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

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

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

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

St.Peter’s-on-Willis, Wellington

Saturday, 24th April, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 26th September, 2020

Pandemic restrictions having been relaxed of late (though judiciously more “on hold” than entirely done away with), we were allowed more-or-less regularly-spaced seating at St. Andrew’s to hear the most recent of the NZSM Orchestra’s public concerts, one featuring the recent winner of the School’s Concerto Competition, flutist Isabella Gregory (see the review at https://middle-c.org/2020/07/nzsm-concerto-competition-an-evening-of-elegance-frisson-and-feeling/), playing the Reinecke concerto with which she won the prize, though on this occasion with a full and proper orchestral accompaniment! Flanking her polished, sparkling efforts were two other items, the concert beginning with a work for orchestra  entitled “Song” by Hawkes Bay-born composer Micah Thompson, and concluding with the well-known Second Symphony by Brahms.

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

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

First we heard a work by composer Micah Thompson, called “Song”, and inspired in part by the poetry of British poet Ted Hughes (1930-1998), specifically in this case a 1957 poem “The Hawk in the Rain”. Thompson explained, both in a progamme note and by means of an internet post (https://www.facebook.com/NZSMusic/videos/1186964995018168) how the poet’s interest in the “identity, history and mythologies of particular animals” had informed his own approach to exploring musical instruments’ characteristics and their use – he used Hughes’s “wild, sometimes brutal, but always expressive and melancholic” verses as a kind of counterpoint to his own creative impulses. As the programme printed the text of Hughes’ verses, I couldn’t help comparing his earthier, more confrontational expressiveness to that of an earlier poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins, in the latter’s comparatively rarefied (but just as dramatic and musical) poem from 1877, “The Windhover”, describing the flight of another bird of prey, a falcon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 16 September, 12:15 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Young musicians of Poneke Trio deliver singularly revelatory concert

Lunchtime Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral

Trio Pōneke
Claudia Tarrant-Matthews (violin); Sofia Tarrant-Matthews (piano); Bethany Angus (cello)

Haydn: Piano Trio No 26 in C minor, Hob.XV:13
Shostakovich: Trio no.2 in E minor, Op 67

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul

Friday 28 August, 12:45 pm

This was a promising recital by three young women who have lived around Worser Bay in Wellington: two are sisters, the cellist a long-time friend. Both Tarrant-Matthews are violinists who have played in Orchestra Wellington and the NZSO, but are also proficient pianists; both graduated in music from Victoria University. Claudia who is violinist in the trio, has been studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London while pianist Sofia plans to study in Germany.

The Haydn trio* is a two-movement work which I didn’t know; from the first charming phrases I was disconcerted to realise that I had not heard it before. However, I wondered how well the players would cope with the famously challenging acoustics of the cathedral. But I was immediately surprised and reassured, and wondered just how much of their handling of the sound was careful calculation of the acoustic or was simply their instinctive response to what they could hear; it was hard to know.

The main melody in the Andante, first movement, is a delight. It asks to be played calmly, rejoicing in its beauty which was revealed in playing of considerable subtlety, with a calm, piano sound volume. In achieving that, all three responded, in the Andante, with what I could only describe as extraordinary delicacy and sensitivity. The sound that seemed to emerge secretively as if from distant parts of the nave, was magical, with balanced dynamics from each instrument. Though violin and piano tended to be the most audible, the cello could be heard in the role of a sort of basso continuo, or in careful harmony with the violin.

The second movement, Allegro spiritoso, might have invited more forthright playing but the players again resisted any attempt to exaggerate the ’spiritoso’ marking. Instead, there was a fairy-like lightness here, through most of the movement, though the score certainly offered chances to sound mezzo forte; but they were resisted.

Guessing that this trio is typical of Haydn’s trios generally, I am inspired to explore more of them, which seem (to me anyway) to be seriously neglected, overshadowed by and in comparison with the string quartets.

The Shostakovich piano trio is well known, a singularly memorable work that I got to know well many years ago, not least as it was played by the sadly short-lived Turnovsky Trio which flourished in the 1990s.

Here again, the cello’s opening by playing scarcely audible harmonics, certainly demonstrated Bethany Angus’s talents, even if they’d not been so conspicuous in the Haydn. The violin soon joins and both complied fully with what their mutes were designed to do. The hard part is for the piano to match its partners in a comparably secretive spirit: Sophia Tarrant-Matthews did. The dynamism of the central part of the first movement slowly emerged, and revealed for the first time, the impressive technical abilities of the three players.

While the ‘con brio’ second movement invites a display of energy, their restraint paid dividends, and its frenzy seemed to be moderated by a slightly sinister character. The third movement, Largo, can be heard as some kind of return to the mystery of the first movement. Claudia Tarrant-Matthews ’s violin seemed to emerge from a darkened cavern, while Bethany Angus’ cello complemented that disturbing atmosphere. The sombre, uneasy atmosphere seemed to find its perfect partner in the acoustic, though I doubt that reading a sinister message in a cathedral would meet with widespread approval.

