The Katona Twins: From Bach to Beatles
There were two very welcome returns to The Courtenay Centre last Friday: Live music, and the very International Katona Twins returning to open nadsa concerts' season.
The Twins 2014 concert had been so well received they were booked to perform for nadsa's 75th Birthday season, which, due to covid 19, had been delayed by a year.
The Katona Twins programme was all new to us, but maintained their hallmark of variety across time and styles. Their title 'From Bach to Beatles' covered the chronology, but did not encompass the breadth of musical genres they performed.
What a splendid opener was J S Bach's French Suite No 5 of four traditional dances, arranged by the Katona Twins. The Allemande was light, bright and had clarity of direction, the Courante was vibrant and vivacious, whereas the Sarabande held us in an elegantly stately poise, before the Gigue's lively chase of virtuosity.
Zoltan Katona then played Agustin Barrios Mangore's Vals Op8 No 3. The melody soon became haunting and, with the romantic style and sensitively executed rubatos, it became obvious why Mangore could be considered the 'Chopin of the guitar'.
Peter Katona's Tarrega for Two drew spontaneous applause after the Capricho Arabe. It had started with delicacy, but ended with virtuosity and flamboyant rubatos. The Alhambra Inspiration had me floating kite-like over the Moorish castles, only to be brought back to earth by the 'Nokia tune' of the Gran Vals which, in Peter's arrangement and the twins jolly-romp performance, should be added to the list of Wiki's Best-known bagatelles.
Nuages, by Django Reinhardt, brought a complete change of mood and style. The Hungarian-born German Liverpudlian twins, seated relaxedly playing Afro-American inspired jazz composed by a Belgian Romani-Frenchman, brought home to me the universality of music!
Then, on their feet for Reinhardt's Minor Swing, improvisations passed from one to the other in an intensity of gripping interaction. Their performance spared us from the overt posturing which so often is the accompanying package of jazz performances. Hurrah, for just the Music!
Peter Katona's The Scandal followed. This is part of Peter's Karamazov Suite which was inspired by Dostoyevsky's last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, and showcased the Katona's skill at dramatic musical narrative. Their dialogue developed into antagonism and an animalistic stand-off. A pause held an electric silence, a sure sign the audience was gripped.
Mangore's Julia Florida was another abrupt change of mood for Peter's solo. He took it a tad faster than I was anticipating for what gets described as a barcarolle, but delicate rubatos brought this highly romantic piece to heartfelt life.
Bela Bartok's Six Romanian Folk Dances provided an opportunity to indulge ourselves with frivolity, variety and panache.
Then back to Bach with his Sinfonia from Cantata BWV29 which was written for an organ and orchestra. We heard the Katona Twins' arrangement for their two guitars. Somehow they preserved the keyboard nature and grandeur of this work: a very successful transcription.
Being residents of Liverpool, it was fitting that the Katonas ended their programme with arrangements of four Lennon-McCartney songs: Eleanor Rigby, Penny Lane, The Fool On The Hill, and Come Together.
For an encore we had the Katona's arrangement of Isaac Albéniz's Mallorca: meticulously executed and wonderfully calming.
Anyone planning a concert programme could learn much from the Katona Twins in terms of variety, placing of content and the manner of presentation. Their technical skills would be hard to emulate: they employ breath-taking pianissimos, declamatory fortes, sensitive rubatos and dramatic percussive effects together with virtuosity and an extraordinary rapport. Their skill at transposition and sensitive performance enables just two guitars to stand in for organs, orchestras and swing bands.
I hope we will hear them again in Newton Abbot before a lapse of another seven years.
NADSA Concert, Friday 17th September 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.
Leading clarinettist, Sarah Watts, concluded her Sunday afternoon recital for nadsa CONCERTS, at Newton Abbot’s Courtenay Centre, with a performance of a new composition by her duo partner, pianist/composer Antony Clare. This was special enough – but what was extra special was the instrument. Sarah is no midget, but this clarinet – a contrabass clarinet – towered above her, and was appropriately referred to as The Beast! It is a rare type of instrument, occasionally used in orchestras to produce special sounds – often rude ones.
No one writes chamber music for such an instrument. Correction – few, very, very few composers write such music, but Sarah’s accompanist, Antony, is one of them.
Entitled Nevis, it depicted a hard climb up Ben Nevis, the achievement of reaching the summit, and the wonder of the panoramic view. It was an appropriate finale to a most unusual, and exhilarating concert in which the large, appreciative audience was treated to a varied programme of music arranged for bass clarinet (itself a rare enough instrument) and piano. In addition, the duo played two staples of the conventional clarinet repertoire, Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata and Finzi’s Five Bagatelles. We even had a piano solo from Antony – to enable Sarah to recover her breath after playing the impossibly long phrases in Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel.
The concert was sponsored by Buyrite Tyres. Sarah and Antony stayed overnight in Newton Abbot in order to conduct a musical workshop at Canada Hill Primary School on Monday 27 th January. The children at this school would have had fun – especially if Sarah took the Beast along and produced some rude sounds!
Genius Meets Perfection at Teignmouth Concert
When a musical work of real genius is played to perfection – the audience does not respond with immediate applause. There is a period of awed silence between the last note and the start of the applause. This is what happened on Saturday 16th November in Teignmouth Community School’s Performing Arts Centre when a concert, by Newton Abbot and District Society of Arts, ended with Mendelssohn’s first mature String Quartet (A minor, Op 13) – played by the Ruisi String Quartet. Mendelssohn was all of 18 years of age when he built on Beethoven’s monumental model of string quartet composition, adding the emotions of a young man in love, to create a romantic work of revolutionary power. The Ruisi Quartet gave it their all – from the driving passion of the first violin at the start of the last movement to perfect balance between all four instruments in the delicate fugal sections – this was a string quartet playing of the highest order. The audience was gobsmacked. The silence went on for 5 seconds – to be followed by thunderous applause. And although the applause persisted the Ruisi Quartet declined to give an encore. Rightly so – anything, literally anything after this performance would have been an anti-climax.
The concert had started with a work by another young genius - Three Divertimenti written by a 20-year-old Benjamin Britten. This was a spirited, youthful work ideally suited to the youthful energy of this young quartet. Between these two youthful outpourings, the Ruisi Quartet paid tribute to the “Father of the String Quartet” by playing a mature offering by Haydn – his Quartet in B minor, Op 64 No 2. Needless to say, they played it with admirable finesse. Although founded only six years ago, the Ruisi Quartet, on the evidence of their performance at this concert, are clearly destined for international acclaim. The concert was sponsored by NADSA members Pauline and Keith Smith and was attended by Newton Abbot Mayor, Cllr Richard Jenks and his wife Karen.Peter Lowe
Kosmos took the stage at the Courtenay Centre and immediately burst forth into music. Was it Greek with a touch of Klezmer? Whatever its origins, it served its purpose since Harriet Mackenzie the violinist said ‘we thought we would bring you a bit of sunshine’. The Ukraine was the next major source of inspiration, and for us, any thoughts of staying within our Western tonal system were blown away. Quarter tones were passionately used in an exhilarating mix of speed, rallentandos, fortes and pianissimos. How does one follow that?
Harriet made the moment. She spoke quietly poetic lines and a Serbian lament emerged. The audience’s electric silence between Harriet’s words was remarkably maintained until the music’s abrupt ending. A piece of musical drama Wagner might have been proud of.
Next we were told we would be having a Kosmos mix, and somewhere in it would be a Scottish reel. Back to vigour and verve and indeed fun.
Meg Hamilton introduced the following piece as of particular significance to Kosmos since it had been played at a wedding. A mix of sparkling Greek exuberance with tango. Then, just in case we might have felt musically tied to Mediterranean influences, we had mention of Japanese cherry blossom before hearing a Korean inspired love-song. Somehow, the cherry blossom stayed with me as the fluttering buttons of the accordion, new tonal juxtapositions and the upper register of the violin, with such delicacy, approached limits of the human ear.
Then we were back to Spain with dazzling Sarasate inspired compositions.
Milos Milivojevic talked to us about his classical accordion which has buttons instead of a keyboard. This enables him to span three octaves, instead of the keyboard’s one, and there are also greater possibilities of harmonic richness. Kosmos played a composition, written by a Serbian accordionist, to showcase the accordion, which joyfully put it musically centre-stage.
We were treated to the familiar theme from ‘Schindler’s List’ with Ashkenazi influences and, just to keep the international flavour thoroughly mixed, we had a spirited rendering of one of the most familiar tango melodies, Jalousie, which was composed by the Dane, Jacob Gade.
The final piece of the programme had a theme of birds, and our introduction was the thoroughly English Vaughan Williams’ inspired ‘Lark ascending’, - just superb. But then we flew off into other references, Saint-Saens’ swan floated by, plus a cuckoo and woodpecker; another kind of ‘Lark’ before dashing to a frenzied finale.
Following rapturous applause, Kosmos, for an encore, played their own version of the Hungarian Czardas. An evocative and zingy way to end their show.
There was so much to take from this concert besides the Kosmos’ arrangements: Meg’s mellifluous viola taking us from calm beauty to stomach wrenching emotion, and Harriet’s violin flashing from raw spirit to delicate plaintive poignancy. Milos provided a smouldering intensity. The accordion in his hands was bold when appropriate, never overwhelming, and at times provided a staggeringly rich harmonic background that could fade imperceptibly with the strings’ pianissimos. For me, a new vision of an old instrument.
Comparisons maybe odious, but I found myself recalling a Menuhin/Grappelli performance. Harriet and Meg have brought their excellence of classical training to several genres of music where their instincts have full reign. I’m sure Menuhin would have been envious!
Whether as Kosmos or as individuals, wherever these three musicians perform there will be threads of genius.
Nadsa concerts were lucky to get Peter Donohoe, between his international schedule, to open their 2019/20 season of concerts at Newton Abbot. His programme spanned the periods of music composed for harpsichord, to impressionism, and was all the more interesting for containing some less frequently performed works. The concert had a capacity audience including the Mayor of Newton Abbot and his wife.
Peter’s launch into Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 9 was spirited and nuanced in both tempo and touch. The Andante took on a different life, being almost conversational, whereas the more technically demanding Rondo was fast and vivacious.
The audience was probably aware that Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata is not well known. However, it was good that Peter shared with us some knowledge from his considerable experience both as an international performer and competition judge. He told us that this piece used to be set as a ‘required piece’ in piano competitions, but that now it is rarely heard, even in Russia. Maybe it has something to do with its enigmatic ending.
However prepared one may have been for an ‘enigmatic ending’, there is perhaps little one could have done to prepare for the startling hammered and insistent chords which opened the first movement. Drama abounded, not least in that there were contrasting lyrical sections even before the Andante second movement where the mood became more meditative. The following Scherzo lightened us with speed and delicacy. The Finale was fast, even frenetic, with dramatic contrasts, and yes, the ending was undeniably odd.
Peter related how Haydn has been overshadowed by Mozart, and that, of the 52 Sonatas Haydn wrote, Peter maintains this Keyboard Sonata No. 31 in A flat, is one of the 4 best. He took the first movement at considerable speed, with rubato and nuanced touch. It left me wondering how he would have played that if it had been marked just Allegro instead of Allegro moderato! The Adagio, by contrast, was sedate and pensive with at times a little cantabile and a sustained lushness that would never have been possible on a harpsichord. I guess Haydn would have approved. The Finale Presto was licence indeed for fast fun.
Ravel, Peter said, was greatly affected by World War I, and he reckons that there is a deep sadness pervading all five of his Miroirs suite [anticipatory, since this suite was published in 1906 well before the outbreak of WWI in 1914]. Ravel had given a title to each of the five pieces. In spite of superficial appearances of ‘Morning song of the Jester’, Peter reminded us about Pagliacci, that he was a sad clown, and that this is possibly the saddest piece of the suite. However, he said, ‘The Valley of Bells’ is best.
‘Night Moths’ was characterised by bursts of energy and flight in swirls of frenetic darting, whereas ‘Sad Birds’ was memorable for plaintive calls. ‘A Boat on the Ocean’ gave us expanding ripples, swelling phrases and crashing waves. And then came the most virtuosic piece ‘Morning song of the Jester’. If one were not blinded by the drama of keeping it all in the air, interludes of doubt and edge were there. How strange to end a concert with ‘The Valley of Bells’, sombre and disconcertingly effective.
We were given an encore “to lighten the mood”, and who would have thought that a little piece by Tchaikovsky would do that. A concert full of surprises.
Peter Donohoe stayed after the concert to sign CDs, more of which were purchased than at any other NADSA concert. Obviously this was an occasion people wanted to remember.JRC
Flautist Judith Hall with the Divertimento String Quartet and Teignmouth Mayor, Cllr June Green and Newton Abbot Mayor, Cllr Ken Purchase with his wife Dulcie
For the seventh, and final concert of their 73 rd season, Newton Abbot and District Society of Arts left their home base in Newton Abbot’s Courtenay Centre to present a concert in Teignmouth Community School’s Performing Arts Centre, by five professional musicians who reside in South Devon. This was on Saturday 13 th April – an unseasonably chilly night. The school, being closed for half term, was unheated. But the chill was soon dissipated by the warm glow generated by the appreciative audience.
The first half of the concert featured Australian born, internationally recognised flautist, Judith Hall with three members of the Totnes based Divertimento String Quartet. They played three flute quartets – each with an engaging verbal introduction. First up was Mozart’s Quartet in D introduced by violist Andrew Gillet. He explained that Mozart’s aversion to the flute was due to the fact that, in his day, it was difficult to play a flute in tune. No problem on that score when the flute is in the hands of Judith Hall. She gave a masterly performance in this concerto-like piece, ably supported by the strings. The second piece was rather different – Rossini’s first flute quartet – in which each stringed instrument had a share of the limelight.
In introducing it, lead violinist, Mary Eade emphasized that Rossini was but twelve years of age when he composed this, and a further five similar pieces, in a three day period for a group of friends to play during a holiday. Since Rossini himself had played the violin part, Mary Eade was happy (tongue in cheek) to refer to the programme note which pointed out that the virtuosic nature of the violin part indicated that the twelve-year-old Rossini was not just a gifted composer, he was also no mean violinist! And, like the mature Rossini we know, this earliest of his works brought a smile to ones face and warmed the coldest of hearts. Flautist Judith Hall then adopted an appropriately more serious tone in introducing Hommage à Chopin by Sir Andrzej Panufnik – a serious work written for a serious occasion.
She recalled that since being invited, by the BBC, to be the soloist in a performance of this work for flute and string orchestra she had always loved it, and when she started collaborating with the Divertimento String Quartet, she felt that it should be possible to adapt the piece for flute quartet. So she contacted the late composer’s daughter, Roxanna Panufnik, now a successful composer herself,who agreed and produced the version played in Teignmouth. If anything, without the weight of a full string orchestra, the music was even more potent in its poignancy though, to some in the audience, the modernist dissonance featured in the work produced a somewhat chilling effect.
But all was sweetness and warmth in the second half when the Divertimento String quartet (second violinist Lindsay Braga having replaced flautist, Judith Hall) played Bruch’s first string quartet. As the new girl on the block, Lindsay introduced this rarely played work by the composer of one of the most popular of violin concertos. With richly sonorous melodies and warm harmonies, this was music to bring the concert to a most contented close. Dedicated to the memory of Anne Sellars, a long-standing member of NADSA Concerts who died last year, this concert was attended by Teignmouth Mayor, Cllr June Green and Newton Abbot Mayor, Ken Purchase with his wife Dulcie.
An amazing surprise greeted the Nadsa audience last Friday evening. The concert didn’t start as the printed programme suggested; instead, we had Jan Schulmeister Jnr [son of the trio’s violinist and pianist] playing us Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 13. He was fearless with sensitivity and spirit. I felt I was watching a young Mozart phenomenon, but perhaps Chopin would be a more relevant comparison. Initial feelings of patronising the young lad soon evaporated, to be replaced with the thought: ‘How do you follow that?’
