RNZAF Wind Quintet plus piano, in diverting programme closes Marjan van Waartenberg’s era at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s Lunchtime concert
RNZAF Wind Quintet: Rebecca Steel – flute, Calvin Scott – oboe, Moira Hurst – clarinet, Vivien Reid – horn), Oscar Lavën – bassoon; with David Codd – piano

Giulio Briccialdi: Wind Quintet, Op 124 (the Allegro marziale)
Poulenc: Sextet for piano and winds, Op 100
Bizet: Jeux d’enfants, arranged by Gordon Davies: 1. Trompette et tambour, marche; 2. Petit mari, petite femme; 3. La toupie
Zequinha de Abreu: Tico-tico (‘Bird in the cornmeal’)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 9 December, 12:15 pm

Not only was this the last in the 2020 St Andrew’s lunchtime concert series (not counting the church’s Christmas carol service next Wednesday, 16 December); but the last concert organised by Marjan van Waardenberg at St Andrew’s: a voluntary job she has done since 2005. The concerts have been transformed dramatically during the time she has led them, from short series of concerts through the year to an unbroken series usually starting in February, sometimes twice in a week, apart from their disturbance in the face of pandemics. The church’s generous role in allowing free use by musicians, without fees, dependent solely on donations, has also been singular. Such is their support by musicians that there’s often a waiting list for performance dates. Free concerts are a valued benefit for many audience members who might be unable to afford to pay for weekly concerts.

There is no comparable series of free, weekly concerts anywhere else in the country. They have become a very significant concert series in the city, enhancing the Wellington’s reputation as a leading musical centre; in particular, providing excellent opportunities for students from Victoria University School of Music to be heard in a down-town venue.

Marjan’s organisational role will be taken by Kristina Zuelicka while actual hosting of each concert will be done by other individuals; the programme encouraged ‘concert host’ volunteers to approach Jillene Everett in the church office; office@standrews.org.nz.

The concert 
The last appearance by the RNZAF Wind Quintet at St Andrew’s was reviewed in July 2019 by Steven Sedley. This, led again by flutist Rebecca Steel, with the same colleagues, elegantly dressed in formal air force uniforms attracted a bigger-than-average audience to this memorable recital.

There were two rather unfamiliar names among the composers represented at this week’s concert: the mid-19th century Italian, Giulio Briccialdi and the Brazilian composer, Zequinha de Abreu (really known solely for the popular Tico-tico), who lived in the early 20th century.

Briccialdi was a distinguished flutist and composer, and the melodious piece with which the recital began makes his popularity during his life very credible. Though the flute was prominent, it was far from the dominant instrument in the piece, which, apart from the repetitive bassoon motif, offered attractive passages for the other three instruments.

Poulenc’s Sextet
The main work was Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and winds, probably written in 1932. Its most distinctive feature is its variety in the treatment of musical ideas as well as the variety offered each instrument at various times. The first such case was a dreamy solo from the bassoon, more than compensating for its treatment in the earlier piece, and the horn enjoyed occasional solo episodes. The music typified Poulenc with its almost rude dissonances, but which actually delight, not merely because they shift suddenly into a reflective mood but because it’s wit that characterises them.

No movement remained consistent. Though the second movement starts quietly, its title Divertissement soon took over with the reappearance of first-movement liveliness. Unfortunately, the church’s teasing acoustic occasionally interfered with clarity, blurring the amusing character of both individual instruments and ensembles. So the most satisfactory parts were those in which only one or two instruments led the way. Though the third movement, Finale, is marked ‘Prestissimo’ it is only partly accurate as there’s a sudden slowing of speed halfway through, allowing the three treble clef instruments to be heard with closer, more rewarding attention.

Its last few minutes are both surprising and charming, as the mood – the tempo – suddenly changed: enigmatically. In spite of little shortcomings this performance was a delight.

I realise I haven’t mentioned the piano: that’s simply because David Codd’s playing integrated so well with the wind players. Poulenc was in fact a fine pianist and chamber pieces for piano and various solo-string and wind instruments are significant though not numerous.

I’ve been a Poulenc captive since my late teens, when I heard the witty ballet Les biches on the radio. It could still be worth an airing.

Jeux d’enfants  
Three pieces from Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants provided music that is somewhat related to Poulenc, and these twelve purportedly children’s pieces rested interestingly alongside him, making one aware how Bizet’s Mozart-aged death was such a tragedy for far more than simply opera. Though I can’t remember who played them, I can recall quite a while ago hearing the full suite of twelve piano pieces played in Wellington. And of course, apart from piano and chamber music there’s the evidence of a gifted symphonist in Bizet’s now famous, eighteen-year-old Symphony in C, lost for eighty years in the Paris Conservatoire archives.

The quintet played just three of the Jeux d’enfants: La toupie, Trompette et tambour and Petit mari et petite femme (in their published order).

Trompette et Tambour was an appropriate opening: a nice arrangement of this prancing, jaunty piece while Petit mari, petite femme, a dreamy middle movement, featured the horn nicely; and the brief but lively Toupie was a well-chosen conclusion. The quintet justified their appropriation of Bizet’s piano duet original, or its orchestrations by Bizet and others, very persuasively.

Finally, perhaps a time-filler, was Tico-tico, once familiar on radio in all sorts of versions. It proved a lively arrangement for the wind quintet’s closure.

Marjan: “duizendmaal dank”.



Diverting St Andrew’s lunchtime concert of Baroque wind music

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concerts

Eighteenth Century music Vivaldi, JS Bach, Johann David Heinchen, Johann Friedrich Fasch

Konstanze Artmann – violin, Rebecca Steel – flute, Calvin Scott – oboe, Oscar Laven – double bass, Kristine Zuelicke – piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 20 November, 12:15 pm

If your local pub quiz threw a question at you: “Can you name a period when more great composers were born than any other?” The period 1835 – 1845 would be a good guess, or 1855 – 1865. But I’d lay the money on 1678 to 1688. Vivaldi, Rameau, JS Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Zelenka, Weiss, Telemann, Handel, Porpora, Geminiani, just for starters; and that excludes two of the composers featured in this lunchtime recital:  Johann David Heinchen and Johann Friedrich Fasch. (you can actually find more composers born in the decades through the late 19th century, but I’m just drawing attention to the Bach-Handel decade when all four composers represented today were born).

