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"Douglas Mews is a world class exponent of the harpsichord which he showed to full capacity throughout. His performance of Handel’s Suite No.2 was spellbinding." - Nelson Mail
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Vibrant Concerti Grossi old and new light up a refurbished Old St.Paul’s in Thorndon

Posted on 16/02/2021 by Peter Mechen

Baroque Music Community and Educational Trust of NZ, in partnership with
University of Canterbury Music presents:

Mark Menzies – Solo Violin / Tomas Hurnik – Solo ‘Cello
Ensemble of participants in Baroque Music Workshop 2021
Rakuto Kurano, Ashley Leng, Leo Liu, Henry Nicholson, Jack Tyler, Thomas Bedggood (violins)
Rebecca Harris (viola) / Daniel Ng (cello) / Frederick Bohan-Dyke, Oliver Jenks (harpsichord)

Old St.Paul’s, Thorndon, Wellington

Monday, 16th February, 2021

I was thrilled beyond words when told that this concert would take place in the breathtakingly beautiful Old St/ Paul’s Church in Thorndon, a building which extensive earthquake-strengthening renovations had closed to the public for so long! So for me it was like greeting an old friend when walking through the church’s entranceway for the New Baroque Generation’s Wellington concert, one which concluded the ensemble’s enterprising “11 concerts in 16 days” tour of the country.

This initiative, set up by the Baroque Music Community and Educational Trust along with the University of Canterbury Music included an intensive week-long workshop on baroque instrumental practices as well as the aforementioned concert tour. At the forefront of the project were two well-known professional musicians – violinist Mark Menzies and Czech baroque specialist and cellist, Tomas Hurnik – under whose guidance the musicians who attended the workshop were able to put their newly-honed skills into practice over the duration.

The concert included a new work especially commissioned for the tour, one specifically designed for the project, a neo-baroque work by emerging composer Rakuto Kurano, a violinist in the touring ensemble. The work formed the finale of a concert devoted to that most baroque of all musical forms, the Concerto Grosso, of which we heard various representative examples from that “era”. Apart from Rakuto Kurano’s splendid work, the one which surprised me the most was by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), a composer I’d hitherto associated almost exclusively with vocal works.

Basically a “Concerto Grosso” features a small grouping of instruments interacting with a larger ensemble, instead of a single instrument being pitted against an orchestra in a standard “concerto”. My introduction to the “Concerto Grosso” form was via Handel on a 1967 set of Decca recordings made by the then world-famous Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields, under the leadership of Neville Marriner – such a delight! – and not least due to Handel’s freely “borrowing” from his own music, some of which I already knew. In his Op. 6 set of 12 Concerti Grossi, for instance,  No.9 (HWV 327) and No.11 (HWV 329) both contained delightful reworkings of parts of the composer’s organ concerti, most prominently the famous “Cuckoo and the Nightingale” Concerto (HWV 295).

We did get some Handel in this evening’s presentation, one of those Op.6 Concerti, though, alas, not either of those already referred to. Instead we got the first of the set, No. 1 in G Major (HWV 319), for which the composer again “poached” some of his previous music, an Overture from one of his “Italian” operas, Imeneo, as well as freely imitating passages in one of fellow-composer Domenico Scarlatti’s newly-published “Harpsichord Exercises”. Handel’s work came as the penultimate item on the programme, a kind of “state-of-the-art” example of a Baroque form.

I made a lot of performance notes in the “heat of the listening moment”, which would be too tiresome for anybody to read in full afterwards, so will attempt to summarise my impressions – of the Handel, I thought the opening “A tempo giusto” beautifully sounded, the terracing of dynamics  between the duetting violins and the ensemble exquisite – then, in the “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba-like” Allegro which followed, I thought the players amply demonstrated in places that Handel seemed almost to have invented the “Mannheim Crescendo” before the musicians of that august ensemble did! I loved the detailings in the Adagio, such as the elaborate trills which introduced some of the cadences; and relished the different trajectories of the two concluding Allegro sections, the second one particularly exuberant, with plenty of “joicks! – tally-ho!” kind of stuff, thankfully with no horses, hounds or unfortunate fox present!

Of course, I have things the wrong way round, here, as the concert opened with the M-A Charpentier work, the H.545 “Concert pour 4 parties de violes” – two Preludes, each as shapely and flowing as the other, played in the “authentic” manner with little vibrato, but not without warmth and expression, and plenty of dynamic variation. The following Sarabande took our sensibilities to solemn, thoughtful realms at the outset, the Trio section (2 violins and ‘cello) alternating with the ripieno (the full ensemble), with a sweetly-toned piano conclusion. By contrast the Gigues gave off terrific energies, first the “Angloise” in ¾ time, contrasting with the “Francois” in common time, the whole ceremonially rounded by the concluding “Passecaille”, varying the textures between trios of instruments and full band, before concluding the work with a hushed version of the theme – so very lovely!