The Petrof Piano Trio had magic of their own. It was very heartening to see that they had the confidence to play the rest of the concert with the piano lid partially down, resulting in excellent balance amongst the instruments. Their goal was sound quality rather than visually accepted tradition.
The trio started their concert with Janacek’s String Quartet No 1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’; but, as a piano trio, they played a transcription written especially for them. The Petrof Trio had already given its world premiere in Prague, their capital city, in 2014. The ‘Kreutzer’ name comes from a Tolstoy novella in which his married heroine played Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with a dashing violinist. She was carried away with the music’s passion and was killed by her jealously fantasising husband. This scenario inspired Janacek, in 1908, to write a piano trio, apparently empathising with Tolstoy’s heroine. The manuscript of this work has been lost. In 1923, Janacek returned to this theme and produced the String Quartet.
Right from the opening chords, one is plunged into tension and feelings of anguished passion. But Janacek’s swings of emotion can be abrupt and episodically unpredictable, resulting in a challenge for performers to give unity to the work. The Petrof Trio rivetingly held our emotional attention through its turbulent narrative to a sensitive calm. And how did the Piano Trio version compare with the String Quartet? For my part, I found the piano version more acceptable in that the taut sound of strings-only, in Janacek’s hands, winding up the tension, is all but unbearable. I just want it to stop! Whereas, with the very different timbre of the piano, my empathy for the complex situation was engaged, as was my huge admiration for Martina Schulmeisterova for so adeptly mirroring the strings. A memorable performance.
Rachmaninov’s Trio Elegiaque in G minor is, as the name suggests, a mournful piece. However, our route to the final funeral march was one of achingly beautiful melodic lines seamlessly passed between the instruments. The theme of melancholy waxed and waned, and was eventually put to rest in an intense quiet.
Dvorak’s Piano Trio No 2 in G minor opens with two emphatic chords; from then the Petrof Trio breathed life into every phrase of the Allegro. The piano and cello introducing the Largo movement immediately set the scene for a plaintive meditative mood that was superbly developed. The Scherzo was energised and heralded another metamorphosis into a generally light, bright fun movement with interlude surprises. Further emphatic chords introduced the more complex final Allegro movement that ultimately almost invited us to dance the polka!
You could have heard a pin drop when the large and enthusiastic audience was given an encore of Massenet’s Thais Meditation. In the hands of Jan Schulmeister and his violin, the experience was sublime, with Martina Schulmeisterova and Kamil Zvak on cello somehow enabling one to forget that an orchestra wasn’t present. Magic indeed.
Nadsa concerts achieved another coup this month by bringing Martin James Bartlett to Newton Abbot’s Courtenay Centre. His programme was largely based on a soon-to-be-released CD, the theme of which is Love and Death, a great challenge you might have thought for one so relatively young. But Martin, winner of the BBC young musician of the year competition, and memorable Proms performer, easily encompassed this breadth of interpretation.
Another aspect of the programme, which is remarkable, is that it contained so many very familiar pieces. We all have our pre-conceived ‘gold standards’ for familiar music, which means the performer has to work that much harder to win our hearts. And it was hearts, particularly in the first half, that this concert was all about.
The majority of Bach’s compositions were for use in church, and Busoni’s arrangement of Choral Prelude BWV 639 is part of that output. As the opening piece of the concert, we were enveloped by a structure of security and serenity. Next was Myra Hess’ ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ arrangement from Bach’s Cantata 147, so well known that I feared ‘Oh, that hackneyed tune again’. But somehow I was carried along with a sparkling melodic line that flowed to a satisfying conclusion.
Two pieces from Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op 15 followed. Neither is technically demanding. However, to evoke the nostalgia of childhood memories from such beautiful simplicity, particularly in the familiar Traumerei, is a rare skill that Martin possesses.
The three Petrarch Sonnets 47, 104 and 123 by Liszt were riveting. As an expression of unrequited love, we had tumult, pulling back to calm pianissimos and contrasting grandiose statements with the most delicate of filigree. A rich tapestry of love was there. Liszt’s Liebestraum is so well known, one wondered what Martin could do with it. The answer was that he ‘just lived the music’, making even the diminuendos come to life.
Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s Widmung closed the concert’s first half; and what a way to go. Martin did not allow Liszt’s flamboyance to overshadow Schumann’s song. The melodic line grew and shone: his emphatic declaration of love. Just inspirational!
The second half brought us distinctly nearer death, whether sombre with dissonance in Granados, Wagner’s only ultimate beyond passion, or Prokofiev’s brutality of war.
The audience was engaged with anecdotes regarding contexts of compositions and composers, none more so than that Granados had died in 1916 from drowning. Returning from New York his ship was torpedoed and he jumped overboard to save his drowning wife. He had just performed ‘El amor y la muerte’ or The Ballad of Love and Death. This piece of improvisational style gave us forte passions and poignant delicacy that indeed plumbed sombre depths.
Most of us are probably familiar with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde-Liebestod as a full operatic extravaganza. Liszt’s transcription for piano would seem to be attempting the impossible. I’m still of the opinion that Liszt was only partly successful. However, whilst still having an orchestra in my head, Martin’s surging crescendos and tender diminuendos brought me out in goose pimples. Bravo.
After Wagner’s ‘desired death in love’ we came to Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No 7, written in World War II. Here we faced death in the hugely different context of militaristic violence. We also experienced sections of introspection and the insistence of a tolling bell. The final tumultuous movement with its superb virtuosity and drama brought rousing acclamation from the packed audience.
With his polished technique, passion, pianissimos, and audience rapport, Martin really has got it all.
Two big names combined for Nadsa’s January concert: the Fitzwilliam Quartet with its 50 years of international reputation, and Anna Tilbrook, whose CV of musical collaborations reads like a Who’s Who of the classical world. Both have renowned discographies.
Expectations of the packed audience were undoubtedly running high and were fulfilled in no short measure.
The rendering of their opening piece, Glazunov’s first Novelette, was spirited, rhythmic and delicate, which appropriately brought to mind a guitar and Spain. A languorous middle section kept us enthralled before we returned to a spirited and colourful conclusion. Glazunov’s third Novelette followed. The Fitzwilliam played warmly as one. A melancholic thread emerged and was serenely passed around the quartet, and there were pianissimos to die for: an electrifying atmosphere. Even with a capacity audience, it took a few moments for the spell to be broken and applause to erupt.
Suk’s Meditation on an Old Bohemian Chorale brought a change of style; a plaintive theme was well established before impassioned conflict broke out with deep-felt anguish, and, at last, a somewhat comforting resolution.
And then Anna Tilbrook joined the Fitzwilliams for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.12. This option, to set a piano and a string quartet as a concerto, was a deliberate ploy by Mozart to make the score more saleable for Viennese drawing-room performances. So, the fact that it worked well is a credit to both Mozart and our performers. The Allegro’s instrumental introduction was light, even playful. That of the Andante was more sedate: very fitting for the subsequent piano’s more pensive line. However, the overarching glory of the performance was the warm sensitive balance between the instruments and their micro and macro phrasing. This made Mozart come alive. In Anna’s cadenzas, we not only had a beautifully sensitive touch, but also instinctive use of silence. No affectation here, just superb musical interpretation.
For those who thought they knew Elgar, his Quintet for Piano and Strings Op 84, might have come as a bit of a shock. Familiarity with Elgar’s song ‘Owls’  would enlighten one that his range of style stretches a million miles from Pomp and Circumstance. Even in the first movement [Moderato-Allegro] of this Quintet, written just after the first World War, we have ‘ghostly stuff’ [Elgar’s own words], episodes of melodrama and schmaltz, and a theme of rippling delicacy. Giving us no place to rest, the Fitzwilliam and Anna played as one, and held us breathless in the pauses. Without over-familiarity, the Adagio presses all those buttons of heart-rending romanticism that Elgar does so well. From a poignant introduction, we later built to high drama, then returned to a calm tranquillity. The Andante-Allegro revisited a variety of previous themes before building to an affirmative grand finale.
There was no encore, despite enthusiastic applause. On reflection, I felt ‘how do you follow that?’; anything added might feel sacrilegious!
Piano duets are not frequently offered, and what made NADSAconcerts billing last week also rather special, was that all the programme works were originally composed as piano duets. The Lisney Briggs Duo had gathered together a collection of works that would be in the comfort zone of most people and would certainly press the nostalgia button occasionally.
Gal [1890 - 1987], Viennese by birth, had been a much-performed composer of operas and symphonic works in Germany up to 1933. After fleeing to England, he finally settled in Edinburgh, and in 1947 was a founder of the Edinburgh International Festival. His works fell into relative obscurity in the latter part of the 20th century, but have had a revival in the 21st. We heard his Three Marionettes: ‘Pantalone’, ‘Colombina’ and ‘Arlecchiono’, based on the characters from the Commedia dell’arte. These being very suitable as concert openers, the show, of differing parts, had indeed begun.
Introducing the next piece, Sarah Beth Briggs told us about the concerns that Charles Burney, one of the earliest English composers of piano duets, had in the 18th century for the success of that genre: would the close proximity of hands be a problem, and how to accommodate the then fashionable hooped skirts? No such problems today with our Duo’s playing of Mozart’s Sonata for Piano, four hands, in F. The somewhat staid Adagio led to an Allegro giving us all the studied small-scale phrasing, articulation and dynamics one hopes for with Mozart. Its Andante felt stately, even sensual, but with skittish moments. The tempo was certainly upped for the spirited final Allegro, amply filling the auditorium.
Schubert, probably best known for his songs, also wrote many piano duets. We heard his Andantino Varie which had been intended as the middle section of a larger work. Much appreciated were its ripples, being executed with great delicacy.
The Dolly Suite by Faure consists of six short pieces, at least one of which is immediately familiar to most people above a certain age. Written to mark events in the life of Dolly, the first is the ‘Berceuse’, a cradle song. Only a few bars in, and one has this slight lump in the throat, and one wonders whether one is ‘sitting comfortably’, for this was the tune of BBC’s ‘Listen with Mother’. The other pieces give scope for various moods such as meandering in the garden, the nature of Ketty the pet dog, and even the drama of a Spanish dance.
Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No 2 in E minor was a great success when it was published in 1886, and has stood the test of time. James Lisney and Sarah Beth Briggs gave an intensity of dynamics and rubato that was thoroughly appropriate for this highly romantic piece.
What followed were ‘five children’s pieces’ as Ravel subtitled his Ma mere L’Oye [Mother Goose]. Particularly memorable was the third movement, giving us a touch of the orient. Also, the ‘Conversations of Beauty and the Beast’ was very effective: the audience was swathed in a smooth waltz, then juxtaposed with the menace of the beast. The ‘Fairy Garden’ indeed expanded wondrously from warm beauty to stately grandeur.
The Duo brought their programme to a close with Mozart’s Andante and Variations in G which had been written in the same year, 1786, as the Sonata played earlier. A simple theme is stated and then becomes progressively elaborated upon. Both pianists eventually shared the drama and intricacies - there being some sparkling runs - before they returned us to the original theme with calm simplicity.
The encore introduced the only transcription to their concert: an arrangement for four hands of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ from his Nutcracker ballet. A light-hearted reminder that the Festive Season is approaching!
It’s a few years since NADSAconcerts brought such a large group of musicians to Teignbridge, and what a treat the Chamber Philharmonic Europe turned out to be. Familiar composer names peppered their programme, which was not only enjoyable but uplifting. The audience left with a spring in their step.
Seeing Vivaldi’s name made me think of The Four Seasons; how refreshing then to hear the Concerto for Strings in G minor instead. A spirited rendering of the introductory Allegro was followed by the Largo where a hint of melancholy pervaded. The final Allegro concluded the piece with Vivaldi's expected panache.
No matter what associations one has with Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor, it never fails to touch the soul. Actually, it was mostly written by Remo Giazotto, who copyrighted it in 1958. Whatever the attribution, be it the 18th or 20th century, the wide use of this Adagio in mainstream culture attests to its huge popularity. For all its familiarity, it is not often presented in its entirety as a concert live performance. Here, the bass pizzicato worked particularly well with the acoustic of the hall.
And, if we perhaps were in need of cheering up, we next heard Hummel’s Concerto for Trumpet. This was written as a light-hearted showcase for the, then newly invented, valve trumpet. What a scintillating delight it was, in the hands of virtuoso Cyrill Gussaroff. He produced a surprisingly smooth tone with complete assurance and consistency. We had the instrument's full dynamic range coupled with amazing breath control; one could just revel in the music. An audience member was somewhat distressed to read that Cyrill was not programmed to perform in the concert’s second half!
During Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Strings in E, it was difficult not to get swept along with the lively and familiar melody and its inter-twining intricacies. The sweet and pure timbre of Michel Gershwin’s violin floated the Adagio melody before expanding into the rousing elaborations of an exuberant finale. Bach would not have heard such a romantic interpretation of his work; I suspect he would be proud to know that his composition is so versatile.
One of Faure’s most famous pieces is his Pavane for Orchestra: hugely familiar but still riveting. The warmth of the cello was immediately palpable, and the dynamics with the bass were especially effective. Even the visually distracting viola player maintained the mesmerising theme. An ensemble performance that still haunts me.
Holst’s St Paul’s Suite was the last item on the programme, and an excellent choice, giving us contrasts of mood, a rousing jig and the comforting tune of Greensleeves woven across another traditional theme.
The near-capacity audience was pleased that an encore was forthcoming. Cyrill Gussaroff returned with the ensemble to play a trumpet arrangement of Dinicu’s Hora staccato. What a glorious display of virtuosity. Rapturous applause encouraged a second encore: ‘Mozart with a twist’. Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was the bread of the sandwich. Various fillings whisked past us: snippets by The Beatles, Beethoven, Delibes, Strauss, were humorously interleaved to the delight of the audience.
So nice to end the evening remembering that good music can also be fun.
Two London based musicians gave a splendid performance for the first of NADSA concert’s 73rd series. Elaine Cocks, clarinet, displayed virtuosic dexterity which was superbly matched by the empathetic accompaniment of pianist Viv McLean. Elaine’s well-constructed programme was an eclectic mix drawn from the Mozartian era to the 21st century and included Indian Raga.
Composers featured were Devienne, Francaix, Bowen, Mayer, Poulenc and Booth.
Devienne, a composer whose main instruments were flute and bassoon, like Mozart, realised the expressive potential of the, then newly invented, clarinet. The potential was well developed in the rendition we heard of Devienne’s first Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, with an excellent balance between the instruments in a spirited nimble Allegro. Having established the instruments' equality, the piano pulled back to let the clarinet take centre stage for a beautifully sensitive Adagio. The clarinet’s acrobatics were great fun in the Rhondo.
Reflecting differing moods, Francaix’s Tema con Variationi were written to be test pieces for the Paris Conservatoire. What a kaleidoscope of sound they turned out to be in the hands of Elaine and Viv! We moved from light frothy and playful to subdued and soft, then agile and fast to jaunty. And then we came to the pensive Adagio, where their notes just seemed magically to hang in the air. The following chirpy hesitant Valza was a good preparation for the contrasts of the impressive clarinet cadenza that preceded the speedy but delicate finale.
In Elaine’s introduction to the next piece, she mentioned that one of Viv’s piano teachers had worked with the pianist-composer York Bowen. The first movement of Bowen's Clarinet Sonata threw us into lush romanticism; the second was lighter and playful with hints of Facade-Waltonesque, whilst the third gave Viv a dramatic piano opening later followed by moments of melodrama and poignancy before rounding to a dramatic finale.
Another personal nugget from Elaine was that she had worked with John Mayer the composer of the Raga Music for Solo Clarinet. She related the context for each of the nine movements of what is a fusion of Western musical techniques with Hindustani music. Her playing was spellbinding: moods changing from lively and busy to brooding tranquillity and languid with an edge. Mayer’s use of silence was skillfully transmitted to us by Elaine: no mean feat.
I find it interesting that Mayer composed this Raga Music’ in 1952, with such effective use of silence, and in the same year in America John Cage composed his controversial piece 4’33’’.