Mid-Baroque chamber pieces written for winds are not often heard today. This recital began with a Vivaldi Sonata in C for flute, oboe, bassoon and basso continuo which meant double bass and piano here. No catalogue number – RV (Ryom-Verzeichnis) – was mentioned in the programme and if you look at the ‘sonata’ category of the huge lists of Vivaldi’s compositions in Wikipedia, it will not help. Consisting of four movements (slow, fast, slow fast), it had all the delightful, melodic characteristics of Vivaldi. Rebecca Steel’s flute led the way, but the other two winds as well as the basso continuo (double bass and piano), created such a delightful musical experience that I allowed myself to remark ‘lovely’ in my compulsive notes. And to speculate that it must surely have been Vivaldi’s sheer melodic fecundity, hardly matched by any other composer of the era, that cost him a reputation equal to Handel and Bach that he should have retained over the following 300 years.

J S Bach
A piece by J S Bach followed: this time easily identifiable: BWV 1020, though that’s a flute sonata (for just flute and keyboard), outside the group of six listed as BWV 1030 – 1035, because, as Rebecca explained in her engaging way, some scholars believe that it’s by Bach’s son C P E Bach. Certainly, there was a touch of the Galant, a sub-class between Baroque and Classical, with charming tunefulness that presaged Haydn and Mozart. The first movement was driven by triplet quavers, with a piano tone that suggested the early fortepiano rather than harpsichord. There were comparable Galant features in the ?Adagio slow movement, particularly the long sustained notes on the flute. It was a delight.

Johann David Heinichen was two years older than JS Bach and at one time was employed beside him at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. But before that he had, like Handel, worked in Italy to acquire familiarity with Italian opera which he put to good use when Prince Augustus, Elector of Saxony in Dresden, hired him; Dresden had a rich opera company and one of the best orchestras in Europe.

Heinichen’s piece was a duet in C minor for Calvin Scott’s oboe and Oscar Laven’s bassoon. It seemed to relish the comic potential of the bassoon in the long opening passage, rejoicing in the stark contrast between the two double reed instruments. The composition was fluent and seemed to reflect a highly gifted and fertile composer. The third, Andante, movement produced limpid, unusual sounds, that exhibited the fluency and eloquence of the two players. But a highly entertaining piece.

Heinichen is just one of the many 18th century composers who disappeared without trace for nearly 300 years; he was significantly resurrected by Reinhard Goebel, director of Musica Antiqua Köln which came to Wellington for the 1990 International Festival of the Arts (though they didn’t play Heinichen here).

The last of the four composers was a bit more familiar: Johann Friedrich Fasch, born three years after Bach. He too was from the same central German region (Thuringia and Sachsen-Anhalt) as the other two German composers, a small town a little north of Weimar, and he spent some years in Leipzig.

The quartet in B flat was for flute, oboe, violin and basso continuo (piano and double bass). This piece too proved delightful, seeming to suggest an environment that was particularly congenial, peaceful, providing fertile ground for the arts, especially music.

This piece , like the others in this recital, aroused admiration for the composer; the second movement (an Andante?) suggested something symphonic, a complexity and instrumental richness that seemed to go beyond the existence of a mere five instruments. And the last movement was a tumbling Allegro vivace (I’m just guessing about the titles of each movement), with a certain boisterous playing by bassoon and double bass.

So it was a very interesting, diverting recital that exposed unfamiliar music by famous composers and impressive compositions by two less well-known composers whose time might finally have come.

Cheerful winds of fruitfulness blowing through St. Andrews

RNZAF Wind Quintet

Rebecca Steel (flute), Calvin Scott (oboe), Moira Hurst (clarinet), Vivien Reid (horn), Oscar Laven (bassoon)

JS Bach: “Little” Fugue in G minor BWV 278
Mozart: Divertimento KV 240
Ravel: Pièce en forme de Habanera
Ibert: Trois pièces brèves
Malcolm Arnold: Three Shanties

St Andrews on The Terrace

Wednesday 24 July 2019, 12:15 pm

This was a concert of cheerful short pieces.

Bach’s Fugue is referred to a ‘Little’ to distinguish it from its longer and very grand ‘Great Fantasia and Fugue in G minor’. Bach wrote it for the organ and it was arranged for various different groups, including a wind quintet. It requires very precise, accurate playing by each of the players. The five individual voices have to be clearly articulated and blend. It was a challenge for the musicians and they all coped well.

Mozart’s Divertimento is an early work. He wrote it as Tafelmusik, background music to a dinner at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. It was originally written for a wind sextet with two horns. In this arrangement one horn was replaced by a clarinet, and the work was rearranged for five instruments. It probably sounded the better for it. It is in the usual contrasting four movements, Allegro, Andante gracioso, Menuett and Trio and Allegro. Even a little piece like this that Mozart might have tossed off in no time still has the charm, humour, grace and the variety typical of Mozart. It was a very appropriate work for a lunch time concert.

Pièce en forme de Habanera was originally written by Ravel as a Vocalise for bass voice and piano, but has been transcribed for cello and other various combination of instruments. In this arrangement the oboe had the virtuoso solo of the original, and Calvin Scott played it with a lovely beautiful singing tone. The work required unrelenting rhythmic precision from all the players to capture the sensuous feel of the habanera dance.

Trois pièces brèves by Ibert was the only work on the programme originally written for a wind quintet. It has the hallmarks of Ibert, a blend of irony, wit and lyricism. Each of the five instruments gets a turn at starring. The clarinet and flute engage in a banter. The five instruments bounce off each other, their contrasting timbres are highlighted. A short light hearted enjoyable work.

Three Shanties of Malcolm Arnold is a work in three movements, each paying homage to a different sea shanty, some, like the first, ‘What Should We Do With a Drunken Sailor’ is well known, the other two, ‘Boney Was a Warrior’ and ‘Johnny Come Down to Hilo’ less so. Arnold takes each of these shanties and deconstructs them into their melodic and rhythmic components and then reassembles them. The shanties come through as very original pieces.

For an encore the group played a vigorous rendition of Shostakovich’s Polka form his ballet, The Golden Age. It summed up the whole concert, very joyous music.

