Te Koki Trio at Waikanae balances Schubert’s E flat trio with trios by Psathas and Fanny Mendelssohn

Waikanae Music Society

Fanny Mendelssohn: Piano trio in D minor, Op.11
John Psathas: Three Island Songs
Schubert: Piano trio no.2 in E flat, D.929

Te Koki Trio (Martin Riseley, violin; Inbal Megiddo, cello; Jian Liu, piano)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 28 June 2015, 2.30pm

It was excellent to find a work of Fanny Mendelssohn’s on the programme – so often neglected in comparison with her famous brother, and someone who could well have gone on to greater things had she not died at only 42.  The Chamber Music New Zealand 2015 brochure informs me that the Te Koki Trio will play works by Clara Schumann and Gillian Whitehead this year also, playing in 9 regional centres, and Wellington.

The gentle, lyrical opening of the trio from the violin with the other instruments accompanying, was followed by the piano taking over the lead.  Then a wistful cello melody is interspersed with other figures, taking turns.  Rapid arpeggio and scale passages from the piano were tastefully and beautifully played by Jian Liu.  The first movement had a fiery ending.

The second movement was most expressive, with a rather sad theme.  A duet between the two strings followed, accompanied by piano.  There were rich phrases from the cello, and light and airy ones from the piano, then rising passion for both, before a quiet conclusion.  The short song of the third movement began on piano; ‘a charming Song Without Words’, said the programme note.

The finale started with an extended piano solo and after interesting themes, ended in spirited fashion.  The work proved Fanny Mendelssohn to be a worthy composer.

John Psathas is one of New Zealand’s most noted composers, currently.  The title of his work, though referring to the Greek islands of his ancestry, recalls A Song of Islands, a work of Douglas Lilburn’s, from 1946.

It started with the strings in unison, over a repeated rhythmic pattern on the piano, the dynamics ebbing and swelling.  The strings were played alternately with bow and pizzicato, then the music changed to quite a jazzy yet soulful mode.  The second song featured pizzicato cello, perhaps remembering the Greek bouzouki.  Quiet violin and piano accompanied, before all joined in a little later in a robust, angular passage that slowly faded on cello and piano, before a return to the pizzicato cello against slow violin and piano, as at the opening.

The third song had a loud, insistent rhythm at the start.  There was much repetition, and another very rhythmic pattern at the end. These were fine, lively pieces – with a character completely different from our opening work.

After the interval a very substantial chamber trio by Schubert.  This was a familiar work, but the Te Koki Trio gave it a freshness.  After the opening salvo, the lovely first theme rippled deliciously from the instruments; its development likewise.  The shimmering piano accompaniment was delightfully and thoughtfully played by Jian Liu, accompanying this and the following theme.

The second movement opened with a fabulous melody from the cello, against a slow walking accompaniment from the other two instruments.  Then it was the piano’s turn to take the tune with the strings accompanying.  Schubert’s treatment of his themes demonstrates his amazing genius in the field of chamber music.  Marvellous final cadences simply but poignantly echoed the opening notes of the main theme.

The scherzo and trio movement revealed that the playing was not flawless, but the few flaws did little to detract from the effect of the fine music.  The rumbustious trio was followed by the return of the scherzo theme.  The writing is taut yet very melodic, and puts the instruments in equal partnership.

There was yet more melody in the finale.  A joyful, even triumphant mood featured modulation, touches of humour and even pathos.  The return of the andante’s theme was accompanied by cascades on the piano and pizzicato from the violin, unexpected twists and turns, stops and restarts.  Schubert does take quite a long while to end many of his works!  Nevertheless, this was a masterful performance of a magnificent work.

As an encore, the trio played the lively second movement (Pantoum) from Ravel’s Piano Trio, composed in 1914.

As usual, there was a healthy-sized audience, although not as many people as I have seen there in the recent past.