The Largo merges seamlessly into the last movement, whose marking ‘Allegretto’ cannot be read as suggesting anything light-spirited, with its incessant pulse, driven by emphatically strong down-bows from the stringed instruments as well as the striking piano part that underpinned the rhythm; at moments the piano’s tone suggested the sounds of the small bells of a carillon.

In the end it seemed to me that, far from being any kind of handicap, the cathedral acoustic had proved a perfect vehicle and environment for this extraordinary music.

This was a singularly successful recital; I hope that Trio Poneke can find time, or that concert promoters will find ways for them, to perform again in Wellington before the two Tarrant-Matthews head again for Europe.

 

* Appendix

As an aside, from one who has an unhealthy fascination with lists, schedules and catalogues, the identification of Haydn’s works offers particular interest.

That the programme note takes care to employ the accepted scholarly classification, referring to both the authoritative Haydn catalogues (Anthony van Hoboken and H C Robbins Landon), is evidence of the players’ proper attention to such matters.

Hoboken’s catalogue was the earlier, dividing the works into genre groups, employing Roman numerals: thus symphonies are I, string quartets III, piano sonatas XVI and piano trios, XV. Hoboken lists 41 piano trios, paying less attention than Robbins Landon to dates of actual composition. His numbering for this trio is misleadingly early, at XV:13.

Robbins Landon’s massive catalogue was published later, between 1976 and 1980. It lists the works in strictly chronological order of composition rather than publication date, and in this case his number for the C minor trio is 26 of the list of 45 trios. Many of Robbins Landon’s ‘early’ trios have late Hoboken numbers because they were actually composed long before they were published.  

So this piano trio is one of Haydn’s later works, 1789 (not conspicuously influenced by the French Revolution), the year before Haydn went to London and composed the 12 great Salomon symphonies. One notes that Haydn composed twenty more piano trios after this one, most after the age of 60; there are plenty of riches to explore!   

 

 

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

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

Finalists

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

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

Adam Concert Room, NZSM Kelburn Campus
Victoria University of Wellington

Thursday, 30th July 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

A splendid St Andrew’s lunchtime concert from NZSM voice students

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Classical voice students the New Zealand School of Music with David Barnard (piano)

Simon  Harnden: ‘T’was within a furlong of Edinborough Town’ and ‘Sons of the Sea’ by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Michaela Cadwgan: L’invitation au voyage’ (Duparc)and ‘Donde lieta uscì’ from La Bohème
Grace Burt: ‘Chanson Triste’ (Duparc) and ‘Chacun à son goût’ from Die Fledermaus
Matt Barris; Valentin’s aria from Faust and ‘Silent Noon’ by Vaughan Williams
Ruby McKnight: ‘Signore ascolta’ from Turandot and ‘Nana’ from Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs
Morgan Andrew King: Prince Gremin’s aria from Eugene Onegin and ‘Ol’ Man River’ from Showboat
Lila Junior Crichton: ‘O Columbina’ from Pagliacci and ‘Oh is there not one maiden breast’ from The Pirates of Penzance

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 22 July, 12:15 pm

From a purely musical point of view, this was an interesting recital, with a very wide range of songs and arias, a lot familiar, some not, but very worth being exposed to. One song I didn’t know at all was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘Sons of the Sea’. Once upon a time those three names together (in a different order) would have meant only the great poet linked with Wordsworth. Now I suspect, as a result of the disappearance of much in the way of English literature from schools (and now even being thrown out of our National Library), the black English composer of the late 19th century may be better known. It was sung by Simon Harnden whose rich bass voice did justice to its dramatic character; as it had expressively to his earlier song, Purcell’s ’T’was within a furlong of Edinborough Town’.

Interesting that we had here four males and three females: the balance is more commonly otherwise. The second male voice was that of Matt Barris. He sang Valentin’s baritone aria from Faust, ‘Avant de quitter ces lieus’, feelingly expressing his anxiety about Marguérite while he’s away. His second song was Vaughan Williams’s Silent Noon which he sang attractively, with careful restraint.

The third male was bass Morgan-Andrew King. He sang Prince Gremin’s wonderful aria from the last act of Eugene Onegin, catching its noble character but delivering it rather too quickly. And later he sang ‘Ol’ man river’ from Showboat, with calm dignity.

Lila Junior Crichton, a tenor, sang two late 19th century arias. The first a familiar aria from Pagliacci: in Act II Beppe (Arlecchino) serenades the ultimate victim Nedda (Columbina), with ‘O Columbina’, capturing its fluctuating rhythms well. Then, from The Pirates of Penzance, ‘Oh, is there not one maiden breast’ from; not terribly familiar but attractively lyrical in Crichton’s hands.

