Another end-of-year student recital: woodwinds in calm weather

Old Saint Paul’s lunchtime concert

New Zealand School of Music wind players
Annabel Lovatt, Harim Oh, Samantha McSweeney, Breanna Abbott, Darcy Snell, Leah Thomas

Music by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Hindemith, Weber, Britten

Old Saint Paul’s

Tuesday 26 September, 12:15 pm

End of year public recitals by New Zealand School of Music students continued, today with woodwind players. If I had been uninterested in hearing the NZSO and Freddy Kempf last Saturday playing single movements of major piano concertos (though I gather it was well-patronised), this was different. Because one was not laying out a substantial ticket price for the rather frustrating experience of being left in mid-air in Mozart and Rachmaninov, or coming in for the dessert after missing the substantial and wonderful first and second courses (in the case of the Mendelssohn).

But the Mozart oboe quartet had other very strong associations for me, for back in 1977 I’d taken long-service leave from my Public Service career and we criss-crossed France by car in the company of a few cassettes, one of which contained Mozart’s clarinet quintet and oboe quartet. The associations remain vivid, and they support powerfully excessive passions for both that music and France. And I have to say that Annabel Lovatt’s paying of its first movement, recreated the delights that I’d experienced 40 years ago. It was on the quick side, but her handling of the entrancing melody was beautiful, and the undulations of breathings and tempi were charming. (and yes, I’d have loved to have heard her play the other movements!).

Harim Oh played an arrangement of the March from Act I of the Nutcracker, a rather transformational shift from exultant brass to clarinet, with melodic modifications. But in its own right, this was an entertaining version, and Oh played it with vivacity and sensitivity, along with Hugh McMillan’s piano standing in splendidly for the rest of the orchestra.

Next, the flute, and this time a piece I was not familiar with: Hindmith’s sonata, the first movement. It was written in 1936, just before the composer decided that he had to quit Nazi Germany for the United States; it was the first, I think, of a total of 26 sonatas for piano and almost any instrument you can name. In a blind-fold test, I’m not sure Hindemith would have been my first guess, though I’d have got the era right! But of course, it emerged typically Hindemith: spirited, matter-of-fact, melodically clear but never sentimental. And Samantha McSweeney coped with its quite demanding challenges with a technique that was pretty well up to it and with a good feeling for its essential musicality.

We heard movements from two of Weber’s several concertos; the bassoon one is certainly less familiar than the clarinet concertino and the first clarinet concerto that we heard at the end. Breanna Abbott gave us a very pithy summary of its place in music history: it was 206 years old, she said. In spite of a wee stumble, she played it interestingly, and bravely, for Weber was always concerned to provide music both for his own piano performance and for other instruments that was strong on virtuosic display.

Darcy Snell played a solo oboe piece, Pan, from Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, offering a quick run-down on classical literature – Ovid’s Metamorphoses has been the source of a huge quantity of classically-inspired literature from the Middle Ages to the present. (A perfectly senseless aside: Ovid was sent into exile by the Emperor Augustus, for unknown reasons, and died at Constanța on the Black Sea coast, now Romania; it has a theatre called Teatrul Ovidiu – have long hankered to go there).

Anyway, this solo oboe piece emerged as meditative, somewhat shy, even hesitant, though one is hard-pressed to divine anything ‘classical’ about it. Darcy played it in a nicely considered manner, and it ended in a typically Brittenish, droll and unusual way with a sort of unresolved trill.

Finally Weber’s first clarinet concerto, second movement. Leah Thomas played it with Hugh McMillan, who’d been the able and supportive associate pianist throughout. The slow movement, in F minor, is of a meditative, perhaps sad character, suggestive of an operatic aria style, with a livelier middle section featuring a lot of showy arpeggios.

One always hopes that performances like these, that give such very enticing tastes of great pieces of music, will inspire the devoted audiences, if they don’t known them, to hunt the music down and listen to the whole works – and be surprised that all the other movements are just as beautiful.

It was the last of the Old Saint Paul’s 2017 lunchtime series.


Diverting three-quarter hour of flute-flavoured song: Barbara Graham, Rebecca Steel, Fiona McCabe

Songs at Old Saint Paul’s
Barbara Graham – soprano; Fiona McCabe – piano; Rebecca Steel – flute

Pieces by Handel, Saint-Saëns, Caplet, Mozart, Massenet and Ravel; John Dankworth arrangements of songs of Canteloube, Sondheim and himself

Old Saint Paul’s

Tuesday 19 September, 12:15 pm

For a somewhat bigger-than-average audience including, I gather, a contingent from a retirement village, all three performers contributed commentary mixing erudition with light-heartedness. So we began with references to Handel’s ode, or oratorio, L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato, sung by Barbara Graham. The oratorio was based on Milton’s poem of a century earlier, entitled ‘L’Allegro-Il Penseroso’, which was enlarged at the prompting of Handel’s friends, with a portrait of the ‘moderate’, shall we say, sanguine man: someone at the centre, more rational, less ideological perhaps, in keeping with the ‘Enlightenment’ of the 18th century.

Handel’s colleague and librettist Charles Jennens, who compiled/wrote several other oratorio texts, including Messiah), decided that, in addition to introducing a ‘moderate’ figure, Milton’s poem would become a dialogue, mixing lines from each of the two parts to create a more dramatic scenario.

The air ‘Sweet bird’ which Barbara sang is in Part I (‘L’Allegro’) of Handel’s work, but it is found at line 60 of ‘Il Penseroso’, the second part of Milton’s pair of poems. It is followed in the oratorio by ‘If I give thee honour due’, given to a bass singer, and that is from Milton’s ‘L’Allegro’. (Once upon a time this stuff was familiar in secondary schools; and the entire Milton poem is in A Pageant of English Verse which was a set book in my 6th form English class: I’ve still got the volume; something sad seems to have happened to secondary school syllabuses in the meantime).

Her singing was splendid: strong, well characterised, with perfectly judged vibrato and no sign of strain as she rose higher, expressing a touch of melancholy (bearing in mind that the lines are from ‘Il Penseroso’). Rebecca Steel’s flute wove charmingly around the voice; when the line rose, there was no strain; and pianist Fiona McCabe contributed a thoroughly supportive accompaniment.

Two French songs followed, with the flute as the subject; first a late song by Saint-Saëns, ‘Une flûte invisible’, with a lovely vocal melody which is echoed or supported by the piano and flute, sometimes reaching high, decoratively, yearningly.

