Mixing the Old with the New

Mixing the Old with the New

Music for Harpsichord, Flute, Cello and Violin

Friday 1 April 2016, Adam Concert Room, Lunchtime Concert

Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music, Victoria University Wellington

A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs

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Kris Zuelicke – harpsichord;
Ingrid Culliford – flute;
Jane Young – cello;
Rupa Maitra – violin

Deux Interludes (1946) – Jacques Ibert;
The Elements for Flute and Harpsichord (1980) – Robert Hinchliffe;
Sonata in C Major, Op.1, No.7, HWV 365 – George Frederic Handel
Light and Shade and Airs with Graces – John ElmslySonata in g minor for cello, RV 42 – Antonio Vivaldi
Spiders (1968) – Ned Rorem

The title reveals it all. Extreme eclecticism! From Handel and Vivaldi to late 20 Century works; from  American / English / French / German / Italian / New Zealand composers; from snappy dance movements to poignant larghettos;  from modern instruments to baroque instruments (well, copies of them!)

Apart from two flute solos, all of the other pieces featured the harpsichord. The keyboard was made in 1982 – the luthier was the celebrated David J Rubio, Cambridge, England. The muted percussive nature of the instrument and the incisive, direct quality was apparent in all the music, despite the disparity in the years of composition. It was a two-manual / three stop harpsichord and Kris used them to great effect. It was a test for subtlety – the range of the dynamics was incremental. She mentioned in the programme that Rorem’s piece has dynamics ranging from ppp to fff – that has to be a relative term!

All of the instrumentalists were superb. The brace of Ibert’s works were entertaining and attractive. The flowing lines from violin and flute were perfectly matched and especially, in the second ‘Spanish’ piece, I like the gutsy resonance from the violin’s G-string.

The Hinchliffe ‘Elements’ was more demanding for the harpsichord. I imagine that Ingrid and Kris have played these pieces many times and they were precise and definite in their togetherness – especially the second movement, ‘Water’, which featured lots of rubato and tempo changes. In the third movement, ‘Earth’, I liked the keyboard’s rhythmic syncopation and discordant harmonies particularly.

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The Handel, with Jane Young contributing the continuo part with the harpsichord, was a joy. There were some minor discrepancies in bass intonation, but the overall effect was engaging. The ‘walking’ bass line was impressive – some of the jazz bassists in the audience could take note! – and the suggestion of hemiola in the larghetto was just enough to interrupt the metre – a innuendo, not a pointed blow. Ingrid and Jane played with a baroque sensibility – minimal vibrato, ornaments galore, and a bow hand well up the stick (cf: the image above.)

Having played a solo role in three pieces, Ingrid elected to play the fourth piece on her own!  – two works by New Zealand composer John Elmsly. She was very comfortable with the works. The second was chock-full of appoggiaturas with wide spacing in the related notes. John is usually resident in Auckland, but he is the Jack C Richards / Creative New Zealand Composer-in-Residence at NZSM and he was in the audience. He clearly enjoyed Ingrid’s renditions.

For the Vivaldi Cello Sonata, Jane used the NZSM’s baroque cello – a copy, but authentic: no spike, gut strings, the bridge, the bass-bar, the fingerboard and the bow were accurate to the baroque ideal. The instrument was tuned to A=415 (not the usual A=440). The harpsichord was tuned by a low-tech cunning trick: the actual keyboard was uplifted, and moved to the left by one key. Voila – the harpsichord was tuned one semitone lower! The piece was amazing. The baroque cello and the harpsichord were in-sync, matched, analogous – and the centuries rolled back to the 18th century. The rapid fingering and bowing, the spacing of the fingers like a guitar, the ornamentation, the lack of vibrato, the percussive nature of the keyboard … magic.

The last piece was a showcase for the harpsichord – a bravura performance. The harpsichord was in an accompaniment role in most of the previous pieces  but this work really showed what the keyboard can do: trills, rapid fingering, scales and discordant harmonies – Kris’s facility was prodigious.

Over all, the concert delivered what it promised: Old and New. Of its nature, the harpsichord doesn’t have the ability to make gross changes of dynamics, despite the two manuals and stops. Some of the time, especially in the modern compositions, I was longing for the keyboard to take control, to force me to listen to it. But that was the point: I couldn’t be lazy in my hearing. I had to listen to it consciously, not by brute-force, but subtly. The harpsichord was reinstated as a ‘modern’ instrument for a new sort of ‘listening’. Thanks.

 

 

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