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Sunday Classics Inc. presents Christopher’s Classics Series XXV programme – 2020
Once again Christopher’s Classics offers Christchurch music lovers a top line-up of musicians, performing at The Piano at 7.30pm, The Piano, 156 Armagh St, Christchurch
Reviewer Tony Ryan anticipates next year’s season with considerable excitement.
It’s hard to believethat Christopher’s Classics is about to reach its twenty-fifth season! It all began as a series of occasional house concerts organised by Christopher Marshall at his home at Ohoka, north-west of Christchurch. But twenty-five years ago the series moved into the city and has remained an important fixture on the Christchurch music calendar ever since.
What makes Christopher’s Classics special and distinctiveis that every concert features a New Zealand connection and reminds us that our musicians are active prominently at the highest levels of the international music scene. We encounter some of the performers quite regularly and they become, in a sense, old friends, whose music-making has a special connection and significance. And we realise that what we see and hear in these series can often move us and enhance our lives in ways that many bigger international names do not always manage to do. That’s certainly my own experience anyway.
2020 is Beethoven year– the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of his birth in 1770 – and all but one concert in this Christopher’s Classics twenty-fifth anniversary season includes music by that giant of humanity. Works by Beethoven scheduled through the year include four string quartets, two of the great middle-period piano sonatas, a cello sonata, a string trio, the Sextet for 2 Horns and String Quartet, and even a symphony! And the players for all of this include The New Zealand String Quartet, members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, plus three New Zealand pianists and a cellist.
The New Zealand String Quartet brings the only concert devoted entirely to Beethoven, and their programme comprises three of the great late quartets, while the Aroha String Quartet give us the first of the brilliant Rasumovsky Quartets. One of the early string trios will be played by a group of New Zealand Symphony Orchestra principals, and they’ll be joined by two horn players from the orchestra for the Sextet that Beethoven rescued from among his earlier compositions in the hope of making some money from its publication.
Two of Beethoven’s most popular piano sonatasbookend the 2020 series. In the first concert, Michael Endres plays the Appassionata, and the last concert brings us the Waldstein as part of a very special event in the form of Michael Houstoun’s final recital in the South Island before he retires from the concert platform.
Michael Endresalso plays Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Franz Liszt’s arrangement; and before you say anything about preferring the real thing, trust me, Liszt’s piano version is simply astonishing. This is my own absolute ‘must see’ concert of the series!
Michael Houstoun has given us many unforgettable musical experiences over the years. My own special memories include his Beethoven Sonata series in the Great Hall and, most memorable of all, his wonderful performance of Schubert’s G Major Sonata in a tent in Hagley Park a few months after the Christchurch earthquakes. Many of us have followed his career since the beginning, myself possibly longer than most as a co-competitor at the Timaru Competitions in the 1960s – Guess who always won! From those days I also remember his acting performance in a school production of The Importance of Being Ernest. The play begins with a piano being played offstage, Algernon (Houstoun) enters and the dialogue begins with his servant Lane: Algernon: Did you hear what I was playing, Lane? Lane: I didn't think it polite to listen, sir. Algernon: I'm sorry for that, for your sake. I don't play accurately – anyone can play accurately – but I play with wonderful expression. I wonder if it pained the teenage Michael Houstoun to suggest that his playing wasn’t accurate because, as I recall, Algernon’s playing of Liszt’s La Campanella was enviably accurate! Unlike Lane, we have long been impolite enough to listen enthusiastically to what this pianist has given us for so many years and, while we will miss him, we are very grateful for this final opportunity to witness his artistry.
Music by Bach and Debussyalso features in Michael Houstoun’s concert along with Chopin’s glorious Piano Sonata No. 3, which the composer himself played at his own final public performance.
More Chopinappears in the form of his Cello Sonata from James Tennant and Katherine Austin, and this, for anyone who’s never heard it, is a real gem. You’ll love it.
A fascinating choice of musicby other composers is scattered through the 2020 Christopher’s Classics year, from Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Mendelssohn to Bliss, Britten and Schoenberg; and three works by New Zealand composers, including a new piece by Salina Fisher played by the visiting Marmen String Quartet. I’m also specially looking forward to their performance of Schubert’s Quartettsatz; a wonderful single-movement late work, as fine as anything he wrote.
It always amazes mehow anniversaries so often bring out something very special in musical performances, so the combination of Beethoven’s 250th and Christopher’s Classics’ 25th promises to be a double whammy that’s not to be missed.
The 2020 Concert Program
Thursday 12 March – Micheal Endres
Thursday 23 April - Tennant-Austin Duo
Wednesday 9 July – Vesa and Friends
Thursday 20 August – New Zealand String Quartet
Thursday 3 September – Aroha String Quartet with Robert Orr (Oboe)
Wednesday 7 October – Marmen Quartet
Saturday 28 November – Michael Houstoun's Farewell Concert