Piers Lane and Hiroshi Ikematsu

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With members of the New Zealand String Quartet
7 October 2018, MTG, Napier
By Louis Pierard

Schubert – Adagio and Rondo Concertante D.487 and Piano Quintet in A major D.667 (“Trout”);  Rossini – Duo for Cello and Double Bass in D major; and Ross Harris – Orowaru (The rippling sound of water).

Impressions of trout streams – 200 years apart and on opposite sides of the world – was the theme of the final concert of the season for the Chamber Music New Zealand subscription series. And Napier was fortunate to host one of just five concerts on the tour, which features Australian-born Piers Lane and former principal NZSO double bassist Hiroshi Ikematsu along with Monique Lapins, violin, Gillian Ansell, viola, and Rolf Gjelsten, cello.

The drawcard was, of course, the Trout Quintet, a kind of musical tryptophan that ensures it is a perennial favourite of concertgoers as well as being capable of cheering those otherwise immune to the many charms of chamber music. So the event drew a good crowd, and because of the sensible 5pm start, many youngsters too.  Of no less moment was the Trout’s antipodean counterpart of sorts, Ross Harris’ freshly commissioned Orowaru, inspired, the composer says, by the complex harmonic beauty of the rivers near Turangi.

The evening began with Schubert’s brief, two-movement concertante piano quartet, said to be the closest the composer ever came to writing a piano concerto and which was published 70 years after his death.  In this graceful dialogue between piano and strings the players brought out the carefree optimism of the work, which is a piano showpiece but less of a competition between its executors than a benevolent exchange.

Ikematsu, now principal bass with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, partnered with Gjelsten in Rossini’s jaunty D Major Duo written for the 19th century celebrity bass player Domenico Dragonetti.  The rollicking piece is a natural favourite of bass players who enjoy embellishing the music to demonstrate their virtuosity, and it reveals a remarkable range of musical colour from two low-pitched single-line instruments. The pleasure shown by the players was unfailingly infectious.

Harris’ Orowaru, a seamless, 15-minute-long fusion of three pieces evoking the depths and shallows of the Hineaiai River, Waipehi Stream and Tongariro River, closed the first half of the evening.  The work’s seemingly random soundscape may not always appeal to the more traditional ear, but to allow one’s self an immersion in the sound palette of our anglers’ paradise is to yield some surprising pleasures that can trigger a range of resonances. There is high order of subtlety here, with tantalising melodic fragments that emerge, like hatching caddis fly. And the playing was superb, with extraordinary, intuitive precision in the timing of the closing bellbird sounds.

While the impulses may be constant, the effects could hardly be different in the ripples and rills of Schubert’s trout haunts. The main catch of the day would have rewarded every expectation.  The performance of the Trout Quintet was a good as it gets, from the opening splash, to the genial and expansive variations and the satisfying exuberant finale, in a venue that can be unforgiving for lesser hands, but has an intimacy and immediacy that rewards such fine performers. Lane is a pianist of considerable musical intelligence and generosity, displaying effortlessly the virtuosity that the work demands while maintaining a fine, genial balance with the other players.  Being privy to such a sparkling musical conversation was a rare treat.

NB. As serendipity, Ikematsu is a keen trout fisherman and won the national pairs fly-fishing championship while he lived in New Zealand.

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