A solo tour-de-force from violinist Monique Lapins

St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series
MONIQUE LAPINS (solo violin)
A concert for solo violin – music by Georg Philipp Telemann,
Erwin Schulhoff, and Jacob Ter Veldhuis (a.k.a. Jacob T.V.)

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace Church

Wednesday, 8th June 2022

I left this concert on a high, and started composing my notes and comments on the way home in the bus!

One violin, one solitary violinist at the centre of the stage, and a program of music largely unfamiliar to concert audiences; this promised to be an exceptional musical experience. Monique Lapins is a very versatile musician, a member of the NZ String Quartet, of the Ghost Trio with Gabriela Glapska (piano) and Ken Ichinose (cello) and, of the contemporary group, Ensemble Gô. She presented a programme that ranged from the first half of the eighteenth century to the 21st century – all on just four strings!

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1761)
Fantasias for solo Violin – No. 1 in B-flat TWV 40.14 / No.6 in E Minor TWV 40.19 / No. 7 in E-flat Major  TWV 40.20

Telemann, a contemporary of JS Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, was a self-taught and immensely prolific composer. He wrote operas, church music (cantatas and oratorios), orchestral and chamber music, keyboard and other instrumental music (both concertos and works for various solo instruments). Among these were 12 Fantasias for solo violin.

The great violin makers of the age, Nicola Amati and Stradivari in Italy, and Jacob Stainer and the Klotz family in Germany, greatly exploded the potential of the simple fiddle. These Fantasias, like Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin should be seen in this light, that complex polyphonic music can  be produced, played on a simple instrument with only four strings.

These works, based on elaborations of simple dance tunes and rhythms evolve into major musical statements, involving technically challenging double-stopping and rapid, spectacular ornamentation. Monique Lapins played these with a clear tone that easily filled the hall – she articulated each phrase distinctly so that they each became part of a musical narrative. She played with ease, as if these complex dance fragments had come to her spontaneously.

Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942)
Sonata for Solo Violin (1927)

Schulhoff was a significant Czech composer from the post-World War One years, who experimented with the new styles of music which emerged in the wake of the cataclysm of the war. This Sonata opened with a fast, manic first movement, followed by a slower movement that was tinged with sadness and nostalgia. Then came a scherzo with folksy rhythms, and finally a movement made up of more barbarous sounds of a kind the composer intended would shock the status quo.

The whole Sonata, but particularly the last two movements evoked Bartok’s use of Hungarian peasant songs and dances, but Schulhoff also employed tone rows, the result of the influence of Schoenberg and his school. It is a fiendishly difficult piece, seldom heard; and yet an important work from the 20th Century’s violin repertoire.

Jacob Ter Veldhuis – a.k.a. Jacob T.V. (b.1951)
The Garden of Love, for violin and soundtrack (2022)

Another war, with further destruction of civilisation, and here was another composer of this later time, exploring what others such as Steve Reich were doing with their music. The Garden of Love is a poem by William Blake, whose words here are uttered in sound-bytes, together with others from voices, oboes, harpsichord, bird-song and electronic sound. The violin is here in dialogue with the machine producing these sounds. It must have been incredibly difficult to keep this dialogue going in a convincing manner, but to the great credit of Monique Lapins she did this, so that the audience was at first puzzled and bewildered, but responded to the challenge by the end.

This was an amazing and unique concert, quite unlike other violin recitals. It’s a great pity that Radio NZ’s Concert Programme no longer records concerts like this. There was a time when people could share such musical experiences no matter where they lived, anywhere from Kaitaia to the Bluff., with those who were fortunate enough to live in the main centres Perhaps with the shakeup of Radio NZ and TVNZ room will be found for those whose interests go beyond the latest popular tunes, nostalgia and selected news handouts, even if there is no money in it and no-one makes a profit. There is value in expanding and challenging the interests and cultural horizons of people, citizens, taxpayers, no matter where they live.

Music of our time – Duo Enharmonics and Ensemble Gȏ, at St.Andrew’s

Duo Enharmonics and Ensemble Gȏ

Music of our time

Monique Lapins, violin, Beth Chen and Nicole Chao, piano, Naoto Segawa, percussion
St. Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday, 20th  April 2022

This was a varied concert of mainly short works by contemporary composers, two New Zealanders, Ross Harris and John Psathas, one Turkish, Fazil Say, and two American, Paul Schoenfeld and Glenn Stallcop. They are hardly household names, but this short concert of about 60 minutes gave us a glimpse of what composers of the present time are writing, although each of the five pieces on the programme were quite different.

String and Wood  (Ross Harris)

Monique Lapins and Naoto Segawa

This short work for Marimba and Violin reminder me of Gamelan music, once popular at the NZ School of Music. The violin was plucked echoing the marimba. It was a duet of the melodic violin used mainly with plucking like a percussive instrument and the rich vibrant gong like sound of the marimba

Five days of the life of a manic-depressive’  (Paul Schoenfeld)

Nicole Chao and Beth Chen

Paul Schoenfeld is an American composer known for combining popularfolk, and classical musical forms. ‘From Bintel Brief‘ and ‘Boogie‘ are the last two movements of a group of short pieces for Piano Duet. From Bintel Brief‘ has echoes of Jewish melodies, but in particular, the feel of popular Broadway musicals. Boogie‘ is a very energetic work endeavoring to capture the youthful frenzy of popular swing or rock dance. Nicole Chao and Beth Chen threw their all into this fiery work.

Sonata No. 1  (Fazil Say)

Monique Lapins and Beth Chen

Fazil Say is a Turkish pianist and composer. This sonata for violin and piano was the major work of the programme. It is in five short movements, with the first movement, ‘Melancholy’ repeated as the final movement. It is an approachable work, but it has its challenges for the performers, the manic second movement, ‘Grotesque’ and the fiercely fast ‘Perpetuum, mobile’ of the third movement. It gave Monique Lapins a chance to shine and show what a fine, sensitive violinist she is.

Matre’s Dance  (John Psathas)

Naoto Segawa and Nicole Chan

Maitre’s Dance is a dance performed by a group of fanatics in Frank Hebert’s science fiction classic, Dune. John Psathas’ piece depicting this dance, became part of the standard repertoire of concerts by percussionists. It is a conversation, or perhaps more appropriately, a duel between piano and a range of percussion instruments, in this performance only a modest range of drums with no tympani. It is entirely based on strong rhythms, though occasionally something resembling a melody was trying to emerge from the keyboard. It is a virtuoso piece for percussionist and pianist alike. It is not for the fainthearted traditionalist, but it is an interesting challenge for those who are prepared to explore new varieties of sounds.

