Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 9. 1965.
First Concert — Contemporary Music
The first subscription concert of the Wellington Society for Contemporary Music was full of rich material—in fact almost too full.
This made, however, not for wrenched and disjointed values set adrift by the various ways of saying in the concert, but for fruitful opportunities of comparison and seeing in perspective.
To begin with, then, the Society should be congratulated for their choice of pieces.
The concert opened with Stravinsky's Septet of 1953 (I won't say that the concert opened with a performance of the Septet, for we were to hear that later, when it was repeated as the last item). The first play-through then, was not very remarkable. The first movement started briskly but soon began coming adrift. There was little rapport between the wind instruments and the strings and from where I was sitting Margaret Nielsen at the piano seemed to be a fraction of a bar ahead of everybody else.
And the brilliant fugue episode ended up sounding like an egg-and-spoon race. Things went better in the Passacaglia, although the ostinato, which is passed from instrument to instrument, was very sloppy and the anxiousness with which it was played deprived the whole movement of its rhythmical security. The least said about the Gigue the better.
Secondly we had Cinque Vari-azione, by Luviano Berio and performed by Frederick Page. It was interesting to compare this piece with the Sequenza for flute, by the same composer, which was played later in the concert.
The Cinque Variazlone is almost romantic, with soft vibrant lyrical passages building up to Litzean climaxes, and Frederick Page certainly played it with brio and passion.
The Sequenza for flute, on the other hand, is a lively, virtuoso piece. I don't know whether it is the nature of the instrument or whether Messaien, by musically utilising the atonal nature of bird-song, has perverted me, but the dazzling runs, the complicated flutter-tongueings and the uses of the highest and lowest reaches of the flute's register inevitably reminded me of an extroverted tui.
It gave the piece a bite of irony in any case and Richard Giese's assured handling of the most fiendishly difficult passages made it a very happy experience.
The Debussy Sonata for flute, viola and harp, on the other hand, lacked assured confidence, and what appeared to be rather worried sight-reading on the part of the performers, did not help any. I am fortunate (or unfortunate) in having heard the brilliant performance of the Sonata by the Melos Ensemble on record, and the live performance by Richard Giese, Glynne Adams and Mary Anderson came off badly by contrast. I suppose this is not a good thing and that one should be grateful for a performance in the flesh, but it is nevertheless unavoidable.
Someone at the concert called the Bo Nilsson Quantitaten for augmented piano, in contrast with the Stravinsky Elegie for viola, a fresh piece of pure organised sound. I can't vouch for the chastity of the noises dashed off with great vigour by Frederick Page, but it did seem to be more purely musical in expression than The Elegie which, its very title suggests, tries to express extra-musical considerations—sorrow and deprivation.
The concert closed with a greatly improved performance of the Stravinsky Septet, which sent me, at any rate, home very happy. It was a pity, however, to see so few students there.
The Society is to have two more concerts this year and all students who are by now getting a little bored playing their Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto should make an effort to come. They might be annoyed or puzzled, but certainly never bored, and they would definitely learn something—M. van Dijk.