Poulenc’s music is usually unpredictable to the point of clownish, and his Clarinet Sonata is no exception. We had a lively attack from both instruments, the familiar melodic theme being boldly stated. The mood changed to subdued and mournful in the ‘tristamente’ section, probably a lament for the late composer Honegger to whom this sonata was dedicated. In the achingly moving Romanza the melody softly flowed and ebbed, then an anguished shriek and a tender close. The fiery attack of the third movement transformed, via fun interludes, into an over-the-top pastiche of romantic lushness before returning as a playful and affirmative finale.
The very appreciative audience was delighted to have an encore, and something special at that. We heard an arrangement of Barry Booth’s Blue Lullaby, a commission for a concert at the British Embassy in Japan in 1997. This lullaby, using the pentatonic scale, was not only soothing but also an interesting, way to end the concert.
It speaks volumes of their artistry that Elaine Cocks and Viv McLean breathed life into so many unfamiliar works and contrasting styles. One can be proud that Newton Abbot provided them with a good audience.
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.
Newton Abbot had the first performance, following the London Barbican World Premier last Monday, of a new work by Edmund Finnis. It was just part of a very popular programme, extraordinarily performed, by Clare Hammond.
Haydn is usually a good concert opener, and his Fantasia in C major is perhaps more fun than most. Clare took this at a fair lick and, with effective use of change of tempos, kept us on the edge of our seats. There were bold statements and diaphanous frills; even Haydn might have been surprised by such vitality!
Clare said that Edmund Finnis and herself were both students at the Guildhall and had long wanted to realise a work together.
Since Edmund is now known as a composer of electronic to full symphonic instrumental music, one wondered how his sound palette would transfer to this, his first composition for solo piano. Certainly, in the hands of Clare, the answer must be ‘very well’. The 10 short pieces took us through a range of thoughts and feelings: smoothness that also shone; speed that ended with bass drama; a serenity with questioning dissonances; then a huge change to warm rolling phrases with a melodic line above; a delicacy that was sustained but had growth; great activity and sparkle; something chilling maybe a tad spooky; gentle falling ripples with an insistence left unresolved; a somewhat melancholic andante, and finishing with a mellow calm. I find it reassuring that when I note the given titles to each piece I can identify some commonality of experience, to the extent that I feel enriched by the vicarious experience of those things unknown to me such as New York and Helsinki.
The Four Impromptus of Schubert D899 followed: familiar territory maybe, but rarely heard played quite as superbly as this. After rich full-bodied moments came passages of gentle narrative and striking changes of mood, all done with nuanced phrasing. Clare possessed an amazing skill to maintain subtlety of phrasing with such speed; she also had the delicacy of touch to make note repetition interesting! Magical runs had a momentum of their own, interspersed with drama in the second work that ended with frenzy. The third impromptu, where a melody sings out over ripples, is so well known that one might have thought oneself immune to its simplistic beauty. Clare's rendering of this masterpiece was totally engaging: another electric moment for the audience.
Our musical experience was further expanded into the lush romanticism of an early work by Scriabin, his Sonata No 2 in C sharp minor Op 19. It had all the awe and wonder one expects, plus the sympathetic use of silence: a lily so often gilded by others.
After we had embraced the grand scale of phrasing and, at times, the turmoil of Beethoven’s Sonata No 30 in the first two movements, the Andante was serenity itself. This was perfectly in keeping with Clare having said that this was a very personal and deeply felt sonata of his.
Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka was the final work. It is very much a virtuoso showpiece, not often heard in live performance due to its technical difficulty. However, Clare’s performance let us forget all that. We could dance, reflect, or have the most outrageous swings of emotion; her pyrotechnics just lit the auditorium.
What a privilege it was to be present at this performance.
This concert was sponsored by Estelle McCormick and was the sixth in the series of Nadsa concerts sponsored by Austins Department Store.
Transylvanian magic landed in Newton last Sunday: magic because the audience was so spellbound by the Romanian muscians
As soon as the Arcadia Quartet were playing the first few bars of Haydn’s ‘Joke’ Quartet I felt there was something sonorously different. There was a warm balanced tone and also beautifully resonant pianissimos. The Scherzo gave us the jollity and the expressive light heartedness one expects of Haydn. Arcadia’s credentials now firmly established, we came to the Largo sostenuto and a complete change of mood: for me a slight frisson in that I felt a surreal edge to this movement’s pomposity. And as any comedian knows, one must establish credibility before a joke will work. The Arcadia’s poise and timing worked a treat in the finale.
To programme Borodin’s ‘This is My Beloved’ quartet after Haydn’s ‘Joke’ seemed rather a risk too close to the hackneyed. However the Arcadia transported us well clear of the commonplace. Mercifully, we were spared excessive use of vibrato. Instead we delighted in their clarity of tone, sensitivity of dynamics and pianissimos to die for! Perhaps it is the fact that this quartet has travelled together so extensively through the concert halls of the world that they play so effectively as one. There was no need of physical flamboyance or affectation; the music arose from the group. It felt somewhat of a relief to be free of the, admittedly engaging and visually exciting, experience of a live performance of a string quartet where the melodic line is thrown around as a ‘pass-the-parcel’ exercise. The Arcadia transcended this; their music was all.
The second half of the concert was Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C minor ‘Dresden’, something I should admit is not in my comfort zone. However, what a huge difference performers can make to the perception of a piece of music. The intensity of emotion was overwhelming whether in a lament of despair, hauntingly eerie passages, or the startling shrieks of the ‘Psycho-like’ episode. The final movement left the audience numb. Eventually applause started, then grew and persisted until the Arcadia gave us an encore. The viola player said that they would leave us with a more cheerful mood of a Folk Bagatelle. What a masterpiece of planning that was, and how amazingly versatile the Arcadia Quartet is.
Not only are the Arcadia stunning musicians [their sustained notes of enduring purity will stay with me], but they are also technically innovative. All their instruments had ZMT Tailpieces, which may, at least in part, account for my initial feeling that the sound quality of this Quartet was different from anything I had heard before.
Pomegranate Piano Trio after their NADSA concert at The Courtenay Centre with sponsor-representatives John and Svetlana Pike for the Claude and Margaret Pike Trust
A progression of styles and composers from the 18th and 19th centuries was The Pomegranate Piano Trios’ programme for their Nadsa concert last Sunday afternoon. We experienced the keyboard centred style of Haydn, the full bodied Beethoven, and the unleashed emotion of Smetana.
Haydn is usually fun, and this rendering of his Trio in E flat Hob XV29 was great. Pianist, Andrew West, led with a light and spirited touch, his phrasing adapting superbly to the more soulful andantino second movement and the concluding presto allemande. Fun indeed.
Next, breaking with chronology, we heard Smetana’s Trio in G minor Op15. This was written in 1855, immediately after the death, from scarlet fever, of his four year old eldest daughter. Its first performance in Prague was not well received, and we owe it to Liszt that this piece was subsequently played in Germany and Austria, and is now accepted as Smentana’s first masterpiece. Fenella Barton, violin, gave us a bold entry to a movement that was full of drama and emotional grief. The second movement, recollections of times past, was the whole gamut from joy and drama (tinged with melancholy and lament) to grief; but never in this performance lapsing into sentimentality: a fine line to tread. The triumphal finale was memorable, not least for Rebecca Hepplewhite’s warm rich and sensitive cello line: a huge contrast to the presto movement’s frequent frenetic episodes. This was a superb portrayal of the contrasts of grief that many of us know so well. The audience was rapt.
After the interval we returned to hear the ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio in B flat Op.97. It was with this grand work of statuesque proportions that Beethoven lifted the piano trio-form to a near symphonic status. The four movements allowed Pomegranate to display a great range of skills, from heart-touching in the third movement to breathtaking excitement in the finale. How fortunate we were to hear a live performance of the ‘Archduke’; an experience Beethoven’s deafness made impossible for him to have. It was again a near capacity audience for the fourth in the series of Nadsa concerts sponsored by Austins Department Store.
Joglaresa after their NADSA concert at The Courtenay Centre with Ray Avis of sponsor Buyrite Tyres
Joglaresa was something different. Their instruments were basically medieval, their voices ranged from Moorish, through folk, to modern classical, and their clothes likewise defied categorisation. The unifying threads were superb musicianship and emotional intensity.
The first number was a great scene-setter. The Fidel led, soon joined by percussion and drums, then vocals by Belinda Sykes and Angela Hicks who also played bagpipes and harp respectively. The manuscript for this came from the Convent of Las Huelgas in C14th Spain, and is a cheeky mixing of the ‘Good Word’ [of God] and ‘Good Wine’.
Belinda introduced us to the 5 stringed Fidel, with a flatter arch [than the violin] for droning; the Dulcimer, a Graeco- Roman name for an instrument traditionally played across Asia and Europe; the Darbuka [Tablah], with origins in BCE Babylonia and now mostly associated with Arabic and south Asian music; and the simple Mediaeval harp having no pedals or levers, so re-tuning is required for a change of key. Of course the gutted Fidel also needed frequent re-tuning, which was occurring as Belinda described to us that her single reeded bagpipes were basically an inside-out sheep. We really were shaken out of our familiar comfort zones and transported to a multi-ethnic experience in both time and geography.
The programme was titled ‘The Enchantress of Seville’, but no majoring on Carmen here, more exploring how, post the fall of Rome, the Iberian Moorish civilisation had greatly influenced subsequent western cultures.The verse-form [strophic] song was invented in Moorish Andalusia and the text was Arabic. With the expulsion, by the Christians, of the Sephardic Jews from Spain in the late C15th the Andalusian musical folk-culture spread via the Ottoman Empire from Morocco to the Balkans.
A traditional Judeo-Spanish song from Morocco, ‘Al pasar por Sevilla’ found Belinda relating the poignant narrative of a man losing a potential wife and finding a sister. Belinda’s charisma which flowed through the eyes to her fingertips passed to May Robertson’s Fidel. May’s Fidel also gave us heart-rending emotion in the song, by Wallada bint al-Mustakfi of Cordoba [d.1091], of the plight of a maiden for whom no man is worthy.
Later, Louise Anna Duggan’s Dulcimer gave us exquisite moments of delicacy, whereas Louise on Riq interacting with Guy Schalom’s Darbuka was frisson-time. Guy, in an instrumental number, was scintillating and as part of the ensemble both supportive and effectively mesmeric. Given the sensual undertones of many of the songs, Angel Hicks, both with purity of voice and harp, gave a celestial balance that was entirely appropriate for songs in praise of the Virgin Mary. Versatility was abundant, and no more so than exhibited by Belinda who ranged from soothing softness in ‘Una matika de ruda’ to strident volume in ‘A kasar el rey salia’. Her seemingly natural ability to use yodel techniques and quarter tones through melismatic phrases and ethnic ornamentation was a privilege to experience.
A near capacity audience’s applause was rewarded with an encore. I am sure that Joglaresa will now have an even greater following.
Jetted back from Shanghai, Eleanor Turner [harpist] joined David Le Page [violinist], and cellist Clare O’Connell [a founder member of Chroma] for their NADSA concert.
We plunged in at the deep end with Ibert’s Trio, written in 1944 for his harpist daughter. This was the programme’s most modern piece, and for me the most challenging, but what an assemblage of delights. Immediately the three instruments seemed to have their own lively themes, but then the soothing harp changed the mood and allowed the cello to introduce a melodic line that interplayed with the violin. The second movement held a sustained, more introspective, mood with glorious harmonies between the strings. The final movement was bright and mischievous.
Ibert’s trio was probably written to showcase his harpist daughter; Eleanor treated us to a fine display of supportive ripples, spirited interjections and sparkling glissandi.
Debussy wrote ‘Deux Romances’ for soprano and piano; Ronchini arranged them for cello and harp. The cello is often mentioned as a close match to the human voice, and this arrangement by Ronchini could well be quoted to illustrate the point. What a beautiful combination: Clare’s cello with the harp. With such warm tones, interplay of parts and heartfelt edge, who needed words.
Saint-Saens’ Fantaisie for violin and harp was written as a duo, and the two instruments complemented each other superbly. From quite humble beginnings the dynamics grew and grew, whilst the interplay between the instruments became finer. The violin had particularly impressive virtuosic episodes contrasting so well with the calm conclusion.
Two Romances by Saint-Saens followed the interval. Neither Romance in F Op 36 nor in D Op 51 was written for these instruments, so we heard arrangements for cello and harp. I am sure Saint-Saens would have approved whole-heartedly with both the arrangement and the performance we heard. Clare’s cello captured all the plaintive haunting feel of the horn for which Op 36 was originally written and wove beautifully with the supporting harp. One felt it strange that such elegant simplicity should be so moving.
Henriette Renie [1875 - 1956] is little known except in harpist circles; judging by her Trio for violin, cello and harp, this is unjust. The first movement, with romantic melodic lines, transported us to the 19th Century. A lively Scherzo followed which led to a poignantly melancholic third movement where David Le Page’s violin took us to another plane. A rich mix of themes in the finale had an exhilarating coda with a flourish of harp arpeggios.
The audience was very appreciative of the performance, recompense indeed for turning out on such a stormy night.
Chroma Chamber Ensemble had not only given us the rare opportunity to hear an unusual grouping of instruments but also a programme of French music seldom offered on the concert circuits. I look forward to similar opportunities from them in the future.
This NADSA concert, sponsored by Rathbones Investment Management, was part of the series sponsored by Austins Department Store.
Kristian Lindberg made a triumphant return to the professional concert scene after his traumatic encounter with a Portuguese Man of War less than a year ago.
Last November, in India, he was stung by a huge jellyfish [Portuguese Man of War]. One hospital recommended amputation of his right arm! Another hospital carried out major surgery, saving the arm. In February 2017 he had more surgery. The question was whether his career had been destroyed and would he ever play the piano again. Convalescence, Kristian said, was then aided by Mozart’s ‘Variations on a Minuet by Duport’ which had brought life back to his fingers. From gentle and simple beginnings, this work developed for us into a full-bodied demonstration of mastery of the keyboard with subtlety of phrasing and precision. Mozart wrote the variations to impress the King of Prussia; Kristian’s rendering certainly impressed us.
The rest of the programme - Grieg, Rachmaninov and Chopin - saw us firmly in the Romantic style.
Kristian, a compatriot of Grieg, gave us a very well chosen selection of five of Grieg’s ‘Lyric Pieces’. ‘Butterfly’ was taken at speed, but retained delicacy and fragility with smooth runs, swirls and darting angles. ‘Solitary Traveller’ brought an arresting change of mood to forlornness and melancholy which was quickly shaken off by the bright and lively ‘Brooklet’. Quite how Kristian then got the same piano to bathe us in the warm lullaby of ‘At the Cradle’ was little short of a miracle. The last, more varied piece, ‘Homeward’ took us to a very positive conclusion.
The selection of Rachmaninov Preludes had all the drama one could expect from decibels to delicacy! Kristian also had the restraint to give us superb languid wistful sections and moving crescendos. A brief bright and cheerful piece was followed by a meditative one whose narrative was compulsively maintained. This Rachmaninov section ended with Prelude No. 5 in G minor: so well known, and dazzlingly performed.
After the interval, the programme consisted of Chopin’s 24 Preludes: no diversity of composer, but an amazing diversity of styles and moods. These Preludes were published as a single work and were greatly influenced by Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ publication. Indeed Chopin’s 24 Preludes are similarly in each major and minor key. That of course was Chopin’s contribution as composer; what the performer brings to that music, some of which is extremely well known, is another question. One fears one is very likely to be disappointed. No such happening here. There was an increasing sense of awe and wonder as each Prelude took on its own identity, and one’s personal treasures had to accommodate to this being the definitive perfomance experience. The capacity audience was enthralled and gave Kristian a standing ovation.
Kristian Lindberg currently lives in Totnes, though his international performances span the major prestigious venues in the USA, Europe and Japan. This NADSA concert was the first in a series of concerts sponsored by Austin's Department Store. I hope NADSA concerts will be able to bring Kristian back to Newton Abbot in the not too distant future.
