Lesley Hatfield and Huw Watkins

Concert date: 20 April 2018
Reviewed by: JRC

Lesley Hatfield, leader of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, teamed up with Huw Watkins, of the Royal Academy of Music, to give an inspiring performance for NADSA’s final concert of the 2017/18 season.

Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for Violin and Piano was an interesting choice to open the programme. Originally composed as five songs without words, it comes as no surprise that, in particular, the violin line, standing in for the human voice, demands so much engaging expression. This Lesley Hatfield amply provided, and was superbly complemented by Huw Watkins. There was eerie subtle restraint, full crescendos, a burst of vigorous life, light jollity and wistful pianissimos that took us to the edges of our perception: a rich palette from both performers.

A rare treat followed. ‘Spring for Violin and Piano’ was composed by Huw Watkins in 2014. It was first performed in 2015 at Kings Place London by Krysia Osostowitz and Daniel Tong [previous NADSA performers] who had commissioned the work as a five-minute companion piece to Beethoven’s Sonata No5. We were very privileged to hear it played by Lesley and its composer. A light touch and freshness seemed to capture the very essence of Spring; then the phrasing burgeoned to a more full-bodied section from which we pulled back to the most delicate of endings: a very fitting stage-set for the more familiar Beethoven style.

Part of the joy of Spring is its anticipation and the renewal of the familiar. Colin was looking forward to hearing a live performance of one of his favourite chamber works. When we heard the opening bars of Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata we were on home territory. A sparkling melodic line was passed between the instruments in a brisk Allegro movement where the drama raised to fortes. Changes for the calm Adagio, and again for a crisp and playful Scherzo were deftly handled. Rolling phrasing and variety of moods made for their dramatic concluding Rondo.

Schumann’s 3 Romances, being so well known and loved by me, was my most challenging item of the programme. Lesley introduced it and mentioned that the word ‘Romance’ probably meant a ‘story’, which gave extra credence to the depth of these pieces. Then, how wonderful it was to be swept along by the seamless interweaving of melody and harmony of this exquisitely balanced duo’s interpretation.

Ravel’s Sonata No.2 was the last work on the programme. The three movements were very different from each other. The Allegretto first movement was somewhat enigmatic with an Impressionist feel that somehow had lost its way, the movement fading into pianissimo. The second, Blues: Moderato, indeed was bluesy, but also sported incongruous moments of light-hearted piano backing. Pizzicato and syncopation added to the jazzy style: its volume becoming loud and emphatic. The movement ended, retreating into the bluesy mode. It was reassuring to be guided through Ravel’s musical journey by such skilled musicians, but more was yet to come. The finale, Perpetuum mobile: Allegro, developed into a hugely virtuosic performance. What a gasp!

Lesley and Huw were called back for an encore. Aware that Schubert is a favourite composer of Colin Power [sponsor of the concert and president of NADSA], they played the delightful Scherzo from Schubert’s Sonata No 4 in A major.

This concert was the seventh in the series of Nadsa concerts also sponsored by Austins Department Store.