Autumn Orchestral Concert

HBO with Jose Aparicio and cello soloist Cameron Stuart
Napier Cathedral, Saturday 5 May 2018

Reviewed by Peter Williams

As well as accompanying the concerts by the Napier Civic Choir, this concert, between the two choir performances, provided the opportunity for the orchestra to play a programme of string music on its own – quite an undertaking given the little time that must have been available for rehearsal. Conductor José Aparicio clearly knew what was possible as he expertly guided the players in a programme that provided considerable enjoyment for an attentive and appreciative audience.

Anyone who came to the concert after a stressful day, would surely have valued the gentle calm conveyed in the performance of the opening work, the Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20 by Edward Elgar, where the serene mood of the first movement, marked Allegro piacevole, was carried into the other two movements to give an impressive portrayal of the composer’s intentions.

Douglas Lilburn is widely regarded as a composer who gave a distinctive New Zealand voice to his compositions. For me, this was clearly shown, particularly in the first two of his Four Canzonas, where melodies involving each part of the orchestra, supported by the pizzicato of the other players, created scenes reminiscent of a New Zealand landscape.

Cellist Cameron Stuart was well in command of the solo part of the Cello Concerto in A Major by CPE Bach, in a very stylish, strongly rhythmic performance. His style of playing was well suited to this concerto where the solo part is less extrovert than in concertos of a later period, with the solo part blending more with the orchestra. There were some very expressive moments in the minor key central movement and the exuberant character of the final movement was clearly conveyed to the audience.

The second serenade on the programme – Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22 by Antonín Dvořák – is on a bigger canvas than the Elgar work, with more diversity of character in its five movements. Aparicio drew the very best from the orchestra with the strong melodic element of the first movement and the well-known second movement, strongly emphasized. There was elegant shaping to the lines of the Larghetto fourth movement, while the sprightly rhythmic motifs, so characteristic of Dvořák’s style, were emphasized strongly in the Allegretto vivace final movement to make an impressive climax to the concert.

Scheherazade & Three Cornered Hat

HBO with Jose Aparicio
Napier Cathedral, Saturday 28 October 2017

Reviewed by Peter Williams

Music by a Spanish composer, conducted by a compatriot, made the right start for this exotic programme.  The two Three Cornered Hat Suites ­ by de Falla are music from the ballet of the same name. The title refers to the shape of the hat worn by the lascivious magistrate – El Corregidor, the subject of the second dance from the first Suite.

Percussion and brass gave an emphatic start to the item, followed by playing which always projected the character of Spanish music – intense rhythmic exactitude, vivid contrasts of orchestral colour, and the playing of solo and groups of instruments interacting within the music. Jose Aparicio certainly knew what was required and it was fascinating to observe his skill in direction. The final movement, where El Corregidor gets his comeuppance, made a brilliant conclusion to the item.

The legendary collection of Arabian folk tales, One Thousand and One Nights, was the genesis for two versions of Scheherazade – first the song-cycle by French composer Maurice Ravel and secondly the expansive orchestral version by Russian Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Both are masterworks by composers who were each regarded as a master of his craft.

Soprano Anna Pierard gave a consummate performance of the song-cycle where the purity of tone, the range covering every possible delicate nuance of expression and her complete involvement in the story being told, made this a performance to treasure. While the orchestra was too strong for the soloist at moments of climax in the first song, the playing always captured the spirit of the music and Dana Parkhill’s flute playing in the second song, The Magic Flute, was absolutely enchanting.

The Rimsky-Korsakov version is very well known, as the Princess Scheherazade, represented by the eloquent solo violin playing from concertmaster Stephanie Buzzard, and complemented by the haunting sounds of the harp played by Madeleine Crump, tells the stories which bewitch the cruel Sultan who each night kills one of his wives. From the start, the playing of each of the four movements held the audience entranced as they listened to an ever-evolving range of vivid orchestral sound, with a plethora of individual and group contributions from throughout the orchestra.

With the demands of the Last Night of the Proms performances, as well as this extensive programme, Aparicio and all the members of the orchestra have every right to be delighted with what they have achieved. The rapturous standing ovation at the end clearly showed the delight of the audience.