Tarantella from Midsummer Night  (Glenn Stallcop)

Monique Lapins, Naoto Segawa Nicole Chao and Beth Chen

For the final item of the concert we had the whole complement of instruments on stage, violin, marimba, piano with two pianists. Glenn Stallcop is an American composer. The Tarantella is the third movement of a three movement work. It is a colorful piece with an interesting array of sounds, the gypsy sound of the violin, the bell like resonant timbre of the marimba, all underpinned by the strong rhythmic piano part.

This was an important concert, adding a new dimension to the Wellington concert experience introducing unfamiliar compositions and composers. The performance was absolutely convincing, the pieces were superbly played. A great credit to all the four performers who put so much effort into presenting this colorful variety pieces. A larger than usual audience showed their appreciation.



Taioro – words and music of Aotearoa New Zealand at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series 2022 presents:

TAIORO – A new ensemble (2021)  presents New Zealand Chamber Music with Poetry,
for speaker, viola, cello and piano

(“TAI, the tide. Representing the ebbs and flows of tangaroa and the energy that we ourselves hold.
ORO, to resound or resonate, and the word used for a musical note.”)

Music by Antony Ritchie, Alfred Hill, Douglas Lilburn and David Hamilton

Sharn Maree Cassady – poet and speaker
Donald Maurice  – viola / viola d’amore
Inbal Megiddo – ‘cello
Sherry Grant – poet and piano

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

Wednesday 16th February, 2022

This lunchtime concert at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace furthered what’s become a refreshing change of late for ears inundated in the past with “standard” repertoire and presentations – a recital of words and music from a recently-formed group, Taioro, presenting works whose origins and inspirations stemmed from our own place, Aotearoa New Zealand.  Of course, there’s an impressively-growing body of work already emanating from our own composers, with names too numerous to mention; and with contemporary performance groups such as Stroma occasionally emerging in concert with some stimulatingly ear-prickling sounds. The challenge for these composers and musicians is to keep up the momentums, fostering continued interest in “our” sounds and our singular ways of doing things.

While some of the works presented today could be almost deemed “historic”, with music by Alfred Hill (1870-1960) and Douglas Lilburn (1915-2001), along with poetry by ARD Fairburn (1904-57) and James K.Baxter (1926-72), we heard also music by living composers Anthony Ritchie and David Hamilton (the latter present at the concert), in tandem with poetry written by both the concert’s presenter, Sharn Maree Cassady, and pianist Sherry Grant, along with another poem “Stone Woman” written by Christchurch poet Bernadette Hall and set to music by Anthony Ritchie – it was, all-in-all, a judicious mix of past and present creative endeavour!

We began our listening with Anthony Ritchie’s wonderfully storm-tossed Allegro tempestuoso for viola and piano, taken at a real lick by Donald Maurice and Sherry Grant. Amid the sparks generated by the playing I heard an exotic flavouring or two in the piece’s harmonies and the folksy rhythmic drive, emphasised also by the viola’s “eastern” kind of melodic line in a slower, expressive middle section. The performers adroitly brought out the numerous different characters in the music’s widely-ranging explorations, bluesy one moment and then whirling and vertiginous the next – after all the sound and fury, the performers brought the piece to its somewhat amiably halting conclusion.

A second piece by Anthony Ritchie was titled In Memoriam, the music dedicated to the life and passing of a woman called “Angela”, whose AGEA motive the piece featured was demonstrated on Donald Maurice’s viola beforehand. This was a beautiful-sounding work, the violist playing variants of the “Angela” theme over a kind of threnody from the ‘cello (a gorgeous tonal outpouring from both string-players, here, the music brief but extremely moving). We heard also a piece Ritchie had named after a poem by Bernadette Hall, entitled “Song – Stone Woman”, the music seeming almost anecdotal in effect, rhythms “jamming” in an improvisatory way and accompaniments wry and loose-limbed. The poem was read simply and almost conversationally by Sharn Maree Cassady, Hall’s style as a poet seeming to lend itself to such treatment.

Thanks, it seems, to some vagary of the venue’s particular acoustic, I had to strain to hear much of this spoken content of the presentation at the concert, though I was sitting almost right at the front, albeit on the opposite side from where the speaker, Sharn Maree, was placed. After the concert I checked with the person sitting next to me, and she said she also had difficulty hearing the words accompanying firstly the Alfred Hill tribute piece, and then both of Douglas Lilburn’s tribute pieces to ARD Fairburn and James K.Baxter (the latter two including the poets’ own poetry). The music, by contrast, seemed to present no problem – about which circumstance I thereupon wrote a “draft review” of what I had heard, and contacted the performers outlining the  difficulties I’d experienced.

I would, of course, have far preferred to have heard more clearly Sharn Maree Cassady’s comments in situ (all delivered seemingly in similar poetic style) regarding all three of the “past” personalities, belonging as they did to eras which had different attitudes, values and modes to our present PC-dominated world.  At the time, the music provided ample compensation, but I was still aware I was missing an integral part of things. Project co-ordinator Donald Maurice thereby arranged most kindly for me to view and hear the entire concert as it was videoed, something which I have just finished watching. To my delight speaker Sharn Maree’s words in the recording came over perfectly clearly, enabling me to truly take in each of her poetically-expressed responses to the texts associated with the chosen pieces that made up the concert.

Though Alfred Hill’s piece that was presented had no accompanying text, his numerous interactions with Maori during his time in New Zealand were well-documented, giving Cassady sufficient material to craft a response to Hill’s work, words and philosophies. The poetry of ARD Fairburn (1904-57) by turns swashbuckling, wry and romantic, and definitely from an age which more contemporary attitudes would almost certainly find in places at best old-fashioned, and at worst with racist and sexist overtones – so it was no surprise to find in her reply to James K.Baxter (1926-72)  a far more sympathetic and shared acceptance of certain values in both the poetry and regarding the ethos of the man in popular legend, than in her reaction to Fairburn’s verses.  This was underlined via a nicely-flowing and readily-nuanced reading of Baxter’s poem Sisters at Jerusalem, followed by a response begun with a whimsical “May I call you James?” from Cassedy, prefacing her reply.

