Saturday, February 11 was the final day of the Festival. The pattern continued right up to the end of modern works mixing and mingling with rarities and familiar classics.
The afternoon concert opened with a delightful rarity, Beethoven's Duo for Viola, Cello, and Obbligato Eyeglasses. (Don't ask about the title, it's a long story). Although as carefully constructed as anything the master wrote, this piece is definitely light-hearted by Beethoven standards. Gillian Ansell and Matthew Barley exactly captured the sense of fun and play in this lovable little piece.
Cavernous Ruins, by Edward Ware, for string quartet and marimba proved to be a remarkable chain of three movements all linked together. While the first made use of very modern textures and dissonances, the second broke out into much more active rhythms, and ended in what the composer's note called "an open and fully improvised marimba solo." In another time and place it might have been called a "cadenza"! This bridged the way into the solemn, almost mournful lyricism of the final movement. Ian Rosenbaum's marimba solo was perfectly scaled for its function in the work, and both he and the New Zealand String Quartet played beautifully in that final slow section.
Andrew Joyce concluded the afternoon by taking the stage with Dénes Varjon for the last (of the five), Beethoven's Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Major, Op. 102/2. As he has all week, Varjon gave a performance of the piano part full dramatic contrasts and considerable power. Joyce more than matched him in weight while still keeping a fine singing tone in the slow movement, and plenty of power in the fugal section of the finale. I'm sorry I didn't arrive in Nelson in time to hear the first two steps of the complete cycle.
The Grand Finale concert in the Cathedral on Saturday night consisted of four works. I'm going to take them out of order so that I can drop the bad news shoe first.
The second work up was another work by Andy Akiho, LIgNEouS Suite for percussion and strings. Ian Rosenbaum performed along with the Goldner Quartet. While Akiho's work is certainly "mold-breaking", as described by the New York Times, I must disagree vehemently with the Times' critic who went on to describe his work as "dramatic... and vital..." It's loud, indeed noisy, full of a great assortment of odd sounds aggressively wrenched out of the instruments. It's also tedious and boring almost beyond belief.
Yes, I'm being blunt. My great bugbear in contemporary music is music that drops a sound, lets it lie there, then drops another sound, and so on, with absolutely no sense of direction, purpose (except for making sounds one after another), or form. The effect here could just as easily have been a mass improvisation for five performers in which the sounds continued to be generated one after another until someone gave the agreed-upon signal to stop. The tedium was greatly aggravated by the ceaseless repetition of the same sounds over and over and over, with no change, no variety, no letup in the volume. I'm just thankful that the performance consisted of only two movements of the Suite.
The rest of the concert was on a completely different level, and the contrast couldn't have been greater when the New Zealand Quartet and James Campbell turned next to Brahms and the autumnal Clarinet Quintet. This late work is a familiar friend. I've heard Campbell play it live at least five times, including one previous occasion with the NZSQ. Their performance on this occasion expanded beautifully in the rich acoustic of the Cathedral, without losing the essential feeling of a conversation among friends. Where a prima donna clarinetist might demand to be heard at all times (in what isn't really a solo role), Campbell's sound blends in and out of the ensemble with great subtlety throughout the work.
For the first time in my six days of this Festival, the Quartet were able to adopt their signature standing position, which does so much for the unanimity and integrity of their playing. Compared to the last time I heard these artists perform the work, I sensed a more extrovert approach to the third and fourth movements. That worked very well, preparing the way for the almost heartbreaking moment when the opening melody of the whole Quintet returns suddenly out of the fifth variation. The players then allowed the poetic ending all the time in the world to breathe its last sigh.
After the intermission, Rosenbaum returned with cellist Matthew Barley to perform Osvaldo Golijov's Duo for Marimba and Cello: Mariel. Even without the programme notes, I think I would have sensed as this work unfolded that it was a memorial piece. The marimba part was largely made up of three unrelated chords which were each sustained through varying lengths of time, and then repeated in sequence. Once this sequence was established, the cello entered with a quietly sustained note which gradually unfolded into a slow, dark melody. Meanwhile, the marimba part began to "breathe" -- the sequence of sustained chords began moving a little faster, then a little slower, at different points of time. It became a living backcloth to the melody line of the cello. A beautiful performance of a modern work well worth hearing again.
The wrap-up to the whole Festival came with the three Festival Quartets (Goldner, New Zealand, and Troubadours) joined by double bass player Joan Perarnau Garriga in Dvorak's cheerful Serenade for Strings, Op. 22. Dvorak also wrote an equally-charming Serenade for winds, and I've finally decided that my favourite of the two is whichever one I happen to be listening to at the moment.
One of the special charms of this work is the element of contrast within four of the five movements (the relatively short first movement excepted). Each of the second through fifth movements has contrasting sections so different in character that they almost seem like independent movements in their own right. At the end of the work, then, it's easy to feel that you've been taken on a really long and varied tour of the musical world when you've really been right at home the whole time.
The thirteen players relished these contrasts in full, making much of the stylistic variation between sections especially in the second movement -- an indolent waltz which then gives way to two high-energy scherzando interludes. That waltz was as light and casual as you could want.
And so it went. Each movement in turn unfolded its own beauties in full measure. Right from the get-go, the smiling lyrical theme which opens the piece drew us right into the composer's sound world at once. The slow movement larghetto gave a point of relative repose before the high-speed Allegro vivace finale, which certainly was full of life as the direction requires. The tricky moment in the finale when the tempo slows right down to admit a return of the original lyrical theme of the opening was handled very neatly, so that it seemed integral and not a stuck-on effect. The breathless acceleration back to the finale tempo and then even faster into the coda put a remarkable period onto a fine performance, and a truly exciting Festival.