Two of Henri Duparc’s few, precious songs came early in the concert. Michaela Cadwgan sang perhaps his best-known: ‘L’invitation au voyage’, which I have a somewhat personal relationship with. First it drew attention to the piano part, and then to Michaela’s strong, perhaps a bit too strong at the top, voice. But it suggests promise in the opera house, which was evident in her singing of the poignant ‘Donde lieta uscì’ from Act III of La Bohème.

The second Duparc song came from Grace Burt’s mezzoish voice: ‘Chanson triste’ was nicely modulated, her voice dynamically disciplined throughout. Prince Orlovsky’s ‘Chacun à son goût’ from Die Fledermaus is a droll aria from what I consider the greatest of all operettas. It’s a travesti role, a bit of a challenge, needing a conspicuous flamboyance to bring off well, and it got that.

Soprano Ruby McKnight sang Liu’s touching aria ‘Signore ascolta’ in Turandot; it doesn’t really need a voice as large as McKnight’s to deliver it, but with accurate intonation, it was a fine performance. And she later sang ‘Nana’, one of the seven Spanish popular songs (folksongs ere) by Manuel de Falla (good to see the proper translation of ‘Seven Spanish popular songs’: they’re not ’seven popular Spanish songs’ – a significant difference). If she didn’t capture the Spanish flavour perfectly, her performance was distinctive and arresting.

As student recitals go, this was a splendid three-quarter hour; a major part of that success was David Barnard’s unerring piano accompaniments that claimed the orchestra’s role very convincingly.

 

“Cello for Africa” at Porirua City a spectacular and moving multi-cultural collaborative event

The Sinfonia for Hope presents:
CELLO FOR AFRICA – a multi-institutional and multi-cultural collaboration
Director – Donald Maurice

Performing Individuals and Groups:
Te Kura Māori o Porirua (kapa haka and waiata)
Inbal Megiddo, Rolf Gjelsten, Jane Young (cellos) Stringendo (director: Donald Maurice)
Linkwood Guitar Duo (Jane Curry and Owen Moriarty)
Sam Manzana (Congo drum)
Virtuoso Strings (directors – Craig Utting and Elizabeth Sneyd)
Cellophonia (director – Inbal Meggido)
Amalia Hall (violin), Tinashe Chidanyika and Sarah Hoskyns (mbira)
Ruby Solly (taonga puoro), Hannah Neman (percussion)
Lyrica Choir, Kelburn Normal School (director – Nicola Holt)
Sinfonia for Hope  (conductor: Hans Huyssen)
Heleen du Plessis (‘cello)

Music by Antonio Vivaldi, Jack Body, Craig Utting, Anthony Ritchie, Hans Huyssen

Guest Speakers:
Dr.Taku Parai (Chairman, Kaumātua, Ngāti Toa)
Her Worship Anita Baker, Mayor of Porirua
Associate Professor Hon. Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban
Professor Sunny Collings, Dean and Head of Wellington Campus, University of Otago
Professor Donald Maurice, director of Sinfonia for Hope

Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua City

Sunday, 24th November, 2019

“Cello for Africa” was, in the words of co-organisers Heleen du Plessis and Donald Maurice, an event designed “to bring people from different cultures together using music, and specifically, ‘cellos, to help create a platform for cultural interaction and human connection in support of causes in Africa”. The concert’s specific target was to raise funds for a school established in Nairobi five years ago, the Tamariki Education Centre, by New Zealander Denise Carnihan (who was present at the concert).

The event brought together four youth performance groups augmented by a goodly number of professional performers to perform, among other things, at least one world and one New Zealand performance premiere (not a Venn diagram in words – I meant TWO separate pieces!). New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie contributed the world “first” with his piece “Kia Kaha Tamariki”, and South African composer Hans Huyssen the New Zealand premiere of his “Concerto for an African ‘Cellist”. There was a Vivaldi concerto for two ’cellos, a work for two guitars by Jack Body, and a piece for strings called “Goodnight Kiwi” by Craig Utting. And extending the diversity of the occasion were various haka and waiata performed by Te Kura Māori o Porirua Kapa Haka, a colourful sequence of Congo drumming by master percussionist Sam Manzanza, and a bracket of songs performed by Kelburn Normal School’s Lyrica Choir, directed by Nicola Holt.

We were welcomed at the outset by Dr Taku Parai, the Ngāti Toa Chairman and Kaumātua, accompanied by Ranei Parai and the splendid Te Kura Māori o Porirua Kapa Haka group. I was struck by the similarities in places between the sound of the Maori chant and some of the Gregorian chant I’d heard, with similar nuances and impulses in places, and underlined by the plangency of the young women’s tones – by contrast the haka passages were incisive and striking for different reasons! After the group had moved off to the side in the time-honoured manner, the Mayor of Porirua, Her Worship Anita Baker spoke to us, most impressively, drawing resonant parallels between Ntairobi in Kenya, and Porirua, here in New Zealand, and welcoming our support for the “Cello in Africa” venture. At this point I felt it would have been good for the event to have had a properly-appointed MC, merely to provide a kind of ongoing flow during the transitions between the numbers – the members of the Stringendo group simply “appeared” with the continuo ‘celllist, Jane Young, after whom came the two soloists for the next item, ‘cellists Inbal Megiddo and Rolf Gjelsten, together with conductor, Donald Maurice.