Music director’s bold move showcasing Russian works pays off

HBO with Jose Aparicio
St Paul’s Church, Napier, Saturday 8 April 2017

Reviewed by Peter Williams

Choosing a concert programme of Russian music including two works by 20th century composer Dimitri Shostakovich, for the strings alone of the Hawke’s Bay Orchestra, was a bold move by Jose Aparicio.

However, balanced by one of the most famous compositions by Tchaikowsky, Aparicio knew what he was about, providing an enthusiastic audience with a unique music experience.

Ideally the orchestra could have had more than 17 players but what was achieved was impressive and a credit to both players and conductor alike.

Shostakovich was one of the towering composers of the 20th century whose music was often blighted by the restrictions placed on artistic endeavour by the restrictive Soviet regime.

This influence was clearly shown in the first item played – Chamber Symphony Op 110a, a transcription of the composer’s very personal String Quartet No 8.

The playing of the opening Largo movement depicted a sombre mood, leading to the four other contrasted, linked movements which followed.

Each clearly portrayed a particular aspect of the composer’s life and music – the often quirky emphasis of the Waltz in the third movement and the struggle he endured at times in the deeply expressive playing of the final two Largo movements, highlighted by the poignant solo playing from principal cellist Cameron Stuart.

A vivid contrast was provided in the sparkling performance of the Concerto in C Minor for Piano Trumpet and Strings Op 35 which dates from the happier early days in Shostakovich’s career.

From the opening bars, piano soloist Matteo Napoli certainly showed he had the measure of the quizzical, idiomatic style of the music, with his strong projection of all its twists and turns of sudden changes in rhythm and expression.

The orchestra matched him all the way, particularly in the final Allegro con brio with the lively playing of the alternating rhythmic patterns building to an impressive climax.

The trumpet solo part, confidently played by Tom Wilkinson (who also wrote the excellent programme notes) was more of a commentary in the early part with a much more dominant solo role later, adding to the joyful brilliance of the final movement.

Tchaikowsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Op 48 is one of the most popular of all works for string orchestra.

As with the other items, José Aparicio directed with consummate skill, bringing out all the grandeur of the opening and closing bars, the absolute elan of the famous second movement waltz and ensuring a brilliant final movement with all its Russian folk emphasis.

Players rise to the challenge

HBO with Jose Aparicio
 and piano soloist Jian Liu
Blyth Performing Arts Centre, Havelock North, Saturday 2 July 2017

Reviewed by Peter Williams

This demanding programme of both a major Romantic piano concerto and one of the most famous symphonies in the orchestral repertoire must have kept Hawke’s Bay Orchestra players busy and made heavy demands on stamina and musical understanding in its placement between accompanying full choral performances by the Napier Civic Choir.

However there seemed no limit to the musical intuition, knowledge and energy of the Civic Choir’s artistic director, Jose Aparicio, as he skilfully directed.

A Beethoven overture – Leonore Overture No3 in this concert – will always make a satisfying and arresting opening to any concert as it certainly was in this case – a clear portrayal in sound of the story of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio for which Leonore No3 is one of four overtures Beethoven penned.

The dramatic impact of the music was clear from the start with vivid contrasts, beautifully shaped solo lines and an impressive presto climax at the end.

Wellington-based, internationally known concert pianist Jian Liu, head of piano studies at the NZ School of Music, is an impressive soloist who held the rapt attention of the large audience in a brilliant performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor.

He deftly interwove the sinuous melodic lines of the first movement with the elaborate orchestral score, while always sensitive to all the detailed expression required.

The brief, gentle flowing intermezzo was the perfect foil to the explosive finale.

This was brilliantly played with a strong rhythmic sense that captured every detail of the music, complemented by an orchestral accompaniment which seemed entirely at one with the soloist.

The Blyth Performing Arts Centre was a perfect venue acoustically and in its dimensions for this concert, especially for the complex Symphony No 1 in C minor by

It is easy for an audience to lose interest in such a work, but Aparicio’s choice of tempi were just right as he literally danced his way through all four movements.

There was always a sense of immediacy in the playing, careful attention was paid to every detail of the score as the performance held the full attention of the audience.

There were highlights in abundance – a plethora of finely shaped solo lines, the pizzicato playing, and the grandeur of the famous theme in the last movement for example.

A credit to all the players, but most particularly to the conductor for his skill and imagination in mounting such a programme.