André Caplet was a friend of Debussy and orchestrated several of Debussy’s works. His ‘Viens! … Une flûte invisible’, by Victor Hugo, was not so bird-like, or perhaps this was a sadder bird, more enigmatic in mood. It’s an enchanting song, not far removed from Debussy in character, again with its indispensable flute embellishment, all enveloped by the subtle piano. I confess to making use of YouTube to gain more familiarity with music I haven’t run into before. This delicious little song is sung by that remarkably feminine French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky. Though the real feminine voice of Barbara Graham was almost his equal; and there’s nothing like a live performance.

Then came an aria from Mozart’s little-known opera Un re pastore, ‘L’amorò, caro costante’. Again, in an arrangement that allowed the flute prominence, it offered Graham the chance to display dramatic powers, even though the ‘opera seria’ idiom sounds conventional to our ears. But not bad for a 19-year-old.

More French song followed: Massenet’s Élégie, for cello and orchestra, from his incidental music to Leconte de Lisle’s verse drama, ‘Les Érinnyes’ (also spelled Les Érinyes). Treating a facet of the story of the Mycenian family of Agamemnon and Menelaus, Klytemnestra, Elektra, Iphigenia, Orestes and the rest, caught up in the aftermath of the Trojan war. It’s a lovely melody that I first encountered as an easy enough cello piece; Massenet later added words which is what we heard: a little search suggests it was probably ‘Ô doux printemps d’autrefois’.

That was followed by Ravel’s ‘La flûte enchantée’ from his Shéhérazade (note, the French do not adhere to the German way of representing the ‘sh’ sound – ‘sch’ – which English for some reason has slavishly followed in this name. Though normal French spelling for that sound would be ‘ch’). Ravel was in part inspired by Rimsky-Korsakov’s brilliant four-part suite; the words are by Tristan Klingsor. It’s an exquisite melody, in which the flute proved an important contributor, much in its warm lower register, and again, Ravel’s piano part, in Fiona McCabe’s fluent hands, was very much worth attending to.

Then came three songs, arranged or composed by John Dankworth for his wife Cleo Laine; the best-known (thanks in part to Kiri), Baïlèro, from Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne. I’m afraid I was not especially taken with the Dankworth version which seemed to me to have quite abandoned, apart from the flute accompaniment, the shining luminosity of the Auvergne region.

The song from Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle, was more akin to the Dankworth jazz idiom; both flute and piano had attractive parts, creating a thoughtful, slightly despairing spirit. Dankworth’s own ‘Play it again Sam’, had integrity, in its conception and style, and Barbara Graham’s voice and facial and other gestures created a delightful impression. That’s what a little 5-year-old thought too, standing on the pew a couple of rows in front of me, and facing back towards me, her head and hands moving in lively and engaging response to the rhythm and spirit of the song.

The three musicians had delivered a charming ¾ of an hour of music.

Beethoven and bravura violin music from Valerie Rigg and Mary Barber at Old St Paul’s

Lunchtime concert at Old Saint Paul’s

Valerie Rigg – violin and Mary Barber – piano

Kreisler: Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 10 in G, Op 96
Wieniawski: Polonaise brilliante, Op 4

Old Saint Paul’s

Tuesday 15 September, 12:15 pm

I had no knowledge of the programme till I arrived on this sunny, breezy morning, at Old Saint Paul’s, now famous as one of the most beautiful buildings in New Zealand. So that in spite of sightline problems here and there, and acoustic oddities with some sounds, the pleasures to be found just to be there are great. The stained glass creations, among almost an entire suite of stained glass, of Saints Catherine and Cecilia (her, the patron saint of music) side by side on the north wall on my left, can afford comfort for any catastrophe (and I speak not of religious belief or sensibilities).

But here we had a brave violinist taking on a couple of terrifying, virtuoso violin pieces. The performance began with that feeling of tension and suspense that accompanies watching a high-wire act, as Valerie Rigg started the Kreisler. But the thrill of an exciting performance vanished suddenly as conspicuous signs of serious insecurity in intonation and articulation in the playing were obvious, which really continued throughout. The cause I couldn’t guess, but I thought it unlikely that her musical skills had just deserted her.

At the end she went off and Mary Barber spoke about the character of the Beethoven sonata that was to follow and, as Valerie returned, remarked casually that she’d had to replace a string. Ah! What a pity she hadn’t stopped as soon as the trouble emerged and changed the string then!

So the Beethoven went well, with new confidence, even sound, good intonation. There was a nice feeling of rapport between the two players, whose common approach was restrained and modest. It’s always good to observe the pianist in a sonata duet, and both to see and hear the way the pianist, without becoming subservient, watches expressive gestures, careful hesitations by the violinist and matches them sensitively, which enriched the sanguinity and sanity of the long, warmly melodious first movement.

As Mary Barber had observed, the slow movement suggests an exploratory frame of mind with descending arpeggios or scale passages that seemed to be drawing some kind of message from the music but not perhaps arriving.  That’s probably a good way to describe a movement that is not superficially engaging, as the melodies are not among Beethoven’s most memorable. Yet the performance held the attention and the composer’s gifts in creating bewitching music from unspectacular material proved themselves, as well as the perceptiveness of the players. And it’s not as if  it’s a short movement. There’s a tantalising suspense on the enchanting last page that leads to a dark key change, from E flat to the Scherzo and Trio in G minor, which was well expressed.

This is a vigorous but not specially witty movement, though obviously more vigorously characterful than the Adagio. It’s also quite short. The vivid Scherzo is followed by a more lyrical, swaying melody in the Trio section which almost suggests a mazurka.

I had forgotten how attractive the last movement of this last of Beethoven’s violin sonatas was. And the players delighted me, really enhancing the feelings I had at having my memories so splendidly refreshed. On top of the pleasure expressed in the body of the movement, the tempo change in the Coda brought an excitement to the conclusion that was very satisfyingly prolonged.

Then came the Wieniawski which, now, raised no misgivings in me as I knew that Valerie Rigg’s instrument, as well as she herself, were fully able to manage the pyrotechnics. In the event, they played his Polonaise Brilliante at a slightly calmer pace, none of the hectic speed and flamboyance that a dedicated violin virtuoso might adopt. In fact, it was at the more stately, processional sort of speed which is the way the dance must be performed (watchers of the last act of Eugene Onegin will know about that). So the dangers were sensibly minimized really to the music’s benefit. Sure there was the occasional minor missed mark in the wide-spaced arpeggios, and in the inescapable bravura flourishes, and the last section didn’t go perfectly, but in general, intonation, double-stopping, and in fact, the essential spirit of the music were convincingly present.


NZSM Classical Guitar students square up to a challenging recital

New Zealand School of Music presents:
NZSM Classical Guitar Students

Lunchtime Concert Series
Old St.Paul’s, Wellington.