The two soloists began the work vigorously and adroitly, Megiddo taking the more assertive lead with Gjelsten seeming somewhat “laid back” of projection in reply, both in this way most effectively “terracing” the exchanges, while Jane Young’s continuo kept a watching brief over the exchanges. The tutti passages had great effect, with the extra weight of numbers producing a real “What does the crowd think?” kind of response in the sound’s impact – I’m certain the spontaneous applause at the first movement’s end would have underlined for the players our enjoyment. The slow movement featured the soloists and continuo only, the players again differentiating their lines via a fetching minor-key melody, with Megiddo’s sumptuous tones stimulating a thoughtful, more circumspect response from her companion. Some of the younger players weren’t expecting or had forgotten about a repeat in the music, as several moved to make a grand tutti entry at one point, but lowered their bows again when the music turned on its tracks and repeated a second-half section – very sweet! The younger players got their chance at the “true” beginning of the finale, playing the repeated theme as the soloists overlaid the  music with decorative passages, then intensifying the repetitions with a couple of modulations – all sounding very daring on their part, and garnering considerable applause at the end!

Next was a transcription for two guitars by Jack Body, made from recordings of the Madagascan “vahila”, a kind of “zither” made from a bamboo tube, and regarded by many as the country’s “national” musical instrument. A tumbling, rhythmically teasing piece called “Ramandriana”, it kept shifting its emphasis and thus varying its gait, the players, Jane Curry and Owen Moriarty, finding a wealth of variation of tone and timbre, which would have stemmed from the original instrument recording. (The duo should, I think, have been at least introduced to the audience as “The Linkwood Guitar Duo”, but, again, there was no “MC”.There were names and  information in the programme to be sure, but again, a welcoming voice would have, I think, made a more easeful difference.

We were delighted to welcome Sam Manzanza, the Congloese drummer, resident in New Zealand since the 1980s, where he’s been popularising traditional African music for a number of years with his AfroBeat Band – here he was performing solo with a single drum, and producing an amazing variety of sounds , accompanying his rhythmic patternings with various chants, and encouraging audience participation most successfully! Continuing on an African “wave”, we responded warmly to the next speaker, Associate Professor Hon. Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban’s congratulations to South Africa for winning the World Rugby Cup! Her acknowledgement of the work of the organisers of this evening’s concert also elicited an enthusiastic response, as did her confirmation of the Te Ata Festival Project for 2020.

Composer, and co-director of Virtuoso Strings, Craig Utting introduced his ensemble in preparation for the nest item, a version of TV NZ’s famous shutting-down-transmission piece, “Goodnight Kiwi”. Accompanied by the lowering of lights for the music’s beginning, the piece established an all-energies-spent feeling, the string figurations drowsy and  droopy at the phrase-ends, the fragments of one phrase answering another across the vistas created by the ensemble standing in a wide half-circle to perform. The music suddenly energised into angular waltz-like movement, the rhythms and themes lazily dovetailing, its bitter-sweet ambience underlined by a “wilting” kind of inclination, until finally a driving, toccatalike 7/4 rhythm awoke a voice singing the famous Hine e hine words, with heartfelt feeling – the singer beautifully maintained her line and steadiness of tone , right until darkness overtook the music and the players on the stage………

After an interval, and a welcome and brief address from the Dean and Head of Otago University’s Wellington Campus, Professor Sunny Collings, we were treated to composer Anthony Ritchie’s Kia Kaha Tamariki, a musical tribute to the Kenyan School whose founding five years ago in Nairobi has changed the lives of so many African children. The work (a world premiere) was performed here by Cellophonia (40+ cellists!) along with violinist Amalia Hall, cellist Inbal Megiddo, mbira players Tinashe Chidanyika and Sarah Hoskyns, taonga puoro player Ruby Solly, and percussionist Hannah Neman.

Ritchie’s work emphasised the ideas of exchange and accessibility of different musical sounds – a pity the orchestral “platform” was so far away from its audience, across the vistas of what was another performing-space, as it reduced the visceral effects of the more exotic instruments, such as a view of “how they were being played” (the Huyssen Concerto which concluded the evening had a similar kind of “removed” aspect to it – we were, indeed, in the same “space” as the performers, but arguably with too much “air” between us all!). Still, the sounds made an impact, and the conventional and exotic instruments created wholly unique worlds,  even if I felt the music sounded more “Caribbean” than African (ethnomusicologists may well apply to have my travel visas revoked upon reading that statement, though it’s just my (admittedly uninformed) opinion!).