NADSA’s series of concerts ended the season with a programme that concentrated on the popular period of the mid 19th century. The London Bridge Trio, known for their nuanced performances focused on contextual associations, brought this Romantic period to life.
Quite unusually, there were only two composer surnames on the programme: Schumann and Mendelssohn, but this belies the situation where we were invited to appreciate the styles of both Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara. In the 19th century, Clara, as an international pianist, was more famous than her composer husband. She, however, was also a composer, but family commitments and the time constraints of her performing career were probably the reason for her relatively small number of published compositions.
All the works performed at the concert were written between the years 1845-1849, and their juxtaposition invited us to compare the more introspective style of the Schumanns with the comparatively securely flamboyant style of Mendelssohn: three musical geniuses differently influenced by their environment.
First we heard Three Fantasy Pieces, Op 73, by Robert Schumann. These pieces were originally conceived for clarinet and piano, but we heard the version for cello and piano. They were intended to be played sequentially, and with minimal breaks between each, which had the effect of enhancing their very different moods. The mellow tones of Kate Gould’s cello were complimented superbly by Daniel Tong’s sensitive phrasing in the opening piece. In the lighter flowing narrative of the second piece, the mood changed. We had interesting dialogue between the instruments, and a pianissimo that contrasted well with the emphatic fortes and energy of the last piece.
Clara Schumann’s piano trio was written whilst she was pregnant with her fourth child and unable to give performance tours. It is the only chamber music she wrote. The Allegro movement’s romantic melodic themes were given substance by the piano and cello, whereas the Scherzo contrastingly was mostly light and dancey. The piano led us into the Andante third movement which surely had a hint of the Chopinesque about it. As the movement progressed, the rich tones of the cello splendidly filled the hall. The fourth movement gave us a sample of fugal form before a very satisfyingly solid finale. A combination of composition and performance led me to appreciate the diversity of content where no theme is self-indulgently over-worked, and one is left wanting more.
Mendelssohn’s piano trio No. 2 in C minor is somewhat of a virtuoso work. The ‘Allegro espressivo con fuoco’ of the first movement sets the scene with swirling patterns on the keyboard, frenzied sections and contrasting peaceful interludes: the transitions being acutely handled by the players. The piano introduction of the Andante was indeed a calming walk, later with the warmth of the cello to embrace us. All changed with the Scherzo which had the tension and excitement of a car chase, but with no crash! The finale was the stuff of melodic fireworks with the violin of David Adams emerging from beautiful pianissimos to dramatic fortes. The London Bridge Trio did both Mendelssohn and the audience proud.
The Dante String Quartet brought another touch of international excellence to our area at the 6th and penultimate Nadsaconcert of the season. Their programme ranged from Mendelssohn and Dvorak to Beethoven and Janacek, so something to inspire and stimulate us all.
Mendelssohn's Capriccio in E minor Op 81/3 was a delightful opening. The mellifluous tones of the first violin, bathed with the supporting strings, made for an emotively limpid Andante barcarolle, whereas in the following Allegro there were bursts of vitality in what was a glittering fugue.
The selection from Dvorak's Cypresses took us to another place again. Based on a song cycle written when Dvorak was mending his broken heart, they are romantic and lyrical: and the performance was truly beautiful. Moods varied from wistful to moderately lively, with the timbre of the viola feeling appropriate for this very emotional offering. How refreshing to be impressed with the quartet's delicacy of pianissimos, delivered without the embarrassment of visual affectation.
And then we came to Janacek's String Quartet No 2 'Intimate Letters'. At the age of 63 Janacek met Kamila Stosslova who was 25 and, though both were married, he fell madly in love with her. He wrote over 700 letters to her, and she inspired him to write several operas and this String Quartet. The Dante's rendering of this work left one in no doubt that this was not serene love, but involved tension and sudden changes of mood. Their gentle pianissimos gave great poignancy to sections that contrasted with the tension and turmoil of others.
The first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet No 13 was electrically handled as the coordination of the Dante ushered us melodically through changes of texture and tempo. The Presto was suitably mercurial, and had its few moments of bluster which contrasted with the following Andante where restrained elegance came to the fore. In the rhythmically dance-like fourth movement, its melody became delightfully elaborated before a somewhat de-constructed finale; a fitting preparation for what followed.
The Cavatina, described as the 'emotional heart' of the work, is reported to have moved Beethoven to tears. In the hands of the Dante it was heart-rendingly effective. Oscar Perks, the second violinist, had introduced us to this 13th Quartet and had said that we would be hearing the revised version of the 6th movement. It maybe better not to have been told that the final movement we were about to hear was not the composer's intention. Beethoven had composed a momentous, ground-breaking fugue to complete his quartet, but performers at that time could grapple with neither the physicality nor sheer creativity of the material. One feels that Beethoven took a hint from Rossini here and gave the public what they asked for, rather than his original monumental support for the Cavatina. Our Dante's finale was thus delightfully frothy and affirmative, and just the way to end a popular concert.
There was a real classical buzz at the Courtney Centre last Sunday. Marco Fatichenti's recital of romantic and impressionist composers charged the audience with enthusiasm and awe.
His direct approach to Debussy's Masques shimmered and sparkled; then was movingly languorous. There was no doubt that the stage was set for drama, or life.
What better vehicle to expand this theme than Schumann's Carnaval? This frequently performed work is demanding of versatility and virtuosity: characteristics we expect as normal from a NADSA concert. However, this performance transcended normality. At times the speed was breathtaking, but the dynamic structure still shone. In poignant moments the intensity was palpable. I found myself thinking that musicality took precedence over time signatures or indeed any printed notation. We were sharing an experience directly through a musical performance. As a member of the audience put it [herself a pianist of some standing], she had not come across such a combination of technical skill and control of colour for many years. She also loved his lack of affectation and flamboyance.
After the interval, we returned to Debussy with three preludes from Book 2: 'Mists' was portrayed as rolling and swirling ripples with the abrupt interjection of high treble and low bass notes; 'The Wine Gate' was Spanish heat and habanera; and 'Odine' was compulsively lyrical.
Marco gave us an introduction to his next two pieces which were by Granados. He asked us whether we thought a score was the ultimate truth, and told us that composers often improvised when playing their own compositions; and Granados was a great improviser. So perhaps a performance could aim to be what the composer might have done. This, being part of his doctoral researches, heightened our feelings of being at the cutting edge. The titles of the two movements that we subsequently heard from Granados' Goyescas are almost self-explanatory of the experience: 'The Maiden and the Nightingale', - intensely romantic; and 'Epilogue, The Ghost's Serenade'.
The programme's final pieces were Chopin's Berceuse, and Scherzo No 2. Both are familiar, and suffice it to say that Marco's performance of these works illustrated why they are so popular.
The audience demanded an encore; Debussy's 'Fireworks' with their explosive dazzle and sparkle was rather more than anyone could have expected.
The exuberance generated was long lasting. The audience, whose ages ranged from 9 to 90, and some of whom had travelled 100 miles for this performance, were reluctant to let him leave. This was Marco Fatichenti's first concert for NADSA, and I, and I'm sure many others, hope that he will be returning before too long.
Simon Mulligan jetted across from New York last Friday and met up with Gerard McChrystal from Trinity Laban Conservatoire London, to give a concert for NADSA last Sunday. Their pianist and saxophonist skills melded superbly in a repertoire that was as eclectic as it was dazzling.
They chose to play with a backdrop of glass which gave a bright acoustic to the Courtenay Centre: the saxophone resonating the whole space even in low pianissimos. Rather than being a duo, they performed as one, and I felt no need to watch one or other of them and wonder in some voyeuristic way as to which was 'leading' now, and for how long, as I so often feel particularly with Jazz performances. This was inspirational excellence for the audience.
We started with Bach's sonata in E minor for violin and continuo; so immediately we had to make the adjustment of saxophone standing in for a violin, and a piano for harpsichord and viol de gamba. The combination worked well. The rendering was rather more romantic than could have been achieved in Bach's day; indeed Bach might have been envious.
The very familiar work by Bozza, Aria for Alto Sax & Piano, followed and mesmerised the audience. The smooth legato line was beautifully held with dynamics that took us to soft pianissimos.
Gerard changed to the sopranino sax for Vinci's Adagio & Allegro from Sonata 1 for clarinet & piano: also a huge change in style with a madrigal feel to the Adagio and sheer brilliance and virtuosity in the Allegro.
Maintaining the theme of variety and contrasts, we then heard Massenet's Meditation from Thais: so familiar and romantic, and wonderful when played like this.
Dinicu's Hora Staccato jolted us into the realms of gypsy spirit and speed, and then the first half of the concert was concluded with Borne's Fantasie Brillante on Themes from Bizet's Carmen. What a show-case piece this proved to be. There was excellent use of rubato and delicate pianissimos, but the sultry foreboding of the piano's introduction for the Habanera was deliciously disturbing. And then the saxophone took on the named role, and it seemed the chorus and the orchestra too. Only Gerard's stratospheric level of musicality and virtuosity could hold that together.
Pascal's Sonatine gave us a flavour of French Impressionism bringing us into the Modern musical era.
Schumann's Romance in A minor then took us back into the 19 century with a plaintive wistful melody and aching balance between piano and saxophone.
Our first contemporary composer of the evening was Nigel Wood. Simon and Gerard started his Man-Mou very delicately, but then expanded it into lush tuneful territory. This gave way to an up-beat syncopated jazzy section, the work later returning to the original theme. The piano was here again a full equal to the saxophone.
We then stayed in the 20th century with Valse Marilyn by Wiedoeft. Composed in 1927, it starts with a hugely evocative waltz, but the rubato became exaggerated until the bursts of speed, life and then extraordinarily sustained notes made this pastiche great fun, for both audience and performers alike!
Phil Woods' first movement of his Sonata for Alto Sax & Piano was next, and here we were taken from quiet beginnings to an intense and vigorous jazz interlude. Our second contemporary composer was Simon Mulligan himself, playing his own Sassafras. This piano solo started with great delicacy, then a hint of West-side Story, a lot of syncopation, and frothy intricate variations in jazzy honky-tonk style. A tasty morsel indeed.
Gerard described Pedro Iturraide's Pequena Czardas as 'Spanish Klezmer' this was their grand finale. The well known piece served such a variety of saxophone notes: creamy and lingering, light legato runs and precision staccato, not to mention a superb glissando. The piano shone in a solo introduction to a returning theme, and the saxophone cadenza even had percussive elements; above all the performance had a rousing spirit. A definitive experience.
This concert was special for Simon and Gerard too because in the audience was Simon's first piano teacher [from age 4], and it was through her that he had met Gerard. After relatively brief emotional exchanges, Simon had to leave for Heathrow and New York. Gerard gave a workshop for the children of Canada Hill School the following day, before returning to London. I hope it won't be many years before they are in Newton Abbot again.
Alessandro Ruisi made a strong entry to Bach's Chaconne; but a few bars later a string broke!
Well these things do happen. He left the stage to replace the string. Unexpectedly taking centre stage, Dina Duisen the pianist said she would play a piece that mimicked the sound of the Dombra, a two stringed instrument of Kazakhstan, her country of origin. A surprise, not programmed, very different: but amazing. This 'Legend of the Dombra' by N.Mendypalier should perhaps be a required audition piece for any aspiring pianist. Its repetitive nature, quite minimalist in form, needs a hugely sensitive differential touch to give it enduring phrasing and direction towards an emergent melody. Dina's performance was spellbinding; one felt her soul was in it, and it won the audience's heart.
Alessandro returned unabashed to give an intense performance of the Bach. He produced beautiful tone, and his technical skill of stopping and phrasing allowed Bach's genius to shine. No small credit should be paid to Schumann [who arranged this piano version] and Dina for allowing the violin to soar.
Alessandro introduced the next work, Beethoven's Sonata for violin and piano No 3, as 'early Beethoven'. The same performers, a different composer and we had a totally different experience. This was a duo with interplay from the first few bars: definitely Haydnesque and fun. The Adagio, however, had a serene lyricism with legato lines that were a wonder of sensitive pianissimos.
Alessandro, after his experience in a previous concert, said that Lutoslawski's Subito for violin and piano should come with a 'Public Health warning'. Not difficult to see why. The dramatic forte violin entrance of a downward run was arresting, and the novel abrupt twists and turns did not stop there. Lutoslawski described musical composition as 'fishing for souls' well, in this 'Subito' he certainly cast the net widely. We were shot from lyrical dreams to nightmares, and from sublimely poignant moments to 'Tom & Gerry' humour. A kaleidoscope brilliantly executed.
With Dvorak's 4 Romantic Pieces and Schumann's Violin Sonata No 1, Alessandro and Dina gave us yet more contrasts. Within the framework of melodic simplicity, Dvorak and our performers took us through a wide range of emotions. But, on turning to Schumann, we had a drama and a richness which they maintained, even through the delicate Allegretto, to a frenzied finale.
An enthusiastic audience was rewarded with an encore, Paganini's Cantabile. This was another triumph, not only of programme planning, but also of a duo playing superbly as one. I hope they return to Newton Abbot: definitely names to follow.
International concert pianist and Professor of Piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Margaret Fingerhut, gave the second in the series of NADSA concerts last Friday. It was a concert of two halves, or as Margaret introduced it, '…. a tale of two cities, Vienna and St Petersburg'.
We started with fun. Haydn usually is fun, but his Fantasia in C is especially so, even described by Haydn himself in 1789 as 'in a humorous mood'. Playful themes were introduced and developed, and quirky pauses superbly held, by Margaret. Not only was it fun audibly, but also visually, since themes passed from treble to bass, had hands crossing too. One feels compelled to say that the sparkling of the playing out-shone the sequins worn!
Staying in Vienna for our second piece, Margaret turned to Schubert’s piano Sonata in B flat which he completed in 1828 just a few weeks before his death. This was a total change of mood. There were ethereal moments, palpable pauses, sensitively menacing rumbles, angelic phrases and repeated notes played with great differential sensitivity that held us through the warmly melancholic extensive first movement. The sombre pianissimos for the theme at the beginning and ending of the second movement, and repeated notes, menacing without monotony, were just gut-wrenching. The following Scherzo movement was light relief, if not quite Haydn's fun. The final movement was relatively joyful with a defiant forte and an emphatic presto finale. Margaret had led us superbly through a great emotional journey.
For the second half of Margaret's recital we were with 'The Mighty Handful', a group of composers under the influence of Balakirev, living in St Petersburg in the 19th century.
From Borodin we had two pieces 'In the Monastery' and 'Scherzo in A flat'. The monastery scene was conjured from heavy bell tolls giving way to an ordered procession that crescendoed probably towards an altar: hugely atmospheric. The Scherzo is a romp, the rhythms and melodies being akin to peasant dances.
With Rimsky-Korsakov's 'A Little Song', we were reminded of Russia's Eastern influences by oriental intervals and harmonies.
We then had three pieces by Mussorgsky. The first, 'In the Village', started small and simple but grew to majestic size, then plodding rhythms gave way to lightness and rubato that made the peasant dances compulsive. The second of Mussorgsky's pieces was 'Teardrop': very Chopinesque and empathetically performed. 'First Punishment' was the last in this group, and conveyed a great agitation, anger and turmoil.
The next of 'The Mighty Handful' composers' works we heard was from Cui, probably the least well known. The first of his preludes we heard [from a series of 25 modelled on Chopin] was light and simple: contrasting with the drama and grandeur of the second.
Balakirev had a strong influence on many composers in St Petersburg: for example he made Tchaikovsky rewrite the Romeo and Juliet Overture to a third version. Such confidence enabled him to transcribe Glinka's 'The Lark' from orchestral score to solo piano. Again, there seemed to be the influence of Chopin and a bold use of the range of the keyboard with a rendition of fluttering that was truly feather-delicate.
Our final piece, by Balakirev, was his toccata in C sharp minor. It started with a delicate up-tempo tune that soon crescendoed and developed into a virtuoso dramatic climax.