Beethoven and Saint-Saëns Thrill

HBO with Jose Aparicio
Blyth Performing Arts Centre, Havelock North, Saturday 2 April 2016

Reviewed by Peter Williams

Required earthquake strengthening of St Paul’s Church, Napier, necessitated the change of venue to the Blyth Performing Arts Centre in Havelock North. An ideal venue for this concert – just the right size for the 32 piece orchestra and the enthusiastic audience who attended.

Given their enduring popularity, any programme including two of the nine Beethoven symphonies is certain to have appeal and this programme was no exception. Symphony No 8 in F major Op.93 is a gem, just the right lead-up to the mighty choral Symphony which followed. In this concert it was played with all the contrast and rhythmic vitality which is inherent in the score in all four movements.

Symphony No.4 in B flat major Op.60 is larger proportioned and more expansive, a flowing work starting with an extended slow introduction which was given an impressive performance, a strong contrast  with  the four movements which followed.

Beethoven wrote some wonderfully innovative music for the wind and brass sections and all the players took full advantage and projected their solos with real confidence. The essential character of each of the four movements, in both symphonies, was clearly projected with numerous thrilling climaxes achieved, vividly contrasted with some gentle soft playing where needed. Jose Aparicio’s hand was evident throughout. He knew the style of the music and skilfully directed the players to achieve outstanding results in impressive performances.

Camille Saint-Saën’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 was played between the two symphonies with Rolf Gjelsten from the New Zealand String Quartet as soloist. There is a great deal of dove-tailing of the solo and orchestral parts throughout this concerto. This was achieved as the soloist easily projected all the charm and originality of the music in a fine performance through all three linked and contrasted movements, demonstrating his innate musicianship and superb technical accomplishment.

The quality of the acoustics of the Blyth Centre is excellent. It will have been a new venue for nearly all of the players who ideally would have needed longer in which to rehearse and grow accustomed to the sound properties. Consequently, there were some problems of balance throughout the concert. Wind and brass were at times too loud for the rather small number of string players, and the whole orchestra too strong in order to allow the beautiful solo cello melodies to soar over the accompaniment in the concerto.

Whitacre, Vaughan Williams, Mozart and Haydn

HBO with Napier Civic Choir and Jose Aparicio
St John’s Cathedral, Napier, Friday 1 April 2016

Reviewed by Peter Williams

The major item on the programme was the HaydnMass No.12, “Harmoniemesse” (Wind ensemble) Mass, so called because of the prominence of the wind section of the orchestral accompaniment. This is a stunning work, the product of a mature, highly skilled composer and musician who clearly had mastery of all that is required in blending soloist, choral and instrumental parts. Jose Aparicio also understands these aspects well. He drew the very best from all the musicians in front of him, resulting in a thrilling performance from start to finish.

Scored for four soloists – soprano Madeleine Pierard, mezzo-soprano Sarah Court, tenor Andrew Glover and baritone Joel Amosa – and chorus, it is an elaborate work of impressive grandeur. The choir was in excellent form throughout singing confidently through all six sections of the mass with  exciting climaxes contrasted with moments of quiet, expressive singing.

The soloists were splendid and involved in all sections of the work – sometimes leading off at the start of a movement, then combining in various groupings and easily integrating with the choir. The playing of the orchestra, with the many solo parts, was elegant and assured and gave excellent support to the singers.

The change of venue to St John’s Cathedral where acoustics certainly enhanced the performance of Mozart’s famous motet, Exsultate Jubilate  sung by Madeleine Pierard, was no bad thing. This was a brilliant, stylish performance – a sparkling first movement and final Alleluia, with finely crafted recitative and expressive slow movement in the middle – making it a highlight of the concert.

The music in the first part of the concert was very different from that which followed. The Five Hebrew Love Songs by Eric Whitacre are very personal and introspective and it was not the easiest music for the audience to appreciate and understand.  The more extensive cantata, In Windsor Forest by Vaughan Williams, is music that has its own particular idiom and style. The women’s voices sang the opening Sigh no more ladies confidently and the men followed with a rollicking presentation of the Drinking Song Back and side go bare, but the singing in both of these works at times sounded insecure in both attack and pitch.

Three members from the choir – Vicki Vaughan, Birgit Staatsman and Frank Carter also had solo parts to sing, and a string quartet in the Five Hebrew Love Songs and the orchestra in the Mozart and Vaughan Williams items, always gave strong support to the singers.

