Beethoven and Saint-Saëns Thrill

Hawke’s Bay Orchestra, Leader Stephanie Buzzard
Directed by Jose Aparicio, Cello Soloist Rolf Gjelsten

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

Napier Civic Choir Concert, directed by Jose Aparicio
St John’s Cathedral, Napier, Friday 1 April 2016
Reviewed by Peter Williams

Previously scheduled for performance in St Paul’s Church, required earthquake strengthening of that building necessitated a change of venue to St John’s Cathedral. 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.

The programme was repeated the following Sunday afternoon.

Elijah confirms favoured status

Napier Civic Choir with the Hawkes Bay Orchestra in concert. Directed by José Aparicio.

Oratorio Elijah by Mendelssohn.
St John’s Cathedral, Napier. Sunday, September 14 (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

Hawkes Bay Orchestra Directed by José Aparicio. Leader Stephanie Buzzard. Piano soloist Matteo Napoli. Music by Weber, Chopin and Dvořák.
Napier Municipal Theatre, Saturday, September 13 (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.