It seemed strangely ironic, yet wonderful, that Margaret Fingerhut's programme of compositions from 'The Mighty Handful' who were very concerned with the 'Russian-ness' of their music, left me greatly impressed with their sheer diversity. So good to be treated to much loved familiar fare wonderfully presented, and then led to less familiar territory by inspired hands.
Newton Abbot and District's concert season got off to a cracking start last Friday. The Chamber Ensemble of London [CEOL] braved storm delays on rail, and road diversions to give a concert with a strong west country flavour. Their programme included pieces from Richard Mudge, living and composing in Bideford in 1749; Clive Jenkins, who is alive and well and composing in the South Hams; and Andrew Wilson, for 22 years composing at Tavistock. In 2015 he became director of studies at the National College of Music, London.
It was the splendid full bodied resonance of the Ensemble filling the Courtenay Centre that caught the imagination via the sedate but rhythmic first movement of Mudge' s Concerto Grosso No 5. Energy and spirit followed in the second movement, returning to a more restrained dance, but with great expressive contrasts, in the third. The finale of great vitality unexpectedly ended with a diminuendo.
Jenkins' Pastorale [inspired by the South Hams] and Allegro [inspired by Dartmoor ponies]had Peter Fisher taking the lead to a blend of rich melodic, and sometimes poignantly discordant, themes in the Pastorale; whereas in the Allegro jaunty, frisky mood changes gave way to a galloping tempo.
For those of us not greatly familiar with the Theorbo, which was about to take centre stage again, Dorothy Linell gave us a brief introduction including its use as a continuo instrument. Peter Fisher memorably added that 'if one spent 80 years with the theorbo, 60 years of them would have been spent tuning it!'
Giles Farnaby's Seven Pieces for String 0rchestra [arr Bantock] are short, and provided the Ensemble with another opportunity to paint cameo mood changes with music. 'A Toye' was delightfully melodic and contained, and set the Elizabethan scene. During his 'Dreame' a somnolent melody wafted over us - evidently Giles' dream was a pleasant one. Edgy conceit, rest, chirpy humour and a sober almost mournful 'Maske' were created before a surprisingly jaunty 'Tower Hill'.
Elgar's Serenade in E minor for Strings, Op. 20, brought the first half of the concert to a sumptuous conclusion. The Ensemble were at one with the music: sensitive phrasing and dynamics just flowed, with vibrato being judiciously used to produce that damp-eye /lump-in-the-throat feeling. Rich lush tones filled the hall.
Andrew Wilson then gave a short talk regarding his work The Tavy Dances. He stressed the elements of time - dawn to night - and place - River Tavy Head to Double Waters. The CEOL, who gave this work its World Premier in April this year, are fair steeped in it.
The 'Entree' takes us to a place where small melodic lines get hesitantly lost in discords, and a five-in-the-bar rhythm leads to small expansions and then a diminuendo to silence. Anyone who has investigated Dartmoor's river heads would have empathy with this mood. The 'Bourree' is confident and youthful with highs and lows, and a dancy rhythm that sparkles: Tavy Cleave. 'Siciliana' is subdued, and has the heaviness of a summer's afternoon in meadowland with a hint of the wistful or menacing dark waters: remembrance of times past at the ruined Tavistock Abbey. 'Round Dance' has the swirling energy of two rivers climactically merging together at night.
This work, being so championed by the CEOL, will surely enter the list of significant tone poems.
John Ireland's 'Cavatina' swept us into a lushly romantic phase, though it did seem nearer 'da capo' in structure than Cavatina. We certainly knew where we were with the Bagatelle: in lighter more playful mood.
Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony for Strings starts with a 'Boisterous Bourree', and the CEOL's rendering certainly did its introduction full justice - though calming later for melodic developments. The well known 'Playful Pizzicato' movement was rendered as fresh as ever. The 'Sentimental Saraband' had many changes of texture, but overwhelmingly it is laden with emotion. 'Frolicsome Finale' is well named. It started dramatically, was lively and tuneful, and left us in very good heart.
We were thankfully given an encore, a Peter Fisher composition in the style of Paganini: variations on Widecombe Fair. Not only did we get virtuoso violin playing, we also had whistling winds thrown in; it was great fun.
How refreshing to have glorious works of Elgar and Britten in the same concert as those of less well know composers and not feel that one overshadows the others. Excellent programming and delightful execution. A memorable start to NADSA's season of concerts.
Viv McLean's piano recital brought Nadsa concerts' season to a close with a distinctive and vital rendering of some much loved favourites, and a rare chance to hear the Beethoven's Diabelli variations.
The programme, quite unusually arranged in reverse chronological order, opened with Debussy's Estampes. The first of these three pieces, 'Pagodes', was delivered with a strong security that extended to lively and minute phrasing. The Javanese tonal influence, which Debussy had heard at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889, was crystal clear. 'La soiree dans Grenade', the second of this trilogy, again took us away from our classical norms of rhythms and harmonies, but this time the influence was Moorish. Viv seemed to give each note almost individual accenting, a level of sensitivity that made for an authentic Spanish feel [even though Debussy had scarcely set foot in Spain, let alone Andalusia]. Kingsteignton is twinned with Orbec: and it was a storm in Debussy's garden in Orbec that 'Jardins sous la pluie', the final piece of Estampes, describes. Viv certainly gave us a torrent of fast and furious notes, but also some swirls of wind and almost pensive lulls. The Debussy section ended with what is probably the best know of his works, Clair de Lune. There was no need of limiting one's expectations since Viv produced a sumptuously sensitive performance, whilst steering clear of the depths of sentimentality.
Chopin's Nocturne in E flat Op 9/2 is also very well known, with a melodic line singing out from a soft accompaniment. It was here that I was surprised to hear Viv make this, almost hackneyed work, sound fresh and new by the use of rubatos in unfamiliar places. Brave man to make this his own.
He then played Ballade No 3 Op 47 which was followed by Nocturne in C sharp minor, a very subdued piece during which the delicacy of phrases, that knew their goal, held us close. The Chopin section ended with Ballade No 1 which took us back and forth from haunting melodies through stormy transitions to a dramatic virtuoso ending.
The one work that followed the interval was the Diabelli variations by Beethoven; 33 variations in all. The waltz, on which the variations are based, is very ordinary, however it is considered remarkable that Beethoven produced such a significant work from such a small base. We certainly experienced a considerable range of emotions and the audience was very appreciative of Viv's tour de force.
We were given an encore: a Chopin Mazurka. It was exceptionally beautifully played, and a masterpiece of programming. We went away with nerve endings tingling.
Sacconi String Quartet after their Nadsa concert at the Performing Arts Centre Teignmouth, with Joanna Williams of sponsors Wollen Michelmore Solicitors.
The Sacconi String Quartet brought more than a breath of fresh air to Mozart and Schubert: they brought energising vitality that gave the music captivating drama. Mozart's 'Hoffmeister' String Quartet is a very popular work and too easily slips into the category of pleasant background muzak; but here the first unison note of the Allegretto movement caught our attention with an eerie perfection of pitch. What followed was a feast of lightness of of touch, delicacy of small and large scale phrasing, a unity between players, and a delightfully clean pure sound. Added to which, the Sacconi gave this Mozart a strength and depth that is often lacking in more blandly familiar renderings. The Menuetto's great spirit and firm rhythm definitely danced. A complete mood change was ushered in with the Adagio: basically 'legato with feeling'. Sensitive crescendos, diminuendos, rubatos and a hint of vibrato made for a beautiful lyricism. The cracking pace of the Allegro, with its swirls, took us to an energetic finale.
The programme's 'filling' between our staples of Mozart and Schubert, was the work 'Servant' by the Cornish extant composer Graham Fitkin. Its bold attack I found almost an assault of the senses, but the persistent rhythmic intensity gave way to well held changes of mood, some of sublime melancholy. It was good to hear Fitkin give the viola a melodic lead, and to experience the tension maintained by the quartet, playing as one, through huge dynamic contrasts. And then there was the first violin's pianissimo to die for! The rhythmic intensity returned to hurl us to the end of this exciting piece.
Schubert's String Quartet No 15, his last, was written when he knew he was terminally ill. It is a monumental innovative work packed with tension, anguish and not a little pathos. The first Allegro movement soon presented us with a mix of major and minor chords and extensive use of tremolo with dramatic dynamics that, with some pizzicato, were very unsettling. The Andante, whilst also having changes of mood with outbursts of agitated tremolo, was notable for its plaintive cello line where some vibrato was used to excellent effect. The lighter, but still edgy with tremolo, Scherzo had a calmer section allowing melodic lines to sing out. The final Allegro was delivered with great spirit, the Sacconi throwing themselves into a demonic rendering; a quasi-tarantella kept the death drama with us to the end.
This was a superb concert both for programme structure and its performance. The Sacconi String Quartet are certainly worth following.
The opening number of Northern Brass dispelled preconceived ideas of what a Brass concert would be. Gone were our expectations of bombastic brass. Instead we delighted in the technical agility and lightness of touch that Bach's Little Fugue in G minor demands. The interweaving threads of Bach are so much easier to appreciate in a transcription where different timbres are there to help us. This was an enjoyable rendering of a well deserved staple from the classical brass quintet repertoire.
Ewald's Brass Quintet No1 has quite a different origin. A cellist in a string quartet in the 19th Century, Ewald was the first person to compose music specifically for brass quintets. The sombre mood of the Moderato was introduced by the tuba, and, although other instruments later took us to chirpier sections, the movement's closing mood was subdued. The second movement opened with a quietly melodic Adagio; this was followed by a light and intricately rhythmic Allegro, and we were returned to the melodic theme for the closing Adagio: a rounded movement well executed. The Allegro Moderato had an altogether brighter feel, with engaged responding phrases, and a final accelerando and crescendo that left us in no doubt that we were firmly in Romantic territory.
The Battle Suite by Scheidt provided The Northern Brass with another opportunity to demonstrate their musical versatility. The Galliard Battaglia was taken at an impressive, spirited pace, contrasting greatly with the smooth lines of the Courant Dolorosa lament. The Canzon Bergamasque had variety, within which rally calls were passed around, before the work ended in a mood of triumphalism.
Kat Curlett [trumpeter] encouraged us to ignore the outrage and pathos of Bizet's Carmen, by frivolously introducing the French horn player as Carmen [rose in wig], trumpeter as Don Jose [military hat], trombonist as Escamillo [tricorn and cape] and tuba player as The Bull [with horns and a tail]. Very pleasing to hear their Toreador Song had a light touch too!
It seems that Kamen's Quintet has become a 'standard work' for Brass quintets, and deservedly so. We were very fortunate to hear, live, Northern Brass' rendering of this romantic wistful piece.
And then we had Gershwin's three Preludes: a sandwich of one slow movement between two fast. The latter were exhilarating, not just owing to the tempo adopted, but also to the intricacy of the syncopated rhythms. At the slow movement, the trumpets took mutes, and we were transported to a sultry bluesy mood, slowly expanding with mutes off, then back to bluesy.
Next, Sondheim's 'Send in the Clowns' featured Kat Curlett on flugelhorn that proved to be an excellent substitution for the human voice: a memorable performance with a suitably empathetic backing.
A selection from Bernstein's West Side Story rounded off the programme. The welcome lack of sickly sentimentality in 'Tonight', and good spirits throughout, made for a strong finale.
Their encore, 'I got Rhythm', concluded a thoroughly enjoyable concert.
How good to see that Nadsa concerts provides opportunities to young and emerging groups. Who knows where this ensemble will be in ten years time?
Raphael Wallfisch and John York performed at Newton Abbot's Courtenay Centre last Sunday, reaffirming nadsa's position as the premier promoter of a season of chamber music concerts in the South West.
The capacity audience doubtless had high expectations for the performance of these internationally and critically acclaimed performers: they were not to be disappointed.
It's difficult to know why some performances can be singled out as something special, but when the artists have supreme greatness they exude an embracing confidence. Raphael and John had no need for flamboyant gestures or exaggerated rubati, our connection with the composer felt immediate.
The light hearted and lyrical way the concert started was with Schumann's Funf Stucke im Volkston, the first piece being lively and dancelike, with the occasional humorous plods. How the contrast with the second piece [Langsam] was so perfectly achieved was remarkable. Of course the phrasing was longer and the tempo slower; but it almost seemed as though they were playing different instruments! The mellow tones of the cello flowed through beautiful melodic lines and the ebb and flow balance with the piano was exquisite without being saccharine. Subsequent character pieces took us to interesting and varied romantic themes, then bold and joyous, and ended with a mixture of delicacy and strength.
And then we had Brahms Sonata for Cello and Piano in D. However many renderings or times one had heard this work previously, this was a moment to treasure. The first movement was sublime. Emphatic chords of the second movement seemed to challenge the romantic sentimental style however, this was soon reasserted by the development of new melodic themes. The third moment had the delicate business of a rain theme, as well as a continuation of the second movement's theme and tantalising hints of the first movement, which are achingly heart-rending in that they never do fully return. Both Schumann and this duo left us wanting more.
Raphael in his introduction after the interval congratulated NADSA for promoting such successful concerts and said “long may it continue”: sentiments echoed by many.
Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No 4 in C [from his late period] opened with an Andante that in the hands of Wallfisch and York was a smooth balanced dream. The Allegro vivace burst forth upon us and continued to challenge the senses with wild changes of dynamics. The sombre Adagio gave way to hints of the previous Andante dream, and then the spirits were lifted by a demanding but playful variety in the Allegro vivace.
The final work was Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for Cello and Piano which tied for first place [with Ernest Bloch] in a 1919 competition. Not surprisingly it is an interesting work both regarding its composition and its requirement for virtuosity. The opening immediately put me in mind of Vaughan Williams; but Rebecca Clarke was soon ploughing her own, more tempestuous, furrow. In this first Impetuoso movement impressionism seemed never far away whereas in the Vivace I found myself recalling Stravinsky whilst scarcely being conscious that wondrous technical feats were being performed on both piano and cello. The concluding Adagio has a lyrical theme that was given a moving intensity before a crescendo climax and a gentle return to lyricism and an intense even abrupt ending. A wonderful introduction to an unfamiliar remarkable work.
The audience were spellbound, but erupted into applause which was rewarded by an encore. John York said that after “all that” we probably would like something calming, and they played an early work by Rachmaninov, a prelude for Cello and piano. Indeed it was calming.
We all knew that Raphael Wallfisch and John York's natural habitat is the heady world of the international musical stage. It was very heartening to experience their performance at our provincial venue at Newton Abbot and eagerly look forward to a return visit.
There could have been no better offer of a place to be than with the Tim Kliphuis Jazz Trio at the Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot last Friday. Very fitting that in front of a near capacity audience Newton Abbot's mayor, councillor Mike Ryan, presented a cheque for £600 to nadsaconcerts.
The Stephane Grappelli-inspired Tim took us gently into what became a jaunty 'Tea for Two' that gave way to an impressive feature by Nigel Clark on guitar and later gave us our first experience of Roy Percy's percussive use of his bass. It was then Nigel's turn to introduce us to Hoagy Carmichael's 'The Nearness of You' where there was superb subtlety and balance between violin and guitar.
Stephane Grappelli's advice to play what you like, as opposed to his direct musical influence on Tim Kliphuis, burst upon us with the Trio's version of Vivaldi’s 'Four Seasons'. An insistent, even threatening, bass line was the prelude to Vivaldi as I had never heard him interpreted and improvised before.
After Tim, a Dutchman, had introduced us to Roy, a Scot, and Nigel an Irishman, the international mix was maintained by their next offering of a Tango: Tim's own composition, 'Astor's Dream'. The sultry hint of melancholy easily flowed from this smoothly balanced trio. And then followed 'Souvenir de Vilingen', a Graphelli number, wistfully presented.
But the mood abruptly changed for the Aaron Copland's inspired ‘Hoedown for the Common Man’. A blasting fanfare gave way to Celtic folk with 'She Moved Through The Fair' as one of the themes; then much ingenious improvisations before returning to Celtic roots.
