Review: Adam Chamber Music Festival starts with a roar

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 5 February 2019 Reviewed by Elizabeth Kerr / RNZ


The Adam Chamber Musical Festival is in full flight in Nelson. Elizabeth Kerr reviews the first few days of performances.

This Festival has been happening for over 25 years and this year the line-up of international and New Zealand guests may be the finest ever.

The Jerusalem Quartet from Israel, pianists Denes Várjon and his wife Izabella Simon, English violinist Anthony Marwood and Michael Hill International Violin Competition winner Canadian Nikki Chooi, violinist Wilma Smith back from Australia with some musician colleagues from Melbourne, Scottish accordion virtuoso James Crabb about to arrive and others from New Zealand or ex-pat NZers.


Dénes Várjon Photo: Adam Chamber Music Festival


Gillian Ansell Photo: supplied

A highlight of the Festival is the way musicians combine, often to present repertoire we don’t hear so often, and the very joyous collegial atmosphere that comes from that.

Violist Gillian Ansell of the NZSQ played with the Jerusalem Quartet in the Brahms 2nd String Quintet in the opening concert and the cellist from the Jerusalem Quartet, Kyril Zlotnikov, and pianist Denes Varjon joined with the Festival’s Artistic Directors, Helene Pohl and Gillian Ansell for a marvelous performance of Schumann’s Piano Quartet Opus 47, one of the highlights so far.

Audiences have been terrific, with all evening concerts sold out and some of the daytime ones too. One of the attractions has been the return to the excellent refurbished facilities at the Nelson Centre of Musical Arts.


Nelson Centre of Musical Arts Photo: RNZ Clarissa Dunn

A feature of this Festival is the unusually large number of violinists attending and the artistic directors have programmed to acknowledge this; for instance, Schubert’s complete works for violin and piano feature and several works from NZ composers for violin duos and trios have been commissioned.

Denes Várjon gave a staggering performance of Beethoven’s difficult Hammerklavier Sonata to open his solo recital; he met not only the virtuosic demands but the emotional, intellectual and musical ones, making total sense of the complexities and maintaining marvelous momentum. He also played Suite Opus 14 by Bartok, a composer he reveres as a Hungarian, and Beethoven’s last piano sonata Opus 111, again making total sense of a magical work.The audience was ecstatic.

Who knew that an organ recital at 10am on a Monday morning could be the hottest gig in town? Douglas Mews played Mozart on the refurbished Cawthron organ, showing off the bright clarity and colours of the instrument and his own agility and flair, choosing registrations that showed off the structures and textures of the music beautifully.


Monique Lapins Photo: supplied

Other daytime programmes included Textural Landscapes, featuring lovely Schubert from Monique Lapins and Izabella Simon, and very effective New Zealand works by John Rimmer and Simon Eastwood. Yesterday Wilma Smith, cellist Anna Pokorny and pianist-composer Ian Munro offered a light and charming afternoon programme which may have needed more substance for this knowledgeable audience.


Thomas Hutchinson Photo: Daniel Delang

Last night was the always popular Bach by Candlelight, a good mixture of well-known and lesser-known Bach, including a group of Cantatas with soprano Anna Fraser from Australia. Oboist Thomas Hutchinson was consistently dazzling and Douglas Mews’ work at the harpsichord was excellent.This was not historically informed Baroque performance, but great music played by fine musicians. The audience loved the 3rd Brandenburg Concerto played by a mixed ensemble, a marvelous and energetic ending to the concert.

The original review and audio can be found here.

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