 Tuesday September 23rd, 2014

This brief concert was a welcome opportunity to hear again the talents of the NZSM Classical Guitar students under the tutelage of director Dr. Jane Curry. The full ensemble consisted of fifteen players, of whom four were guest members from the School’s pre-tertiary programme. The recital comprised a wide variety of works that spanned the “Golden Age” of Elizabethan lute music, the Baroque, and the 19th and 20th centuries.

The initial work, for full ensemble, was Three Distractions by Richard Charlton (b.1955). The first two short numbers involved lots of complex, irregular and syncopated rhythms, while the third was  marked by angular atonal writing with many percussive effects. It was a challenging piece, where the complexities were well handled and the integration of the large ensemble was excellent.

Then followed two duo numbers, firstly The Flatt Pavan and Galliard by John Johnson (1550-1594) who was one of the fathers of the “Golden Age” of English lute music. The characteristic graceful Elizabethan writing was well balanced by George Wills and Jake Church, with musical phrasing and good dynamic variation. The following Jongo for Two Guitars (1989) by Brazilian composer Paulo Bellinati was a total contrast where rhythmic complexities and clever percussive effects were also very effectively realized.

The bracket was completed by a duo version of Manuel da Falla’s unmistakable Spanish Dance which was given a very competent reading, though the quietest dynamics tended to disappear in the church’s acoustic, and some slightly untidy passagework popped up occasionally between the two players.

The next bracket comprised works for guitar quartet, with players Royden Smith, Dylan Solomon, Amber Madriaga and Christopher Beernink. The first work was Toccata by Leo Brouwer (b.1939), a Cuban player-composer who often combines “traditional forms with energetic, rhythmic flare resembling Cuban folk and street music. Brower’s compositional style is unique, consisting of a multitude of different sounds, techniques and cultures.” (programme notes). The Toccata was certainly busy with all of these, yet it somehow failed to grasp me in an integrated experience  that engaged the ear and led one on a musical journey. Its technical challenges were certainly met head on by the quartet, but some essential dimension seemed to have eluded the composer’s pen.

The next work was a transcription for guitar quartet of the opening sinfonia from Bach’s Cantata BWV 29 Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir. Bach himself wrote three versions of this movement – the first for solo violin (in BVW 1006), then the cantata sinfonia scored for orchestra, and finally a transcription for solo lute (BVW 1006a). I have not heard this last, but I felt that this guitar version was simply not able to do justice to the wonderful contrapuntal writing. Its very life blood derives from the gutsy, incisive attack and timbre offered by bow, reed or trumpet, and the guitar can simply not produce this.

There may well be merit in pedagogic versions that test the technical capacities of players (which were very adequately demonstrated here), but it does not sit comfortably in a concert programme. However, this particular recital was serving as an assessed element of the university course, so the parameters are somewhat different.

Spin by Andrew York (b.1958) was next on the programme. It was a work that challenged the players with tricky rhythms shifting between 7/8, 3/4 and 4/4, and with complex busy writing, all of which they handled with technical aplomb. I felt however that the intricacies of Spin would have been given greater shape and meaning by a wider dynamic range and more thoughtful phrasing.

The final work in the programme was Folguedo by Afro-Brazilian guitarist/composer Celso Machado (b.1953). Scored for guitar orchestra, it was billed as “a gem of a piece [in] the canon of large guitar ensemble repertoire”. It proved to be just that: the first of the two movements was immediately attractive, featuring a guitar solo introduction which then blossomed into ensemble writing that was presented with pleasing balance and dynamics. The second movement involved a considerable complexity of rhythms, textures, interweaving lines and harmonies, which were all handled pretty competently. Once again I felt that the challenge of the technical demands tended to be uppermost in the performers’ minds, whereas a greater exploration of the dynamic possibilities would have considerably enriched the music.

But having said that, the work was presented with a verve and enthusiasm that was shared by all the ensembles heard in this recital, a feature which has marked all the concerts I have heard from this tertiary programme. The Old St. Paul’s venue offered a very suitable acoustic and ambience which further enhanced the privilege Wellington audiences enjoy from hearing the fruits of this excellent NZSM endeavour.




Gunter Herbig at Old St.Paul’s – the next best thing to a siesta……

Gunter Herbig (guitar)

Music for guitar from South America
Works by Reis, Piazzolla, Fleury, Barrios and Pernambuco

Old St.Paul’s Church, Thorndon,

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Gunter Herbig strode into the performing-space of Old St.Paul’s radiating waves of energy and purpose, as if he was about to perform some kind of feat considerably more spectacularly death-defying than give a guitar recital of music from South America. He thanked us all for “braving the elements” in coming to the church to see and hear him play, and hoped that we would, by the end of the concert have thought it all worthwhile.

Herbig is a native of Brazil, born of German parents, who spent much of his childhood in Portugal and Germany. Having such a cosmopolitan cultural background, has, he reckoned, given his music-making an interesting and personalized mixture of influences which he treasures. He certainly gave every indication throughout  the concert of “owning” the music he played, communicating to us his regard for the sounds as having a living value.

By way of telling us both about the music on the programme and the circumstances of his getting to know it, Herbig made the works come alive both as sounds and as evocations of places and moods and ideas. His anecdotes, filled with information and spiced with droll humor, gave each work a richer context  that enhanced our understanding of the pieces. And his playing had all the character and virtuoso skill that the music required to “speak” to us.

Herbig began with two works by Dilermando Reis, perhaps the most well-known Brazilian guitarist of modern times, one who performed the compositions of JS Bach, Barrios and Tárrega, as well as his own and other works by Brazilian composers. Reis recorded many of his own works, among them the second of the pair of waltzes that Gunter Herbig played today, Se Ela Perguntar. 

First up, however, was Ternura, a lovely, quixotic work, filled with insinuation and sensuous figuration, having a kind of spontaneous, almost unpredictable course. The second work I thought rather Chopinesque, or perhaps a Latin American version of the same, alternating between physical and emotional, purpose and reflection. Both were winningly-voiced, the player always responsive to the variety between ebb and flow, movement and stasis.

Astor Piazzolla’s music, little-known outside the South American continent until the last decade of the twentieth century, has become synonymous with the distinctive voice and infinite variety of the once-infamous dance, the tango – Piazzolla’s nuevo tango was scorned at first by traditionalists, who objected to his fusion of the dance with both classical and jazz elements, but his radical style eventually won acceptance. Gunter Herbig briefly entertained us with a story of how he encountered Piazzolla’s music for the first time, before demonstrating via his playing of two of the composer’s tangos the extent to which he had been “grabbed” by this music.