You can hear these outstanding musicians again as part of ‘The Air Force in Concert’ on Sunday, 10 August 2019, at 2.30 pm at the Michael Fowler Centre.

Springtime winds at St Andrew’s from the NZSM

New Zealand School of Music Woodwind Students

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

This further recital by music students from the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington attracted a rather smaller audience than is usual for these lunchtime concerts. However, everyone was appreciative of the display of talent, skill, and hard work on show.

First on the programme was sonata V in E minor for flute and continuo, BWV 1034 by J.S.Bach. Samantha McSweeney played the first and second movements, accompanied by Kirsten Robertson on the piano. The adagio consisted of lovely music, and was played with a beautiful sound. The only drawback was rather noisy breathing sometimes. The player needs to try to breathe as singers do, inaudibly.

The following allegro was lively, the melodies shooting all over the stave – no doubt demanding to play. It was a gorgeous performance.It was followed by the slow, second movement from Mozart’s bassoon concerto in B flat major, KV 191, played by Breanna Abbott, with piano accompaniment from the incomparable Catherine Norton. This youthful composition was a delight to hear. Its melodious, lyrical and pastoral characteristics were fully demonstrated in this performance.

Next was a flute trio from Bella Anderson, Samantha McSweeney and Ainslee Smithers. They played an allegro first movement by Kaspar Krummer, a nineteenth century German composer and flautist. The players’ ensemble was excellent; their mastery of both instrument and music most accomplished; a delicious work beautifully played.

Now for something completely different. Schulhoff was a Czech composer, whose life came to an untimely end in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942. The alto saxophone piece, of which the third and fourth movements were played by Peter Liley accompanied by Catherine Norton, was entitled Hot sonate [sic] for alto saxophone and piano. Despite this, the programme note described it as ‘cool, raucous and smoky’.

Schulhoff composed in many styles, but was strongly influenced by jazz, which is the predominant element in this work.It opened with whining, siren-like sounds on the saxophone. Discords abounded from the saxophone; the piano part was fairly tame in the third movement. The fourth movement was fast, and ‘classical’ in a Satie-like manner. The music was very well played, and effective, though the repetitious figures in this movement tended to become tedious The movement had an abrupt, unexpected ending.

Darius Milhaud’s quirky, humorous style of composition was somewhat muted in his Pastorale Op.147, which was played by Samantha McSweeney (flute, substituting for the original oboe), Billie Kiel (clarinet) and Breanna Abbott (bassoon). The piece immediately lived up to its title, its smooth quality expertly played, which I found quite soporific.

The final work was by Gareth Farr, played by Isabella Gregory (flute) and Finn Bidkin (marimba). I assume (thanks to Wikipedia) that it was Kembang Suling. Neither the composer’s nor the piece’s names weere printed in the programme; it was easy to pick up the composer’s name spoken, but not that of the work.

The first movement’s opening featured repetitious rhythms for both instruments (obvious gamelan  influence here and elsewhere), that built up from quiet piano to forceful forte. The music became more excited; it was impressive to watch the marimba-player using two mallets in each hand, at
speed. The music then moved between the flute taking the solos spot and the marimba doing so.The second movement was slower, with a slightly eerie quality; the flute melody was very quiet, backed by a ghostly marimba accompaniment. The third movement was a vigorous duet with variety and independence of the two parts, though they were linked thematically and rhythmically. The piece ended with a dynamic unison, and a final flourish.

Ensemble Zefiro a breath of fresh, tangy air in Wellington

Chamber Music New Zealand presents:

Alfredo Bernardini , Paolo Grazzi – oboes
Alberto Grazzi, Giorgio Mandolesi – bassoons
Dileno Baldin, Francesco Meucci – horns

HANDEL – Due arie HWV 410,411
Marcia in F Major HWV 346
FASCH – Sonata in G Minor, FWV N:g1
TELEMANN – Ouverture in F Major TWV 55:F9
HAYDN – Parthia in C Major Hob.II.7
MOZART – Divertimento in E-flat, K.252/240a.

Michael Fowler Centre,

Friday 10th August, 2018

I’ve copied out the titles of the pieces as per programme, which accounts for the unusual names for aria (arie), overture (ouverture) and partita (Parthia), the last of which I thought at first was some kind of misprint. But no – there it was – Parthia, an alternative form of “partita”. So as it was something I didn’t know before I thought it was worth committing to review! However I must admit to being a little bemused by something else in the programme, the description of the Greek God Zefiro (whose name the ensemble has adopted) as “tender and Kind”, when I knew the legend of the same God’s jealous petulance which prompted the mean-spirited act of using his powers to blow a discus off course to disrupt a game between Apollo and a young boy, Hyacinth, whom Zefiro fancied – which ploy went horribly wrong when the object hit and killed Hyacinth! – the best-laid plans, etc…….still. there are so many conflicting stories regarding these deities, it’s a case of “pick-and-choose” when it comes to identifying with certain personalities and their traits. (hmmm – I’d better get on with the review, I suppose…….)

I loved the ensemble’s playing, right from the beginning, though I must admit that Handel’s music is one of those phenomena happily available to all and sundry that simply can’t help inducing a sense of well-being and contentment on contact! Here, straightaway, we in the audience (a decently-stocked ground floor at the MFC) were simply buoyed along by the energy, wit and charm of the composer’s seemingly limitless invention, fully realised by the ensemble’s playing. And what made the music even more endearing on this occasion were those characterful “authentic-instrument” sounds, the arrestingly nasal oboes, the throaty bassoons and the fruity (if occasionally asthmatic) horns. The point of the exercise seemed to me to refreshingly differentiate and contrast, rather than blend and smooth over, the different strands, the distinctive voices.  Why, I found myself thinking, as the music went along, would you want to “blend” sounds in a way that negated so much character and individuality, of the kind that was on show here?

Well, as Ecclesiastes says, there’s a time for everything, a time to blend and a time to differentiate (to coin an extremely unpoetic phrase!). It was simply refreshing to encounter an evening’s playing which seemed to proclaim “Vive la difference!” rather than seek to contain, control and smooth out differences in sounds. Not that Ensemble Zefiro couldn’t “blend” when they wanted to – but even when they did no individual strand or timbre disappeared or lost any of its character. It’s a quality I sometimes encounter when playing older orchestral or wind ensemble recordings, on which one hears sounds that are individual to the point of being quite “ornery” at certain moments – afterwards, turning to recordings of almost any 21st-century orchestra one finds oneself at a loss to discern any individual “character” in the actual sound, however skilled the playing might be.

