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Menzies/Endres Concert Review

Did Menzies/Endres duo just break music?

On the afternoon of last Saturday the duo of violinist Mark Menzies and pianist Michael Endres presented a program of such disparity that your reviewer is at something of a loss as to how to approach the task before them. The problem? A musical black hole engulfing all music heard before and after it, the second violin sonata Quasi Una Fantasia of maverick Soviet genius Alfred Schnittke. Menzies characterized the work as an apocalyptic dialogue between contrasting styles and voices: tonality attempting to assert conventional order against wilder music tearing at the limits of sound production for both instruments. Simple enough in description, you might say. But in performance this work had a force which tore at the coherence (and hence feasibility) of the music within its orbit. Don’t be mistaken – Schnittke created in his second sonata a fantastically powerful, dramatic and effective work the demands of which both performers did more than justice to. It was particularly enjoyable to see Menzies hunched over his violin looking like Hoffman’s Kapellmeister Kreisler, and doing a passable Hendrix. But the Beckettian nihilism in the air could not be ignored as all attempts at eloquence were snuffed out by whatever crisis of meaning Schnittke wrote from. Sense turned to mere empty gesture through a drama of negation, the full force of which seemed to transfer its confusion onto an entire historical musical culture and made it all seem just fragments shored against our ruin, to paraphrase T S Eliot.

Yes, they began with Schubert’s B Minor Rondo. Yes, Schubert’s late style meant it was too overloaded with themes to be easily comprehensible, and the noisy acoustic of St. John’s was unkind to the duo’s dynamic balance as Endres’ piano seemed to swallow Menzies’ playing. Yes, Schnittke’s Quasi Una Fantasia was followed by Mono No Aware, Salina Fisher’s meditation upon the transience of experience, referencing a Zen aesthetic Alan Watts described as an “intense, nostalgic sadness, connected with Autumn and the vanishing away of the world.” Yes, it has something of the sea in it, perhaps relating the experience of transience to a New Zealand conception of the sea as a locus of change, travel and loss. Yes, the concert concluded with a magnificent performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, which maximized Beethoven’s convention-shredding approach to sonata-form. Yes, they gave a charming encore with Schubert’s Hark, hark, the Lark. But what to think of it all if the music has died? - S Baker

The Menzies/Endres duo performed in Rotorua on 24/06/2023

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