First came Adios Noniño (translated, “Farewell, Father”), written in 1959 shortly after the death of the composer’s father. Percussive and timbre-driven at the work’s beginning, free and flexible in rhythm and harmony, the piece seemed to present a sensibility filled with changing emotions, a kind of continuum of instability, but one on an inevitable course towards some kind of awareness as a result of experience. The visceral aspect of the music I found compelling and in places exciting, even unsettling, though I wasn’t sure why on this first hearing, not knowing the work’s circumstances. As a piece of “pure” music it certainly made an effect in Herbig’s hands.

I thought the second tango, Verano Porteño,  a more “road music” kind of work, less inward and circumspect, more “out there” with a stronger rhythmic trajectory that seemed to cover plenty of physical ground. Again the music had a percussive element, the player required, as before, to strike the instrument in different ways, by way of underlining the pulse of things, the music’s heartbeat. Not all of the music was thus enslaved – recitative-like passages and incidental glissandi and other kinds of timbral slides punctuated the flow, the guitar used like a kind of all-purpose folk-orchestra, especially towards the piece’s end, with all kinds of deft percussive touches.

By way of contrast, Gunter Herbig played three more “conventional” tangoes, two by the eminent and much-travelled Argentinian guitar virtuoso Abel Fleury, and one by Paraguyan-born Agustin Barrios. Fleury’s two pieces sounded so “clean” and straight after Piazzolla’s far more discursive worlds of experience, a contrast perhaps akin to hearing music by almost any of Beethoven’s contemporaries next to the former;s late quartets!  However, Barrios’s work Don Perez Freire had a more personalized aspect, the listener imagining some kind of portrait of a kind of Latin American “Beckus the Dandiprat”, somebody worldly-wise and energetic, and perhaps a little garrulous but with real charm to boot – a man, one suspects, well acquainted with the pleasures of dance and movement.

A second piece by Barrios, Julia Florida (Julia Blossoming), a work dedicated to one of his students, Julia Martinez de Rodriguez, was a different kind of portrait, by turns graceful and impulsive, quickilvery and lyrical. Subtitled “Barcarola” it had moments reminiscent of the music of Faure, with a wistfully beautiful melodic line. The program was , in a sense, rounded off by the final programmed piece, written by Joao Pernambuco, a founder of the Brazilian choro style. Pernambuco’s output was virtually salvaged  by people like fellow composers Heitor Villa-Lobos, who transcribed many of the pieces, and later Dilermando Reis, who performed many and recorded several of Pernambuco’s works. We heard the latter’s Sons de carrilhoes (Song of the Bells), an attractively lyrical toe-tapper of a piece, a happy and joyous conclusion to the recital.

However, Gunter Herbig then played for us an encore, by way of sympathizing with the realities of many of us having to return to work from the concert, rather than, as he put it, “taking a siesta”! Of course, our sensibilities had been having a great time cavorting around and about imagined realms where such practices as siesta were part of the daily routine. So we were given Leo Brouwer’s Berceuse (Cradle Song) as an extra moment of magic, a gentle kind of farewelling to this gorgeous array of music.



Beautiful Britten, sterling Brahms – a heartfelt tribute to Norbert Heuser

Old St. Pauls, Thorndon Lunchtime Concert Series presents:
Peter Barber (viola) / Catherine McKay (piano)

BRITTEN – Lachrymae, for viola and piano (after John Dowland)
BRAHMS – Viola Sonata No.2 in E-flat Op.120/2

Old St.Paul’s Church, Thorndon

Tuesday, 17th June 2014

What would have been planned originally by violist Peter Barber and pianist Catherine McKay as an occasion featuring a richly-wrought and most gratifying pair of contrasting works for viola and piano took on an additional note of elegiac sadness by the time the two musicians came to present their concert. Two days before, the death had occurred of a former NZSO colleague of Barber’s – in fact, a fellow-violist, and a prominent member of the orchestra for no less than thirty-eight years, Norbert Heuser.

How appropriate and moving, then, to hear Peter Barber speak of his esteemed colleague and friend before the concert, in effect dedicating the performances to Heuser’s memory. Fittingly, the music we heard featured the viola, the instrument that each of these musicians played, of course – but even more appropriately, the venue (the exquisite and richly-appointed Old St.Paul’s Church in Thorndon) was that which was to be used the following day for the memorial service – a circumstance which obviously carried its own particular poignancy.

And what music had been chosen! – unwittingly, of course, as regards making any specific commemorative gesture, but with an unerring instinct on the part of both players for focusing on love and its power to heal all sorrows and restore what could be held fast of “this worlde’s joye”. The Britten work, which I had not heard previously, was particularly enthralling in this respect, though the Brahms sonata had, too, the capacity to express a kind of fierce joy occasionally tinged with loss and regret.

What power music which one encounters for the very first time can sometimes have! – and especially so when the performances are proper, flesh-and-blood, live, here-and-now experiences, delivered with skill, focus and rapt concentration! True, in situations such as these one’s critical responses are perhaps coloured (I very nearly wrote the word “clouded”!) by the delight of first sensations – rather, in fact, like falling in love! Thus it was here with me, upon hearing the Britten work.

A rich, sombre opening brought forth sounds that seemed to be wrung and resonated from the depths of feeling – in places tremulous and almost Mahlerian in effect (reminiscent of the finale of that composer’s angst-ridden Sixth Symphony). Here, the piano constantly oscillated with tremolando-laden emotion while the viola sounded Aeolian-like strands which were stretched across the vistas as if to resonate in sympathy.

More angular and quixotic, the following sequence exchanged ascending/descending figurations between piano and viola, before halting the vertiginous flow and setting viola pizzicati against richly-sounded piano chords – for all the world the sounds to my ears conveying the sense of a beating heart…..the string textures graduated towards rich double-stoppings as the piano’s chordings climbed, explored and intensified.

Britten was reputed to be no lover of the music of Brahms – in fact he’s on record somewhere as remarking to an acquaintance: – “I make a point of playing one Brahms recording a year, just to remind myself how awful the music is!”……such anecdotes are often relished more for their wit and outrageous sentiment than for veracity, and perhaps aren’t as such to be trusted. In point of fact, the very next exchange between the instruments – the piano stern and commanding, the viola dogged and determined – sounded to my surprised ears extremely Brahmsian, especially the way the piano chords were echoed and resonated by the viola’s energetic figurations.

Piano chords turned into flowing rivulets under Catherine McKay’s fingers, along with string figures coalescing into melody, seeming to want by this time to clothe the gestures in less angular and disparate utterances – though the night ride had a little way to go still, before the sunrise. The muse was yet to show her hand, waiting for her moment while still more quixotic gestures mockingly returned to the piano, Peter Barber’s viola dancing to the mood, though impishly punctuating the phrase-ends with pizzicato notes.