The works followed one another in more-or-less chronological order, Giuseppe Torelli’s “Concerto musicale a quattro in G Major Op.6, No. 1”, niftily throwing the figurations about in lively fashion at the beginning before calling order with a winsome Adagio sequence. I felt the music-making already had hit its stride in terms of a “naturalness” of utterance with the succeeding Allegro, nothing being “forced” or “squeezed”, the energies always expressive and properly “breathed”.  The first violin’s floridly-expressed decoration of the Adagio seemed to grow naturally from what had come before, transforming into a more energetic but still graceful Allegro movement, and seemingly to gather energy as it proceeded, until a wry, almost mischievous softer postlude ended the work.

While not named as a “Concerto Grosso” Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto in B-flat for violin, ‘cello and strings RV 547” featured the violin and cello soloists as both collaborators and combatants, with great teamwork from the pair alternating trenchant and exciting exchanges, each player relishing the dynamic variation of his line both when interlocked with the other’s and when solo – so exciting! The slow movement brought out more co-operation than competition, each instrument seeming to “listen” to the other in an affecting way; while the finale seemed like a kind of “anything you can do I can do as well/better” kind of interchange, the violin in particular “digging in” during a central trenchant section, before both instruments surrendered to the sheer elan of the massed tutti ending!

Arcangelo Corelli, generally acknowledged as the “master“ of the concerto grosso form produced his set of 12 works in 1714 some years after they were actually written – in an “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” kind of gesture, Handel subsequently brought out his own set of works directly modelled on Corelli’s, effectively “bringing to fruition” the form, with younger composers already beginning to move towards the solo concerto and the sinfonia concertante kind of work. As we got from Handel’s Op.6,  we were given the first of Corelli’s set, No. 1 in D Major, a beautifully rich ceremonial Largo opening, the Allegro sections that  followed interspersed with the return of the slower music. The Largo that followed had beautiful “birdsong” elements in the figurations, which suddenly scampered off in “edge-of-the-seat” style, as if dancing on the edge of a precipice, the playing somehow conveying a whiff of dangerous excitement! The solo violin began the opening of the ensuing Adagio with the second violin attractively imitating, echo-wise, the phrases, and the cello steadfastedly counterpointing the progressions. What really delighted our sensibilities was the final Allegro, the two solo violins in thirds excitingly dashing away at the  music’s beginning, relishing the interplay between each other and with the ripieno strings, and turning to the audience as if “bringing us in” to add our breathed “Amens” to the final phrases!

At the conclusion of the already-described Handel work, we were given what promised to be the evening’s most thought-provoking work – a Concerto Grosso commissioned from one of the ensemble’s violinists, Rakuto Kurano. I wasn’t prepared for what seemed like the work’s complete absorption of the historical concerto grosso form but straightaway with its own distinction, the introduction tempestuous and arresting (almost “sturm und drang” in its mood), succeeded by a poised, breath-catching series of quiet gestures, the solo violin adding some stratospheric decoration to the line, then plunging into a fugue, hair-raisingly active and with some terrific dove-tailing gestures to boot! The Fourth section, Grave, sounded gorgeous, steadily-moving chords over which the two solo violins elaborated, bringing the solo cello briefly into the argument at the end. A boisterous Allegro gave the two violins a fine “duelling” sequence, the supporting players either dashing round about or soaring away with their own flights of fancy. The Adagio which followed was  a kind of freeze-frame or slow-interlude in a motion picture, and with the harpsichord, so discreetly balanced to a fault throughout the evening, allowed a brief moment of soloistic glory! The Allegro Vivace that followed – a boisterous, percussive dance, complete with tambourine – primed us up for the brief but exhilarating “The Birds”, antiphonal dialogues pithy but hair-raising! The Finale, energetic and involving, concluded with a trenchant tutti  that “grounded” the sounds in a satisfyingly conclusive way – a gesture of unequivocal and inspiring surety.

A brief encore piece was, I was told, Luigi Boccherini’s “Night music from the streets of Madrid” – if “more Courtenay Place than Thorndon” at that hour, it certainly returned us to our lives, and prompted more of the same enthusiasm and enjoyment. Very great honour and glory to the members of this ensemble, and to their inspirational teachers over the duration, violinist Mark Menzies and ‘cellist Tomas Hurnik, their leadership and encouragement here wrought of magic.