Another quality that the authentic instrumental timbres underlined in the music was its “out-of-doors” aspect, and not only regarding the horns – in the second of the Handel “Arie” (HWV 411) I felt a kind of “spaciousness” about the sounds, a ready evocation of the “al fresco”, to do with, perhaps, a number of things, the players standing in a line accentuating the music’s antiphonal aspect, and the spaciousness of the Michael Fowler Centre, not to mention the horns in particular having “outdoor” associations anyway. But regarding the last point, both oboes and bassoons here took on more of a rustic character than I often associate with them – and in fact, the group’s spokesperson, Alfredo Bernadini, alluded to this “out-of-door” association, ironically when introducing a very different work by the evening’s second composer, Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758).  Bernadini described Fasch’s piece, a Sonata in G Minor for two oboes and bassoon, plus bassoon continuo, as much more “chamber” and intimate in style.

The piece opened with a Largo movement,  the tones sombre and plaintive, and the instrumental timbres expressive and gorgeously fruity. One could hear before long why it was that JS Bach had a high regard for Fasch’s music, with the piece moving steadily and unerringly towards an expressive climax immediately leading to the second movement Allegro. Here was zest and bounce aplenty in the writing, the oboes offering chattering melodic leads and the bassoon delicious stepwise counterpoints. The composer replicated his markings for the following two movements, the second Largo enabling the bassoon to demonstrate its engagingly wheezy lyrical tones, working with its continuo partner in figurations an octave apart, and sounding like a pair of ancient, characterful voices! The Allegro finale really put the onus on one of the bassoons with an insanely virtuosic part, the notes literally flying from his instrument!

Telemann’s music then made an appearance, an “Ouverture in F Major”, a work written along the lines of JS Bach’s Orchestral Suites, consisting of an initial piece also called an “ouverture” followed by a number of French dances – while Bach wrote only four such words for instrumental ensemble, Telemann produced well over a hundred. This particular Ouverture (or “Suite”), for two oboes, two horns and bassoon continuo, was nicknamed “The Hunt”, referring in part, perhaps, to the prominence given the pair of horns in the work.

Certainly the opening piece gave the pair ample opportunity to make their presence felt, mostly by interrupting the more garrulous oboes at every possible opportunity, reminding them that they were still “here”. The Allegro section of the opening was spectacularly marked by the horns with a fanfare-like figure, again keeping a watchful ear on what the oboes and bassoon were doing. Throughout, the bassoon seemed almost an intermediary between the garrulous Montague-like oboes and the volatile Capulet-like horns, calling the ensemble to order when things got outlandish (particularly the occasional hi-jinks from the Capulets!).

Right through the course of the dances, the instrumental detailings gave us great delight, chirpy phrases galore from the oboes and occasional blasts of wind from the horns during both of the Passepied sections, a lovely glow illuminated with horn calls during the Sarabande, fanfares and giggles at the ends of phrases further enlivening the Rigaudon, and a dignified, regal sweep and grandly processional poise accompanying the concluding Le Plaisir. The ensemble certainly gave us “moments per minute” during this varied and entertaining sequence.

An interval later we were taken into the classical world of Haydn and Mozart, necessitating a change of instruments for the oboe- and bassoon-players. Thanks in part to the cheekiness of Haydn’s writing for the ensemble in the first movement of his Parthia in C Major, we didn’t notice as sharply as we might have the change in actual “engagement” of the instrumental sound, the tones smoother and more elegant-sounding in themselves, though here employed by the composer in ear-catching ways with writing whose wit and sparkle recalled  certain of the composer’s piano sonatas. The first of the work’s five movements featured a fanfare-like leading motif being tossed about in gay abandon, and given extra pomposity by the horns, and finishing with an abruptly-turned phrase which left a single low note unashamedly exposed (I involuntarily snorted with laughter, and had to apologise to my companion at the next break in the music!).

A regal and dignified Menuet-and-Trio began with oboes only, before turning to a Trio section with delightfully emphatic horns, all of which preceded an Adagio with a lovely, easeful rhythmic carriage, the oboes rhapsodising, the bassoons gently jog-trotting and the horns contributing answering or “rounding-off” phrases – everything so beautifully and expressively played. Then came ANOTHER Menuet-and-Trio, this time lots of minor-key staccato strutting, completely different in character to the one before. Haydn then rounded off the work with an unbuttoned presto gallop across the fields for all concerned, the bassoons performing miracles of articulation and repeated-note playing, and horns whooping in delight, the piece finishing with a Beethovenish “take that!” gesture!

The Mozart Divertimento K.252/240a in E-flat concluded the programme in style – the ensemble generated an engaging “swing” to the rhythm over which the oboes sounded the melody, the horns and bassoons easefully alternating between chordings and “echo phrases”. The Menuetto was a sprightly dance with gloriously “burbled” horn-writing, exhilaratingly performed, before a rather strange Trio section with a repeated descending figure, here played faster than the main dance, for some reason – it sounded merely as though the players wanted to get it over with so they could get back to the real fun!

Then came, rather unexpectedly, a Polonaise, its rhythm catchy and foot-tapping, like a popular dance number – some lovely antiphonal writing here, which the ensemble coloured nicely with varied dynamics, the horns making much of the rhythm’s syncopations. Presto assai said the finale, and the players responded with energy and wit, finishing with a flourish! We thought the players would by then have “blown themselves out”, but they generously came back for an encore – one, moreover, with a difference, a work entitled “Homage to Haydn” (sitting some way back from the platform as we were, neither my friend nor I could quite make out the announcement of the actual composer’s name).

Beginning with and establishing an infectiously strutting march reminiscent of Haydn’s “Military” Symphony, the music reached what we all thought sounded like a concluding cadence, but then continued, despite one of the bassoonists standing up, bowing, and then leaving the platform and coming down into the auditorium as the others played on. After another sequence had finished, one of the horn players did the same thing, followed a few measures later by the second horn player, leaving the oboists and one of the bassoonists continuing to play! One by one, each oboist finished a phrase, and then stood up and left the platform, with the single bassoonist left – he played a doleful-sounding minor-key cadenza-like passage finishing with a trill, and then stood up, acknowledging our laughter and applause, as did the others who rejoined him.  It was all great fun, and completely in accord with the delight we’d experienced and enjoyed throughout the concert.