And then it was as though worlds gradually began to intertwine – at first through the gloom, then through coruscation and upheaval, and finally through rapture and ecstasy! Firstly pianistic tintinabulations sought to comfort the viola’s sorrowful sighings, but then tried a different tack, building huge blocks of sound with progressive portentous chords, the viola running between the great columns of sound towards the growing light, becoming more and more excited, and finally throwing itself into the piano’s open arms in a passionately-voiced embrace, an unashamed love-song!

From this it seemed at first something of a Brahmsian (sorry, Ben!) take on an Elizabethan melody, rich and pulsating! But both musicians were inspired at this stage, moving with ease and fluency into those leaner, sparser, more focused realms of Elizabethan sensibility – Peter Barber’s viola “centered” the melody as if it were a prayer, and Catherine McKay’s piano song resounded like a lute paying homage to love. How touching it all seemed by the end – more powerfully so, I think, by Britten’s deconstruction of his own sound world to connect with Dowland’s.

My apologies to the reader for indulging thus far in what seems far more like a fanciful commentary on the music itself rather than the performance of it – though having never seen nor heard the music previously, my remarks above can be taken as a set of reflections on the way it was played and interpreted, just as relevantly as regarding the actual work.

I almost needed somewhere to go and lie down after such an intense listening experience – but there was no rest for the wicked, as, after a short re-alignment of things we were off again, this time into a world of expression the previous composer loved to hate! The work by Brahms was a transcription by the composer of a sonata originally written for clarinet, one of two such pieces (incidentally both have been thus transcribed, to my great delight!).

The string timbres really make the sonata a freshly-minted work, more youthful, immediate and “striving” I think than does the rather more serene, somewhat Wordsworthian clarinet. Thus it was that, despite its opus number it seemed in places a young man’s work, borne out especially by the piano part. In places, it’s really of an order of difficulty which another pianist at the concert with me confirmed afterwards, by laughingly describing a certain sequence on the opening pages as “a pianist’s graveyard”!

Catherine McKay’s playing was, however, seized with such purposeful focus that the music, spills and all, leapt off the page most satisfyingly!  Neither player emerged completely unscathed from the more agitated of the opening exchanges, but the energy and teamwork was of an order that carried the music’s message with all the élan and presence that one would want for these sounds.

No let-up for the second movement’s Allegro appassionato – at the outset a dark, impetuous waltz-like trajectory gripped the music’s order, Peter Barber’s playing digging deeply into the instrument’s tones, and Catherine McKay’s in turn responding with real heft and passionate utterance. What a gorgeous hynm-like middle section this work has! – part ceremony, part deep forest mythology music, the Old St.Paul’s piano speaking in suitably nostalgic, somewhat forte-piano-like tones in places, charming and even rustic in effect. Processional-like, too, was the Andante con moto opening of the finale, in these players’ hands sounding like a “turn for home”, the tones and phrasings speaking to this listener of places “where the heart is”.

The variations that followed explored both according and contrasting exchanges between the instruments, with the players barely able to contain themselves in the excitable fifth variation, piano, then viola tearing into the fray, pulling the melody about every which way!  Finally the sounds were allowed a brief few moments of composure before a brilliant and emphatic coda gave us an ending we acclaimed with enthusiasm.

Rare and strange to find oneself within what seemed a matter of hours back in that same building, with the previous day’s concert’s tribute to Norbert Heuser still faintly resonating as people gathered for the memorial service. Came spoken tributes and more music from family and friends and ex-colleagues – daughter Brigitte Heuser sang JS Bach’s Erbarme dich mein Gott from the St.Matthew Passion, and a quartet of string-players performed Haydn, the “Emperor” Quartet’s well-known Adagio cantabile – and we watched projected images and heard recordings of other music that, with the spoken reminiscences very properly brought both laughter and tears. Life, as with music-making and concert-giving, is what happens when you’re planning something else. What happened here – sadly, not the life’s “something else” that was originally planned – was instead a response to the unforeseen that was on all sides affecting and memorable.





Quintessential winds at Old St.Paul’s

Old St. Paul’s Lunchtime Concerts presents:

Ibert: Trois Pièces Brèves

Gounod: Andante Cantabile, from Petite Symphonie (arr. Tilson)

Nielsen: Quintet, Op.43

Shostakovich: Polka, from The Golden Age

Quintessential – Karen Batten (flute), Madeline Sakofsky (oboe), Moira Hurst (clarinet), Preman Tilson (bassoon), Heather Thompson (French horn)

Old St. Paul’s, Thorndon

Tuesday 2 July, 2013

To be able to hear music of such interesting variety and high standard at a free concert is a privilege indeed.

The Ibert pieces were a great way to start.  They were quirky Ibert at full play, in the opening dance-like Allegro.  There were many fast runs for the smaller instruments, and leaping intervals for the bassoon.  The Andante began as a duet for clarinet and flute, with charming interweaving of lines and timbres, the other instruments joining in at the end.

The finale was marked Assez lent – Allegro scherzando (fine mixture of Romance languages there!)  It was piquant, cheerful and sprightly, again in dance-like rhythm and tempo.  It included a notable oboe solo, followed by a clarinet one.  There were jolly little figures on bassoon, and plenty of support from the horn.

The Andante Cantabile from Gounod’s Petite Symphonie was arranged for the wind group by bassoonist Preman Tilson. This work gave the horn an opportunity to play out, in its solo passages.  The arrangement made a charming and delightful piece, and the players performed with wonderful ensemble.

The major work, Nielsen’s Quintet, is a wonderful composition, and the introduction by Karen Batten, explaining the events depicted and the variations on a chorale in the last movement were very helpful.  The first movement, Allegro ben moderato, depicted a character (the composer?) in the countryside.  There was lots of activity for everyone, fragments of melody and other delicious passages.  The Minuet second movement had the character in the city, and so the music was much busier, with a recurring theme; the Trio section perhaps depicted a party.

The third movement, titled Praeludium (though it was at the end!) consisted of an Adagio, Theme and Variations 1-11.  The plangent Adagio was said to depict a storm in the forest, but it was a very tame storm compared with what we recently experienced!  The composer finds a church to shelter in, and sits at the harmonium, improvising a chorale upon which the variations are made.  The programme behind the variations: they depict the five players for whom Nielsen wrote the piece – people he knew well.

The first variation was for horn and bassoon – an unusual combination.  All five played the next, a flute solo soaring above the others’ musical lines.  No. 3 featured oboe; this variation changed the character of the chorale utterly.  The fourth variation was fast, with all five playing in triplets.  Number 5 featured the clarinet, with a burping bassoon for accompaniment.  No.6 had all five playing a gentle piece, sounding like a heavenly choir singing, with pleasing effect.