The  music of Alfred Hill’s chosen was simply  called Andantino, one which I later discovered was a transcription for viola and piano of the slow movement of the composer’s Viola Concerto. Like everything I’ve heard of Hill’s, the work had a distinction and a surety of touch which Donald Maurice’s and Sherry Grant’s playing enriched and ennobled with their rich, heartfelt tones. The piece’s ending had its own singularity – an exquisitely-voiced modulation Into “other realms” before the voices found their way back to the home key at the end.

Douglas Lilburn’s “salute” to Fairburn began with a lovely mantra-like piano figure whose sound for me exerted considerable emotional pull, like a seabird’s song calling a traveller home, one whose response in the hands of ‘cellist Inbal Megiddo matched such feelings with beautifully-projected tones, the feelings truly “grounded” by the piano’s deep-sounding pedal-points and the cello’s joyous life-dance, one that eventually brought forth ringing bell-like resonances at the piece’s conclusion. Just as resonant in its own way was Lilburn’s tribute to James K.Baxter, beginning with a ritualised exchange of bugle-like calls between viola and piano that put one in mind of a walking song, one that engagingly broke into a 5/4 dance, replete with energy and humour – at the revelry’s height the dance cried off with the piano’s deep-throated call to attention, bringing the viola back to the by-now nostalgic bugle-like calls from the beginning, the energies having come full circle and brought us home once more.

With the work of David Hamilton our concert returned to the here-and-now with a world premiere of a work for narrator, viola d’amore and piano “Avec amour” (With love). This was Hamilton’s setting for those instruments of the words to a poem by Sherry Grant, the concert’s pianist. Unfortunately the programme I picked up at the concert’s beginning was missing its inner section with the poet’s text printed in full, so that I struggled throughout to pick up “shreds and patches” in tandem with the ongoing musical discourse, the instruments often masking the words.

I thought the music both soulful and  piquant at first, then more declamatory and bardic as the way was prepared for the narrator. The poem’s words seemed to describe some kind of conceit, idealistically describing something perhaps as imagined as real, which the sounds of the viola d’amore and the piano reflected – all framed by the  phrase “a true rarity in this age”. The setting gave the discourse and their sounds a somewhat detached air in places, a feeling that the music’s epilogue reinforced for me, leaving a “do I wake or sleep” kind of impression at the end. It was a piece that I wanted to hear again immediately afterwards, as there was a dreamlike air about it all that seemed to defy direct engagement – one could “drift” rather than properly engage (and I wasn’t helped by not having the words available to read and follow in situ.) The voice’s diffused sound gave its timbre an almost instrument-like quality, another strand to the argument, another layer to the textures…

Having (a) procured a copy of the poem’s words, and (b) been kindly sent by Donald Maurice both a full script and a copy of the finished video, I was able to more justly “relive” the concert’s experience and, hopefully make proper recourse at last to the efforts of all of the performances, in particular this, the concert’s final item. Described by narrator Sharn Maree Cassady as “a tribute to the viola d’amore”, the work began with a recitative-like passage for the viola d’amore before being joined quixotically by the piano, the speaker then adding to the narrative strands as if the words were threads weaving their way through a sound-tapestry. At the verse’s end the music reflected on the meeting of hitherto free spirits and the tremulous attraction of unchartered emotional waters. Sharn Maree Cassady’s delivery weighed every word patiently, precisely, almost dispassionately, letting the music delineate the impulses, and the “ancient brilliance so unexpected, yet familiar in every turn, in each corner”.

Winsomely, the piano responded to the viola’s quizzical utterances, opening a vein of longing,  towards the igniting of the “infinitely burning desire” to the point of conflagration, the voice again the serene, objective observer, letting the heat of the “feverish pair of flaming swords” pass as if sunlight had suddenly broken through clouds, and then been again obscured…. the moment was here celebrated with incisive piano chords and then, prompted by the speaker’s words, “together we sing in joy”, moved on by the viola into an exchange of here-and-now fulfilment from both instruments…….the “song” became both rapturous and exploratory, the sudden upward modulation at the speaker’s words “Avec Amour” taking the listener to “different realms” beyond experience, transcending the usual “order” of things, even to the point of calling Cupid, the God of Love, to question with the “true rarity” of emotion beyond reason. Sharn Maree Cassady’s tones here evoked “time-standing still” ambiences, as the poem’s words, the viola, and the piano all appeared to take up the “feel” of the music’s opening once more, as if we had journeyed right around the sun – but, (as TS Eliot observed) “never the same time returns”, which was attested by the coda, with its different, more valedictory feeling.

We were asked at the concert’s beginning not to applaud between numbers, as the proceedings were being recorded. Aside from my frustrations at the time, I loved the concert and its sounds and the care and commitment with which the performers obviously brought these things to us for our enjoyment, and am so grateful to Donald Maurice, and to Antony Donovan, the recording engineer, for allowing me access to  the video recording in order to get the “full picture” of what the performers were able to achieve.

Duo pianists charm and delight lunchtime concertgoers at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace

St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concerts presents:
Sunny Cheng and Otis Prescott-Mason – Piano Four Hands

SCHUBERT – Rondo in A Major D.951
MENDELSSOHN – Andante and Allegro Brilliante Op.82
SAINT-SAENS – Carnival of the Animals

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

Wednesday, 17th November, 2021

A delightful programme! I thought I’d not heard the Mendelssohn Andante and Allegro Brilliante before, but, upon checking the “Middle C” website discovered to my bemusement that I had seen and heard  pianist Sunny Cheng play this and the Schubert Rondo in A Major already, on that occasion with fellow-pianist Kris Zuelicke at Victoria University’s Adam Concert Room over a year ago!  While enjoying the concert as a whole I had doubts regarding the duo’s playing of the Schubert on that occasion, thinking the performance lacked a certain light and shade, and wondered whether the immediacy of the venue had something to do with the impression given – here, in the more ample St.Andrew’s acoustic I appreciated Cheng’s playing of the Schubert far more readily (this time, of course, with a different pianistic partner!) The music here seemed to take on an extra “bloom”, suiting far better Schubert’s “orchestral” writing in places, and allowing the playing’s dynamics more space in which to fully register.