Talents and skills of university woodwind students in St Andrew’s lunchtime recital

NZSM Wind Students

Music by Fauré, Francisco Mignone, Lowell Liebermann, Gareth Farr. Krysztof Penderecki and Debussy

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 23 May 2018, 12.15 pm

It is interesting to hear music students at different levels of their courses, and of ability and achievement.  All these students, though, performed well and provided engaging music.  In most cases they were accompanied on the piano, although two students played unaccompanied pieces.  It was pleasing to see a number of school students in the audience; perhaps they are studying wind instruments. Simon Brew, acting head of winds at the New Zealand School of Music, briefly introduced the programme.  Nearly all the students introduced themselves and their music more than adequately, using the microphone.

Fauré was represented by Fantasie for Flute, Op.79, played as the opening piece by Samantha McSweeny, accompanied by Kirsten Robertson.  French composers wrote prolifically for the flute, and this was a lovely example of their work, which for me carried over nicely from the Fauré songs I heard in Waikanae on Sunday.  The piece was inventive and graceful, with a languid opening section.  It changed to sprightly and playful passages.  It was written for a Paris Conservatoire competition, so it aimed to have the students demonstrate a range of techniques, tempi and dynamics.  As well as our player doing this more than adequately, the accompaniment was full of character.

I had never heard of the Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone.  His dates were 1897 to 1986.  (It would have been useful to have the composers’ dates printed in the programme.)   Improvised Waltz no.7  was the title of the piece for solo bassoon, played by Breanna Abbott.    It was quite a jaunty piece to start with, but the deep-toned instrument made it harder to get over a light-hearted mood.  It was short, and very competently played.

Lowell Liebermann is a contemporary American composer (born in 1961) who is a prolific composer as well as a performer.  His Movement 1 from Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op.23 was played by Isabella Gregory, accompanied by Kirsten Robertson.  A leisurely opening was followed by an allegro that brought a rush of notes before falling back to gentle utterances.  In places the piano doubled the part of the flute.  A new section was slow, but both flute and piano jumped around the staves, especially the latter.  Both played angular phrases, the flute employing particularly the lower register of the instrument.  A return to slower, gentler phrases brought the piece to a smooth, mellifluous end.

The only New Zealand composer represented was Gareth Farr; Peter Liley, alto saxophone, accompanied by Catherine Norton on the piano, played Farr’s Meditation very confidently, following an excellent spoken introduction.  The piece opened with notes on the piano, followed by chords, then a slow, pensive melody.  This gradually developed and built to a high climax – most effective.  More climbing motifs – then an abrupt end.

Solo clarinet was played by Harim Hey Oh, performing Penderecki’s Prelude for solo clarinet.  Slow, quiet single notes opened the short piece.  Then the music became quite gymnastic, with quick notes darting here and there, including very high notes and very loud ones (hard on the ears!).  Then it was back to slow, quiet notes, widely spaced – and it was all over.

The other great French composer represented was Debussy, by his Première Rhapsodie for clarinet, played by Frank Talbot with Catherine Norton accompanying.  The piece was written for graduate students at the Paris Conservatoire, so was constructed to test them.  Later, the composer orchestrated it.  This was a highly competent performance, employing a lot of different techniques and idioms. The full range of the instrument’s notes and dynamics were used.  It was most enjoyable music, not only for the clarinet’s role; the piano had a very varied part also.

This was a very satisfactory demonstration of the skills of wind students at the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington.





Atoll Records releases CD conspectus of Ken Wilson: Music For Winds

Music for Winds by Ken Wilson

Atoll Records / CD

Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra (1963)
Patrick Barry and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra strings, conductor Hamish McKeich
Wind Quintet (1965)
Zephyr Wind Quintet
Introduction, Theme and Variations (1965)
Adrianna Lis E flat flute, with string quartet
Duo for Clarinet and Bassoon (1963)
Peter Scholes and Ben Hoadley
Spiderweb for solo clarinet (1988)
Peter Scholes
Duo for Two Clarinets (2002), Duo for Two Clarinets (2004)
Peter Scholes and Andrew Uren
Two clarinet quartets: Slow Piece, & Variations on a Theme of Paganini (1963)
Peter Scholes, Andrew Uren, Donald Nicholls, Elsa T.W. Lam
Octet (1961)
STROMA (consisting of NZSO players), conductor Hamish McKeich

Monday 19 February 2018

A worthy addition to Atoll’s now substantial catalogue of recordings of music by New Zealand composers, this CD should delight many music-lovers.  That it is already doing so is proved by its place at number three on the RNZ Concert Classical Chart, on Saturday, 18 February.  They played an excerpt from Ken Wilson’s Wind Quintet of 1965.  This was recorded by Kiwi Records on LP in the mid-1980s, and much more recently appeared on CD.

On the new CD it is played by Zephyr Wind Quintet, made up of principal wind players from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.  It is a fine, crisp recording, as indeed are those of the other works on the disk.  Chief among these is the Concerto for clarinet and string orchestra, composed in 1963, which receives a marvellous performance from the NZSO with soloist Patrick Barry.

Ken Wilson’s music is great – its Poulenc-ish quirkiness is so much fun.  Also enjoyable is the more serious music.  For those to whom Ken Wilson is an unfamiliar name, it won’t be a surprise to learn that he was a clarinetist as well as a composer.  He was a teacher and mentor, and taught many New Zealand wind players, as well as young musicians in the USA, where he spent a substantial period of his life.

Other works vary from the Octet of 1961 (over ten minutes’ duration) and shorter pieces for clarinets in combinations, down to the ‘Spiderweb for solo clarinet’ (1986) at one-and-a-half minutes.  The most recent of the ten pieces is a Duo for two clarinets, written in 2004.  All exploit the clarinet in interesting and surprising ways, such that only a highly competent player could do.  The shorter pieces are played by a variety of performers, prominent among whom are clarinetist Peter Scholes and the bassoonist Ben Hoadley.  The Octet is played by  STROMA, the Wellington-based contemporary music ensemble.

