Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 12, No. 10. September 20th, 1949
The Orchestra Returns
The Orchestra Returns
It has been interesting to watch our orchestra grow in stature during the last three years. The Opera House, it is true, is not an ideal music centre, and thus our first meeting with the orchestra this year suffered to some extent from a somewhat muffled tonal quality. This may, of course, have been limited to some parts of the theatre only. Again, the stage setting distracts rather more than one would expect.
That this body of musicians is gradually being welded into greater unity is certain. Gone—one hopes for good—are those awful moments when the woodwinds had to take over from the strings, in the first year of the orchestra's existence. The woodwinds, in fact, are by now surprisingly good; there were some sublimely played passages in the Brahms Fourth which one will long and gladly remember. Where the orchestra is still lacking in balance is with the brass instruments; we have by now heard two performances of Handel's "Water Music" (in the fine setting of Hamilton Harty), but the disparity between the brass and the remainder of the orchestra remains almost undiminished. This is a great pity indeed, because by now one can comfortably sit back and enjoy the whole and find oneself rudely awakened by the unbalanced and often rhythmically poor brass section.
Mendelssohn's well-known "Fin-gal's Cave" Overture opened the programme. It was well played technically; but it lacked, to my mind, that sparkling quality, that ease and joyfulness that is so peculiar to it I would make the same criticism with regard to the rendering of Handel. In Handel, it is not the sparkling so much as the delight in sheer music-making, the freshness of the bowing, that makes this suite an ever-repeated pleasure. A heavy hand of restraint seemed to prevent this freshness to come to the fore, and the Handel, though well played (excepting the brass), lacked the vitality that would have given it form. The slow movement came off much better than the last two pieces, and I could never quite abandon myself to the refreshing vigour of the work.
In Aleksander Helmann New Zealand has at long last again met a really fine and sensitive artist. The difference between his approach and that of other recent visitors to this country must have been remarkable to an attentive listener. We have been played down to quite a lot recently, as far as programmes and performances are concerned. The sheer capacity to play loudly and fast, seems to have erased whatever happy memories we might have had of Solomon and Lili Kraus's rendering of Schubert and Mozart, and also of the delightful playing of romantic programmes by Moura Lympany. My worst memory of a recent musical murder is the rendering of a Scarlatti sonata by an "accompanying" artist, who was incidentally, highly praised for this piece of acrobatics In the Press—when all that was required was just the capacity to drink in the spirit of the composer and surrender yourself to it.
This is what I definitely liked about Helmann. He seems to be listening to Mozart while he plays him, and there is so much deftness in his touch, so much abandonment to the master, that the technical perfection becomes a subordinate, minor part of the performance, I am not sure whether the A-major concerto had been rehearsed frequently enough with the orchestra; what did strike me was, that contrary to the Lili Kraus performance (in the D minor concerto, I think) the orchestra played real Mozart, even if the tempi were at times not too well co-ordinated with the soloist. But then the orchestra have not had too many opportunities to accompany soloists, and this, too, will grow as time goes on, one hopes. But one could almost feel the pleasure caused by the listening to this lovely piece of music, played beautifully, if not masterfully, and accompanied with understanding.
Brahms' Fourth Symphony conlu-ded the programme. It is a rare experience to hear music come alive, as it were, after one has heard it so often from gramophone records; however much you may admire the Vienna Philharmonic and Furtwaen-gler, you will have to admit that there are superb pianissimo passages that no recording, not even the recent Decca, will recapture quite satisfactorily. It la not that I want to draw a comparison between the two orchestras, because no such comparison could do justice to our young group of players. But they, have shown that even this majestic work can be attempted, and that its execution can make one feel happy and thankful. Mr. Tyrer seemed more at home with Brahms even than with Mozart. The only other comment I would like to make refers to the last movement, where it seemed to me as if the discipline of the orchestra was in danger of disintegrating sometimes. But in retrospect I recall many a happy second, when the warmth of the strings reached a level of depth and loveliness even there (and especially in the first two movements) which were a new and welcome discovery in our orchestra.
A concert under the auspices of the Wellington Chamber Music So-cienty was to be held in the Town Hall on Monday, September 5, deserved of special attention by all those interested in string orchestras. The string group of the orchestra, under Mr. Anderson Tyrer, was to play an excellent programme: Handel's beautiful Concerto Grosso No 6 and Hugo Wolfs delightful Italian Serenade (one of the few compositions that leave the major part to the viola) form the more orthodox background. Those to whom Ireland's "Concertino Pastorale" is new should have made good use of the opportunity. Lastly, Samuel Barber an American composer, was to be represented, together with the Czech composer Josef Suk and the Hungarian Bela Bartok. After last Tuesday's performance, I am sure I can recommend the string group to all orchestra-minded listeners.