Cheng’s partner this time round was Otis Prescott-Mason, a young Wellington pianist who in recent times has won various awards for his playing – I’ve yet to hear him undertake a complete recital, but what I’ve heard as part of various competitions certainly indicates his enormous promise. He and Cheng certainly seemed well-suited as duo partners, as evidenced by the loveliness of the Schubert Rondo’s opening on this occasion, the music seeming to “happen” rather than consciously begun, with a beautifully flowing tempo that allowed detail the space to register and flower, a journey to be savoured along its course here as well as registered merely in a kind of retrospective afterglow.

I thought the composer’s “orchestral” writing in places finely contrasted with the opening up of new worlds as the music changed key and brought forth variations of texture (beautifully-etched staccato triplets) and for a heart-stopping moment a “ghosting” of the finale of the contemporaneous A Major D.959 Sonata, all integrated winningly into the whole, as was the “role-swapping” towards the end, with the secondo player (Prescott-Mason) taking the theme and the primo (Cheng) providing filigree accompanying chords. And we were able to truly relish the assertiveness of the theme’s last statement making its presence felt before dying away to a poignant ending.

The Schubert had by this time “honed” us to perfection for the Mendelssohn work’s beautiful opening pliability, the melodies bedecked with gentle impulse and spun with great finesse by the duo, before the music’s cheekily irruptive transition spun us into the engaging “allegro”, its “brilliante” expressed as much by an engaging variety of touch and texture as by its velocity or volume. These textures were judiciously layered, the sounds as irresistibility wrought as a fountain’s overflowing, everything splashing and glittering as the impulses rushed everywhere, then towards the end savouring the hesitancies of the “question-and-answer” sequences before plunging headlong into the work’s coda, catching us all up in its excitement and abandonment.

Afterwards came something of a curiosity, one I hadn’t realised even existed – a piano duet version of Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, presumably the one mentioned most frequently on the internet, made by Lucien Garban, a composer and music arranger who made similar transcriptions of numerous works by various French composers, many of whom were his contemporaries – among them Debussy, Ravel, D’Indy, Dukas and Roussel. As Saint-Saens’ original work was scored for two pianos and chamber ensemble, the “four hands” here had a great deal to do on their single keyboard, acquitting themselves with plenty of suitable panache, piquancy and poetry as required by each of the characterisations.

The King of Beasts naturally enough dominated the music’s first menagerie batch, his Royal March given plenty of pomp and circumstance and punctuated by fearsome roarings emanating from the depths of the keyboard, after which the self-satisfied squawkings and crowings of the Hens and Cocks and the madcap scamperings of Wild Asses up and down the keyboard cleared the way for the Tortoises’ Can-can, here beautifully and poignantly realised in slow motion! Only the Elephant was slightly disappointing – I wanted rather more pachydermic weight and girth in the music-making, and greater irony of contrast between the beast’s tender serenade and its portentous gait!

The Kangaroos were lovably quixotic, as were the Persons with Long Ears, while the Cuckoo in the Woods worked its magic. While I thought both the Aquarium and the Aviary could have done with a lighter and more impressionistic touch from both players, I thought Pianists was simply a star turn, the players amusingly coming to grief with their pedagogic scale exercises, depicting in no uncertain terms the servitude exacted by the desire for technical keyboard excellence and the musical aridity that results. Great stuff!

Fossils, which immediately followed, seemed to have unfortunately caught a couple of gremlins from Pianists, sounding a tad unco-ordinated and uncertain in places; though amends were made by The Swan, here limpid and gorgeous, and beautifully laid out for the players’ hands, the piece’s rather Lisztian conclusion pure poetry. It all made the perfect foil for the work’s Grand Finale, both players back on their game and producing an uproariously clangorous and swirling affair, a “curtain call” of the dramatis bestiae featuring lightning characterisations, loads of musical exuberance and great feats of finger-dexterity – all most vertiginously and hair-raisingly satisfying – bravo!

Individual and ensembled tributes to JS Bach from Pohl-Gjelsten and Friends at an inspired St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert

J.S. Bach: Chaconne from Partita in D minor
Helene Pohl, violin

Eugene Ysaye: Sonata No. 5 for solo violin
Peter Gjelsten, violin

Johannes Brahms: Sonata in E minor
Rolf Gjelsten, cello, Nicole Chan, piano

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series 2021

Thursday 14th October

J.S. Bach: Chaconne from Partita in D minor
A well planned concert has an underlying narrative. In this case it was twofold, Bach, and the scope of a solo violin. Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin are landmarks in the violin repertoire and indeed in the development of the violin as a solo instrument. The Chaconne is the final movement of the second Partita. The great violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, describes it as “the greatest structure for solo violin that exists”  (Menuhin, Yehudi. 2001. Unfinished Journey,) It involves a set of variations based on a simple phrase repeated in harmonic progression in the bass line, but for the present day listener it evokes a whole world of emotions, and for the performer a whole array of technical challenges. Although by Bach’s time works for solo violins were well established, with Biber and Telemann among others writing pieces for solo violin, there was nothing comparable to this monumental work. Bach develops 64 variations from the simple basic theme of four measures. These become increasingly complex of increasing emotional intensity. It may, or may not have been written in memory of Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, who died during a time while Bach was away, but there is no historical evidence for this apart from the date of composition. Helen Pohl’s performance was absolutely convincing. Her playing was clear and unforced as she did justice to the contrasts within the piece and played with a beautiful rich tone. It was a moving performance.

Eugene Ysaye: Sonata No. 5 for solo violin
Although Ysaye was quite a prolific composer, he is now mainly remembered for his six solos sonatas for violin, each dedicated to an eminent violinist, No. 5 to Mathieu Crickboom, second violin of the Ysaye Quartet for a time. Ysaye himself was one of the great violinists of his era, an exponent of the French- Belgian school of violin playing of the tradition of Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps. He was a friend of Debussy and César Franck. Ysaye’s solos sonatas are fiendishly difficult. No.5 is in two sections ,L’Aurore, atmospheric, evoking the mood of the dawn, and Danse Rustique, with its strong rhythms, that of a peasant dance. The piece has a whole bag of tricks, double stop chords, harmonics, fast passages on top of held notes, plucked pizzicatos marking the melodic line of double stops, demonstrating what is possible to play on a violin. It is a great challenge for a young violinist on threshold of his career. Peter Gjelsten coped with these difficulties amazingly well. He gave a convincing reading to this seldom-heard piece .