Moments of “Elgarian-sounding” string-writing for the ‘cellos rubbed shoulders with more exotic rhythms and timbres as the non-string-players took up their instruments, the whole given an additional ambient context by Ruby Solly’s taonga puoro sounds. After a colourful sequence featuring the more exotic instruments alone, the drums intensified the rhythms and the cellos intoned an eminently singable/danceable melody, immediately suggesting a ready response in kind from listeners – the work was rounded off by a brief irruption of percussive impulse and gesture – altogether a direct and approachable tribute to a worthwhile cause.

There were hurryings and scurryings from certain people in preparation for the next item, the outcome seeming a little Houdini-esque as it turned out, with everybody’s attention focused on a completely different entrance to that through which the members of Lyrica (Kelburn Normal School Choir) and its director, Nicola Holt, finally appeared! – the group sang three songs bringing out poignancies and sweet colourings in the first two and plenty of rhythmic energy in the third, all accompanied on an electric piano most adroitly played by Nicole Chao, though I thought the second song, a lullaby could have just as effectively been performed voices-only. The choir recently took part in the Orpheus Choir of Wellington’s performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana, which I attended, and remember enjoying the children’s singing a great deal.

I wondered whether programming a fully-fledged three movement instrumental concerto at the end of a tumultuous evening was the best course, as the attrition rate among the audience was certainly noticeable at that stage, despite people’s best efforts – still, the work was meant to be symbolic of a fusion of voices and languages and cultures, and therefore judiciously placed at the concert’s climax. It represented a herculean effort of technique, emotion and crossover sensibility on the part of the solo cellist, Heleen du Plessis, who gave what sounded like a totally committed performance, from the “Partida”, or exploratory opening movement in which she enabled her instrument to “speak its language”, through the exchanges with other instruments over the second and third sections (the latter movement including a vocalised section from mbira-player Tinashe Chidanyika), and into the final Mapfachapfacha (in the Zezuru language, “a sudden arrival of many”), which sounded like a celebration of the coming together of diverse voices.

Composer Hans Huyssen’s use of non-standardised instruments (and the human voice) as constituent parts of such a formalised composition as a “concerto” has plenty of precedent in Western music, as witness, for example, the various instances of use of such things in the Mahler symphonies. And there were precedents of all kinds for the use of voices in such works as well, from Beethoven onwards, giving the words intoned by the orchestra players at the end of this work, referring to the music’s journey in search of a commonality amid the diversity, and its discovery within, their own unique resonances – the whole occasion generated so much warm feeling it was difficult to be analytical or judgemental regarding what we had heard! Its task, as far as I could discern from everybody’s response at the evening’s conclusion, was completed most successfully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delightful, delicious, and declamatory – a “no-holds-barred” night with Marc Taddei and Orchestra Wellington

Orchestra Wellington presents:
FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN

CLAIRE SCHOLES – Cuba on Cuba (with the Arohanui Strings)
SAMUEL BARBER – Violin Concerto (Amalia Hall – violin)
AARON COPLAND – Symphony No. 3

Marc Taddei (conductor)
Arohanui Strings (Claire Scholes)
Orchestra Wellington

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday, 20th October, 2019

Orchestra Wellington has earned a special niche for itself amid the welter of artistic activities supported by the capital, one that’s steadily developed over the years of Marc Taddei’s tenure as Music Director, and in recent times enjoyed obvious fruition in terms of its enthusiastic audience following. Its appeal is based on several factors, not the least of which is the unflagging wholeheartedness and enthusiasm of conductor Taddei for whatever he’s presently engaged in doing with his players, and the ensemble’s remarkable development in playing standards over the duration. As well, the organisation’s on-going policy of keeping its audiences guessing from year to year as to what’s next in store heightens the fun and excitement of it all, be it the announcement of an oncoming season’s programme or the orchestra’s always delightfully “sprung” collaboration with the youthful Arohanui Strings Ensemble (both of the latter taking place this evening!)

Regular attendees at OW concerts will be well familiarised with the work of this music-education/social development programme, which works with children who grow up in areas of economic deprivation in the Wellington/Hutt Valley area. Begun in 2010 by OW violinist Alison Eldredge, the group includes over 300 children per year in these areas, teaching them string instruments, singing and music notation. Tonight’s concert began with the more advanced students playing a work by Manawatu-born, Auckland-based composer Claire Scholes called Cuba on Cuba, one inspired by the “thriving party zone” atmosphere along Cuba St. in Wellington.

Scholes wanted her piece to be, as far as possible, “children-led”, her writing having the younger musicians presenting the piece’s main ideas, which in turn were taken up and developed by the adult musicians. Beginning with an attractively soulful and melancholic violin solo, the piece brought the dance energies in straight afterwards – aside from a slightly-too-prominent tin-can, the percussive noises brought out catchy, angular figurations  punctuated by occasional “Ooh!” and “Wow!” vocalisations from the players. A brass choir opened up the textures further, revealing a “bright, new country”, not unlike in spirit the vistas to be evoked by Aaron Copland’s music later in the programme., the “tin-can” rhythm joined by other instruments, building up the textures, working jazzy tattoos into the mix between percussion irruptions, and finishing in the time-honoured manner with suitably grand and satisfying gesturings, both music and playing generating a warm reception!