We were eased back after the interval by the atmospheric jazzy 'I Surrender Dear'. Tim introduced the next piece as Faure's 'Nocturne No 1'. This was where we were taken from fun and sensations to awe and, for me, tingle-factor. The delicacy of touch and precision of intonation was superb; and one could easily smile as Latin rhythms made unexpected ripples.
Violin pizzicato led us into 'You Look Good to Me' which was a vehicle for high speed solo improvisations of all three instruments.
'Où Es - Tu Mon Amour' saw a return to the haunting wistful style; which was followed by a piece using pronounced slides of gypsy style. The trio's finale was 'Piccadilly Stomp' technically demanding and excitedly fast, leaving us exhilarated.
To continuing applause, the trio returned with their encore of Richard Strauss' 'Morgen' drawing a stunned electric silence from the audience; the mark that something special was taking place.
The appeal of Tim Kliphuis is so wide ranging. Who else would dare to mix Django Reinhart in the same programme as Richard Strauss; not to mention Faure, Vivaldi and Hoagy Carmichael; and to make the mix so natural? Only the broad ranging virtuosity of this trio makes it possible.
This was not the first time Tim Kliphuis had performed for NADSA concerts, and I certainly hope it will not be many years before this Trio returns again by very popular demand.
Sally Pryce's programme blew out of the water any ideas that the harp is just for nymphs, Celtic fringe Folk, and the arrival of the pantomime fairy queen. Britten's Sonata for Harp Op 83 was written for Osian Ellis [The virtuoso harpist whom I had heard playing in a NADSA concert in the 1950s]. This Sonata is somewhat of a showcase for both the performer and the diverse capabilities of the instrument. In Sally's hands, and indeed feet, the Sonata's 'Overture' had a mysterious mood of building drama that at times had a threatening bass. The Toccata was playful, bright and nervously darting. The Nocturne was pensive, and eerily produced a hypnotic tension. From an almost courtly opening, the Fugue became light and fun; whereas in the Hymn, after many ideas and a spiritual feel, we were left with an unresolved note, the resonance of which the harp does so well. This reminded us that it was only one instrument we had been listening to, not an orchestra.
Our musical feet were then firmly placed in harp territory with 'Watching the White Wheat', a traditional Welsh folk song arranged by John Thomas, the Welsh harpist of Queen Victoria. Here there developed a rippling background to a basically strophic melodic narrative that was sensitively and poignantly portrayed.
The Sonata in D by the blind Welsh composer John Parry put us into the Baroque style, with a lively and tuneful Allegro followed by a sedate and subtly phrased Andante and a concluding brisk and dancy Gavotte.
The impressionist style then flowed over us with Tournier's Sonatine Op 30. There were shimmering lights, delicate calm serenity, and sweeping climactic glissandi that lushly demonstrated the golden age of the harp in Paris.
Hindemith's Sonata  brought us forward in time again. Its first movement's overarching phrasing was highly reminiscent of ecclesiastical grandeur and church bells, whereas the second was contrastingly playful. A poem, 'Friends, when I am dead', was the inspiration for a sombre, though serenely detached final movement. This was another superbly executed example of the power of the harp to create mood images.
In a lighter mode, Glinka's Variations on a theme of Mozart were thoroughly charming, and put me in mind, rather disrespectfully, of musical boxes!
Sally had given brief introductions to each piece; but, in the second part of the concert, she talked about the diversity of harps both in the Celtic fringe and further afield. Hers, being a concert harp, has the 7 pedal system which allows chromatic and key changes, albeit with some effort; whereas diatonic glissandi are easy.
Of all the music we heard in this concert, Hasselmans' La Source was the most familiar. With this familiarity goes the danger of expectations unfulfilled, but not so here: we were treated to a sparklingly sensitive rendition.
The Santa Fe Suite by the Welsh composer William Mathias drew the concert to a close. It was inspired by his visit to New Mexico: the movement 'Landscape' conjured a decidedly Spanish heat, whilst the final movement 'Sun Dance' was fiercely visceral.
How a concert of any one instrument could have been so diversely engaging is greatly to the credit of Sally Pryce's programme composition and structure skills. Her performance was acutely sensitive and an inspiring delight to experience.
“What a stunning way to start the season” was an overheard comment from the audience. Indeed, Ron Abramski, probably more famous in the USA and Germany than in the UK, rather took us by surprise.
From his understated demeanour there emerged a character that drew the audience into his well constructed programme. At superficial face value the programme was populist romantic, with some Hindemith, presumably for our education in modernism. As the evening progressed I realised there was more of novelty and interest than I had imagined.
Brahms had been championed by Schumann; and Brahms was obsessed with Schumann's wife Clara. Brahms' four Ballades were written soon after Schumann's mental collapse and suicide attempt. The gravitas of this situation was transmitted to us via Ron's playing of the first Ballade, which follows the dramatic narrative of the Scottish poem 'Edward'. We were taken to a bleak dark despair. The second Ballade completely changed our mood with a soft light touch that at times was rhythmic and lively. By the end of the fourth Brahms Ballade we were sure we could put our faith in Ron Abramski and follow wherever he led.
Part of the magic of the evening was the rapport Ron established with the audience. He told us that he wanted to play the Hindemith and, recognising that many of us would find it 'difficult', he played the fugue theme and said that when we heard that, there was not long to go! This respect for his audience drew a rapt attention for Hindemith's Piano Sonata No 3: indeed when the fugue heralded the fourth movement I felt regret that this intricate virtuoso work was nearing its grand finale.
Chopin's third, and last, piano Sonata was our treat after the interval. Firm chords were followed by beautiful lyrical melodic lines exquisitely executed by touch, micro and macro phrasing and appropriate rubato. So good to be able to abandon oneself to the visceral effect of Chopin's music, and not be irritated by excessive romanticism that too often 'gilds the lily'. Good too that visually we were not cursed with affected grimacing, though during the scherzo I did notice a few craning necks of the audience to observe the incredible speed of his fingers. The largo was contemplative and sometimes serene; a total change of mood: and then the presto fair took ones breath away. It was difficult to see how Ron could follow that.
Liszt's transcription of Wagner's Tannhauser Overture is another piece that Ron wanted to perform. It is technically very demanding, and we were informed that even the extremely accomplished pianist Liszt himself had, on one occasion, faltered. So in an atmosphere of challenge, we sat mesmerised as familiar themes developed and surged around us. It often seemed as though this was written for three hands, and people strained to see how only two hands coped. A sense of awe and wonder sustained us through to the dramatic end. Whether the transcription from orchestra to piano really works is a moot point; but undoubtedly it was huge fun!
It was no surprise that Ron was called back for an encore. He gave us Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat major. This was a masterpiece of programming and performance; our savage hearts were calmed by beautiful serenity. I look forward to hearing Ron Abramski again.
Nadsa's concert season ended with a flourish. Pianist, Samantha Ward, cleverly presented her programme with its crescendo of styles, within a mainly chronological structure.
Scarlatti [1685-1757] Sonatas K11 and K466 were our introduction to this piano recital. The mechanical rendition of K11 immediately gave a period feel to this intricate bright piece which had been composed in the era of the harpsichord. Scarlatti was one of the first composers to have access to the newly invented Fortepiano, and in K466 Samantha certainly allowed herself the use of touch sensitivity in phrasing. The Impromptu No 2 in A flat by Schubert [1797-1828], a very familiar work, took us into a different expanded world of delicacy and sustained overarching phrases.
By the time Beethoven [1770-1827] was writing his Bagatelles Op 126 [intended as a cycle] the 'modern' Pianoforte was being extensively used. Samantha, in these six pieces, gave us a demonstration of the capabilities of this solo instrument via spirited allegros, dramatic fortes, expressive cantabiles, pleasant meanderings of quasi allegretto and the abrupt changes in the last of the six Bagatelles.
The Arabesque in C Op 18 by Schumann [1810-1897] has a well known haunting melody that lyrically opens the work; but closes it in a subdued hush. Here we had been taken firmly into the romantic period, with music written to appeal to female pianists.
Brahms [1833-1897] Sonata No3 in F minor Op 5, whilst being truly romantic, is also a virtuoso work. The opening was dramatic stuff, and left no doubt that Samantha could fill the hall. In supreme contrast the andante was gentle with beautiful crescendos and diminuendos. The Scherzo burst upon us with lots of energy, subsequently developing tunes; but a fourth intermezzo andante movement used the 'fate' rhythm from Beethoven's fifth Symphony: truly menacing. The final movement was certainly virtuoso territory as we were swept to an exhilarating conclusion.
The audience's applause brought Samantha back to play two encores, the first of which was Happy Birthday to celebrate the 90th Birthday of Keith Fergusson, who with his wife, Loveday, had sponsored the concert. The second encore was Schumann's 'Romance' which was the perfect foil for the exuberance of Brahms, and Samantha's, virtuosity.
What made the Wihan's programme special one might ask? Well, when written, the compositions had been noted as pushing the boundaries, particularly Mozart's String Quartet No. 15 from his 'Haydn Quartets', and Beethoven's String Quartet No 7, a 'Rasumovsky Quartet', the latter considered to be greatly ahead of its time. But another element could have added an extra frisson to the Beethoven, and Smetana's String Quartet No 1 'From my Life': both of these works were written when their composers tragically had become deaf.
And then we had the Wihan's live performance: it was exceptional.
Their treatment of the Mozart was a delight with fine attention to detailed phrasing executed with such compelling vitality that there was no chance of its feeling precious. This was late Mozart, the rendering of which anticipated the romantics.
Next, how appropriate that the Smetana was being performed for us by a Czech quartet; this music is in their blood. Their souls were bared with dramatic accelerandos and rallentandos, seemingly the most natural things in the world. We experienced a full gamut of emotions in this autobiographical work that even portrays the shock of Smetana's sudden deafness. From the dramatic and foreboding chords starting the first movement, we moved through turbulence, youthful vibrancy, a sedate section, and on to extremes of romance followed by maturity; only to be cut down into nostalgia and resignation.
Beethoven followed; chronologically out of place, but musically probably the most advanced piece of the programme. The Wihan gave us a superb opening living crescendo that set the scene of wondrous diversity in the first and second movements. Melancholy pervaded the third; not an easy emotion with which to hold an audience, but the Wihan skilfully carried us through to the cheerful finale [which Beethoven had almost certainly incorporated to please the commissioning Russian Ambassador Count Rasumovky, and us!].
The audience called for, and got, an encore. Jaw-droppingly, their choice was the last movement of Janáček's String Quartet No. 2 - "Intimate Letters". This really had the wow factor; emotions heightened and every nerve- ending jangled.
Mozart, Smetana, Beethoven and Janacek could not have asked for any better performance of their creations.
An audience, on seeing the programme of this flute and guitar concert, might have been expecting a pleasant potpourri of vignettes; but this Nadsa concert went far beyond that. The carefully crafted programme contained such a variety of styles of music to hold any audience, that only skilled performers could carry it off. Judith Hall, Australian born with local connections, and Craig Ogden, also an Aussie, gave us a performance of universal star quality.
Ibert's Entr'acte  was a spirited opening to the concert with the flute taking a swirling melodic line whilst the guitar atmospherically set the flamenco scene. Giuliani's Gran Duetto Concertante took us back to the 18th Century and to an Italian style. The first movement was in contrast to a dancy minuetto where the guitar became prominent, and even more so at the beginning of the Rondo militare, a movement in which they later developed delicate ornamentation.
Our thoughts about what repertoire there is for such an unusual duo combination of instruments were charmingly addressed by Judith; and of course, if it doesn't exist, they adapt scores from other instruments. Easily said, but much more difficult to execute effectively. Judith also admitted to devising the programme; well, by the end of the evening, one would say she should take credit for it!
Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras is so well known that comparisons make live performances a risky business. But what a dream this was. The apparently effortless overarching phrasing of the flute was superb, and Craig's guitar somehow made an orchestra superfluous. Lest we got musically complacent, Milhaud's Corcovado followed with its less familiar form, though rhythmically maintaining the South American connection. Three of Beaser's Mountain Songs, written for flute and guitar, brought us right up to date with an extant composer. The wistful 'Barbara Allen', busy 'Carpenter, and the lively, folksy, syncopated 'Cindy' not only gave us variety but demonstrated how this duo could switch our emotions so quickly.
With a very relaxed manner Craig not only amusingly introduced some of the evening's items, but was also engagingly informative about his 'Smallman' guitar, which like himself is a very special Australian import. A guitar concert without Albeniz's 'Asturias' would seem wanting; but here again our live performance exceeded our expectations. The large audience was mesmerically held through flamenco and the tension of pin-drop silences.
A version, for the duo, of Django Reinhardt's 'Nuages' was another change of style as we were immersed in swing jazz; though the improvisations around the theme seemed much too clever for 'clouds'.
It was during Beethoven's two Sonatinas that my admiration for Craig's playing took another leap. Never have I thought the guitar could sound so much like a piano; and this style was continued with Poulenc's Movement Perpetuals. Both of these pieces adapted well, and could only work with such superb empathy and balance between the performers.
An early work of Ravel was light and fun: whereas Houghton's 'Cave Painting', with its insistent beat and flute over, was disturbingly visceral and mysterious. We were left with a calm wonder.
Bartok's Romanian Folkdances were the final programmed pieces and here again we were captivated by diversity: compelling rhythms, fine delicacy and an exhilarating finale.
It wasn't quite the finale, however, since Judith and Craig judged the mood of the enthusiastic audience so well and gave us an encore of Philip Buttall's intriguing Waltzing Matilda.
I am sure I am not alone in being impressed by the versatility of a flute and a guitar in the hands of this duo. From bluesy half tones, through smooth, delicate and precise notes to the fiercely edged, Judith could produce them all with enviable breath control and poise. Craig's ability to bring out the chameleon from his guitar was wonderful to experience; an orchestra one minute and a gripping soloist the next.
Pushing boundaries can be risky; bringing the Zum trio to Newton Abbot was certainly worth it. There was no written programme, which immediately set them apart from any 'normal' concert, and their style defies pigeon-holing. Gypsy Tango, their creation, was rarely far away, though the multiplicity of influences on their playing and composition was mind-blowing.
Adam Summerhayes was playing on his violin as the trio walked through the packed Courtenay Centre Hall: nothing pretentious here. Joined by Chris Grist on Cello and Eddie Hession on accordion, light hearted themes emerged and the tempo pulsed to a frenzy. The 'Penultimate Tango in Paris' smoothed us with a sultry but very controlled nuevo tango style, only to be followed by an accordion-led piece that put me firmly in Paris; though that was Argentinian, we were impishly told by Chris Grist doubling as master of ceremonies. And that was probably the nub of the show: provenance is irrelevant. What captivates is sensitivity and virtuosity. We had endearing anecdotes from Chris regarding Zum's globe-trotting experiences, and the perpetuating of the urban myth regarding the Hungarian Suicide Song 'Gloomy Sunday' which they then performed. Such juxtaposition of compulsive humour and sombre haunting bleakness showed superb musicianship. Their show closed with a scintillating display of virtuosity in both a Hungarian Polka and Adam's composition 'Five Naked Ladybirds'.
We were in awe of this group at first hand. Reading their credentials of course we shouldn't have been so surprised. It seems that if an accordion player is required anywhere from Hollywood to working with the Three Tenors, then Eddie Hession is the man; Adam Summerhayes comes from a line of classical violinists and is acclaimed for an eclectic list of recordings; and Chris Grist, besides being an excellent cellist, also had the power to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Great that they can now add The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot to their list of venues.
An invitation to be present in an 18th Century salon was the unusual format for the third NADSA concert of the season. The Hungarian Ensemble Marquise immediately set the scene by looking the part in period costumes and demeanour. Strange that Judit was walking around, albeit in a serene and sedate fashion, whilst Marta Gal was energetically playing 'Les Barricades Mysterieuses' by Couperin, on the harpsichord; but that was how 'good' music was treated in the 18th century, - it knew its place. Lest we became too stuffy, we the audience were given gentle reminders that, whilst musical performances were taking place, so too could flirting and eating grapes, and upstaging was probably not infrequent.
