Happy Birthday West Wight Arts - April 2017
Last Saturday at the Memorial Hall, Freshwater, West Wight Arts celebrated 70 years of bringing professional musicians to the Island and did it in style with PopUp Opera performing Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi.
Vincenzo Bellini wrote this opera in 1830 in about six weeks not, as may be supposed, to the Shakespeare text but to a libretto by Felice Romani based on Luigi Scevola’s play Giulietta e Romeo (1818) although of course there is a nodding acquaintance with the original. He reused much of the music of his unsuccessful opera Zaire which was this time well received. One could surmise that being a Sicilian, the storyline of two warring families felt close to home.
Although perhaps not in the same league as his La Sonnambula or Norma, his trademark of melody is here in force between the opposing Capulets and Montagues and well served by the excellent singers of PopUp Opera.
This company, like the Troubadours of earlier times, arrive on the day; preparetheir minimal sets in a location they probably have never seen before and only require a good piano to be provided and off they go. Their staging is inventive, although perhaps the lighting of this production should be seen as work in progress.
The quality of their singing is exceptional and a true feat of stamina for both performers and pianist. In particular, the roles of Romeo (sung by a mezzo soprano) and Giulietta are most demanding and to a piano transcription as opposed to a full orchestra there is little opportunity to relax or even breathe but opera singers are of course well known for their stamina and as here, their good humour, talent and commitment.
The hall was packed for this special event and PopUp Opera were greatly appreciated by the audience who no doubt are looking forward to the 71st West Wight Arts season which begins in September.
Music in the round - March 2017
Last Saturday’s concert at the Memorial Hall in Freshwater featured the award-winning Sacconi Quartet joined by the leading British clarinettist, Matthew Hunt and the hall had been set up so that they played on a platform in the middle of the floor with the audience on four sides which was an added bonus to the wonderful music.
They began with a short Herbert Howells piece - Rhapsodic Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet which is lush, lyrical and beautiful and showed immediately their combined talents and allowed us to see how Matthew Hunt’s vocal ability with his instrument communicates with the audience.
They followed with Mozart’s String Quartet No.14 in G major. It is said that a Quartet is a conversation between four people and when Mozart is leading that musical conversation it is sublime. This work begins playfully then becomes lyrical and then contemplative and the Sacconi are so in sympathy with one another that the overall effect is of total happiness for both players and audience.
As so often at a West Wight Arts concert, the artists played a work little known by most of us but is a revelation. Such was Glazunov’s Oriental Reverie for Clarinet and String Quartet which Matthew Hunt’s wonderful clarinet playing made exotic and mystical.
They ended their concert with Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Quintet in B Flat Major which is in four movements and a real showcase for a virtuoso clarinettist like Matthew Hunt. In part it is a dialogue between the strings and the clarinet, allowing the clarinet’s wide range and agility to be exploited. The final Rondo is dazzling in its technical requirements of the clarinet which allowed us the privilege of hearing one of its best players.
Florian Mitrea - February 2017
One of the many good things about West Wight Arts concerts is that they introduce the audience to new, young talent many of whom are students and then invite them back and it is fascinating to witness their development as soloists.
One such is Florian Mitrea who first played in Freshwater in 2012 whilst still at the RAM. Since then he has won many prizes and played all over Europe, Japan and Korea and came back to the Island in 2013 and again last Saturday.
His programme was varied and ambitious starting with two works by Mozart – a ‘Fantasy’ and a ‘Rondo’ both performed with great thought and expression, followed by a monument of the piano repertoire – Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ Sonata. As the artist said this is a work of nobility and he should also have said one that requires immense technique which he displayed and he clearly has a natural affinity with this composer.
The second half of the concert featured two works with a common theme of ‘drama’. The first, Schubert’s Sonata No. 14 in A minor was written a year after the composer became ill and realised he would die of syphilis so very much a personal drama. This was played with great feeling and understanding of the dynamics across the three movements.
The last piece was one of Prokofiev’s ‘War Sonatas’ – no. 6 in A major and obviously a world-embracing drama, first performed in 1940. This is a mighty work in four movements that has a highly visual quality and one hears the harsh horror of war and the fragmentation of society which then moves through a lyrical but sad, reflective phase and the last movement is fast, demonic and finally triumphant.
Florian Mitrea gives the impression that he feels this work particularly personally and not only copes magnificently with the technical demands but brings out every nuance of the music with panache.
Savitri Grier, violin, and Richard Uttley - January 2017
Your correspondent arrived at the concert hot foot from the most excellent 50th birthday party of a leading Island violinist,warmed to the idea of an evening with a leading young European violin and piano duo, Savitri Grier, violin, and Richard Uttley, piano. Further warmed by the full hall, a hall recently and most effectively refurbished by the activities of the Hall committee, hurrah, and a most beautiful flower arrangement, I sat down to enjoy a programme of Mozart, Enescu, Stravinsky and Brahms. Three of the pieces I knew well, but one I did not, the third violin sonata of George Enescu (1881-1955), and I rather suspect that there were a number of querying ears in the hall, potentially suspicious of such unfamiliar fare.