This disk will be enjoyed not only by lovers of the clarinet, but all lovers of good music.


Breaths of fresh air – the Imani Winds hit Wellington

Chamber Music New Zealand presents:
Valerie Coleman (flute) / Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe)
Mark Dover (clarinet) / Jeff Scott (horn) /Monica Ellis (bassoon)

VALERIE COLEMAN – Red Clay and Mississippi Delta
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (arr. Jonathan Russell) – Scheherazade
PIAZZOLLA (arr.Jeff Scott) – Contrabajissimo
NATALIE HUNT – Snapshots (CMNZ Commission)
PAQUITO D’RIVIERA – A Farewell Mambo
SIMON SHAHEEN (arr. Jeff Scott) – Dance Mediterranea

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington,

Monday 26th September 2017

This was the New York-based ensemble Imani Winds’ first concert in New Zealand as part of a 10-venue tour organised by CMNZ. Every member of the group during their introductions for each of the concert’s items conveyed considerable pleasure and excitement at being part of this inaugural visit by the ensemble to New Zealand. They’ve come with something of a reputation for being innovative and adventurous in their programming, as well as devoting considerable energies in developing outreach and education programmes, one of which makes up part of their touring schedule in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin, a special “Musical Journey Around the World” concert.

The ensemble has two recognised composers in its ranks, flutist Valerie Coleman and horn-player Jeff Scott, both of whose efforts figured on this evening’s programme, an original work by Valerie Coleman, “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta”, and two arrangements by Jeff Scott, firstly of Astor Piazzolla’s “Contrabajissimo” (originally a work for double-bass and jazz ensemble, here recast for bassoon and winds), and then of Simon Shaleen’s “Dance Mediterranea”. Whether originally written for an ensemble featuring the oud, a short-necked lute-like instrument, Middle-Eastern in origin, which Shaheen learned to play in his youth, or for the violin (an instrument the composer later took up as well), it’s unclear – Scott’s arrangement here gives the opening solo passage to the flute, before sharing the material between the other instruments – I particularly liked the oboe’s exotic-sounding pitch-bending sequence at one point in the dance.

Another avowed commitment of the ensemble’s is to new music, of particular interest being works by composers of diverse backgrounds, part of Imani’s interest in bringing together European, American, African and Latin music traditions. In keeping with this philosophy the ensemble programmed a new work by New Zealand composer Natalie Hunt, a commission by Professor Jack Richards – itself something of a cross-cultural work, a three-part piece called “Snapshots” containing impressions of the composer’s first visit to Africa.

Mention must be made of a curiosity which the Imanis served up for us – composer/arranger and horn player Jeff Scott during the course of the evening had bemoaned to us the fact that the wind ensemble repertoire simply couldn’t compare with that for string ensembles in terms of quality and variety, and that ensembles therefore had turned to arrangements for winds of various pieces for “other” instruments, an example being an “arrangement” of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” for winds by a London-based clarinettist, conductor, composer and arranger Jonathan Russell. From the point of view of cleverness of adaptation, the exercise would, for some, have had its merits and its interest, but in my opinion the adaptation all but destroyed the original work through extensive cutting of the material, removing much of the narrative aspect and severely reducing the dramatic range and emotional scope of the music, and its ability to deliver. There must be any number of shorter pieces “out there” (some by Rimsky himself, come to think of it), which could have served the purpose just as well, and able to have been played more-or-less in full, rather than bowdlerised so savagely, as here. Yes, I’m missing the point of the exercise, I know – but even despite the presence of a few incidental delights of adaptation, I didn’t REALLY enjoy hearing one of my favourite pieces of orchestral music mutilated thus in public!

Enough of my tub-thumping! – time to turn to the other individual pieces in the concert! The Imanis began with the wind version of a hiss and a roar, Valerie Coleman’s work, “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta” opening with wild, raunchy declamations which then settled into a swinging, sultry rhythm, one that allowed lots of melismatic detailings within a relaxed pulse. There were forthright virtuoso clarinet irruptions, rapidly-fingered and skilfully-tongued bassoon passages, and numerous sly detailings from flute, oboe and horn, all with distinctive and ear-catching instrumental timbres. We were even invited to join in at one stage of the piece during a finger-clicking sequence, the composer turning to us and saying “You can help!” as the music insinuated its way forwards, our “cool” aspect by turns backed up with atmospheric solos, and colourfully decorated by sequences of riotous, swirling activity.

Astor Piazzolla’s “Contrabajissimo” was introduced by horn player Jeff Scott who had arranged the piece for wind quintet. He outlined the piece’s original genesis for us, how Piazzolla had been asked by the bass player in his quintet to write a piece that, for a change, gave his instrument some of the “limelight” instead of being relegated to its usual accompanying role, and how the composer wrote a work that he came to regard as his favourite – in fact “Contrabajissimo” was the only music played at the composer’s funeral! There was no doubt, Scott told us, that the only wind instrument capable of doing a string bass justice was the bassoon! Judging from the opening bars alone, with the bassoon immediately taking the soloist’s role in a kind of free-ranging dialogue with the clarinet, the work would have taxed Piazzolla’s double-bass player to the utmost! The dance that followed slyly and suggestively pushed the syncopated rhythms along and encouraged more and more excitement until the flute spearheaded a rallying call to which everyone was suddenly listening, and wanting to contribute. When the mischievous rhythms resumed I like the way the bassoon “spoke” to the rest of the ensemble via the player, Monica Ellis, who pointed her instrument every which way when she played her solos, like someone obviously wanting their voice to be heard, be it in tones of poetic wistfulness or with sharp bursts or assertive vigour!

We then heard the music of New Zealand composer Natalie Hunt, winner of the NZSO/Todd Foundation Young Composer Award in 2009, and the recipient of various commissions from groups such as the New Zealand String Quartet and The Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson. This was a work called “Snapshots”, commissioned by CMNZ for the Imani’s New Zealand tour, and written by the composer while travelling through Africa last year. In three parts, each of the individual pieces sought to capture the aspect and mood of a specific place, the first, Namib, evoking for us the Namibian Desert, where, in the composer’s words, “the landscape creeps and morphs, the rocks glow in the evening sun, and the night sky is brilliantly clear”. This first piece was, for me, the most focused of the three, its precision of detail and beautifully-contoured shape placing us vividly in a specific and spell-binding soundscape. The other two pieces seemed not quite on this level of focus, with details (the “extra” instruments) seeming to me appropriately ambient, but not having the same instinctive surety of placement I experienced throughout the opening piece.

