New Zealand School of Music String Students and Catherine Norton (piano)
Music by Haydn, J.S. Bach, Hans Fryber, Mozart, Wieniawski and Max Bruch
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday, 6 June 2018, 12.15 pm
On the coldest day of the winter so far, there was still a respectably-sized audience at the lunchtime concert.
The students introduced themselves and their music, but unlike the wind students I reviewed two weeks ago, these students did not use the microphone, and so several of them were inaudible, speaking as though to a few people sitting in front of them. One who spoke in audible tones nevertheless was too fast for his words to carry in a large auditorium. The concert ran somewhat over the usual time; two players performed after one o’clock, but only a few of the audience left before the end.
Naturally, there was a range of abilities and experience displayed. However, it was a diverse programme, full of interest, and we heard some excellent playing.
The first item was the allegro moderato first movement from Haydn’s cello concerto no.2 in D, played by Rebecca Warnes with Catherine Norton accompanying on the piano. This is quite a lengthy movement, and demanding for the players. Catherine Norton made a splendid job of being a one-woman orchestra, and despite having the lid of the piano on the long stick, she was never too loud.
The soloist played the movement from memory. There were numbers of episodes of imperfect intonation, especially at the beginning, whereas in the difficult cadenza towards the end, almost every note was in place – since it was her unaccompanied solo, perhaps she had practised it more? It went right down to the extreme bottom of the finger-board, i.e. very high notes.
Her legato passages were excellent and fluent, and her bowing technique likewise. Once she got into her stride the intonation improved. It was great to hear this warmly lyrical movement. Double-stopping featured in this difficult score, which was mostly given an accomplished reading.
The second student to perform was Leo Liu, on the violin. He played from memory and unaccompanied Bach’s Gigue in D minor, BWV 1004. He explained that he was a second-year student. He was confident and capable. His playing was very fine, and his tuning almost perfect. He played the tricky, quite extended piece with flair.
He was followed by Jandee Song, who played the double bass, performing Allemande from Suite in the Olden Style, by Hans Fryba, an Austrian double bass player and composer (1899-1986). At first, the music had the performer playing at the extreme low end of the finger-board. This unaccompanied piece was played from memory. Intonation was very accurate but she did not give much variation in tone or dynamics.
Next was Patrick Hayes, violin. He performed Fugue from Sonata no.2 in A minor, BWV 1003 by J.S. Bach. This was another solo piece, played from the score. Notable was his good phrasing; double-stopping and chords were handled well. However, his tone was sometimes harsh. Nevertheless, Patrick coped with the difficult, and quite long, movement well.
The remaining three pieces were all for violin, and were accompanied by Catherine Norton. First, Charlotte Lamb performed Rondo in A, the third movement of Mozart’s fifth violin concerto K.219. It is a delightful movement; its Turkish elements earned it the nickname of ‘Turkish’ concerto. It was played with appropriate style and nuance. A few intonation inaccuracies there were, but good tone and dynamics were present throughout the performance. The contrasting ‘Turkish’ and minuet sections of the movement made it continually easy on the ear.
Edward Clarkson played Obertass Mazurka Op.19 no.1 by Wieniawski. Grove informs me that obertass or obertas denotes a faster form of mazurka. Edward had a clear, strong voice when giving his brief introduction. The same characteristics were present in his violin-playing. This was one of the composer’s showy pieces. The violinist played it from memory, and gave it plenty of variety and lightness. Harmonics were interspersed at high speed, plus fast trills and left-hand pizzicato. It was a short but very accomplished performance.
Last up was Sarang Roberts, who played the finale (allegro energico) of Max Bruch’s well-known and highly romantic first violin concerto, Op.26. The playing was fast but well-controlled. Her legato was excellent, and she played with a fine, warm tone, from memory. Catherine Norton’s assignment in accompanying was quite a tough one, but she played with her usual aplomb. The two musicians brought out the work’s mood and aesthetic splendidly – bravo!
The students performing would be at several different levels in their studies. I assumed that these last two were senior students. I had a few words with Martin Riseley, Head of Strings at the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University, after the concert. He informed me that these two were both first-years! Their skill would seem to indicate a bright future ahead.