The seventh variation was a bassoon solo, in which the composer used the entire register of the instrument.  All played together again, in a minor tonality, in the eighth variation; the music had a rather Eastern sound.  Number 9 was for horn only; Heather Thompson achieved distant, alpenhorn-style sounds.  No. ten had all five  players interlocking with graceful phrases, and changes of key.

The final variation was spiky, with everyone asserting their own phrases.  The tempo quickened, then the splendid chorale was played again.  At this point the bassoon had to insert an extension tube into the top of his instrument, to get the notes at the end, since they were off the instrument’s range.

This wonderful, inventive and cheerful work converted me to Nielsen, of whom I have not been much of a fan to date.

The final work, to send us out in cheerful mood, was the Polka from Shostakovich’s ballet The Golden Age.  It was appropriately characterful and active for such a style of dance, not to say amusing.  Marvellous discords and lumbering rhythms were just some of the ways in which the humorous dance was created.

I noticed after the concert that there was a cor anglais on the platform; I had failed to notice in which work it was used, but I suspect it was in the Ibert.  With both pitches of clarinet in use, that made a total of seven instruments – much wind indeed, for a windy day.



Enterprising flute repertoire – Ingrid Culliford, with Kris Zuelicke

Old St.Paul’s Lunchtime Concert Series

Ingrid Culliford (flute) / Kris Zuelicke (piano)

J.S.BACH – Sonata for Flute and Keyboard BWV 1020

MIRIAM HYDE – 3 Solos for Flute and Piano

ERNST BLOCH – Suite Modale

ROBERT MUCZYNSKI – Sonata for Flute and Piano Op.14

Old St.Paul’s Church, Thorndon

Tuesday August 28th, 2012

It was a pleasure to encounter Ingrid Culliford’s flute-playing in repertoire different to that which I’ve heard her perform in the past, nearly always with the Auckland contemporary music ensemble 175 East. And double the pleasure was had from hearing the instrument played with such a variety of tones and timbres, the four very different pieces on the program requiring and getting properly individualized responses from both musicians.

Old Johann Sebastian’s lovely G Minor Flute Sonata (licence-plate number BWV 1020), has apparently been appropriated by certain scholars on behalf of the great man’s son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, appearing in its Doppelgänger guise as H.542.5 – does the decimal point indicate a somewhat equivocal scholarly stance? Whoever was responsible, the work itself was a delight as presented here, the performers giving us a winning mixture of momentum and suspended beauty. This was characterized in part by the instrumental combination – the piano tripping gaily along, and the flute a more liberated spirit, choosing occasionally to mirror the piano’s busy figurations, but in other places soar untrammelled above them.

Throughout the sonata, I couldn’t help admiring Ingrid Culliford’s refusal to be victimized by the composer’s almost total disregard for his soloist’s lungs. This wasn’t such an issue in the slow movement, both players having sufficient “lebensraum” to negotiate both long-breathed lyrical lines and other-worldly, ambient accompanying modulations. There was also a hint here and there of the “echo” element between the instruments, most beautifully realized. Perhaps the finale, more than the other movements, leaned towards the rather more volatile spirit of the son as opposed to the father – occasional spurts of energy either (depending upon one’s point of view) invigorated or destabilized the music’s flow, with the performance certainly bringing out the essential character of those impulses.

Next was a work by Australian composer Miriam Hyde (1913-2005), someone whose work sounds as if it’s worth getting to know more of – Hyde was primarily a pianist, and one who had something of a performing career upon that instrument, both in Australia and overseas. She composed in all genres, except for opera, her style finding certain affinities with that of English composers of the time, subject to the same kinds of influences and inclinations. She had little in common with avant-garde trends, writing about her music at one point, “I feel my music can be a refuge for what beauty and peace can still be omnipresent…the triumph of good over evil. I make no apologies for writing from the heart”.

We heard three pieces from her work 5 Solos for Flute and Piano, a collection which the composer put together from pieces composed over a number of years, from 1949 to 1968. The earliest, Marsh Birds, was included here, as were The Little Juggler (1956) and Wedding Morn (1957). First was Wedding Morn, the opening piano chords beautifully played by Kris Zuelicke, the stuff of dreams, the flute introducing a rather more earthy aspect, as if rousing the spirit from the dreams and insisting upon some engagement. The piano evoked church bells, their figurations becoming somewhat Lisztian in places, to which the flute responded with lyrical wonderment.

Playful and gigue-like, The Little Juggler readily evoked the mesmeric nature of the activity, as well as plenty of tumbling warmth and an abrupt (perhaps unscheduled!) ending. Finally, the warmly-nostalgic Marsh Birds seemed to take one’s sensibilities back to simpler times at the outset, the middle section suggesting the extent of distances travelled in both time and space, and the birds’ dialogues striking a piquant, “song for the ages” note, the music ending wistfully. Enchanting.

To different worlds, next, with Ernest Bloch’s Suite Modale – with this, as with the Miriam Hyde work, Ingrid Culliford told us a little about the composer and the music’s circumstances. If one was expecting intensities of the order of the same composer’s Schelomo for ‘Cello and Orchestra, one would perhaps be disappointed; but what one got instead was an attractively ritualistic set of meditations, the composer refracting a lifetime’s experiences (Bloch wrote this in 1956, three years before his death) in this gently-conceived journey filled with bygone impressions. Bloch touchingly dedicated this work to the flautist Elaine Schaffer, whose playing he knew and admired from recordings, though he never actually met her.

Each of the four movements reflect a specific mood, which I thought the performers drew we listeners into. First, there was a kind of meditation expressed in polyphonic terms between flute and piano, rhapsodic in feeling, but elegant in style. Then, the players dug into the second movement, bringing out contrapuntal textures, and heightening a sense of ritual and order. The Allegro giocoso evoked youthful energies, both immediate and more nostalgically-conceived, while the finale contrasted a melancholic opening sequence with an exhilarating contrapuntal whirl of activity, one which wound down through attractively melodic piano-and-flute interactions to a strongly-poised, inwardly peaceful ending.

There remained the Flute Sonata of a composer unknown to me, Robert Muczynski, born in Chicago in 1929, who trained as a pianist, and whose works mostly involve chamber ensembles and piano. This four-movement Sonata, neoclassical in spirit, had bags of personality, which the performers obviously relished throughout – a lively, even volatile opening movement with plenty of rhythmic syncopation and dynamic contrast, followed by a Scherzo whose L’Apprenti Sorcier-like galumphings alternated with gentler, more pastoral gaieties. The musicians then gave us, by way of contrast, some rapt, almost mesmeric textures of enchantment at the Andante’s beginning, which the piano then darkened with suggestions of the abyss beneath, indicating that not all is sweetness and light in this world of ours. These were sobering thoughts which the gaiety of the finale’s Allegro con moto thankfully put aside. True, some of the music’s edges were angular and elbow-sharp, but the ride was nevertheless an exhilarating one. Both musicians brought to these things loads of spirit and sensibility, expressed by turns with unerring judgement and fine feeling. A lovely concert.






