Rarities and Romance
Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music Orchestra
Thursday 14 April 2016, Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral, Wellington
A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs
Kenneth Young, conductor
Martin Riseley, violin
The Magic Flute Overture, K. 620 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791);
Romance for Violin and Orchestra in G Major – Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Masques et Bergamasques – Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
In Memoriam David Farquhar – Kenneth Young (b. 1955)
Symphony No. 1 – David Farquhar (1928-2007)
This orchestra has proven to be an excellent symphonic training ground. The university courses and the papers that the performance students have to take means that the orchestra is recreated each semester, but I assure you that the results are outstanding every time. The leadership of Kenneth Young is outstanding and every programme is interesting, formative and challenging.
In essence, this concert was a dilemma – the proverbial ‘game of two halves’. The first half was thrilling, exciting and bombastic but not stylistically convincing. But the second half was fantastic!
I thought the orchestral forces were quite large for the first half, particularly with the confined acoustic in the Cathedral. I echo another reviewer who has oftentimes regretted that the NZSM Orchestra is compromised in their acoustic space.
Consequently, the rapid passages in the Mozart overture and the Fauré were muddy and, frankly, too loud. The first fortissimo in the Mozart was astonishing – hearty and vigorous and full of furious energy. But it was not ‘Mozart’. It came across as aggressive, not sparkling, cheeky and delicate. However, the individual sections, and the strings sound in the middle dynamic range, were superb. The masonic chords of the brass in the Mozart were marvellous and the tutti strings, in the first and last movement of the Fauré, were absolutely in tune and their phrasing was spot on.
Usually Beethoven is the more aggressive – the archetypal choleric composer – but Martin Riseley introduced the Beethoven Romance with a gentle, sweet sound. In deference to the soloist the whole orchestra was aware of his every nuance. After the key change Martin’s melody soared above the orchestral accompaniment, his tone an angelic being. There were moments of passion and drama sure, but this piece was more controlled.
After the interval, Kenneth Young addressed the audience with a personal account of his relationship to David Farquhar, a music school colleague at Victoria University for many years. And many people in the audience knew David well. Some of his composing compatriots were there: Ross Harris, John Psathas, John Elmsly, Gary Wilby, Simon Eastwood – and, of course, Kenneth Young too.
Kenneth apologised for inserting in the programme his homage to the memory of David – a brass fanfare comprising of a tuba and three horns, trumpets, and trombones. But he had no need for apology. It was a heartfelt and poignant meditation. The acoustic worked well for this piece – the tone resonant and full bodied and the dynamic range from the young players was excellent. The piece ended with a soft, uncertain cadence – maybe death is not a full stop, but a question?
David Farquhar’s Symphony No 1 was first performed in 1960. Kenneth conducted the NZSO in a CD recording in 2004 of David’s three symphonies, but it hasn’t been publicly performed again.
The form of this Symphony is not typical, and I suspect David was delighted to upset the established formalists! It has three movements: Moderato, Presto, Lento. Swapping the fast movement for the slow movement gives the symphony character and personal identity.
Again, the acoustic of the cathedral helped this piece rather than hindered it. The first movement was carried by a rhythmic motif supplied by the strings with the woodwind, with horns and brass carrying the long notes. The intensity increased with the full force of the orchestra involved and released by a crashing cadence. A syncopated rhythm in the woodwind was repeated contrapuntally in the other sections, crescendo-ing into another crashing cadence. A celestial mood appeared –sustained repeated chords from all sections of the orchestra. It was marvellous.
The second movement was introduced by an anxious theme – tympani rolls and apprehensive strings. Then the woodwind burst out with a burlesque theme – very Mahlerian! Some new moments of anxiety appeared with a woodwind and brass melody with plucked strings and off it went again, carrying us away with full brass, tympani and cymbals! The orchestra took the Presto literally at break-neck speed but always under control. I’m not fond of overlaying visual images on top of the sonorous, but if this were a soundtrack, the hero (or heroine) would be racing downhill in a long, grassy meadow, exhilarated by the joy of life.
The third movement began with a trumpet solo and the double basses and cello take the passacaglia theme followed by the upper strings and woodwind. The orchestra shone: all the strings, the brass, harp touches, the clarinet, oboe, flutes, bassoons. It was a glorious sound.
This concert was a fitting tribute to David Farquhar. It is almost criminal that this symphony has not been played for 66 years. The orchestra demonstrably enjoyed the experience and certainly the audience applauded lustily.