboe and then the textures sometimes strings-only and (in one particular place) Borodin-like. Then, suddenly, a folkish irruption of energy enlivens the music so gorgeously, the music very physically propelled by the strings beneath the oboe’s melody – blood-pumping stuff! But soon, the lonely, melancholic mood returns with the oboe’s “solitary shepherd’s” song, and only dreams for company.

And as for  the finale’s throwing down the gauntlet, with those uncompromisingly fraught chromatic fanfares right at the start, well, something obviously needed to be said and got out quick (“and not remembered, even in sleep!”), so steadfastedly did the music “play its way through” whatever anxieties the composer had conjured from out of his subconscious. The players here demonstrated tons of energy and spirit in doing so, though, and everybody made a splendid fist of the appearance of the Irish folk-tune Connolly’s Jig, which certainly did its best to clear the air! – and a right royal battle its cheerfulness waged with the music’s darker elements, too! I thought the playing was fantastic in its focused energies, and the brilliance of Robert Orr’s florid figurations at the piece’s end was jaw-dropping! What a great companion-piece this was for the Britten work at the concert’s beginning, and how resounding a success the concert was in its entirety!



Beautifully balanced programme of perfectly judged music for lunchtime

St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Music for flute (Hannah Darroch), oboe ( Calvin Scott), piano (Robyn Jaquiery) and organ (Charles Sullivan)

Telemann; Krebs, Rhené-Baton; Bartók; Piazzolla; Madeleine Dring

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 8 June, 12:15 pm

Most of the lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s offer interesting music, either familiar or unusual, played by fine musicians. Students are worth hearing as they almost always exceed one’s expectations for the enterprise of their programmes and professionals delight with their artistry and maturity.

This one had the enterprise of the best student recitals, in performances by very polished professional players, in the mix of moderately familiar and totally unfamiliar music. Just before the players began, a small group of children came and sat in the front, listened with evident attention and appeared to hear the music in the same way as adults did; Suzuki method pupils I gathered. I’m sure their attention was in large part a tribute to the players’ musical charisma.

Telemann is no longer the rarity that he might have been 50 years ago; and this Trio Sonata in A revealed the composer at his best, writing for winds, blending them in the most beguiling way and finding melodies that were fresh and attractive. Though the piano wasn’t treated as a solo performer, flute and oboe wove lovingly about each other, the melodies passed back and forth. The thought came to me that Telemann sounded, in his handling of the two woodwinds, like the very quintessence of early 18th century music, more authentic, representative and true to its spirit in a certain way, than Bach in Germany or Vivaldi in Italy.

Krebs was about 30 years younger than Telemann (or Bach), and the Fantasia in F minor for oboe and organ, Charles Sullivan on the pipe organ, with oboist Cavin Scott alongside the console in the organ gallery, hardly exhibited the learning of complexity of Bach. Improvisatory yet carefully composed, the oboe sounded more comfortable and idiomatic than the organ which seemed to have met an unequal competitor in the very human quality that a beautifully played oboe can create.

Emmanuel Rhené-Baton, born 1879, was roughly a contemporary of Ravel or Stravinsky but didn’t quite make such a mark. Nevertheless, looking at material on the Internet, it’s clear that he only barely escaped being a well-known conductor and a gifted, if minor, composer. He was born and lived much of his life near or in Brittany and loved the sea. His Passacaille, speaks in the accents of the French school of flute music – Paul Tafanel, Fauré, Lili Boulanger, Henri Büsset, Philippe Gaubert…even Debussy, and this was a charming performance of what seems to be the only flute piece that he wrote, or at least, that seems to be played. Hannah Darroch spoke about it, as she did about the Piazzolla Tango Etude, rather too quickly and a bit much specialist listener expectation, but her playing, tenderly supported by Jaquiery, was a nice revelation of a composer I didn’t know.

Piazzolla’s Tango Etude No 2 (one of six) was actually written for flute and piano, not an arrangement, though he apparently (through the player on a YouTube performance) made a remark to the effect that the accents should be exaggerated to imitate the sound of the bandoneon. That was how it was played and Darroch achieved a fine idiomatic feeling.

Calvin Scott also spoke, pitched at an appropriate level of assumed knowledge, about Bartók’s Four Hungarian Folksongs, for oboe and piano, interestingly identifying their origins. They might have been the most meaty and individual pieces in the recital; evidently from territory now part of Romania (because Romanians were the dominant population when boundaries were set in the post-WWI Treaty of Versailles). The playing was careful, unhurried, giving varied weight to certain phrases, and though Scott’s playing was beautiful, it also captured enough of Bartók’s pains to preserve a peasant authenticity; and here the piano part was very much an important partner.

And the trio came together again to play a Trio written by Madeleine Dring (1923-1977; I hadn’t come across her either). Jaquiery told us that she was an English actress as well as composer and much of her music was for the theatre. This delightful trio, in three conventional movements, avoided any sign that she worried too much about writing music for academia, to impress the avant-garde. Yet there was distinctive character, here and there a real melody, set in a generalized contemporary idiom. I tended to think of French rather than English composer influences – like Ibert or Poulenc and there was a sense of delight, a confidence, in the way she pursued the course of her musical ideas.

So the entire concert was a wonderful anthology for the middle of the day, in this sort of context: variety of eras and styles, nationalities and intents. Among the many delightful, spirit-lifting recitals one hears at St Andrew’s, I rated this one of the very best.