Strumming and fretting en masse at Old St.Paul’s – the N.Z.Guitar Quartet

Old St.Paul’s Church -Lunchtime Concerts

New Zealand Guitar Quartet

(Owen Moriarty, Tim Wanatabe, Jane Curry and Chris Hill)

Old St.Paul’s Church, Thorndon

Tuesday 21st August 2012

Perhaps it would have all been double the pleasure at Old St. Paul’s for Frederic Chopin, who was reputed to have said “Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar – save, perhaps two!” – no less than the New Zealand Guitar Quartet was here to put the aphorism to the test. A quartet’s worth of guitar players certainly makes a lovely, rich sound, with plenty of opportunities for all of those individual voices, both leading and in the middle, to interact with one another and create such richly-woven tapestries, in fact, small orchestras of sound.

The concert’s venue – Old St.Paul’s – exerted its customary spell over the proceedings, the beauty of the surroundings making up for the lack of adequate sight-lines for any audience member sitting more than a dozen pews back. Some elevation for the performers (as was constructed not so long ago in St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace Church) would certainly help more people to SEE the musicians, and perhaps enhance the sound-projection (the latter, however, seems perfectly adequate for all but the most distant spectators). A few of the softer passages for solo guitar seemed very quiet, but the sound in tutti made, as I’ve already said, a pretty solid, if finely constituted, instrumental ensemble sound.

Attendance at these Old St.Paul’s lunchtime concerts of late (at least the ones I’ve been to) have been surprisingly good, considering (perhaps, because of! ) the inclement weather – and today’s concert was no exception (the attendance AND the weather!). There’s obviously a loyal following for the venture, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, and in this case the music and the music-making would have contributed greatly to the delight of it all.

The ensemble describes itself in a program note bio as “exciting, dynamic and engaging” – and I’m happy to say that the concert certainly reflected these things. I’ve heard the group play before, and this time around found myself entirely caught up in what was going on, as if everybody’s focus was freshly sharpened and their energies centered right at the music’s heart. Take the opening item, for example, Luigi Boccherini’s Introduction et Fandango, a pleasant though fairly conventional evocation of Spain – or at least one might have previously thought so, until hearing the Quartet’s  full-blooded rendition of the Fandango, digging into the rhythms and accentuating the music’s light-and-dark contrasts. Boccherini? – really?

Jane Curry introduced the next item,a transcription by Owen Moriarty of Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto, drawing listeners’ attention to one of the players’ use of a 7-string guitar, the instrument making for a greater range and sonority. Whatever the difference, the reworking of the music (in true Baroque style) was a great success, the music’s bubbling energy carrying all before it in both the first and third movements (a pity the opportunity wasn’t taken in between these episodes for a bit of extempore “sounding” of things suggested both by what had just happened and what was to come, as sometimes happens in this music’s performance). But particularly in the last movement, the counterpoints joyously tumbled over one another in away that would probably have had old Sebastian Bach tapping his feet in approval.

New Zealand composer Craig Utting drew some of his inspiration from the Baroque world for part of a composition called Onslow Suite, using a kind of passacaglia-form underlining a kind of lyrical exchange. The music provides the contrast of a middle section that spontaneously modulates asymmetrically and somewhat remotely, before returning to the passagcaglia figurations with increased rapture, finishing with a final chord of benediction – a lovely work, originally written for two pianos, but here most satisfyingly reworked for guitars.

The group then turned its attention to a work by Andrew York, former player-member of the American Guitar Quartet, the group for whom the music was written. This was called Quiccan, a closely-knit etude for four guitars, allowing each player to explore melody, harmony, and accompaniment. The piece started jazzily, resembling the sounds of a distant festival, one redolent with Latin American rhythms and textures. A slower section allowed the players some breathing-space and a contrasted vantage-point, towards which the ensemble redirected its energies, with the help of some “percussive” effects -all very engaging and attractive. A sudden “break-off” point resulted in a chord whose single chime froze the gestural actions of the musicians and allowed the sounds to resonate briefly and depart – a kind of musical metaphor for human existence.

More familiar territories were the items by Manuel de Falla, to finish the program – two exerpts, arranged by Owen Moriarty, from Falla’s El amor brujo ballet, firstly, the Danza del Terror, plenty of repeated notes, driving rhythms and strutting flourishes, followed by the even better-known Danza ritual del fuego, a performance which brought out something of the music’s dark, primitive side at the beginning, and gave plenty of point to the cross-rhythmed accents in the piece’s middle section. Only at the end did I feel the need for a bit more abandonment on the part of the players, something slightly more animal and physical. I wonder, too, whether the emphasis on tuning the instruments is entirely appropriate during the course of these two pieces – to my way of thinking, far better to keep the impetus and atmosphere on-going between the two dances and let whatever pitch vagaries occur be part of the sweep and drive, of this primitive, elemental aspect of the music.

But, nevertheless, a great concert, nicely presented and vividly projected.












Strings and winds – New Zealand School of Music Lunchtime Concerts

New Zealand School of Music Lunchtime Concerts

NZSM String Ensemble (Martin Riseley, conductor)

MENDELSSOHN – String Symphony in C Minor

DVORAK – Serenade for Strings in E Major

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

Wednesday 18th July 2012

NZSM Woodwind Soloists  (Emma Sayers, piano)

Music by Vivaldi, Arnold, Creston, Sancan, Milhaud, Cockcroft

Old St.Paul’s Church

Tuesday 31st July 2012

It’s always a pleasure to attend and write about concerts of music featuring student performers. Somehow, there’s a unique dimension of expression involved, a kind of tremulousness which at different ends of the performance spectrum can either set things a-tingle with wholehearted enthusiasm or else undermine efforts with nervousness.

There are, of course, plenty of nooks and crannies in-between these extremes, into which inexperienced performers can slot themselves – it’s always a fascinating process to observe and experience, but essentially a heart-warming one, listening to youngsters pouring their feelings into sound-vistas suggested by great music and opened up by the performers’ own skills.

I’ve been to two July concerts recently at which students from the NZ School of Music were performing – one on Wednesday 18th, at St.Andrew’s Church, involving a string ensemble playing music by Mendelssohn and Dvorak, and the other on Tuesday 31st, at Old St.Paul’s Church, which featured individual wind instrumentalists making plenty of variety of sounds in music from different composers.