Elijah confirms favoured status

HBO with Napier Civic Choir and Jose Aparicio
St John’s Cathedral, Napier, Sunday 14 September 2015

Reviewed by Peter Williams

While very much a typical large Romantic style composition, Mendelssohn’s famous oratorio Elijah has certainly maintained its favourite place in the choral repertoire, obvious from the immediate standing ovation as the last notes of the music rang out.

This was a stunning performance, a tribute to the undoubted charismatic skill and musicianship of conductor José Aparicio in gaining the utmost commitment from the large number of musicians involved.

The choir was in fine form and the climaxes achieved in such choruses as Thanks be to God, Be Not Afraid, Baal, We Cry to Thee and the final stunner And Then Shall Your Light Break Forth were mightily impressive. Certainly another 30 in the choir would have been ideal in order to match Mendelssohn’s powerful accompaniment, but the balance between the sections of the choir was well maintained, especially in the numerous fugal passages, and the wide range of dynamics employed were true to the markings on the score.

The story is obviously centred around the Old Testament character, the prophet Elijah, and Mendelssohn penned magnificent solos for him. Baritone Joel Amosa stamped his authority on the performance immediately from the dramatic opening recitative, As God the Lord of Israel Liveth. Then followed a string of powerful performances covering the widest range of dramatic intensity – such as Lord God of Abraham and the more contemplative It Is Enough.

Internationally acclaimed New Zealand soprano Anna Leese’s Hear Ye Israel was superb and every time she sang as soloist, or in the numerous ensemble sections, there was an immediate impact on the performances.

Mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Harris and tenor Declan Cudd each sang with considerable artistry throughout.

They delivered a serene presentation of the alto solos O Rest in the Lord and Woe Unto Him, a real lyric quality in the tenor solos I With All Your Hearts and Then, Then shall the Righteous Shine Forth.

Sopranos from the choir – Brigit Staatsmann and Vicki Vaughan – made significant contributions in the several ensemble numbers, while the part of The Boy was beautifully projected by young soprano Cathy Pearson.

The Contribution from the Hawke’s Bay Orchestra, led by Stephanie Buzzard, was as impressive as it was demanding, supporting all the singers with strongly rhythmic playing, while organist Gary Bowler underpinned all the other instrumentalists in the most dramatic parts of this exciting performance.

Orchestra shares audience’s delight

HBO with José Aparicio and pianist Matteo Napoli
Napier Municipal Theatre, Saturday 13 September 2015

Reviewed by Peter Williams.

This was a selection of well-known favourite orchestral repertoire, all from the 19th century, but well contrasted in style to make an interesting and entertaining programme that delighted an enthusiastic audience.

The Overture to the opera Der Freischutz is not the easiest to play first up on a programme with its gentle opening, but the atmosphere was effectively created and the horns coped with the exposed opening ably and shone through later in the concert as well. The atmosphere of the music was clearly maintained throughout the Overture with some very attractive playing from the whole orchestra and excellent dynamic contrasts.

Chopin composed his two piano concertos when barely out of his teens and they were used extensively as a vehicle for his own virtuosity throughout his short life. Visiting pianist Matteo Napoli certainly captured the youthful elan of Concerto No 2 in F Minor, particularly in the final Allegro Vivace movement, with its cascades of notes and brilliant passage work. Chopin’s concertos have sometimes been criticised for the orchestral part being somewhat light weight, but it was fine for this orchestra. The lengthy orchestral introduction to the first movement matched the lilting, very expressive quality of the piano part which followed, and the orchestra gave excellent support to the soloist throughout the performance. The sustained, lyric character of the solo part was a feature of the middle Larghetto movement.

The Symphony No 8 in G by Dvořák is a great concert piece which the orchestra obviously enjoyed playing every bit as much as the audience enjoyed listening. Certainly the string tone was at times no match for the impressive brass section as Aparicio gave the orchestra full rein, transferring his enthusiasm for the music to the players in an exhilarating performance, especially the final movement.

Essential rhythmic drive of the music was always in place and the audience will easily retain many of the catchy melodies they heard. As well there were many vividly contrasted quieter moments, enhanced by some skilful solo playing from within all sections of the orchestra.

A busy weekend for the players with two performances of Elijah to accompany as well, but all credit to the musicianship and skill of José Aparicio in such a demanding undertaking.