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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 16, July 12, 1976.

Concert Review: The Baroque Players, Conductor, Peter Walls

Concert Review: The Baroque Players, Conductor, Peter Walls.

After hearing a substantial body of Baroque works, perpetrated by some Wellington musicians, in a somewhat heavy-handed romantic, emotive style, it was tremendously refreshing to hear a different stylistic approach made manifest by the Baroque Players, with much vigour and obvious pleasure on Wednesday night.

Peter Walls's approach to Baroque Music seems to be a realisation of the intrinsic emotive force which is present in the music itself: the rhythmic changes which occur within single movements, the sublety of phrasing, and a tightness and control to a more popular style which tends to regard the notes on the page as being rather uninteresting in themselves, and requiring the artifice of a subjective emotional response more in keeping with the romantic approach to music.

The Baroque Players seem totally at home in their rendition of the music and presented a convincing and consistent evening of Baroque music.

This was certainly the case in what was, for me, the highlight of the evening. The Corelli Concerto Grosso (Op. 6, no. 12) achieved marked changes of mood from movement to movement, with the delicate interwoven melodies of the 1st movement contrasted by a knife-edged 2nd movement which they took at a spectacular tempo. And then the 3rd movement was suddenly a gently pulsing heart-beat which seemed to appear from nowhere. It was a very controlled performance, with some very positive, driving violin playing from Nik Brown, and it seemed to cover a wide range of the different stylistic traits and fit them together absolutely convincingly.

Another case where the music's inherent forces spoke for themselves was in the first movement of the Telemann Concerto for 3 Violins. Rhythmic accuracy on the part of the players (and Telemann's orchestration) was the main reason for its musical sense, but this was reinforced by the changing solo violins' tones, from the strident dotted rhythms to the more sensitive lilting triplet rhythms.

The Back D Minor Concerto for 2 Violins was easily the most emotionally demanding work on the programme, if only because nearly every member of the audience would have had his own expectations of the piece (as well as probably mentally playing his favourite recording of it). The two outer movements suffered from occasional rhythmic uncertainty where orchestra and soloists (Ann MacMillan and Katherine Harris) on a couple of occasions almost left one another behind. But what was impressive about the performance was the meticulous detail paid to phrasing, and the articulation of notes, especially in the 2nd movement, where the accuracy was such that the 2 violins often sounded as one instrument (the ideal state). Similarly, there were other moments of tremendous rapport between the soloists and orchestra, which gave a general feeling of a totally integrated string sound.

In this, Peter Walls seemed to realise an important ideal in Baroque Concerto playing, which does not set the soloist aside from what is usually treated as the accompaniment in the orchestra, but rather regards the two as working completely together (it's just that one has a more demanding part to play than the other). I expect that this integration of sound came off so well in the concert largely because Peter Walls draws his soloists from within the group in all the pieces, and thus there is no particular differentiation of technical standard and style between soloist and orchestra.

On the whole there was fine, full-bodied string tone, and a brightness of approach and attack which made the concert really invigorating for the listener. The only problem which seemed to occur was in settling into the rhythm and tempo of some of the quick movements in the first half of the programme, although this improved as the players adjusted to the concert situation.

By way of a change from total string sound, Pam Gray, as Venus, sang a Purcell aria with the orchestra, as an encore. She was a coy and endearing Venus (though I suspect that had something to do with the very high range of the song), and would have had the swains and nymphs flocking to her, if it were all real!

This is the first formal concert given by the Baroque Players under the direction of Peter Walls, and the present standard promises some superb playing in later concerts Improvement is naturally forthcoming from a group like this, as they are young (there are 12 in the group altogether of which half are students), and none of them has reached his peak, musically, as yet.

What was also gratifying about this concert was that, despite the stupid shortsightedness of Musoc for putting the concert on the same night as a Symphony Orchestra Concert, the Music Room was packed, with almost 60 people in the audience. And for those who didn't hear the Baroque Players this time round, they are repeating the same programme on Sunday, July 18th, in Old St. Paul's.

—Kathleen Culliford