At St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Martin Riseley, violinist extraordinaire, and a tutor at the School of Music, directed the string ensemble. He got a terrific response from the young players right throughout the Mendelssohn work, the String Symphony in C Minor – at the outset the players’ precise attack and focused tones gave us a foretaste of the whole performance’s strength and clarity. Throughout the whole ensemble there seemed a similar full-blooded commitment to giving the music resplendent tones and clear articulation – the lower strings sang their lines and figurations with as much eloquence and finesse as their lighter-toned cousins opposite.

The lunchtime concert time-schedules wouldn’t permit the whole of the work which followed, Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, so that we had to do without the gorgeous slow movement. For the Dvorak the violin sections “swopped around”, bringing some different faces to the fore for the concert’s second part. Though a lovely work, the Serenade contains many pitfalls of articulation and rhythm, to the despair of amateur orchestras I’ve heard attempt it; and so I was interested as to how these young players would fare.

It began well, the serene opening nicely floated and counterpointed between upper and lower strings, the lines relaxed in flight and with plenty of elbow-room. The second subject I found a bit beefily-played, wanting, I thought, a lighter, more quixotic touch, so as to make a telling contrast with the crescendo, and render that top note in each phrase a bit more wide-eyed with wonderment. But the divisi ‘cellos were lovely, the players able to fill out their tones and fine them down in places most sensitively, as with the movement’s end. The following Waltz-movement was beautifully done, with violas making their presence felt in those all-important middle textures – and the music’s trio-section brought out the dynamic contests with plenty of heartfelt expression.

Dvorak’s wonderfully out-of-doors manner throughout the third movement was nicely captured, the excitement built up in the opening measures as the melody spread throughout the orchestra, and the melting romance of the music’s descending theme expressed beautifully, especially by the ‘cellos. However, I wanted a bit more emphasis given to those wonderful downwardly leaping intervals at the phrase-ends during the middle section (I think they’re fifths and sevenths) – here they were all “snapped shut” too readily for me, without being properly savoured! But then there was nice work from the violins leading back to the opening “running” section, a real sense of the music riding the crest of a wave in places, even if the string-tone was a bit dogged and scrappy here and there.

Maybe the ensemble ought to have finished with the slow movement instead of the finale, the latter being such a tricky beast to bring off. The rhythms really have to be “felt” rather than “counted” (as Ken Young would have said!) – and the lines are so cruelly exposed. There’s also a lot of near “sotto voce” work which I thought the players found it hard to make into part of a coherent line – I felt we got “going through the motions” playing rather than something with sweep, drive and purpose. Better, surely for these young musicians to have been encouraged to throw themselves into things like the ferment of that famous crescendo, and make something rough but exciting and abandoned of it, rather than produce the somewhat dogged get-the-notes-right impression that we got in places here.

However, we did get a lovely transition back into the return of the work’s very opening (a heart-warming touch from the composer!), and the energetic plunge back into the allegro vivace rounded it all off with honour satisfied. Still, it was the group’s playing of the Mendelssohn which I enjoyed, nay, really took to heart on this occasion – so very engaging and exciting to experience.


My second NZSM reviewing assignment was just under a fortnight later at Old St.Paul’s, where a number of wind students presented their “pieces”, the exercise being part of their course requirements, to, I might say, the audience’s pleasure and delight. This concert also brought added value with the wonderful accompaniments (some of them more out-and-out partnerships than accompaniments!) by the School of Music’s Emma Sayers, whose playing invariably adds a new dimension to whatever music she takes part in presenting.

Beginning the program (with a Vivaldi concerto, rather than the Handel the program was suggesting) was Oscar Laven, playing the bassoon. Here was the instrument relishing the role of singer and romancer as well as being a “character”. Oscar Laven’s phrasing of the lyrical episodes was of bel canto quality, to which was added a strong but flexible rhythmic sense, and plenty of virtuoso verve, as withness the rapid runs towards the end of the work. This was followed by Jeewon Um’s performance of Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy for Solo Flute, the lyrical opening enchanting and the dance-like episodes spectacularly virtuosic.

Saxophonist Sam Jones very “correctly” introduced the Paul Creston Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, wanting to emphasize for the audience the difficulty of the Sonata’s piano part, and properly acknowledge Emma Sayers’ contribution to the performance. He played brilliantly, with a stunning command of colour and technical agility, crucial in music with as much rhythmic energy as this! As absorbing to listen to was the piano part, the two musicians triumphantly realizing the piece’s tonal variety and underlying dynamism – a great listen!

An almost complete contrast was afforded by flutist Monique Vossen’s choice of Pierre Sancan’s Sonatine, the composer’s best-known work – the opening sequences impressionistic-sounding, rather in the style of Ravel, and with corresponding fairy-tale ambiences and textures. I thought the tuning between instruments wasn’t right in places, here (no tuning of the flute  was done beforehand that we could see), but though it didn’t mask the player’s artistry the pitch discrepancy was occasionally a distraction. In other respects rapport between flute and piano was exemplary, each taking rhythmic and melodic cues from one another, everything done with an enviably light touch and expressive purpose.

Another saxophonist, Reuben Chin, played an exerpt from Milhaud’s Scaramouche, a work whose popularity had resulted in all kinds of arrangements being made of the original piano duo for various instruments, not all of them by the composer. Here, the player exhibited a lovely singing tone as the music moved from dreamscape to graceful dance, the musicians relishing the expressive possibilities of lyrical saxophone and gently rhythmic piano accompaniment. Nothing could have been further from the style of Patrick Hayes’ performance for solo clarinet of Barry Cockcroft’s “Blue Tongue” (the composer simply HAD to be an Australian to write a piece with such a title!). More decomposition than anything else, the piece involved the player gradually dismantling the instrument, while trying to keep the piece going, and unifying the music with an reiterated rhythmic note. In putting it all across, Patrick Hayes demonstrated an entertainer’s gift as well as a musician’s skills in keeping the proceedings alive and buoyant throughout.

Yet another saxophonist, Katherine Macieszac, finished the concert in fine style with the third movement of the same work that Sam Jones had earlier played part of, Paul Creston’s Sonata for Alto Sax and Piano. Bustling 5/4 beginnings and an engaging garrulity swept the opening argument along between the musicians – first we heard the sax singing songs over the piano’s toccata-like drive, then listened to the instruments swap places, the saxophone rolling the rapid-fire notes into a blur agains the piano’s melodic progressions. For respite there were a few lyrical sequences before the 5/4 rhythm reawakened, and the piece drove to its energetic, breathless conclusion.

Fine, virtuosic playing from all concerned throughout the concert, communicating in almost all the items we heard, a real sense of enjoyment in the music-making.