In “Mosi-oya-Tunya” (presumably Swahili for “The Smoke Which Thunders”, the African name for the Victoria Falls) we heard the exotic sounds of the “thunder drum” (a brightly-decorated drum with a kind of rachet-tail, able to make a surprising amount of deep noise) and the “rain stick” (a hollow tube which contains rice or some such grain, or else small stones, and which can be turned on its end or otherwise moved to produce a kind of white ambient noise) adding their disparate tones to the ensemble’s wind roulades and the oboe’s splendidly isolated solo line – something of the awe and mystery of the place was conveyed to us by the ensemble, despite moments where I thought the players of the “special” instruments seemed a little uncertain of their dynamics or durations.

The third part, “Delta Dreams” I thought a kind of African “road music” , going somewhere in an engaging fashion, via syncopated rhythms and angular melodies. Jeff Scott forwent his horn in this movement to “play” a wine glass, supporting ostinati by clarinet and oboe, as the flute improvised, the players rolling the sounds jazzily and euphorically towards a “point” where the experience seemed to breast a peak and die away, with only the sound of the thunder drum left, a kind of resonance of departure, again I thought, a detail that would be stronger with some “firming up” of its actual place in the scheme of things.

Clarinettist Mark Dover described the next piece, “A Farewell Mambo (to Willy)” by Pasquito D’Riviera, as a kind of “melting-pot” of local ethnic and established classical traditions. D’Riviera is both a jazz- and Latin-music-performer (his autobiography sports the engaging title, “My Sax Life”) and his piece reflected these disparate, yet interactive strands of his creativity – I was reminded of Hindemith’s music in places by the droll, quasi-academism of some of the instrumental interactions within the framework of those mambo rhythms. The music allowed the instrumental timbres to ring out in places – we heard things like piccolo and clarinet arguing over primacy before the latter plunged into a riff-like kind of apoplexy, reducing the basssoon and horn to a kind of awed accompanying ostinato. The music resembled to my ears interaction between strong-willed individuals vying for their voices to be heard in getting across a particular aspect of the eponymous tribute “to Willy” (Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, a singer, stand-up comedian and record procducer, and obviously an iconic figure in the world of Latin American culture).

Concluding the programmed part of the concert was the aforementioned work “Dance Mediterranea”, by Palestinian-born American composer Simon Shaheen, in an arrangement by Jeff Scott for wind quintet. Shaheen himself plays the violin on a Facebook clip of a version of the “Dance Mediterranea”, showing the violin taking the lead in the work’s introduction, which was here given to the solo flute. Shaheen wanted a synthesis of styles from different parts of the Mediterranean world, hence the piece’s title (something of an “Arab Spring” in music!). After a sultry, evocative opening, the music gathered momentum and brought the other instruments into the picture, to sometimes volatile effect – there are lines with bending pitches, swirling melismas, whispered concourses and sudden sforzandi – these wild expressions of freedom came together most excitingly in a kind of amalgam of riotous energies at the piece’s conclusion.

We were sent home with the strains of a Negro Spiritual resounding in our ears, “Go, tell it on the mountain”, the music laid back at its very beginning, touching on different stylish references along the way (even Klezmer-like at one point), and then with everybody increasingly “playing out” towards the culminative “Yes, Lord! Alleluiah!” kind of gesture, without which salvation might not seem assured! Here, there was simply no doubt!

Splendid playing from NZSM students of New Zealand woodwind compositions

Woodwind Students of the New Zealand School of Music

Works by New Zealand composers

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 9 August 2017, 12.15 pm

Similarly to the crop of good string players from NZSM whom we heard at St. Andrew’s recently, so we now heard splendid woodwind players.  The range of works by New Zealand composers in this rather over-long concert was wide, but all were appealing, melodic and interesting.

I had never heard of the composer Eric Biddington, but his Sonatina for clarinet and piano, the 2nd movement of which was played by Laura Brown accompanied by Hugh McMillan was well worth hearing.  Unfortunately Laura’s misuse of the microphone meant I missed the detail about the composer from her spoken introduction.  The quality of the spoken introductions varied hugely through the concert; the best were very good.  Wikipedia was able to fill in the gaps about Biddington, and revealed the great number and variety of music this Christchurch composer has written over a considerable number of years.

The andante movement was relatively uncomplicated but attractive. The clarinet produced euphonious tones, and appealing pianissimos.

Flute was next, in the hands of Samantha McSweeney, who played two of the  unaccompanied Four Pooh Stories by Maria Grenfell.  The first, “In which Christopher Robin leads an expedition to the North Pole” was fun, darting here and there.  No.4 “In which a house is built at Pooh Corner” likewise scampered around through various pitches, the player exhibiting excellent phrasing.  These were demanding pieces; at times Samantha was almost playing a duet with herself, using different pitches and techniques.  It was a very skilled and accomplished performance.

Another composer I had not come across is Aucklander Chris Adams, whose Release for bassoon and piano was rearranged in 2011 from his violin and piano original.  It was played by Breanna Abbott with Kirsten Robertson.  I found it rather dull, especially the piano accompaniment, but the playing was fine.

Gillian Whitehead is a well-established composer.  Her Three Improvisations for solo oboe were taken by three different players: Annabel Lovatt, Finn Bodkin-Olen and Darcy Snell.  They were attractive little pieces, all beautifully played.  The second was more jaunty than the first, with fluency and character.  The third was somewhat plaintive, even sombre; it was sensitively performed.

Next was composer-performer Peter Liley, who played on alto saxophone his piece Petit Hommage.  In his excellent introduction he talked about the importance of Debussy’s music to him, and told us the piece was based on the pentatonic scale and the Lydian mode, both of which he helpfully demonstrated.  This was a pleasing short work, which began with a piano introduction from accompanist Kirsten Robertson.

Melody flowed up and down the saxophone.  The piece exploited a wide range of pitches, rhythms and dynamics, and the performer had splendid phrasing.