Johannes Brahms: Sonata in E minor
This is a passionate and lyrical work, written when Brahms was 30 and had just arrived in Vienna. It is one of the few memorable cello sonatas of the nineteenth century. Brahms thought of it as a homage to Bach, and indeed he quotes from the Art of Fugue in the fugal passage of the third movement, but Brahms’ world is very different from that of Bach. This a world in which the emotional world of the artist is paramount. Although the form of the piece is strictly that of classical sonata, it is far from the restrained expression of Bach’s age. It is a very captivating work that calls for a deeply felt response from performer and listener alike. Rolf Gjelsten and Nicole Chao played it as a like minded partnership. Gjelsten played with a lyrical singing tone beautifully balanced by the piano. Emanuel Ax, the great American pianist, wrote in his notes for his recording of this work with Yo-Yo Ma that “The cello is often the bass support of the entire harmonic structure, and the piano is often in the soprano in both hands. This constant shifting of registers, with the cello now above, now below, now in between the hands of the pianist, creates an intimate fusing of the two instruments, so that there is no feeling of a more important voice that is continuous – the lead is constantly shifting.”

We have heard Nicole Chao as half of the delightful Duo Enharmonics, a piano duo with Beth Chen, Peter Gjelsten was the soloist with the Wellington Youth Orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto last week, while Helen Pohl and Rolf Gjelsten are half of the the NZ String Quartet. Like many of the St. Andrews concerts, this lunchtime concert celebrated the vast pool of musical talent in Wellington.


The Queen’s Closet at St.Andrew’s – a window into a seventeenth-century world of music

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series presents:

The Queen’s Closet – For the Chapel at the Table

Agostino Steffani Sinfonia from Niobe
Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky Sonata Tribus Quadrantibus
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Serenata con alter arie
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber Sonata VII, Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes
Philipp Jakob Rittler Ciaccona a 7


Wednesday, 11 August 2021

The Queen’s Closet is a baroque orchestra that uses historically inspired performance practice, on period instruments at baroque pitch. Their concerts at various venues have been reviewed on Middle C, but this is the first time that I had heard them play as part of the regular Wednesday Lunch Time Concert series at St Andrews.

The music in this programme was pleasant occasional music, but it also represented the musical world of the late seventeenth century, which was the soil from which sprouted the great works of the next generation, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann and other notable early eighteenth century composers. It was a rare opportunity to hear this music, performed by such highly skilled professional musicians.

For those used to the standard concert repertoire, this was a journey of discovery. Steffani, Vejvanovsky, Schmelzer, Rittler, and even Biber are hardly household names. The theme of the concert was music ‘for chapel and table’, music that is suitable for all occasions. The common bond of the composers was that they all worked in Hapsburg lands. The program featured works that were written for the trumpet especially. The court trumpeter was a person of significance with special privileges at the time when these pieces were written.

Agostino Steffani’s Sinfonia from Niobe featured the following musicians:

Sarah Marten, Emma Brewerton, CJ Macfarlane (violins),Sharon Lehany (hoboy), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young, Robert Ibell cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord), Gordon Lehany, Chris Woolley, Peter Maunder (trumpets) and Sam Rich – (timpani)

Steffani was a cleric and a courtier, but he was also a prolific composer, who wrote sacred works, numerous operas, songs and cantatas. This Sinfonia was from Niobe, one of his operas. It is scored for a chamber orchestra with three trumpets with a prominent timpani part.

Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky’s Sonata Tribus Quadrantibus followed, with Gordon Lehany (trumpet), Peter Maunder (sackbut), CJ Macfarlane (violin), Robert Ibell  (cello) and Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord).

Vejvanovky was one of the outstanding trumpet virtuosos of his age. One of his more remarkable talents was the ability to play certain chromatic passages on the trumpet, which is not normally possible on the largely diatonic natural trumpet.  He wrote this piece while employed at the Court of Kromeriz where he was librarian of music and music copyist as well as composer.

Next was Johann Heinrich Schmelzer’s Serenata con alter arie, with CJ Macfarlane, Emma Brewerton, Sarah Marten, Gordon Lehany (violins), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young and Robert Ibell (cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord, Peter Maunder (guitar) and Sam Rich (percussion).

Schmelzer was one of the most important violinists of his time and made substantial contribution to the development of violin technique. He was composer and musician at the Habsburg court where he was appointed Kapellmeister and was ennobled by the Emperor Leopold 1. This piece was for strings, harpsichord and percussion and song-like passages contrast with orchestral tutti.

A more familiar name is that of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, who contributed a Sonata VII, Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes to the concert, played by Gordon Lehany (trumpet), Sharon Lehany (hoboy), Sarah Marten and CJ Macfarlane  (violins), Jane Young (cello), Kris Zuelicke  (harpsichord)and Sam Rich (percussion).

Biber, like Schmelzer, was an outstanding violinist and was influenced by Schmelzer. He is now mainly remembered for his works for violin, with his sonatas seen as precursors of Bach’s solo sonatas. This sonata written for a group of instruments that includes a trumpet, and percussion is one of a set of 12. As the title suggest, these are occasional pieces that can be used in the chapel or around the table.

Finally we heard the music of Philipp Jakob Rittler – his Ciaccona a 7. This was performed by CJ Macfarlane, Sarah Marten, Emma Brewerton (violins), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young and Robert Ibell  (cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord), Peter Maunder (guitar),Gordon Lehany, Chris Woolley (trumpet), Sharon Lehany (hoboy) and Sam Rich hPercussion).

Rittler was a priest as well as a composer. He composed primarily instrumental music before 1675 and after this time he composed mainly music for the church. His instrumental pieces are distinguished by their inventive orchestration and demanding solo parts. This Ciaccona for seven parts grows from a simple ground bass that circles gently in continuo instruments, the work expands outwards, adding ever thicker and more exuberant instrumental embellishments from trumpet and strings, to turn a graceful dance into an ecstatic musical celebration, before reversing the process and dying away to nothing [https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W20784_GBLLH1852607].

The Queen’s Closet, under their musical director, Gordon Lehaney may be the only baroque orchestra in Australasia using authentic instruments, for example natural trumpets. Their presence enriches and expands the musical experience of the people of Wellington. I cannot do better than quote from the group’s website, which states their goal thus: “….TO BRING MUSIC OF THE BAROQUE ERA TO LIFE IN WAYS WHICH ARE FAITHFUL TO THE PERFORMANCE PRACTICES OF THE TIME AND MAKE IT RELEVANT AND ALIVE FOR MODERN AUDIENCES……TO PROVIDE A TRULY IMMERSIVE AND AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE OF THIS WONDERFUL MUSIC.”