A piece called “Amadeus” followed, an arrangement of the first movement of Mozart’s 25th Symphony (the “little” G Minor!) with some of the writing’s angularities removed. Then the “big guns” were brought out (the youngest of the Arohanui Strings’ students), standing in a line across the front of the platform, to everybody’s great pleasure, and playing a couple of folk-song tunes as well as “What shall we do with a  Drunken Sailor” and the lovely “Hine e Hine”. The response was rapturous!

Came the second instalment of the evening’s packagings, this particular segment unwrapped by the musicians with the utmost delicacy and beauty of feeling. This was Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, a work written in 1939, and one whose history is of a complexity which the concert’s programme-note writer, Erica Challis obviously considered would be best left well alone! Barber wrote the work for a former classmate of his at the Curtis Institute, Iso Briselli, who responded favourably to the first two movements of the work, but not to the brilliant, but comparatively short finale which he considered somewhat insubstantial! Various other people, including Briselli’s own teacher, added their opinions, the teacher, Albert Meiff, even offering to rewrite parts of the work in consultation with the composer! Barber declined the offer and after various other comings-and-goings between him and Briselli (all to no avail, except that they actually remained friends throughout all of this!) gave the concerto to another violinist, Albert Spalding, who premiered the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy in February 1941.

Unfortunately for Briselli, a version of the story involving his rejecting the concerto because the third movement was ”too difficult” for him to play gained currency at about this time and actually became the accepted “story” of events in most descriptions of the work’s genesis. It wasn’t until fifty years afterwards, when the violinist published correspondence between him and the composer, that the “correct” version of their interaction re the concerto was given its proper status – that it was the “character” of the final movement, and not its difficulty, which had led Briselli to reject the work.

So, leaving behind all the fuss, both preceding the first performance and its aftermath, how was the concerto and its performance as presented by Amalia Hall and Marc Taddei with Orchestra Wellington? – in a word, dazzling! Where the violinist had demonstrated both technical and intellectual strength and flexibility throughout the rigorously earthy Bartok Second Violin Concerto which she’d played earlier in the year with the Orchestra, here she responded as readily and wholeheartedly to the Barber work’s heart-on-sleeve nostalgia, romantic variation and (in the finale) fleet-fingered brilliance. Throughout, Hall treated her line with the greatest of sensitivity, a finely-wrought “voice” threading its tones through a beguiling orchestral tapestry, one which Marc Taddei and his players supported and abetted at every turn.

After a first movement whose performance surefootedly negotiated the music’s ebb and flow between sunlight and shadow, from the utmost tenderness to full-blooded expression of feeling, the sounds gently and beguilingly dissolving at the end into beguilingly pastoral ambiences, the slow movement brought into play equally veiled strings, golden horns and a plaintive oboe, the strings then further “brokering” the material between clarinet and horn before the soloist took up the line – at first tenderly, then more intensely, and further into  anguish, and a sequence shared with distant , muted trumpets that suggested some private grief.

But then, how sweetly Hall’s playing drew from this unpromising state of things a flow of such warmth as to disarm all woe, the music seeming to suddenly open a vein of nostalgia for golden days of yore, as if bidding them farewell – to youth, or perhaps to innocence – times that will possibly come again only in memory…….I thought Barber’s touch exemplary in its refusal to let the music wallow, instead remaining ready to remind all of us that everything under the sun comes and goes – the orchestral “shudders” that followed these outpourings were here as telling as the climactic moments had been.

As for the work’s finale, the subject of much comment and conjecture over the years stemming from the  non-engagement of the originally intended first performer of the work, violinist Iso Briselli, with the music, it was here a tour de force from all concerned, by turns a shimmering of elfin quicksilver and a veritable whirlwind of energy, brilliantly, and astoundingly played by Hall, the accompanying orchestral playing just as astonishing in its poise and knife-edged dexterity! At the end, the applause simply went on and on, all of us present exhilarated by the music’s energies and the soloist’s brilliance, ideally matched by that of conductor and players. What a work and what a performance!

Before the second half’s music was embarked upon, Marc Taddei annouced that next year’s Orchestra Wellington subscription season tickets were now available for purchasing, and, what was more, at their cheapest price, this being the benefit enjoyed by people willing to “take a chance” with the orchestra’s as yet unannounced programme of six concerts. The only clue Taddei would give us was that the composer was strongly identified with the Romantic era – naturally enough, this was enough to ignite all kinds of post-concert discussion, my friend and myself wavering between Liszt and Schumann as likely candidates! Only time will tell, of course!

Try as I might, I couldn’t raise quite the same unbridled enthusiasm at the end for the final work on the evening’s programme, Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, despite what seemed utterly committed efforts on the part of Marc Taddei and his orchestral players. Somehow, I found parts of the work too bombastic and overtly rhetorical, as if in places the music’s purpose had somehow run dry and was left seemingly empty-sounding.