Composers for the evening ranged from the 14th to the mid 18th Century, so setting it in the 18th century meant nothing jarred the musical senses. There was plenty to wonder at in terms of variety. Only retrospectively did I come to appreciate how meticulously the programme sequence had given us variety of pace and emotion. It also pandered to my curiosity since our first hearing of the male soprano Laszlo Blaskovics was in a duet, and, wanting particularly to listen to the timbre of his voice, I didn't have to wait long. He sang a solo next.
Each member of the ensemble had their chance to shine:- Marta Gal took Daquin's harpsichord solo Le Coucou at a frantic pace which left one in awe; Katalin Kallay on recorder was a delight in variations on Greensleeves [as I've never heard Greensleeves before], and refused to be upstaged in Barsanti's second sonata; and Agnes Kallay wove a more sombre mood with J S Bach's cello suite No 2, Sarabande. Laszlo Blaskovic's dramatic rendering of Sesto's aria from Handel's Giulio Cesare was particularly effective, especially since he is the appropriate gender.
However, Judit Blaskovics-Felszeghy was the star of the show. She looked good, she moved well, and one came to wonder if there was anything she couldn't do as a coloratura soprano! In the aria by Vivaldi 'Di due rai languir costante' she sang with superb control and sensitivity; the well know aria 'Lascia ch'io pianga' from Handel's opera Rinaldo was sung with poise, and was sublime. But also she sang the aria 'Agitata da due venti' from Vivaldi's opera Griselda, somewhat of a coloratura virtuoso piece. During this, one's jaw fair dropped as she boldly executed vocal gymnastics whilst maintaining clarity of tone.
As a crowning glory, there was the duet with Laszlo, from Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea. Expectations were high, but amazingly surpassed with some numbing, tingle-factor singing. The enactment was restrained but poignantly effective, possibly more so because we were relieved from the gender complications encountered with this often 'trouser-role' opera: this was the real thing!
The audience's applause was rewarded by an encore of Monteverdi's duet from 'Poppea'. Superb judgement and artistry to round off an enchanting evening, - and left us with a haunting melody.
Mexican flights delayed to Europe caused a change of programme for Nadsa's October concert. Cellist Robin Michael's rehearsal schedule became so tight that more Brahms was substituted for the less well known Fruhling, as Newton Abbot caught Robin between Budapest and London engagements.
The Varenne Ensemble's opening Allegro movement of Beethoven's Piano trio No. 4 was an engaging mixture of mellifluous balance and vivacity. In the Adagio we had a complete change of mood where the cello took the sentimental tuneful lead, the clarinet later echoing the phrases and the piano becoming their accompaniment. The theme and variations of the third movement began in sprightly fashion as no doubt befits a theme which was a 'popular song' of Beethoven's era. A contrasting reflective variation was followed by musical drama that subdued to a more conventional close. The Varenne treated us and Beethoven well!
Robin Michael and Dan Tong then played Brahms' Cello sonata No. 1 in E minor: not on our official programme, but fortunately in their recording repertoire. Opening the first movement, the deep and moving resonance of the cello gave me a tingle factor moment. Soon after, the piano became an intense accompaniment. The second movement's style took us back in time. The playing became light, and I wondered whether it was by chance or intention, [given Brahms' interest in music from Renaissance to Classical periods] that I should have been reminded of a hurdy-gurdy, since that instrument had been very fashionable in the 18th century. The third movement, being largely in fugue form, continued the retrogressive style, playfully at times, to a spirited coda.
Sonata for Clarinet and Cello by Phyllis Tate [1911 – 1987] followed the interval. Here we were in different territory. The slow opening movement of pensive melancholy leaves no hiding place for performers: we were treated to a riveting sequence of phrases demonstrating just how glorious and varied the Clarinet and Cello can be in the right pairs of hands. The Vivo started briskly, later becoming more pensive. However, Elaine Cocks and Robin Michael deftly kept us in mind of the tempo with which the movement begins, and also ends. The Sarabanda was played with superb delicacy, and conveyed a ghostly quality that was maintained into the more complex finale. The presence of Phyllis Tate's daughter [Celia Frank] at this performance gave it a very special sense of occasion.
Brahms' Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor returned us to a wonderful world of melody and instrumental interplay. The drama and variety of the Allegro was beautifully matched by the thoughtful calm of the Adagio. The grace of the Andante led us to the more assertive Allegro's conclusion.
Elaine Cocks, Robin Michael and Dan Tong had drawn a good and appreciative audience for this the second concert of the NADSA season. Their musicianship and cohesion was a privilege to experience live in this ensemble, and all the more impressive considering they have separate musical careers.
The NADSA concert season began last Friday with an excellent violin and piano recital given by Sara Trickey and Dan Tong.
Schubert's Sonata in G minor [originally titled by him as 'for piano, with violin accompaniment'] gave Dan a delightful opportunity to show off the new NADSA piano. His strong melodic line and sensitive phrasing was mirrored by the violin in the Allegro giusto: the sweet calm of the Andante came as a beautiful contrast. The charming flourish of the finale left us feeling all is well in the world!
The violin trill that opened Beethoven's 10th Sonata led us to expansive soaring melodic lines. The Adagio espressivo that followed certainly lived up to its name. Contrasting, lively and subdued, sections were brought to a crescendo conclusion; and so ended a wonderful, traditional first half.
Following the interval, Sara and Dan played the second movement of Sonata No. 1 by Mathias [probably best known as the composer of 'Let the people praise Thee, O God' written for the Wedding of the Prince of Wales & Lady Diana]. There was here an intriguing mix of delicacy, calm and angst.
Three pieces by Sibelius then came as both a contrast and a surprise. The first of these enigmatic and experimental works, 'Scene de danse', has a strange disjunction of the violin's energy and the piano's rhythmic accompaniment. 'Danse caracteristique' was even more enigmatic. It was only with 'Rondeau romantique' that we had the lushness that I associate with Sibelius: we had, as it were, come home. The folk/dance theme was taken a little further with Bartok's 3 Hungarian Folk Tunes; but it was with Ravel's Tzigane that we took off into gypsy style. Sara Trickey's violin solo introduction took us masterfully well beyond the tones of classical tuning. The piano accompaniment and interludes served to highlight the versatility of the violin. This contrast was probably not intended by Ravel since his original score included instructions for register-changes on the optional luthéal attachment [to the piano]. Ravel orchestrated this work in the same year  as its original performance: thank goodness the original version was scored for piano, or we may never have had this virtuosic performance in Newton Abbot. The Courtenay Centre rang with appreciative applause from the near capacity audience. Before they were allowed to leave, Sara and Dan rewarded us with a Schubert encore: a triumph of a concert!
Something quite different ended the Nadsa concert season: The Songmen.
Any thoughts that the programming search for variety had gone too far towards jazz or pop were immediately dispelled by the first few bars of William Byrd's Motet . The lightness of touch they brought to this rendering made me quite forget that they were singing a cappella; my brain had assumed period instruments were there too. In Thomas Weelkes' [1576 – 1623] Gloria in Excelsis Deo we had, reassuringly, a full range of dynamics. The next performance, of Stanford's Beati Quorum Via, moved us chronologically to the 19th century and was remarkable. The versatility of The Songmen made the change of style, from Renaissance composers to Romantic, very obvious; not only did overarching phrasing engage our senses but the timbre of their voices changed. The final E flat piano note sung by Guy Lewis was the stuff of tingle factors. Singing fast, high and forte may get audience applause; but the real skill shows in high, sustained pianissimo notes, and his was a gem any choirboy would have been proud of!
The next two songs were composed by Robert Waters [Nolo Mortem Peccatoris] and Ben Sawyer [Silence and Sound], both members of the Songmen. The former bathed us in new harmonies, whilst the latter had a strangeness and angst about it. Brigg Fair [arr Percy Grainger] had us in more familiar territory.
And then we had two pieces by John Rutter who had recently been to the USA immediately before their composition. The several soloists were at times backed by vocal pizzicato and a swinging beat. The first half of the concert was rounded off by a return to the 16th century with French songs by Pierre Passereau and Clement Janequin. 'Il est Bel et bon' was light, fast and fun, whereas La Guerre also became animated, but this time the narrative was the drama of war.
After the interval we returned to the Renaissance with Thomas Morley's Now is the Month of Maying. Their rendition of this double-entendre laden madrigal was very spirited. The Songmen, in Peter Knight's arrangement of Londonderry Air, produced a chilling change of mood. Such a well known tune needs careful handling, and we had experts. Even though barbershop is by no means my favourite genre, I found their interpretation of this tragedy-anticipating narrative deeply upsetting. Very fortunately for my sensibility, I did not find the arrangement of Swing Low moving. For me, the barbershop / jazz delight in harmonizing around a well loved tune and narrative meant, the chariot got lost. Down to the River arr Philip Lawson was a return to a moving performance and a chance to hear solo voices.
Ben Sawyer's arrangement of Be Your Husband [written for Nina Simone] by Andrew Stroud struck new ground again with clapping on-beat and off-beat accompaniment; and including more than a passing reference to The Beatles 'Come together'. Ben also arranged the King, Leiber & Stoller song Stand by Me which worked well as a narrative with a compelling beat and harmonised haunting refrains. Irving Berlin's Cheek to Cheek [arr Pickard] was very good barbershop, and Mr Bojangles by Jerry Jeff Walker [arr Guy Lewis] was another chance to hear a solo voice with backing. The Songmen's Lullabye by Billy Joel [arr Phillip Lawson] was utterly beautiful. The concert programme then had another sharp contrast, Crazy 'Bout my Baby by Hill & Walker [arr Ben Sawyer]; a jazzy up-beat way to finish. But the audience, that had been both gripped in hushed reverence, and moving with the rhythms, wanted more; and the Songmen were brought back for an encore. They gave us their version of an excerpt from Rossini's overture to The Barber of Seville: fast, fun, and wonderfully romantic.
The world renowned Fitzwilliam Quartet returned to Newton Abbot last Saturday, and played to another near capacity audience. Their name, together with composers Tchaikovsky, Delius, Sibelius and Shostakovich, meant this was an event in the West Country worth travelling to. What made it so special was the knowledge that the viola player, Alan George, had worked closely with Shostakovich; thus this quartet's performance was as close to a definitive rendering as we are likely ever to experience live.
There is more to concert programming than a variety of composers; but the Fitzwilliam's selection proved very interesting in themselves. They started conventionally with the earliest composer, Tchaikovsky [b.1840]. The movement in B flat major was written in 1865 when Tchaikovsky was still a student in St Petersburg; but wasn't published until 1940. A lesser known work, this was made captivating by the subdued, but warm, tones the Fitzwilliam gave to a solemn introduction. Each instrument had brief solo runs before we were spirited into a lively folk-dance that had edge. The opening mood returned, and we were led masterfully into silence.
Delius' third movement of a string quartet, named by him as 'Late Swallows' , proved an intriguing mixture of melancholy and grace. With Delius' title to set this tone poem's scene, the Fitzwilliam's swooping phrases were beautifully evocative. Foci changed as later we zoomed in and out of more distant views which became lost to sight. The earlier memories return to be faded into nothingness. This is a work that I would not wish to hear entrusted to any lesser musicians!
The Shostakovich quartet No.13 in B flat minor was given its UK premier by the Fitzwilliam Quartet; and Shostakovich came over to York to hear it. Years later, here, in Newton Abbot, there were many of the audience for whom this work was the pinnacle of the evening's experiences. Not only did we have dramatic fortes and delicate pianissimos, but there were percussive effects when instruments were struck with bows. There were, I'm sure, many like myself for whom Shostakovich's works are, to say the least, 'difficult': but any sensitive soul could not fail to be touched by the tension created during this performance. When performance is all that one expects it to be, I often feel that it is by the silences that performance is judged: this audience was gripped for the duration.
After the interval we were treated to Sibelius' String Quartet in D minor. This has a brief simple introduction by violin and cello, followed by a more expansive series of melodies. A short Vivace precedes an Adagio where the Fitzwilliam gave us exquisite moments of striving and poignancy over-arched with beautiful phrasing. The movement was faded peacefully to a conclusion. A bright attack heralded a peasant dance, and the tempo was upped for the final spirited Allegro.
The Fitzwilliam Quartet performed a glorious concert. Not only had their programming given us a variety of composers, but also I appreciated the progression of styles towards Shostakovich before the interval, and the chronological and stylistic retreat to Sibelius afterwards. If one were to look for a theme in their programme, it could well be the dark sides from early Tchaikovsky to a dying Shostakovich; an evening of intense introspection.
Apparently the Fitzwilliam had played our programme recently at the Kings Place in London; no wonder their performance shone.
Nadsa's Katona Twins guitar concert got off to a good start before a note was played. More chairs had to be put out for a near capacity crowd.
All the programme's items [except that by Barrios and Rodrigo] had been arranged by the Katona Twins: and how, I wondered, would they cope with drum rolls at the beginning of Rossini's Overture 'The Thieving Magpie'? No problem. Guitars of course are good resonating boxes, so produced an arresting introduction. But then I was searching for an orchestra in my head, whilst two guitarists were playing on stage. It was after a dramatic pause that the magpies came to life and darted from speedy pianissimos to exuberant fortes.
J S Bach's English Suite No. 3 for harpsichord was the next work, with its seven very differing movements. The Katona's prelude was spirited; however, it was the following allemande, of more relaxed tempo, that suddenly sharpened the senses. We were listening to guitars, though, with the strings being plucked, how similar to a harpsichord the sound was. After a lively courante, the sedate saraband gave us the time to appreciate the subtleties of Bach's phrasing and accenting that was being so brilliantly displayed by these two guitarists. Bach's works are no strangers to adaptation: this was one of the best I've heard.
Another change of style was the solo piece, Vals No3, by the Paraguayan composer A. Barrios. Written for the guitar, this piece is richly melodic and Hispanic.
Having musically arrived in the guitar's heartland, 'Cordoba' and 'Asturias' by Albeniz [the Spanish composer of 'nationalistic' music] maintained the Iberian pulse. The Moorish influences of Cordoba were hauntingly portrayed, whilst the inappropriately named 'Asturias' had sections of speed, drama and percussive effects reminiscent of modern flamenco.
Returning after the interval to a Katona arrangement of Handel's Chaconne in G was a delight. Now it was easy to accept two guitars in place of one harpsichord: perhaps an improvement on the original.
The solo for guitar by Rodrigo, Invocacion y danza, was indeed a fitting tribute to Manuel de Falla.
Albeniz's 'Mallorca' then shifted our focus from Andalusia to softer lilting melodies that showcased the ability of the Twins to be playing as one.
Excerpts from De Falla's El Amor Brujo were to bring the concert to a close in a variety of ways: a dramatic fanfare, a somewhat awkward Dance of Terror, a beautifully calm Magic Circle and a Pantomime of changing moods. The Ritual Fire Dance, so well known yet still evocative and mesmeric, would have ended the concert, but for the applause. We were treated to an encore, their arrangement of Scarlatti's Metamorphosis, which proved a dazzling finale.
Peter and Zoltan Katona, not only came to the concert with a glittering CV, they also presented us with a varied programme that both surprised and entertained us at the highest level. They have already played in the major concert halls around the globe; and this year sees them performing in Europe, South America and the far east. We are lucky that they now live in England: it will make it easier for us to catch them again.
The Florin String Trio gave the fourth in the 2013 /14 series of NADSA concerts. Following such names as Paul Lewis, Martin Cousin and Jack Liebeck, they had hard acts to follow; but what a gem their concert was. Their programme, a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar styles, demonstrated a confidence to perform works seldom heard. How wonderful for west-country audiences to have the opportunity to be introduced to works of Dohnanyi and Schnittke by such intense musicianship.
There were no flamboyant gestures or dramatic visual interactions; however, after only a few bars into Dohnanyi's Serenade in C major, I felt confidently led in their march by an amazing mix of energy and subtlety. As we were taken to subsequent movements, there were moods ranging from the pensive and ponderous to the lively and frantic: what phenomenal skill the Florin has; to hold our emotions at such boisterous heights and then fade them, with a pianissimo, into silence.