Outstanding programme by New Zealand String Quartet at Waikanae

Waikanae Music Society

Mozart: String quartet no.20 in D, K.499 “Hoffmeister”
Shostakovich: String quartet no.3 in F, Op. 73
Dvořák: String quartet no.14 in A flat, Op.105

New Zealand String Quartet (Helene Pohl and Donald Armstrong, violins; Gillian Ansell, viola; Rolf Gjelsten, cello)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 19 April 2015, 2.30pm

Since Gillian, Helene and now Douglas have all suffered hand injuries, is Rolf Gjelsten next – or does it simply prove that the cello is much the safest instrument to play?   The audience at Waikanae was fortunate that the substitute for Douglas Beilman was such a fine chamber musician as Donald

Gillian Ansell introduced the first work as being both sublime and light-hearted, and so it proved.  The superb balance of the team was apparent right from the outset.  Their strong, confident playing was yet subject to great variation of dynamics.  The quick allegretto first movement showered over one in a rain of beautiful notes and cadences.  To mix the meteorological metaphor: the mood was uplifting and sunny, like the day.

The minuet and trio contained delightful phrases, almost seeming to be impulsive in their gaiety, while the adagio third movement epitomised peace – surely an appropriate theme for this week.  Its solemnity betrayed the fact that it was full of fresh ideas; mellowness and serenity typified the mood.  Apart from a few unison notes that were not utterly united, one could not fault the beautiful playing.

The allegro finale’s surprise opening led to a jolly outpouring of delicious phrases, harmonies and running passages.  To see the smiles of the performers as they took their bows to the audience gave the strong impression that they enjoyed themselves too.

Shostakovich’s quartet no.3 was not one with which I was familiar.  Helene Pohl introduced it, making a contrast between the composer’s necessary recitation, as a student, of the happiness brought by Joseph Stalin and her own required recitation of allegiance to the US flag, when she was young. The exemplary
programme notes stated that the quartet was written in 1946 as a ‘war quartet’ and gave the descriptions that the composer had original given to the movements.  All this made it an appropriate work for the week leading up to Anzac Day, and contributed hugely to the audience’s understanding of the music.

The first movement (allegretto) opens with a dance of apparent innocence and joy.  It was tuneful, with interesting harmonic twists (‘Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm’).  There followed passages in a high tessitura, that became frenetic, perhaps as a precursor of what was to come.  They were followed by a cheeky ending.

The moderato con moto second movement was very different (‘Rumblings of unrest and anticipation’), being ominous and even excruciating in tone.  Repetitive passages could be depicting troops marching.  Some phrases made me think of dead flowers, which amplified the sombre mood of foreboding.

Movement three (allegro non troppo; ‘The forces of war unleashed’) was indeed as described.  There was relentless pursuit and counter-attack.  A sombre yet frenetic viola solo accompanied by the other strings playing pizzicato was remarkable.  Such skilled quartet writing!  It soon led to an abrupt ending.

The adagio (‘Homage to the dead’) fourth movement was written during a visit by Shostakovich to his home city of Leningrad, the scene of so much devastation and death so recently before.  A desolate
opening led to intense and emotional feelings of despondency and hopelessness.  Its outpourings at so much grieving, so much that the people had to cope with were tremendously powerful.

The final movement (moderato, ‘The eternal question: Why?  And for what?’) incorporated, Helene told us, Jewish music, with its characteristic ‘laughter through tears’.  Thus the jaunty section at the beginning (though the programme notes described it as ‘a wry, spectral melody’.  It was hardly jollity that was being described, and the mood soon reverted to one of bitterness and mourning, only to have the jaunty melody and rhythm return. Again, it does not last, and a quite tragic passage ends the movement and the quartet.

This was a remarkable performance; ‘searing’ as someone said to me.  It completely enveloped the audience; it was a singular triumph.

After the interval – some Dvořák to cheer us up!  The opening was a quiet adagio ma non troppo, in a mood of repose, and even sadness,  but we were soon into a delightful allegro appassionata, the melodies, harmonies and their accompaniment reminiscent of some of the composer’s other chamber music.  Energy drove all forward to a brisk ending.

The lyrical second movement (molto vivace) was like a quick dance, followed by a slower, more heart-felt melody.  It ended with a soon-to-be-unison note.

Lento e molto cantabile was soulful, with gorgeous inter-weaving harmonies, to be followed by quite a spooky theme.  A return to more passionate tones led to quite a calm close.  The allegro non tanto finale was a fast dance.  The vigorous playing led to a few wonky notes from the musicians, who must have surely been tired by now, with such a challenging programme behind them.

The large audience was privileged to hear fine performances in an outstanding programme of contrasts, and all showed their warm appreciation.