Better, more “felt” to my ears, were the work’s less declamatory, more pastoral moments, both rhythmic and lyrical, such as the beautifully “open” string melody at the work’s beginning, and the wind-choir coda to the first movement, the rest impressive, but in a way that seemed too ready to overstate. True, the quieter moments stood out in all-the-more sweeter relief to the grand gesturings, but I thought the latter here simply too much of a good thing.

Outdoor energies were the order throughout the second movement – rhythms turning into dance, and figurations quick and slower juxtaposing. The exuberances recalled Copland scores that I really loved – Appalachian Spring and Rodeo in particular – hence underlining my ongoing surprise at not responding more positively to the composer in this, his more symphonic mode. Still, I did enjoy the cheek-by-jowl contrasts in this movement , with the brass sounding their themes weightily and grandly, as the rest of the orchestra danced underneath and all around. And the “trio” section, with its contrapuntish winds, was particularly delightful!

The playing breathtakingly caught the third movement’s aching, almost spectral feeling at the third movement’s beginning, before winds and strings attempted stoically to energise one another, to try and return confidence and hope, and began to dance. Despite moments of enchantment and energy the strings seemed to suddenly lose heart, the energies dissipate, and the instrumental lines lose direction and drift upwards – the music seemed suddenly lost, beyond redemption.

Out of this suspended chaos sounded the “Fanfare” theme, steadily played by the winds, when suddenly to growls of approval from the basses, the brasses burst in, their theme punctuated by percussion outbursts – tremendous playing by all concerned, even if (to my ears) by this stage the grandiloquence of such gestures seemed already well “milked”! As the music drove mercilessly to its admittedly magnificent-sounding conclusion, there was no doubting the orchestra’s capacity for giving conductor Marc Taddei what he wanted at this or any point in the work – and aficionados of full-blooded, give-it-all-you’ve-got playing would have been in seventh heaven amid the splendours of the work’s final chord, less actual music, I thought, than a truly seismic event! A nineteenth-century American critic fond of writing in the vernacular, at the end of a review of a particularly tumultuous concert given by the first great American piano virtuoso, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, said it all – “I knowed no more that evening!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Young’s final outing with the NZSM Orchestra with a new composition and a concerto with a gifted violinist

New Zealand School of Music Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Young

Luka Venter: ts’onot
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor Op 47 (violin – Nickolas Majić)
Prokofiev: Symphony No 5 in B flat, Op 100

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Friday 4 October, 7:30 pm

This was a little more than a routine concert by the music school of Victoria University, featuring a couple of its post graduate students: one, composer Luka Venter and the other, violinist Nickolas Majić.

At the end  of the concert it emerged, with a large cluster of flowers and speeches, that this was the last concert with the orchestra’s regular conductor, Kenneth Young; it marked his retirement from the position in the school of music, as he is about to take up the Mozart Fellowship at Otago University.

Limestone to music
Venter’s piece was inspired by an unusual geological feature in limestone areas of Mesoamerica, a recondite name for the region inhabited by the Mayan or pre-Columban peoples in what we’d call Mexico and the central American states as far south as Costa Rica. He explains that ‘ts’onot’ is the Yucatec Mayan name for these limestone features, “labyrinths of subterranean tunnels where sheaths of light cut through turquoise groundwater”.

It began with an underlay of strings that was soon joined by an oboe, then horns and soon the involvement of the large orchestra.  It’s not easy to conjure musical sounds from limestone caves and sinks and one had to attempt to relate the sounds and visual impressions that Venter has presumably experienced himself, to what emerged in the music he’d written. It was a shapely sequence, sensitively orchestrated, employing marimbas and a variety of other percussion in an attractive if elusive way. The composer himself conducted his piece with particularly clear and expressive gestures.

Majić with Sibelius
Violinist Nickolas Majić is completing an honours degree under Martin Riseley head of strings at the school. He’s been concert master of the NZSM Orchestra, associate concertmaster of the National Youth Orchestra and a casual player in Orchestra Wellington.

The orchestra supported the Sibelius violin concerto splendidly under Young’s vivid and decisive guidance, providing balanced and rich support for Majić’s violin. His playing was confident and colourfully nuanced, yet perfectly unpretentious. In the past I have sometimes found orchestral performance in St Andrew’s an uncomfortable experience as a result of the position of brass and percussion, not very carefully engaged. Not this time, as brass and timpani were clear of the sanctuary which tends to amplify excessively.

This is a taxing concerto, in no way accommodating an any less than thoroughly accomplished violinist, and there was hardly a moment when a less than fully professional performance would have been heard by an unknowing listener.

Prokofiev Five
The second half was rather in recognition of Ken Young’s long involvement with the orchestra: Prokofiev’s 5th is a celebration of victory by the Red Army over the Nazis approaching the end of the 2nd World War, and its optimism and rejoicing was an excellent way of acknowledging Young’s commitment and achievement in his years at the school of music, and leading and inspiring the orchestra.