An unusual and striking St.Andrew’s Lunchtime presentation – Aroha Quartet’s ASQ International Music Academy Tutor’s Concert

The Aroha String Quartet presents:
The ASQ International Music Academy Tutors’ Concert

Aroha String Quartet
Donald Armstrong (NZSO Associate Concertmaster) – Violin & string orchestra conductor
David Chickering (NZSO Section Principal Emeritus) – Cello
Sasha Gunchenko (NZSO) – Double Bass
Tom McGrath (Teaching Fellow in Accompaniment, University of Otago) – Piano

Richard Strauss – String Sextet from “Capriccio”
Igor Stravinsky – Concertino for String Quartet (1920)
Gioachino Rossini – Duet for Cello and Double Bass movements 2 and 3
Antonin Dvorak – Piano Quintet No 2 in A Op 81, Finale: Allegro

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert

Wednesday. 14th July, 2921

This was a strikingly unusual and interesting programme spanning different musical eras and musical languages. It was a showcase for the ASQ International Music Academy, which was holding its seventh week-long course of chamber music performance with participants from all parts of the country.

Richard Strauss – String Sextet from “Capriccio”

Donald Armstrong and Manshan Yang (violins), Zhongxian Jin and Michael Cuncannon (violas), Robert Ibell and David Chickering (cellos)

Richard Strauss’ opera, Capriccio premiered in 1942 while German soldiers were fighting, murdering and dying in the Russian front. There is something unreal about an opera buffa in which men and women argue about music and poetry, put on a pantomime to prove a point, and sing complex contrapuntal music for over two hours. This was Strauss’ response to the terrible world around him, to withdraw into music of the past, to avoid the confronting reality. Unusually, the opera doesn’t open with an overture, but with a string sextet, which, as becomes evident, is part of the story. Six musicians rehearse a work written for the birthday of the heroine, and it is this music that provokes the discussion. Musically the piece is full of rich counterpoint, with allusions to the music of the eighteenth century, and possibly a nod to Brahms’ string sextets, but the language is essentially Richard Strauss. There is tongue in cheek cynicism buried in the rich harmonies. The present six musicians give the work a vital, engaging reading. It was a rare opportunity to hear this seldom performed piece.

Igor Stravinsky – Concertino for String Quartet (1920)

Haihong Liu and Konstanze Artmann (violins) Zhongxian Jin (viola) and Robert Ibell (cello)

This short work by Stravinsky is a total contrast to the Strauss piece that preceded it. While Strauss’ Sextet is overwhelmingly rich in texture, the Concertino for String Quartet is sparse, rooted in Stravinsky’s own musical idiom, strongly rhythmic fragments, vivid contrasts, manic allegros interspersed with dirge like adagios. It was written for the Flonzaley Quartet, but it is nothing like traditional string quartets. It is a short experiment in writing a work a work for string players with a bravura solo violin, accompanied by the rest of the quartet. It is challenging, but not endearing music. Trust Stravinsky to make you sit up and listen!

Gioachino Rossini – Duet for Cello and Double Bass movements 2 and 3

Robert Ibell (cello) and Oleksandr Gunchenko (double bass)

Cello and Double Bass is a most unusual combination, but this work was commissioned by the amateur cellist Sir David Salomons for performance at a soiree with the double bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti. This is an immensely loveable curiosity piece, with opera like flowing melodies. The music has its technical challenges, but Robert Ibell and Oleksandr Gunchenko played it with a beautiful lyrical singing tone. Both they and Rossini had lots of fun, and the audience responded with enthusiastic applause.

Antonin Dvorak – Piano Quintet No 2 in A Op 81, Finale: Allegro

Tom McGrath (piano) Haihong Liu and Donald Armstrong (violins) Brian Shillito (viola) and David Chickering (cello)

Dvorak’s Second Piano Quartet is one of the gems of the chamber music repertoire. It is a pity that within these lunch-time concerts time didn’t permit the performance of the whole work. As it is, we had to settle for the last movement. It is light-hearted, spirited, scintillating music. It was played with great aplomb. The end of the movement, the tranquillo passage was like a ray of sunlight. My one quibble was that, either because of the acoustics of the church, or because of the placement of the piano, the top strings were swamped by the piano. Not withstanding this, it was a fine performance.

We are very fortunate in Wellington that we have the opportunity to have such free lunchtime concerts in the heart of the city by some of the best musicians in the country, week after week for most of the year. It is something to be valued. These are the kind of things that make Wellington the greatest little capital.

Monique Lapins and Jian Liu give consummate performances of Bartok and Debussy at St.Andrew’s

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series presents:
Monique Lapins, violin, and Jian Liu, piano

CLAUDE DEBUSSY – Violin Sonata in G minor L148
BÉLA BARTÓK – 6 Romanian Folk Dances
BÉLA BARTÓK – Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1, Sz 75

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

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

How privileged we are in Wellington to be able to go to a lunch time concert on a beautiful Wednesday and hear such consummate artists as Monique Lapins and Jian Liu of the NZ School of Music. They presented a challenging programme of Debussy and Bartók. The two violin sonatas were written within a few years of each other, Debussy’s in 1917 in the middle of the war, Bartók’s in the aftermath of the war and in the shadow of the Hungarian Commune. Both were groundbreaking works.

Debussy was very ill, dying of cancer when he wrote his Violin Sonata. It was his last composition, planned as one of six instrumental sonatas, of which he completed only three, his Cello Sonata, his Sonata for Flute Viola and Harp and this Sonata for Violin. It is in classic sonata form in three movements, but there the comparison with the great sonatas of Beethoven or Brahms ends. It is a short work, a third of the length of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, but though it is short, it is concise with a wealth of material. The first movement opens with chords on the piano which are then deconstructed, fragmented. The beautiful haunting melody, played on the violin has an oriental flavour with a tinge of sadness The second movement starts with a violin solo which breaks into a jocular passage that alternates with dark melancholy and then sarcasm as if saying ‘don’t take me too seriously’. The opening of the final movement starts with a nostalgic melody, then becomes triumphal with high spirits and playful accompaniment. The work lasts less than a quarter hour, yet it is full of contrasts, wit, charm, and transparent filigree passages, but also a sense of loss. It is a fragile piece that requires sensitive reading and Monique Lapins and Jian Liu did justice to this most beautifully.

