NZSM woodwind students at diverting lunchtime concert

Pieces by Poulenc, Enescu, Weber, A Marcello, Louis Ganne, Sutermeister, Hindemith, David Ernest and Demersseman

Players: Arielle Couraud, Jeewon Um, Hannah Sellars, Vanessa Adams, Monique Vossen, Patrick Hayes, Ashleigh Mowbray, Andreea Junc, Katherine Maciaszec; accompanied by Kirsten Simpson (piano)

St Andrews on the Terrace

Wednesday 10 August, 12.15pm

Recitals by woodwind players, and even more perhaps by brass players, draw on a range of music that is not very familiar to the run of ordinary classical music followers. For some that may be a disincentive. For lots of others, myself included, it’s very interesting and satisfying, for the music often offers a chance to hear composers who are no more than names out of dictionaries of music or music histories.

This concert featured mainly first and second year woodwind students from the New Zealand School of Music and was a part of the assessment process for their course requirements.

My impression overall was of a group of very talented students who had already reached a surprisingly good level of skill and of interpretive insight into the styles of music they were tackling.

There had been a mishap in the transmission of the programme details and so the audience were offered the bonus diversion of testing their recognition skills as to the music they were hearing; for although the players were encouraged to introduce themselves and their music, most were not loud or clear enough.

I was a minute late arriving and so missed Arielle Couraud’s introduction to her own arrangement for soprano saxophone of an Élégie by Poulenc – presumably the one originally for horn. It worked admirably on the saxophone and her playing of the member of the sax family that is closest in sound to the older woodwind instruments such as clarinet, was lyrical and fluent.

The identity of the Cantabile et Presto by Enescu had quite eluded me, I confess, as I do not have a very clear aural impression of Enescu’s varied music; flutist Jeewon Um’s playing of it was quite romantic and warm, and a contrasting piano part of arpeggios and quick-witted modulations increased its interest.

Next was the clarinet’s turn: Romanze from Weber’s second Clarinet Concerto played by Hannah Sellars. Weber’s instrumental writing can be chameleon-like and I discovered that I did not know this piece though it was clearly enough from the early years of the 19th century. Hannah played it as it would have been loved by audiences of the 1810s, her tone carefully controlled yet happily romantic in its freedom of movement.

Alessandro Marcello was one of two notable Venetian brothers (the other, Benedetto), composers, contemporaries of Vivaldi, Caldara and Albinoni; Vanessa Adams began, not displaying a great deal of animation in the Allegro from the Oboe Concerto in D minor, but it took on greater interest and variety of articulation as her confidence increased.

Another flute piece followed, played by Monique Vossen. It was an Andante and Scherzo by a once well-known French composer of operettas, Louis Ganne; though a contemporary of Debussy, the music showed little affinity with his somewhat better known colleague. Nevertheless, this was a charming, melodious piece which the flutist played with a lively sense of enjoyment.

Patrick Hayes played a Capriccio for solo clarinet by Swiss composer Heinrich Sutermeister who lived through almost the entire 20th century. Patrick was one of the few who had worked out how to project his own voice as well as he did his instrument; he told us the piece was written in 1946, and he played it with a true soloist’s confidence, with perceptive dynamic contrasts – his pianissimo was impressive, as was a later brassy outburst.

Andreea Junc played the Sehr Langsam movement from Hindemith’s Flute Sonata; not only was it slow: in her hands it was languid and particularly attractive with none of its composer’s usual astringency.

Hindemith’s French near-contemporary, was Francis Poulenc, and he too wrote excellently for woodwind instruments. The Allegro Tristemente from his Clarinet Sonata is a characterful movement which Athene Laws played very confidently, capturing Poulenc’s very individual, enigmatic, extrovert style with considerable skill and feeling.

Another oboist, Ashleigh Mowbray, played a Sonatine by one David J Ernest whose name I cannot trace in the usual sources. The piece had a certain modal quality; Ashleigh began a little hesitantly but as the music got faster her playing gained in fluency, showing good control of the instrument.

The last piece was a Fantaisie for alto saxophone by Jules Demersseman who lived in the mid 19th century, born within a year or so of Saint-Saëns but he died young. He was primarily a flutist but, according to saxophonist Katherine Maciaszec, was one of the first composers to write for the saxophone – Adolphe Saxe had invented the instrument about 1840. It was a melodic piece, suggesting the spirit of French comic opera of the period – Auber, Adam, Halévy, Delibes…; well written for the instrument, avoiding any suggestion of self-importance, but rather a comic vein in a cadenza-like series of arpeggios, and later in the distinctly Waldteufel style of waltz, ending in an opéra-comique sort of cabaletta. Maciaszec was thoroughly on top of its technical challenges and musical style.

The versatile and always supportive accompanist throughout was Kirsten Simpson.