The last movement epitomises hopes of a new beginning for the Soviet Union, with its renewed opportunities for material and social progress; it’s undoubtedly one of the most brilliant celebratory orchestral works of the mid 20th century – never mind the cruel realities that were soon to emerge.

For the audience it was a dynamic and stirring musical experience, drawing attention to the musicianship of the players as well as the ensemble coherence and polish of the orchestra under pressure.

 

Impressive piano recital of Brahms, Gershwin and Chopin from talented NZSM post-graduate students

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert

New Zealand School of Music postgraduate piano students

Tasman Richards: Brahms: Three Intermezzi, Op.117 and Gershwin: Three Preludes
Lixin Zhang: Chopin: Etudes Op 10 no 4 and Op 10 no 5; Four Mazurkas, Op 33 and Piano Sonata No 2, Op.35

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Thursday 3 October at 12:15 pm

Here was a particularly rewarding recital from two of the graduate students of the university school of music’s Jian Liu.

Tasman Richards
First, the three intermezzi of Brahms’s Op 117. Most of the 20 piano pieces of the four opuses from Brahms last years are intermezzi: all three of Op 117 are. They were described by the famous critic, Eduard Hanslick as ‘monologues’… pieces of a ‘thoroughly personal and subjective character’ striking a ‘pensive, graceful, dreamy, resigned, and elegiac note’ (a quote from Wikipedia. Hanslick’s admiration of Brahms was counter-balanced by his cruel contempt for Bruckner and Wagner).

All are marked Andante. Tas Richards played them with careful attention to their character: the first calm and unhurried with a middle section that was darker, more sombre. The second one, marked ‘Andante non troppo e con molto espressione’, he played gently, with a degree of emotional uncertainty as if looking into a dimly lit gothic cathedral. In the latter part of the third intermezzo, in sharp contrast, the mood becomes more complex and ambiguous and so did Richard’s playing.

Richards with Gershwin
Without suggesting that Richards showed greater affinity with Gershwin, his playing of the three Preludes was both confident and idiomatic. The first, which Gershwin instructed to be played Allegro ben ritmato e deciso, was all of that, starting with powerful chords in the bass and great rushes of notes; it’s quickly over. The second is quiet and thoughtful, and longer, and Richards’ left hand moved hypnotically to control the steady beat, leaving the syncopated rhythm to the right hand. The third, Agitato, again driven by fast, virtuosic playing, extravert, and again, fairly quickly disposed of.

Linxin Zhang in Chopin 
The notes in the programme leaflet on both pianists left information gaps that I always like to read. No dates of birth or of beginning and ending of studies. In the case of Lixin Zhang: where born, and brought up? His achievements from the Royal Schools and Trinity College in Britain are mentioned but that doesn’t imply place of residence; the first reference to New Zealand was with a Rattle recording in 2018, but he may well have been born and educated in New Zealand.

However: his playing – all Chopin – was at a remarkable level. The two Opus 10 Etudes (Nos 4 and 5) were evidence of singular flexibility and fluency of style, while still allowing them to breath momentarily and for their dynamic contrasts to show through.

The four mazurkas of Op 33 did form an interestingly contrasted group, showing the far-from limited character of the ‘mazurka’, apart from a basic, fairly quick triple rhythm. The individuality of each piece was actually enhanced by playing them in their published sequence. It’s always interesting for the pedantically minded, like me, to hear groups of pieces that the composer published together, played in that order (which also applies to the deplorable policy, now pursued by RNZ Concert, of playing single movements from extended, many-movement works).

The set includes the well-known No 2 in D (Vivace) with its charming modulation in the middle, which was a delight in Zhang’s hands. But on either side are the more thoughtful ones, No 1 in C sharp minor (Mesto – ‘sad’) and No 3 in C (Semplice) and these were beautifully played. The fourth mazurka is also marked Mesto and left us in a calm, reflective state.

Chopin Sonata in B flat minor 
The major work of the recital of course was the great Sonata No 2, in B flat minor. Once upon a time, when piano recitals by top visiting pianists were frequent, this was very familiar. Zhang’s playing struck me as very mature, not the least stripped of its romantic character. Like the group of mazurkas, its appeal belongs to the rich emotional variety of the four movements. Though famous for the third movement Marche funèbre, which emerged a bit emphatically for my taste, but undeniably thoughtful, secretive, the entire work is generally admired (even by those who parrot the tired opinion that Chopin couldn’t deal with extended forms; and hearing his cello sonata played last weekend in the Martinborough Music Festival consolidated that admiration), the other movements are its essence. It’s got one of the strangest Scherzo movements, as the entire ‘Trio’ section, several minutes long, is so richly meditative. Zhang played it with great skill and feeling. And the whirl-wind finale which always astonishes when played so fast and fluently, did just that.

Though the recital went a bit over the normal length, it was one of the more satisfying and rewarding lunchtime concerts from the wonderful St Andrew’s series. A real pity that, being on a Thursday, it didn’t attract an audience of the usual Wednesday size.