Marlborough Singers hitting all the right notes with Handel’s Messiah |

Although New Zealand opera singer Robert Tucker has been singing since he was young, his choir welcomes all ages and abilities.
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Review: Kristallnacht, Wellington 2019

The original full-length review can be found here.

By Peter Mechen, 10/11/2019

Beth El Synagogue (the Wellington Jewish Community Centre), in partnership with
Te Kōki New Zealand School of Music (Victoria University of Wellington) presents:
KRISTALLNACHT – Unity Concert, 2019

This concert was a commemoration of the anti-Jewish events of 9/10 November, 1938, (“Kristallnacht”) which took place throughout the Third Reich

Music by Schulhoff, Weinberg, Farr, Korngold and Pigovat, along with jazz and cabaret selections

Selection of jazz and cabaret music from the camps
Barbara Graham (soprano)/David Barnard (piano)/Ben van Leuven (clarinet)
Te Kōki Trio

Beth El Synagogue (Wellington Jewish Community Centre)
Mt.Cook, Wellington

Sunday, 10th November, 2019

We were welcomed to the Beth El Synagogue (the Wellington Jewish Community Centre) by Rabbi Ariel Tal, our host for the evening, who talked about the words of the Torah as having a similar “song of life” quality to that of the concert we were about to hear; and then by Deborah Hart, the Chair of the Holocaust Centre, who drew a poignant and powerful comparison with the events of Kristellnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”) throughout Hitler’s Reich in 1938, and the recent attack on the mosques in Christchurch, contrasting the sounds of glass shattering with the comforting and restorative strains of the music programmed for tonight’s concert.

Other speakers were Adam Awad from Somalia, now a resident of New Zealand and an advocate for refugees through organisations he helped to found such as the Changemakers Refugee Forum and the National Refugee Network, and Professor Donald Maurice, presently the Acting Head of Te Koki New Zealand School of Music, who talked of the collaborations that have taken place between the NZSM and The Holocaust Centre since the historic concert of 2008 at which Boris Pigovat’s Holocaust Requiem was premiered.

The concert concluded with a “selection of jazz and cabaret music from the camps” – beginning with a tango number put across with tremendous flair and a good deal of power of presence and voice by soprano Barbara Graham, realising the song’s ever-agglomerating intensity and focus towards a terrific climax – it sounded like Kurt Weill and it was! – a work called “Youkali” a “tango-habanera”, written in 1934 for an opera “Marie Galante”, the song a plea for peace and love in an imagined land “Youkali” of hope and desire. Graham was accompanied by pianist David Barnard and clarinettist Ben van Leuven.

For Graham’s final three songs, David Barnard took up the piano-accordion – the first of these was called “When a small package arrives”. Sung in Dutch, Graham delivered the wistful opening with pent-up longing, which broke into a polka-rhythm for the song’s main body, the singer charmingly translating the words for us during the music’s middle instrumental section.  Then came the “Westerbork Serenade”, famously and bizarrely recorded by two of the transit camp’s inmates, a popular singing duo ”Johnny and Jones”, in 1944, and here sung by both Graham and Barnard with fervour and energy. The Te Kōki Trio joined the duo for the final “Auschwitz Tango”, the words of the song, incredibly, written by a twelve year-old girl in Auschwitz, and translated by Graham at the song’s beginning – the music was dark, tragic and incredibly defiant, and the performance by the singer exemplary. It was all put across with almost unbearably laden strength of feeling, and so very movingly strong and resistant-sounding at the end, a veritable ballade of courage in the face of adversity and persecution – which, of course, was what the concert and its context was all about. An extraordinary experience!

Review: Lunchtime Recital

By , 10/07/2019

Wednesday Lunchtime Concerts at St Andrew’s

Margaret Medlyn (mezzo-soprano), Richard Greager (tenor), with David Barnard (piano)

Songs by Berg, Ross Harris, Poulenc, Strauss, Puccini and Rachmaninov

St Andrews on The Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday 10 July 2019, 12;15 pm

A song recital by two internationally renowned singers based in Wellington is a significant musical event. The programme was like a snapshot of the music of the first half of the twentieth century across a wide range of countries, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, with a more recent item from New Zealand.

The concert began with Margaret Medlyn singing Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs (1907). These songs were written under the influence of Arnold Schoenberg, but also show echoes of Mahler, Wolf, Richard Strauss, and even Debussy. They were sung with understanding. Margaret Medlyn is a commanding singer with a powerful voice. Her beautiful deep register is penetrating and moving. The songs are set to texts by Carl Hauptman, Nikolaus Lenau, Theodore Storm, Rainer Maria Rilke, Johannes Schlaf, Otto Erich Hartleben, and Paul Hohenberg, a mirror of the Austrian literary world in which Berg was immersed. They reflected a great variety of emotions.

Richard Greager sang four short songs by Ross Harris, set to poems by Vincent O’Sullivan. Three of these were about father and son relationship, gentle domestic thoughts, one had a rollicking sea shanty feel. Vincent O’Sullivan and Ross Harris have a close association, and the songs were written for Richard Greager, all very Wellington, very Victoria University, but they were lovely and unpretentious.

This was followed by Poulenc’s Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard. Poulenc moved in artistic and literary circles and had set the poems of many of his contemporaries to music. These songs are about down-and-outs, a subject that was meaningful in the Paris of the first quarter of the twentieth century. These songs are very much dialogues between voice and piano, and this was demonstrated by the sensitive piano playing of David Barnard responding to the singing of Richard Greager.

Margaret Medlyn then sang three songs by Richard Strauss. The first, ‘Befreit’, is a setting of a poem of Richard Dehmel, and one of Strauss’ most popular songs. The second, ‘Heimliche aufforderung’, the text by John Henry Mackay, was a wedding present to Strauss’s wife, the singer Pauline de Ahna. The third song, ‘Ich trage meine Minne’, ‘I bear my love /Silent with joy’ is one of the many songs that Strauss wrote for his wife. These songs appear to be simple, but they all have the hallmark of the special Richard Strauss sense of harmony and unexpected chords and twists in the melody.

Richard Greager sang three songs by Puccini. Puccini is hardly known for his songs, but he used these as sketches for arias in his operas. Richard Greager’s warm light tenor is well suited to these songs. In the second, ‘Sole e amore’, one can clearly hear ideas later used in La Boheme.

The final bracket of songs, again from Greager, consisted of three songs by Rachmaninov. These are imbued with a sense of nostalgia for the countryside. Though the setting is Russian the melodic line is often more Italian. It is the rich piano accompaniment that makes it characteristically Rachmaninov.

This was an ambitious programme and a rewarding concert. It was notable for the intelligent approach to the music, the clear phrasing and diction of the two singers. David Barnard’s piano playing, his sensitive support of the singers is worth a special mention. With teachers such as these at the New Zealand School of Music, it is not surprising that it turns out so many fine singers. Some of these singers will be performing Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi at the Hannah Playhouse next week.