Posted in Reviews - Concerts Tagged baroque music, contemporary music, New Zealand music, string ensemble Leave a comment

"Very precise moves, slow and sensuous or cautiously frivolous, but proudly elegant at all times."

                                                                                                - Otago Daily Times


The Baroque Community and Educational Trust of New Zealand presented a recital last evening in St Paul’s Cathedral, Dunedin, as part of its  South Island tour, writes Elizabeth Bouman.


The twilight ambience of the venue fitted the mood and character of the recital and excellent clarity of sound and movement was enjoyed by a small but appreciative audience. 

Baroque music, particularly secular forms traditionally adhered to the metre and character of various dances of the time, and the programme was enhanced by dancing from international Baroque period dance specialist Mareike Greb (Germany). Authentic 17th  century costuming added to the performance and her elegance and graceful routines were delightful. She also compered the recital.

A Telemann  Overture in A Minor  opened the programme followed by his trio sonata  Les Corelizantes No. 6.  Next was a Corelli trio sonata  (D Minor Op.4 No. 8) , highlighted by the dancer’s Italian/Spanish interpretation of Court political inference and romantic innuendos. Very precise moves, slow and sensuous or cautiously frivolous, but proudly elegant at all times. 

Vivaldi’s  Double Concerto in A Minor RV522  with its forward-moving energised passages was a highlight, as was a harpsichord concerto by Domenico Paradies, when nimble fingers launched endless sequential chains with virtuosic keyboard flair. 

A short dance piece depicting a drunken female sailor  La Matelotte  by Marin Marais was amusingly illustrated by exaggerated inebriated footwork.  The final work of 14  short movements was a virtual compendium of Baroque dance. 

The quartet comprised Edita Keglerova (harpsichord), Szabolcs Illes and Jonathan Tanner (Baroque violins) and Tomas Hurnik (Baroque cello). 

Reviewed by Elizabeth Bouman

The Beautiful World of Baroque Music and Dance

St Paul’s Cathedral, Thursday, February 15 


" The five musicians managed a very impressive performance with remarkable tempi, unique in many ways for the individuality of single "voices'', particularly virtuosic input from Illes (violin soloist).   

                                                                                                    - Otago Daily


A good-sized audience in St Paul's Cathedral on Saturday evening was treated to a recital of music by the Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), performed on authentic period instruments by Szabolcs Illes (Hungary), Edita Keglerova (Czech Republic), Tomas Hurnik, Jonathan Tanner and Shelly Wilkinson.


The recital began with three Vivaldi short concerti, before the performance of his best known work Four Seasons. It was quite special to hear these works performed by such skilled instrumentalists. The vast acoustics of the venue did not detract from the delivery, although at times the harpsicord sound did not carry well.


Alla Rusitca RV 151 was a short three-movement work in similar vein to Four Seasons, and based on Dunedin's January seasonal weather could well have been included as an optional fifth movement for that masterpiece! Convincing statements with echoed repeats, well-defined cello passages and a feeling of lyricism highlighted the contrapuntal spirit in Triple Concerto RV 554a.


Concerto in D major RV 121 opened with a movement of robust unison statements and subtle affirmation, before a contrasting brief Adagio crammed with suspensions and resolved dissonance. The final Allegro raced away with bright capricious passages - so typically Vivaldi.

Lines of poetry added to the original score by Vivaldi were read before movements of Four Seasons, alerting the listener to brilliant bird-like solos, shepherds' pipes, wasps and storms. The five musicians managed a very impressive performance with remarkable tempi, unique in many ways for the individuality of single "voices'', particularly virtuosic input from Illes (violin soloist). 

Saturday's performance gave distinct clarity to the conversational character, sequential definition and changing moods of nature's four seasons.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Bouman


"This concert was a rare treat for Nelson, truly an enchanting evening."

        - Nelson Mail


An enticing aspect of this concert was the invitation it offered to step through the door of the 21st century into the 15th and 16th with music played on authentic instruments of the period by five outstanding musicians.

Baroque music tends to be associated almost exclusively with its two most well-known exponents, Bach and Handel, and a delightful aspect of this concert was the inclusion of work by so many lesser known luminaries such as Frescobaldi, Mascitti and Rosenmuller, which allowed for a broad appreciation of the era’s music.