Back to the clarinet, and Harim Oh played “Vaygeshray”, one of Ross Harris’s Four Laments for solo clarinet, based on a Yiddish theme.  It was very playful, with a repetitive rhythm through much of the piece.  Quite demanding technically, the short, bouncy Lament was played with assurance.

An item inserted into the concert but not in the printed programme was a movement from Anthony Ritchie’s flute concerto, written in 1993 from former NZSO flutist Alexa Still.  It was accompanied by Hugh McMillan on piano.  There was plenty of interest in this music, and it received a fine performance from ‘Anna’ (surname not given).  It employed a variety of techniques, and the  whole received assured treatment.

The concert ended with the three movements of Douglas Lilburn’s Sonatina for clarinet and piano, played by three different performers with Hugh McMillan.  The moderato first movement played by Frank Talbot was varied in both clarinet and piano parts; quite solemn.  Frank appeared to have some slight technical problems with his instrument.  Billie Kiel had the andante con moto, which was well played, if rather prosaic musically.

Finally, the allegro was played by Leah Thomas after an excellent introduction – perhaps the best in the concert.  As she said, this was a dance-like movement.  It exploited particularly the lower notes of the instrument very well.  Flowing melodies and a sparkling accompaniment made for an enjoyable end to the music offered.

The programme encompassed a wide range of musical styles, showing that New Zealand music cannot be easily categorised.  With composition dates ranging between 1948 (Lilburn) and 2017 (Liley), we were given a rewarding conspectus of locally written music for woodwind.



Winds and piano: a masterpiece and three French delights from Zephyr

Zephyr Wind Ensemble with Diedre Irons (piano)
Bridget Douglas – flute, Robert Orr – oboe, Rachel Vernon – clarinet, Robert Weeks –  bassoon, Ed Allen – horn
(Waikanae Musical Society)

Mozart: Quintet for piano and wind instruments, K 452
Poulenc: Trio for oboe , bassoon and piano
Sextet for piano and winds
Ibert: Trois pièces brèves, for wind quintet

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 11 June, 2:30 pm

The players from the NZSO who comprised five-sixths of the Zephyr Wind Ensemble have played together in varying combinations over the years, and several will have played with Diedre Irons.

What this leads one to expect is ensemble and musical rapport at a very high level. It was.

One of the characteristics of the famous Mozart quintet is the entrancing interlacing of the individual instruments. As with most chamber music, it allows no one to hide; furthermore, given the different timbres of each and the tendency of certain instruments to sound more loudly than others, more attention to balance is required than with, for example, a string quartet (though I can imagine protests from string players about that).

Each player seemed to rejoice in Mozart’s detailed writing for each part, making it both distinct and perfectly in harmony with its companions. Winds seem to deal better than strings with the natural dominance of a piano; in any case, Diedre Irons’s playing was most sensitively accommodated to the natural characteristics of each wind instrument. This was particularly impressive given that the music suggested a non-legato, quasi detached style of playing through much of the first movement. Much as one resists singling out individuals, Ed Allen’s horn was both fluent and warmly articulated.

The Larghetto second movement was gently paced, but here I wondered occasionally whether the playing needed to be as detached as it was at times, yet there was plenty of opportunity to admire the particular beauties, including especially the bassoon of Robert Weeks.

In contrast with the first movement, I was more attracted in the Finale to the ensemble maintained by all players, though there were still many moments in which just one, two or three instruments had opportunities to demonstrate an individual finesse. And though I was tempted to think from time to time that it was Mozart’s specially favoured clarinet that made the most characteristic sounds, in the end I felt that it was Robert Orr’s oboe that made the simply most beautiful music.

There were two of Poulenc’s chamber pieces for piano and wind instruments on the programme, both written in the inter-war years; it was good to hear them as it tends to be the three wind sonatas of his last years that are most played. The trio and the sextet are however as important if not as serious as the three post-war sonatas.

However, the trio’s irregular, avant-gardish-sounding opening might come as a surprise to those more used to the jocular and witty Poulenc, to the Poulenc of just three or four years earlier, of Les Biches, for example. However, very soon, tunes that might well be related to parts of the ballet score appear. It offers fine opportunities for both oboe and bassoon which the players relished, as did Diedre Irons at the piano.

In the Andante Poulenc seems determined to show his independence of the Stravinskian or Schoenbergian, perhaps even the Debussyish influences that weighed upon composers in the 20s.  It’s lyrical in a pointillist manner. In a way, there was more scope for instrumental individuality here than in the Mozart piece, and again it was good that the bassoon of Robert Weeks had such exposure. The music returned to the more familiar Poulenc in the last movement, with rewarding some spot-lighting of the Diedre Irons’s piano.

The opening of the Sextet sounded a bit easy-going in the first few bars, but quickly a sense of rich single-mindedness emerged, even if I have to confess to having heard more velvety ensemble on record. The movement almost comes to a stop before a long and beautiful series of slow-paced solos from each changes the tone completely for a couple of minutes.

The slow movement, Divertissement (a favourite word for French composers, but think not of the famous one by Ibert), was almost a lament, led by the oboe, proving that a French composer in the inter-war years was capable of a moment of reflection. Suddenly it turned into the flighty tune from the first movement, but soon returned to the meditative spirit. The finale is full of action and the players caught its occasionally mock-Germanic tone. After a few more twists and turns the piece ends with the bassoon attempting to find a big tune.

This was the piece that ended the concert.

In between the two Poulenc pieces was Ibert’s Three Short Pieces for wind quintet – no piano present. They were conventional in form: the first piece, Allegro, very familiar tune, confirming to me that I knew the pieces, though the anonymous-like title hadn’t helped. The witty music passes from one player to another, each having a lively turn. The second movement took a gentle course, ‘intermezzo’ like, beautifully led by Bridget Douglas’s flute, but again using each instrument distinctly to keep interest alive. The last is defined: Assez lent, after a dignified introduction, the tempo picks up and finally a clear and delightful waltz-like melody, Allegro scherzando, much dominated by Rachel Vernon’s clarinet, though there is very democratic sharing of the pleasures.

The enjoyment of the players, expressed in performances where the opportunity to exhibit inter-wars music that was clearly fun to play and certainly fun to listen to, was grasped wholeheartedly.