Bartók’s Six Romanian Dances were an appropriate contrast to the Debussy Sonata. These are boisterous, folksy, a product of Bartók’s travels through the Balkans, collecting folk music with his fellow composer, Zoltán Kodály They are immediately approachable. They also present technical challenges, difficult double stops, harmonics, unrelenting strong rhythms. They also served as a bridge to Bartók’s musical world, his search for a musical language that broke away from the musical language that he was reared on, the language of Brahms and other great German composers. I couldn’t help thinking Monique Lapins and Jian Liu’s playing here perhaps a little TOO “masterly”, too controlled, in places needing more sense of the dances’ gay abandonment.

Bartók’s Violin Sonata No. 1, by contrast, is a difficult work, both technically and musically. Unlike the Debussy Sonata, which is brief, concise and at times whimsical, the Bartók Sonata is a long, passionate, disturbing piece. The first movement opens with rich chords on the piano, then the violin enters with a plaintive if discordant melody. The piano and violin complement each other with contrasting voices, but they don’t echo each other or share melodic or rhythmic themes. The piano captures the sound of the cimbalom, the violin the crying human voice. The strained harmonies highlight the tension between the two instruments. The second movement opens with a beautiful if discordant gentle violin solo that Monique Lapins played as beautifully as you are ever likely to hear, before the piano took over with sombre pensive chords. Jian Liu produced a rich palette of sounds on the piano, percussive when it was required, gentle, lyrical with a warm tone when that was appropriate. The mood of the movement was one of longing, heart rending sadness, played by the violin and supported by harp-like chords on the piano. The final movement opened with harsh percussive chords on the piano and this percussive beat continued to appear right through the piece, while the violin played with manic energy. Hungarian rhythms intruded in the midst of the seeming mayhem. Then the piece broke down into grotesque dance rhythms interrupted by brief lyrical episodes on the violin. The work ended with passionate energy. This energy and passion carried the audience with it, reflected by the wild applause that followed, an applause seldom heard at the end of a lunch hour recital.

This sonata is a challenge for violinist and pianist alike. It is a difficult monumental work which Monique Lapins and Jian Liu played with rare zest.

It was a memorable recital. The Bartók Sonata is rarely heard, perhaps because of its exceptional difficulties. Those who were at the concert were fortunate have had the opportunity to hear it in such an exceptionally fine performance.



Dazzling Diabelli Variations from pianist Ya-Ting Liou at St.Andrew’s make an indelible impression

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series presents:
BEETHOVEN – Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli in C Major, Op.120
Ya Ting Liou (piano)

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

Wednesday, 14th October, 2020

The Diabelli Variations, or to give the pieces their proper collective name, “Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli in C Major, Op.120” represent in their entirety Beethoven’s final and loftiest thoughts concerning the piano and its expressive capabilities.  It’s both characteristic and appropriate that such sublimity of invention on Beethoven’s part should have emanated from such an unprepossessing source.

Thanks to Beethoven’s somewhat free-wheeling biographer, Anton Schindler, the circumstances surrounding the composer’s involvement with this work became over the years interlaced with fanciful legend – that Beethoven scornfully dismissed Diabelli’s Waltz as “a cobbler’s patch” until the latter offered him a considerable fee for a set of variations,  that the composer was so offended at having been given such a poor theme he wrote the 33 Variations on it to rub the insult in, and that he completed the work in no less than three months.

Leaving aside Schindler’s account, we know that in 1819, the publisher, Anton Diabelli, aware of a musical public craving some escapist amusement in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, approached a wide range of composers that included Beethoven and Schubert with the idea of presenting them all with a waltz-theme of his own invention and requesting from each a variation on the theme. This was to be published as a kind of anthology,  one called Vaterländischer Künstlerverein  (The Patriotic Artist’s Club). At the end of the same year over fifty composers had completed their efforts and sent them back to Diabelli. The exception was Beethoven, who had accepted Diabelli’s invitation, and responded with not just one but a number of variations, quickly completing twenty-three, but then setting aside the work for the Missa Solemnis (he had interrupted work on this for the Variations!) and the late piano sonatas.

Early In 1823, Beethoven finished the set, completing thirty-three variations all told, possibly to advance his own efforts with the previously-published 32 Variations in C Minor, or perhaps even having in mind JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with its thirty-two pieces. Whatever the case, the work was published by Diabelli in June of that same year, the publisher actually drawing attention to Bach’s work thus:  –  “……indeed all these variations, through the novelty of their ideas, care in working-out, and beauty in the most artful of their transitions, will entitle the work to a place beside Sebastian Bach’s famous masterpiece in the same form.”

To deal with a work of such proportions, both performers and commentators have proposed various kinds of “signpostings” which give some kind of direction to the adventurous listener, ears awash with the sheer extent of the composer’s inventiveness. Today’s performer, Ya-Ting Liou, suggested in her programme note that the work might be thought of as in two parts, the division marked by the cataclysmic Variation 17 (the renowned pianist Alfred Brendel, famous for his performances of the work, called both this and the previous Variation “Triumph”), a sequence characterised by great energy, physicality and exuberance, and one whose aftermath certainly appeared as though the music had suddenly set its sights elsewhere, the following Variation a dialogue or game perhaps between friends or lovers or philosophers, with the exchanges opening up for us enticing realms of equivocal possibility.

But the work responds to a myriad of listening approaches for both listener and performer, whether “large-scale” or “of the moment” – and from the very beginning Ya Ting’s unhurried, detailed and intensely cumulative approach had the effect for me of “gathering in” both broad brush-strokes and detail, so that while one was aware of the contrasts being wrought between each of the variations, one’s concentration on the overall flow was never unduly disturbed. I thought her abilities as a storyteller were outstanding in this respect – whatever the felicitation of the detail, or the sharpness of the contrasts, we never lost the sense of an inexorable forward movement, from realm to wondrous realm glorying in Beethoven’s invention! If one was occasionally tempted to dwell on the particular character of a fragment or a sequence, one was then “taken” in thrall to the next felicitation, at times almost by osmotic means, completely without self-consciousness!