The Dohnanyi work was unfamiliar to me, but its somewhat romantic style was well within my comfort zone. The Schnittke, I anticipated, was unlikely to be anywhere near my comfort zone, and I was approaching it with some trepidation. Charles Mutter, the violinist, gave us a brief introduction to the context of Schnittke's String Trio . As a result I had a miraculous change of perception. He told us that, with influences from Schoenberg and Shostakovich, and an Iron Curtain environment, the going was going to be tough: but by admitting to this with his impish humour, Charles demonstrated psychological skill as well as musical excellence.
The two movements of the Schnittke were characterised by huge contrasts; but underlying all, persisted a great sadness. Between the composer's score and the trio's implementation we were variously stimulated, not least by the deft use of open harmonics on the Cello. Piercing dissonances shrieked out; but also there were floating melodies which were shattered, became smothered, or fizzled into a disturbing silence.
During the interval there was a palpable buzz amongst the audience: we had been present at something very special.
Beethoven's Serenade in D major took us to a different world. An early work of his, this lacks the gravitas one usually associates with Beethoven: the style was light. The opening march of this serenade was lively and spirited, contrasting with the following adagio of lyrical serenity. A crisp and dancey minuetto was then followed by a reflective adagio itself interrupted by playful scherzo episodes. A polonaise movement was another strong invitation for the spirits to dance; and then it seemed the score was giving each instrument of the trio the opportunity melodically to shine in what was obviously an enjoyable and sophisticated environment. The only regret of the final march is that it brought this concert to a close.
How decadent I felt, whilst listening to the Beethoven, that I should be able to enjoy this music when Schnittke, via the same trio, had so recently led us to such distressing sadness. I then considered that perhaps Schnittke, having worked so directly on our emotions, could stake a claim to be a 'Romantic' composer.
One of The Florin rushed off to an engagement in Madrid, whilst London beckoned the others; the BBC and Buckingham Palace are engagements they shouldn't miss. That the individual players have very separate careers, perhaps gives The Florin Trio a particular frisson which is expressed through their music, and it is the Music that takes centre stage.
Fortunately, Jack Liebeck chose to perform for NADSA, rather than take up an offer to give a concert in Mexico. Jack, no stranger to the BBC, concert halls all round the world, and Hollywood [2013 Oscar nominated for 'Anna Karenina' soundtrack], teamed up with Martin Cousin, a concert globe-trotter himself [and the hands in the film 'Shine'], to give a scintillating concert at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.
The 'Spring' Sonata No 5 by Beethoven was a joyful and melodic opening, its themes seamlessly passed between violin and piano. Then, how wonderful it was to feel such a great change of mood in the second movement where calm expanded, subtly and gradually, with variations of the theme. The scherzo was another adventure, this time into impish playfulness, leading us to a resplendent rondo.
'The Lark Ascending', by Vaughan Williams, followed: one of the most popular and frequently recorded pieces of classical music. So, the huge challenge for live performance by anyone, anywhere, is how to make it come alive – again! It was here that I felt we transcended wonderful music-making to enter an ethereal world. The audience was hushed as the exquisite delicacy of the lark rose amongst us. Never before have I felt so at one with the piano; rarely have I felt vibrato so effectively used as here with the wings of the lark. I felt a bewildering loss; then, 'in pensive mood', my heart flew with the lark's reprise.
After the interval we were treated to a somewhat refined version of a 'Palm Court' experience. The melodies of Fritz Kreisler's 'Love's Sorrow' and 'Lovely Rosemary' were instantly recognisable with a cosy nostalgia, thankfully not tainted by excessive rubato.
The bright and powerful attack of the Elgar Sonata Op.82 took us rather by storm: following themes were delicate and sensitive, leading to a robust ending of the first movement. The second was more familiar Elgar territory, with contrasts of mood from playful to brooding, then a surging climax, followed by delicacy. The Sonata's final movement saw Elgar giving us a variety of themes and styles, with even a hint of 'Owls', that gave Jack and Martin great scope to keep us enthralled to the triumphal conclusion.
Elgar's Chanson de Matin made a well chosen encore, taking us from the tumult of parts of the Sonata to the safety of a simply sublime and melodious pasture. Elgar wrote the tune, but we were very fortunate to be present at this rebirth.
Jack returned to London where his professorial position at the Royal Academy of Music keeps him partially anchored. Martin's next scheduled concert is in Tokyo this month. We hope they both return to Devon soon.
We can all, or nearly all, sing: so what makes a concert of songs special? A very trained voice, the choice of songs, the involvement of delivery; and, in this case, a highly talented accompanist.
Being the centenary of Benjamin Britten's birth, and that both Rosalind and Gregory were Britten-Pears Young Artists in 2012, it was appropriate that they commenced with Britten's cycle 'On this Island' [words by Auden]. Rosalind's voice was powerful and her phrasing and delivery were engaging.
We then had a selection of songs from the 19th Century including Schubert's very familiar 'The Trout' and Clara Schumann's 'Die Lorelei', which was effectively animated to the verge of melodrama. Contrasting with the Britten, this section of the programme, beginning and ending with Liszt's expansive flamboyance, gave a virtuosic challenge to the voice and an opportunity for the pianist to impress.
Following the interval was a musical sandwich of Joseph Marx [1882 – 1964] and Gabriel Faure which included Les Roses d'Isphahan. Being unfamiliar with the Marx songs, they were a particular treat, having a style of lushness I suspect is very unfashionable in some quarters. These gave Gregory Drott another chance to shine with surging ripples that would have given a harp a run for its money.
'Five songs by Brahms' was where I felt Rosalind's delivery was at its best. She portrayed a range of emotion, a conversation and a narrative style. As a non German-speaker these songs came alive to me: no mean feat.
The final section brought us back to English songs by Britten, Vaughan Williams and Bridge, with Quilter's 'Love's Philosophy' bringing the concert to a dramatic musical conclusion.
Rosalind Coad and Gregory Drott, sponsored by Oxford Lieder, will be performing in the Oxford Lieder Festival later this week. With Rosalind's voice, it is not too difficult to imagine her taking Verdi and Wagner roles at a younger age than most. Gregory already has a post as Director of Music at St Stephen's, Kensington, and is engaged in PhD studies in Cambridge: good to know that he also does freelance work so he will not be lost to concert halls.
Paul Lewis, international superstar pianist, unsurprisingly drew a full house for his NADSA Concert at Teignmouth Performing Arts Centre last Saturday. There was a greater than usual buzz of anticipation from an audience that included even London glitterati.
He personally introduced his programme, explaining that each Bach chorale would be followed by a Beethoven Sonata with little break, thus dividing the first half of the concert into two sections, both in traditional forms of structure and harmony. This was to be contrasted with the extraordinarily innovative, almost modern, works of 'late' Liszt and Mussorgsky that would follow after the interval.
The first Bach chorale [arr: Busoni] was much more than a comfortable opening. Both Bach and Lewis took us through some beautiful and intricate patterns. By the time of the small break before the Beethoven, the audience was enraptured. Anticipation can be such a cruel friend; but here it was fuel to the emotions. The venue, more intimate than the Wigmore Hall, enhanced a sense of occasion, and the highly charged atmosphere led several members of the audience to comment later that the silences were palpable. A Beethoven sonata followed, seemingly as a natural progression and expansion of form and style.
Another Bach chorale was followed by Beethoven's 'Moonlight' sonata, where, for me, his programme's risk-taking began. The first few bars [so hackneyed, sometimes to the point of burlesque], were played very straight; like Bach? However the style developed imperceptibly into a magical world: then, in subsequent movements, Beethoven's broad and colourful palate was given full expression. Lewis' world famous exposition of Beethoven was a wonder to experience live.
Liszt's miniatures gave us a vivid contrast; phrases, harmonies and now dissonances being juxtaposed in very different ways. Knowing we were next to be taken to a picture exhibition, I found myself wondering whether Mussorgsky had heard these Liszt works.
The first few bars of the Mussorgsky were indeed pedestrian: then we were grasped by a warm hand and taken to a series of musical artistic abstractions. As we moved from picture to picture the progression was less from frame to frame, more from one dramatic encounter to another. Lewis' conviction and involvement with such emotions transported the audience to a grand finale.
Applause brought Lewis back for an encore which was another Liszt miniature of intense subtlety; exactly right for quelling some of the audience's exuberance.
It was only then that Paul Lewis told us that this was the first occasion he had played the Mussorgsky in public, and he had wondered how he would feel at the end. Then we realised that we had heard a preview of Paul's latest world tour programme. Hopefully NASDA Concerts will be able to book Paul for another recital in years to come. At least travelling to the Westcountry involves no jet-lag.
|Bach [arr: Busoni]||Chorale Prelude BWV 639|
|Beethoven||Sonata for piano No 13 in E flat major, Op.27 No.1|
|Bach [arr: Busoni]||Chorale Prelude BWV 659|
|Beethoven||Sonata for piano No 14 in C sharp minor, Op.27 No.2 'Moonlight'|
|Liszt||Late miniatures S203, S208 and S201|
|Mussorgsky||Pictures at an Exhibition|
Min-Jin Kym and Alasdair Beatson are international musicians whose 'British Home' could be thought of as the Wigmore Hall; however last Saturday night they were perfectly at home at The Arts Centre, Teignmouth Community College. The audience had travelled from beyond Exeter, Totnes and Ashburton to hear their violin / piano French and Russian programme. Their photos in the Nadsa Concert publicity had led me to expect something sophisticated and staid; instead the visuals were understated, but the music was brilliant.
Alasdair Beatson's first few phrases of the piano introduction to Faure's violin Sonata No1 went straight to the heart. Min-Jin Kym's entry made it a magical partnership of exquisite musicality. The first and fourth movements were dramatic and full of spirited contrasts, whereas the second was characterised by beautiful sensitivity; the third movement was delicately fast and furious fun.
Debussy's Sonata in G for violin, the only work he ever composed for violin, opened with piano chords that immediately evoked nostalgia. However, later, there was a full range of moods and volumes from the quietest of pianissimos to energetic fortes.
Min-Jin Kym carried us melodically into Prokofiev's Sonata No 2, a piece originally tailored for David Oistrakh. Quite soon it was apparent that this was something of a virtuoso offering as she flung herself into multiple stopping with deserved confidence and resounding pitch. The next movement was a 'Presto' which fair took one's breath away, only to be followed by an 'Andante' that led us into some bluesy areas. Finally the mood was joyous with even more virtuoso playing.
My only regret is that we were left on such a high. Obviously their skills could manipulate our emotions. I would have liked a short encore that soothed and calmed us down: I would still have wanted more.
These are two young rising stars to watch out for.
After a spontaneous standing ovation at Canada Hill school, how would Pure Brass perform at the Courtenay Centre's NADSA concert?
They were straight in there with Lutoslawski's minature Overture, a short piece that showcases each instrument of the brass quintet in a modern genre. This was serious stuff.
We were then delighted by two works of Farnaby and Gabrieli from the 16th century and early 17th century which were melodic and of differing tempos. The lightness of touch made Farnaby's dance movements come alive, and it was blissfully easy to imagine Gabrieli's Sonata Per Sonare No. 4 echoing around St Mark's in Venice. Partita on a Krakow Fanfare by Wilby, a modern British composer, was musical drama. There were distant sounds and later the arrival of volume and brilliant technical dexterity.
Since the first four pieces had jumped back and forth in time and styles, Michael Kamen's Quintet was well placed to follow, it being an uninhibited tone poem of sheer romanticism, sensitively performed.
For those that had not met a 'Fugue' before, Pure Brass' introduction to Bach's Little Fugue in G minor was both informative and great fun; not to mention the technical agility.
Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba ushered us back from the interval, and though the work is familiar to the point of being hackneyed, their performance was bright and intense. This intensity was maintained through the mournful Farewell to Stromness [which entered the Classic FM Hall of Fame in 2003] by Peter Maxwell Davies.
By the time Pure Brass played a Lennon & McCartney Beatles Suite, we trusted them to give us something special, and this arrangement provided both familiarity and novel harmonies.
I'm not sure what a jazz enthusiast would have made of Nelson's Fat Lip, to my mind a jazz inspired trombone extravaganza; for me the skill and the light hearted humour were a winning combination.
Audacious programming took us next to John Glenesk Mortimer's arrangement of Mussorgsky's Night on a Bare Mountain.
Our final genre was from the red light districts of the south and deep south USA. Williams' Basin Street Blues was performed with confidence, panache, and a genuine spirit of fun; and Bowman's Twelfth Street Rag, very familiar, was given an extra boost of light-hearted life. I found myself wondering if such joyful renderings were 'properly authentic': but then considered that a lot of our loosely termed 'classical' music has emerged from the seedier side of life!
Their encore, Puttin' on the Ritz, Pure Brass seemed to enjoy as much as we did. The combination of technical skill and infectious good humour must make Pure Brass used to encores. We certainly wanted at least one.
An evening of Poulenc's music is rare: at The Courtenay Centre we were treated to such an event plus glimpses of his life.
Poulenc lived through two World Wars, he was part of Parisian high-life and his music has great diversity. That diversity kept us on the edge of our seats: one just doesn't know what to expect next from Poulenc.
Clive Matthews played the instantly recognisable '3 Mouvements Perpetuel', responsible for launching Poulenc to fame. Later pieces showed great variety; the extremes were 'Nocturne 4' [Ghost dance] in which Clive demonstrated amazing ability to sustain pianissimo playing whilst carrying his audience with him; with 'Improvisation 8', we were jolted back into a very different reality, brilliant melodic phrases turning on a pin's head.
Jacqueline White sang Poulenc's 'Vocalise' : a privilege to hear this since there are no currently available recordings, even on YouTube. Other songs, many written in the early war years, were a roller-coaster of emotions including deep anguish in 'Dans l'herbe', light and fast drama of 'Il vole' and the strangely pensive 'Mon cadaver est doux comme un gant' ['My corpse is limp as a glove'], - no wonder it was strange! A later song cycle gave us huge contrasts of mood and style. For me, the 1943 song entitled 'C', with its heavy melancholy, was my favourite.
Clive gave us brilliant demonstrations of the sparkle and quirkiness of Poulenc, though I remain equally impressed with 'Improvisation 13' where I felt we were very close to Chopin, and 'Improvisation15', a homage to Edith Piaf, with a melody line recalling 'Autumn Leaves' and rhythmic chords inviting us to Regret Nothing. We left the Courtenay Centre having quite forgotten that the intended hired piano was still icebound in Bath. Another NADSA concert left us inspired and talking about music.
It was very appropriate that Mark started the concert with three pieces by John Ireland [the concert having been jointly supported by The Ireland Trust and the C & M Pike Trust].
Immediately all parochialism was swept away as we were painted a rich musical picture of London life from the Thames to Soho.
Chopin's Sonata No 3 was the next programme item; for me a less well known work. For those, like me, who doubt whether they can maintain a dry eye during Chopin, this was a welcome relief. There was a diversity of themes and styles and the unmistakable harmonies of Chopin that enthralled, together with exuberance and panache of a scintillating performance by Mark Bebbington. Combined with the Steinway and the acoustic of the Jubilee Hall at Stover School, this proved to be an overwhelming experience for some!
Five Preludes by Debussy took us from Submerged Cathedrals, West Winds, An Interrupted Serenade, an Eccentric, and to a Firework Display. The impressionist style swept us from serene majesty to grandeur and the power of the natural world; brought us face to face with human predicaments, and burst the dazzling sparkle of fireworks through periods of calm.
Liszt's transcription of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde grabbed the emotions and senses, and, if we had any time for conscious thought at all, it was to wonder how a single pianist and piano became, effectively, an orchestra.
The programme finale was List's transcription of Verdi's Rigoletto, and at this point we were left gasping and marvelling at the sheer virtuosity and audacity of both composer and performer.
Following enthusiastic applause, Mark gave a wonderful encore of the Spanish Dance 5 by Granados.