12 Feb 2019

Review: Adam Chamber Music Festival strikes a chord

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 12 February 2019

In last week’s first review from the Adam Chamber Music Festival our reviewer was dazzled by Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon and anticipating the concert by the Jerusalem Quartet.

Várjon and his wife Izabella Simon continued to impress as the week progressed and the Jerusalem Quartet were outstanding, particularly in Beethoven’s late Quartet Opus 127 on Wednesday night and in their afternoon concert of music by Haydn and Korngold.

Denes Varjon

Denes Varjon Photo: Supplied

From the opening chords of the Beethoven their huge sound and unanimity of musical purpose were striking – they play as one instrument with an effortless sense of ensemble, offering both drama and precision. They’re also great interpreters, with marvellous variety in their playing.

In their hands Korngold’s 2nd String Quartet was full of interest and atmosphere. They opened the concert with exquisite playing of Haydn’s Quartet in G Opus 76 No 1 with marvellous nuance and immaculate ensemble work.

Cellist Rolf Gjelsten with the NZSQ

Cellist Rolf Gjelsten with the NZSQ Photo: supplied

Traditionally on Waitangi Day the Adam Festival presents New Zealand compositions and this year the concert was called Te Ao Hou, (The New World). The New Zealand String Quartet and taonga puoro musician Rob Thorne presented a group of compositions as a single thread, asking the audience not to applaud between the compositions by Salina Fisher, Rob Thorne himself, Gillian Whitehead and Gareth Farr.

They also premiered a new trio by Anthony Ritchie, Spirals, a gentle shapely work and a nice lightening of texture amongst the taonga puoro works. The concert ended with Gillian Whitehead’s Puhake ki te rangi, about whales and using whalebone which worked particularly well in this context, the previous works setting the scene.

Rob Thorne playing taonga pūoro

Rob Thorne playing taonga pūoro Photo: RNZ/David McCaw

With seven excellent violinists to draw on, the Adam Festival commissioned a set of duos and trios which were programmed throughout the event by mixed groupings of international and local violinists.

Ken Young’s dramatic, whimsical Nocturne was played by the violinists from the Jerusalem Quartet, Martin Lodge’s Two, a well-crafted Bach homage, by a sparky pairing of Monique Lapins and Nikki Chooi; there were two violin trios from Aucklanders Leonie Holmes and Alex Taylor, and a Klezmer-based duet from Ross Harris. Helene Pohl and Wilma Smith worked together in a very effective duet by composer Louise Webster The shape of your words.

Leonie Holmes

Leonie Holmes Photo: supplied

One of the less conventional chamber musicians at the Festival was Scottish virtuoso accordionist James Crabb. Crabb spent 25 years of his career in Copenhagen where there’s a strong culture of classical accordion and is now based in Sydney.

He has an on-going collaboration with Festival guest, violinist Anthony Marwood who recommended him to the Adam Artistic Directors. His Tango concert with Marwood and Joan Perarnau Garriga was another sell-out, in spite of 9.30pm start time. Crabb gave a quick, brilliant lecture on accordion history in the middle of a concert that was thoroughly enjoyable, not least for the relaxed and virtuosic playing of Marwood.

James Crabb

James Crabb Photo: supplied

The great international visitors will leave a lasting memory as will the marvellous mixed ensembles and repertoire heard less often.

After the performance of the lovely Brahms Viola Quintet played by the NZSQ with violist Ori Kam of the Jerusalem Quartet the NZSQ took the opportunity to launch their new Brahms Quintets CD.

In the Grand Finale concert the Festival ended with the ever-popular Mendelssohn Octet played by the New Zealand and Jerusalem Quartets.