Classy performances of excellent programme of string quartets at Waikanae

Haydn: String Quartet in C, Op.20 no.2
Ravel: String Quartet in F
Tchaikovsky: String Quartet no.1 in D, Op.11

Waikanae Music Society: The Puertas Quartet: Tom Norris and Ellie Fagg (violins), Julia Joyce (viola), Andrew Joyce (cello)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 11 March 2012, 2.30pm

Having heard the Puertas Quartet play before, I was anticipating a good concert, and was not disappointed.  I hope word will quickly get around Waikanae about the quality of this ensemble; there were not as many present as is sometimes the case.

The Haydn work began with a fine, bright sound, and great clarity.  The Capriccio second movement of the work is particularly strong; after a sombre opening, it continues with ‘almost vocal pathos’, as the programme note described it.  The care with which these players had prepared was noticeable in a number of ways: the convincing playing of the unison phrases, the emphasis on important notes; the variety of expression.  This was a most delicious movement.   A note slightly out of tune struck my ear, and one or two elsewhere in the concert – otherwise, the playing was immaculate.

A lovely, light Minuet followed, featuring some chromaticism unusual in Haydn’s music, then the fugal Finale gave plenty of interest, with a sudden burst into forte to announce the end – another of Haydn’s jokes as in the ‘Surprise’ symphony, for those who might be nodding off?

The performance of the Ravel quartet saw the leadership of the quartet swap from Tom Norris to Ellie Fagg.  The music’s wonderfully ethereal unison passage for the violins near the beginning, and another later for violin and cello, were among the many delights.  In unison, the sound was like that of one instrument playing; the playing generally had great unanimity.  All parts could be heard, but balance was superb.  Julia Joyce’s viola was never overwhelmed, and her splendid tone came through well, while her husband’s warm and rich sound on the cello gave a superb basis to the music, even when he was merely bowing or playing pizzicato on repeated notes.

The second movement started with all playing pizzicato, with the sparkling and rhythmic effects that go with that, followed by a muted slow section that displayed mellow tone.  Again there was unison between first and second violins summoning that unearthly feeling.  More lively pizzicato passages brought the movement to a satisfying conclusion.

The slow third movement featured mutes, again.  This made for very gentle, warm and expressive tone.  It was followed by a faster ‘Vif et agité’ finale that was notable for thicker textures, but still returned to familiar themes from earlier movements.  It was a very fine rendition of Ravel’s masterwork.

After the interval, a short Romance by Keith Statham was played.  He is an English-born New Zealand resident and friend of the quartet members; the piece was introduced by remarks from Andrew Joyce.   Ellie Fagg led the quartet now.  As I said in my review of the quartet’s concert in the Hunter Council Chamber at Victoria University last May, when this piece was also played, there were whiffs of Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, and especially Elgar and the English composers.  This time I would add Ravel and Debussy to the list – and a friend felt that Delius was present.  It is a simple romantic piece, but with rich harmonies.

Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet no.1 is not nearly as well known as a whole as is its famous ‘Andante cantabile’ second movement.  It is a great work in totality, even if the slow movement does rather stand out.

The first movement was played smoothly, with plenty of subtlety; a charming, romantic work, mild of mood and mellow of tone.  Here again, there was always great ensemble, and the several of first movement passages for solo first violin with the others accompanying had the right balance.  There were splendid crescendi, and a grand ending.

The lovely andante was muted, and its sound delicate but never wispy or spineless.  The first violin against the pizzicato accompaniment is so exhilarating in its quiet way, it is no wonder the movement is so popular – it is justly famous.  Here, the playing was full of feeling.

The third movement scherzo is much more matter-of-fact.  It was played in a lively yet insistent fashion.  The playing again had great accord and mutual understanding.

The opening of the finale was very classical, until the second subject was announced on the viola.  This was a more Russian music, and the development of that theme was bright and bouncy, as was the conclusion of the movement.  The co-ordination of the parts following rests was near perfection.

This was a classy performance string of a quartet not heard sufficiently often.

I trust that the showing of the Puertas Quartet in this concert, and in the rest of their current tour, will enable Chamber Music New Zealand to schedule concerts in the main centres on the next tour they make here.  We are very fortunate that the quartet is able to visit together across the globe in this way; Andrew Joyce paid tribute to Keith Statham for his contribution to making this possible.