There is rarely as compelling a sound as the haunting tone of the cello and the opening Cello Sonata in C Major by Jacchini set a rich musical atmosphere. Cellist Tomas Hurnik certainly knows how to make this instrument sing and this gave a depth and solidity to the music. His playing during ‘‘Affetuoso’’ from Geminiani’s Cello Sonata in C major was an exquisite example of fine tonality and musical skill.

Jonathan Le Cocq, a master of the Baroque guitar and Theorbo, gave a masterful performance throughout and delighted the audience with his rendition of Canario by de Murcia which would have inspired even the most professional guitarist.

Douglas Mews is a world class exponent of the harpsichord which he showed to full capacity throughout. His performance of Handel’s Suite No.2 was spellbinding.


Shelley Wilkinson, an experienced performer of the Baroque violin, made it sing effortlessly throughout.

Pepe Becker completed the ensemble with her stunning soprano voice that soared in the fine Nelson Cathedral acoustics in works by Monteverdi, Purcell and Handel.


This concert was a rare treat for Nelson, truly an enchanting evening.

Reviewed by Adrienne Matthews


"Vivaldi takes Nelson through all seasons in one day."

        - Nelson Mail


Solo violinist Szabolcs Illes from Hungary.

Baroque music is coming to Nelson with a recital of Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons.

Comprising five musicians, the tour has concerts in cathedrals and churches all over the South Island, including Christchurch and Dunedin.

Organizer Michelle Hurnik said all of the music was being played on period instruments, making the sound more ‘‘subtle and more direct’’.

The programme consists of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Concerto Alla Rusitca RV 151, Triple Concerto RV 554a for violin, cello and harpsichord and Concerto in D major RV 121.

Two of the five musicians are from Europe; solo violinist Szabolcs Illes from Hungary and harpsichordist Edita Keglerova from the Czech Republic.

From Christchurch there is cellist Tomas Hurnik and violinist Jonathan Tanner and violist Shelley Wilkinson is from Auckland.

Hurnik said the musicians had studied baroque music and authentic interpretation.

‘‘It’s just beautiful music, really gorgeous and the Four Seasons most people know.’’

The soloist for the evening is Illes, who studied with famous baroque violinists such as Enrico Gatti, Marinett Troost, Lucy van Dael and Simon Standage.

Since 2008, he has been a concertmaster of the Hof-Musici orchestra which is primarily working on the reconstruction and presentation of baroque operas with authentic instruments, costumes and original settings.

Hurnik said all the concerts were held in churches and cathedrals to make the most of the sound with good acoustics.

‘‘What is special about New Zealand is that we have a cathedral with amazing sound in every place.

‘‘It’s lovely to pair up European music with the New Zealand architecture, and have it work so beautifully.’’

Vivaldi – Four Seasons presented by The Baroque Music Community and Educational Trust of New Zealand at Nelson Christ Church Cathedral on February 19 at 2pm. Tickets $45 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $5 for children.


"The music itself is subtle - the beauty is quite amazing."

          - Mountain Scene - Voice of Queenstown


A rare chance to hear baroque music as it would sound when composed 400 years ago comes to Queenstown tonight.

Tomas Hurnik, associate cello principal with Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) brings a South Island Concert Tour to St Peter's Church.

Czech Hurnik is joined by Hungarian violinist Szabolcs Illes, a Czech harpsichord player Edita Keglerova and CSO violinist Phillippa Lodge.

They'll be playing period instruments in a period setting.

Hurnik says:"We play 415 hz (pitch) on gut strings - a completely different sound. I have a fascination with that sound. I was captured by it when my teacher introduced me to it aged 14-there's something magical about it. The period instruments compared with the modern ones are not so loud but because we're using a lower pitch, generally 415 which is a half tone lower, then the instrument is not under the same stress. So it has much more eloquence and a bigger range of harmonics. Its more colorful."

Hurnik explains Baroque music was written for venues with specific acoustics, usually churches or palace rooms.

"Once we use the gut strings we need the space for it to vibrate and mix the sound together," he says.

"The music itself is subtle - the beauty is quite amazing".

The concert will include trio sonatas composed by the likes of Handel, Purcell, Corelli, Gemininani and the more obscure Marini and Uccellini.

Hurnik:"(The term) trio sonatas is sometimes confusing because we are four - it means three voices, so two melodic and one bass line. With us, the bass line is played by two instruments, by harpsichord and cello."

The harpsichord itself, on loan from Canterbury University, is so sensitive it must be tuned before each concert and left in the venue for hours beforehand to acclimatize.

Hurnik, who spent a week rehearsing with the others for the tour, says the concert will trace the historical progression of baroque music through its period, from 1600 to 1750.

By Paul Taylor


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