Kathryn Stott & NZSQ
Saturday 8 May 2017, 7:30pm, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
Presented by Chamber Music New Zealand
A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs
still, echoing – Gillian Whitehead (b. 1941)
Piano Sonata – Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) Piano Quintet in A Major, op. 81 – Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
The short story:
A brilliant concert from the NZSQ and Kathryn Stott: seamless, sparkling, accomplished. Despite the masterwork from Dvořák, the highlight for me was the re-creation of Gillian Whitehead’s still, echoing – satisfying and evocative.
The long story:
The acoustic in the Michael Fowler Centre was much better than I expected. It is a big hall for chamber music but it was very good for the strings especially Gillian Ansell viola playing – gorgeous, rich and vibrant.
Gillian Whitehead’s still, echoing was a new re-creation. A previous incarnation was a woodwind-piano quintet from 2003. ‘Colours’ pertaining to music is almost a cliche term, but in this case is was very apt. Gillian draws out textures (another ‘art’ term!) and timbres that were so satisfying and evocative: martelé, tremolo, sul tasto and ponticelli, chords in parallel motion, percussive on the piano or playing the piano inside the lid like a harp. And she was not shy about her instrumentation – often choosing only a soloist or a duo for extended periods of time. I was interested that she didn’t use pizzicato from the strings, and the piano didn’t lead the other instruments until late in the piece. The combination of the string quartet and the piano was expressive and effective and the NZSQ and Kathryn Stott delivered an impeccable performance. Gillian is one of New Zealand’s premier composers and still, echoing was an excellent example of her ‘Mstery’!
Solo piano is not my favourite preference for a concert, and I was surprised that it was on the programme. I can only think of two concerts that were instantly memorable for me and a handful of pianists that I admire – and usually with chamber groups or art songs. Kathryn Stott was very impressive as a performer and the piece was accomplished … but, there you go. For me it was not the concert’s highlight.
What impressed me most was the clarity Kathryn achieved in the polyphonic voices – 2, 3, 4 layered voices. Each was defined and articulate. She was a still presence on the stage – no head tossing and demonstrative gestures. It was reminded of BBC documentaries – like a hunting big cat or a sprinting athlete in slow motion. Her head was motionless but her hands were flying on the keys. When the percussive nature of her striking the keyboard demanded it, her hands flew off, but not flamboyantly. I liked that.
After the interval we had the Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major, a masterwork. The piano led the accompaniment for a lyrical solo from the cello, answered by a turbulent melody from the ensemble. The movement covered the gamut of romantic expression from dynamically torrid, poignant, rhapsodic, passionate, tender and explosive. I felt that the audience was bursting to applaud – but they contained themselves! The second movement featured a dúmka – a feature of the Eastern European musical psyche – ‘a type of instrumental music involving sudden changes from melancholy to exuberance.’ The third movement, Scherzo-Furiant: Molto vivace, was certainly that! The NZSQ sets a rapid pace and I feared that the acoustic would not cope, but it was dazzling. Again, the solo viola featured – I guess Dvořák was a viola player himself! The fourth movement, Allegro, was almost not ‘Dvorak’ – it was quite different from the other movements and my recollection of him as a composer. The quintet was flawless – seamless and sparkling. The coda finished with a bravo flourish.