To speak of “highlights” in such a performance of such a work would be to denigrate Ya Ting’s achievement as a whole – rather I prefer to cite certain moments as enjoyable for reasons tailored to each moment’s particular “character”……thus the first of the Variations, the Alla Marcia Maestoso was rightly made more of a “beginning” than the theme at the work’s opening, spacious, processional and attention-grabbing, with orchestral-like contrasting dynamics in places, an almost Musorgsky-like “Promenade” moment with which to commence the journey proper. By contrast, the dreamy, poetic, very “vocal” line of the third L’istesso Tempo Variation made for a piquantly quixotic commentary, with its discursive bass notes trailing off into thoughtful silences, a discourse which the next variation Un poco piu vivace turned into a lovely series of arched “overthrowings” of festooning detail.

One of the abiding qualities of the playing seemed to me to be the pianist’s quality of taking the music “with her” in those variations requiring an abundance of tone rather than merely “driving” it all forwards – thus in Variation 14’s  Grave e maestoso we all were made to “feel” the tread of those broad, resonant steps which seemed to resemble a large ship’s progress through water, a process that seemed like the unfolding of a vision, the piece’s second half delivered with infinite patience and long-breathed surety – quite a journey! By contrast, Ya-Ting was fully engaged in an entirely different way in the “virtuoso roar” of those two Variations, Nos 16 and 17, which for her signalled a “halfway-point” in the work, the strength of each of the hands by turns given a workout in the two pieces, the results an exhilarating engagement with some strong and scintillating music-making.

The work’s second half contained the music the composer penned after returning to his work to write ten more variations to add to the twenty-three he had written in 1819. No.20’s sudden deep bass, following as it does immediately after the excitingly  festive Presto of No.19 was a solemn Andante, one of the most profound of the set, and which commentator Donald Francis Tovey described as “awe-inspiring”. Here, La-Ting seemed to lose herself in thought, the music taking our sensibilities to “different realms” in a wondrously spontaneous-sounding recreation of remarkable stillness. Of course, Beethoven was “setting us up” for the explosion which followed with Variation 21’s Allegro con brio, sudden, incisive trills in the right hand set against tub-thumping chords in the left hand, interspersed with slower triple time sequences. The hand-passing-over jumps produced some inaccurate landings which merely added to the excitement – who dares, wins!

Drollery took over from rumbustiousness in the next Variation, No. 22, none other than a setting of part of  Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Leoporello’s opening aria “Notte e giorno faticar” (Night and Day I work), music which shared the same two opening notes with Diabelli’s theme. Another explosive contrast then took place with the following Assai allegro, Variation 23, the pianist’s fingers all over the keyboard, generating incredible momentum, while again, maintaining a coherence of inspiration amid the music’s startling contrasts. Obviously I don’t have the space in the course of a single review to do full justice to this artist’s treatment of so many profoundly insightful moments of through-line amid contrast throughout this work – suffice to say that by some alchemic means she took us with her on what seemed like a seamlessly-flowing journey to the apex of the music’s realms of expression, the concluding variations inspired firstly by Bach, then Handel and finally Mozart, the last of which seemed, in  Tovey’s words, like “a peaceful return home”.

To have such an exposition of genius laid out for us so beautifully and far-reachingly in the course of an otherwise ordinary lunch-hour’s duration seemed to me like a miracle – a gift from life’s variety and inexhaustible capacity to inspire and bring joy, brought to us through the sensibilities and skills of a remarkable pianist.


An exhilarating piano duet concert from Duo Harmonics at St Andrew’s

Duo Harmonics: Nicole Chao and Beth Chen – piano duo

Mozart: Sonata for four hands in D Major, KV 381
Rachmaninov: Six Morceaux Op. 11
Ravel: La Valse  (transcription for piano four hands)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 30 September, 12:15 pm

Duo Enharmonics, the Nicole Chao and Beth Chen piano duo team, have become regular performers at the St Andrew’s lunch time concerts. This year they offered a journey from a graceful Mozart Sonata of 1765 through Rachmaninov’s nostalgic Russian group of six pieces of 1894, to the grand spectacular duo piano arrangement of Ravel’s La Valse of 1920.

The Mozart Sonata in D Major, KV.381 is a very early work, written by Mozart to perform with his sister Nanerl  on their tour in London. He was nine years old, and the piece is the earliest known piece for four hands. It was written to display the technical virtuosity of the children, with cascading fast passages. It is not a profound work, but it has its charm. Chao and Chen tackled it with great energy and brilliance, probably exactly what is required. They didn’t try to make the work sound deeper than it is. This is a charming, youthful composition, showy and easy on the ear.

Rachmaninov’s Six Morceaux Op 11 is also a youthful work. It is a collection of six pieces in different genre. The opening, Barcarolle is dark and mysterious with a dazzling climax and powerful chords. The Scherzo that follows is sprightly and brilliant with a relentless rhythmic drive. The Russian theme is a set of variations on a folk-song like theme, beautiful and haunting. The Waltz is very much in the Rachmaninov idiom, a waltz indeed, but very different from those of Chopin and the fashionable Viennese waltzes.  The fifth piece, Romance, is a passionate  work with a poignant principal theme. The final piece, Slava (Glory), is a dramatic set of variations on a Russian chant that Moussorgsky also used in Boris Godunov and in the Pictures at an Exhibition. We are here on true Russian soil. These were played with charm, sensitivity, and depth.

Ravel’s La Valse was originally conceived as a ballet, but it is better known as an orchestral concert work, which was transcribed for a piano duet and later for four hands. It is a powerful work. Capturing the rich sound of a symphony orchestra puts great demands on the pianists. Ravel wrote this music in the wake of the First World War. Although he denied that there was any deeper meaning in the work then what the music itself revealed, it is tempting to hear in the deconstructed waltz theme, in the occasional harsh chords, a tragic allusion to the destruction of the Second Empire, or the gemütlich charming era of pre-war Vienna, or indeed, of the lost pre-war world. There are also riotous cynical passages. Nicole Chao and Beth Chen played with great energy and force, without losing sight of the coherence of the work.

This was a long journey from the seemingly orderly world of the young Mozart that the concert started with to the ruins of a whole epoch at the end of the Great War. Not only was the concert thoroughly enjoyable, it was also a musical tour of the musical world of a century and a half.  Nicole Chao and Beth Chen piano proved to be an outstanding team coping very ably with the  difficult medium of four hands on one keyboard. They played with unanimity as well as virtuosity.