We were totally won over by a piece of startling colours, of gypsy rhythms, of oriental twists and turns, of swoops and trillings, of extreme celestial notes and rich low notes, of uttermost stillness and of high folk jinks and frenzied dance rhythms. Our concentration had been demanded, and we had gladly given it, and the warmth and eagerness of the applause at the end seemed almost to surprise the players. Our artists talked of us as “a sophisticated audience”!
As with a first class meal such richness of fare needed a set of pieces to cleanse and freshen the palate, and Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne provided that brilliantly, short neo-classical dances of tremendous charm, delightfully played, Kreisler without the schmalz.
And for the port and nuts, Brahms’ D minor sonata where Grier’s lovely legato slow movement was sensitively enveloped by the warmth of the piano. We had been given a wonderful evening of music, we had had our horizons opened, we had been offered excellence in performance not in dubious showmanship.
Which like Brahms so often does, brings me back to the beginning. If we aspire to excellence on the Island then we need to grasp chances to sit at its feet. I did not expect the birthday violinist to be there, but it would be lovely to see excellence embraced by more island musicians, young and old. Of course there were those there, and there was hardly room for more. Well done WWAA for your hard work.
Sax Appeal - December 2016
One of the many good things about the West Wight Arts concerts in Freshwater is that they introduce us to super-talented young musicians who often play little known but fascinating pieces. Thus it was last Saturday with Saxophonist Amy Green and pianist Christine Zerafa, a duo greatly in sympathy who fit into this mould.
Many works are transcribed for the saxophone but many others are written especially with the instrument in mind. Roger Boutry’s Divertimento for alto saxophone and piano has apparently become a competition piece which is not surprising as it is fearsomely difficult for both musicians but played with great versatility and control by both artistes.
Their whole programme was wide ranging with Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche with a samba rhythm throughout; a Sonata by Robert Muczynski which moved from dark and soulful to percussive; an intriguing juxtaposition of Paule Maurice’s Suite Tableaux de Provence followed by six studies in English folk-song by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
One of the transcriptions was Ravel’s Piece en forme de Habanera originally a vocalise for bass voice but it works so well for the saxophone which has a true quality of the human voice.
Another composition especially for the soprano saxophone and piano was Rodney Rogers Lessons of the Sky which although in one continuous movement has three defined sections and the final piece was Pedro Iturralde’s Perquena Czarda which is a real virtuosic showstopper which left the audience breathless but not the indefatigable Amy Green.
I hope to find this repertoire recorded and to have the opportunity of hearing these two young artistes again soon.
A Musical remembrance of things past - November 2016
One of the many casualties of war is the sudden loss of musicians being able to travel to countries deemed to be the enemy and years of fruitful exchange is lost.
This was the theme of the Remembrance weekend concert last Saturday at the Memorial Hall, Freshwater in a musical programme devised by David Owen Norris, Joseph Spooner and Mark Wilde entitled “A Dream of Germany: Music’s War Torn World”.
Since the eighteenth century there had been a lively exchange of musicians and composers between Germany and Britain which ended with the First World War in 1914 and could not be reinstated until the Armistice.
The programme included works, possibly little known but musical gems, by British composers with ties to Germany – or German like Mendelssohn under whom Sterndale Bennett studied at Leipzig and pianist David Owen Norris and cellist Joseph Spooner played his Sonata Duo with great brilliance and feeling.
The tenor Mark Wilde, who has a honeyed voice conveying many emotions with ease and perfect diction, sang songs in German by Walter Battison Haynes and English ones by Hubert Parry and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
David Owen Norris, who apart from being an excellent pianist is a marvellous communicator and well known on BBC radio and television, played Mendelssohn’s Duetto.
George Dyson’s Cello Sonata was a great revelation and a wonderful showcase for a talented cellist like Joseph Spooner and his piano partner David Owen Norris.
We can only hope that Brexit in peacetime does not cause the same musical divisions as a hundred years ago.
Mr Piano Man - October 2016
Viv McLean made a very welcome return to the Memorial Hall, Freshwater for a recital last Saturday.
He has the rare ability to nuance each and every composer and played with such heartfelt understanding in this wide ranging programme from Bach to Gershwin through Chopin, Ravel and Grieg.
So clever to start with a Bach Chorale Prelude which drew the audience’s attention and set the tone for the whole concert. Next he played Ravel’s Sonatine in three very differing movements. The first sweet and expressive, then a delicate dance and the third a virtuosic toccata and the whole played with marvellous variation, control and a lovely tone.
Chopin’s works are well-known but so challenging to say the least. Viv McLean played one Prelude, one Nocturne and two Polonaises, the last in A Flat is immensely difficult technically but he played it with great passion and drama whilst giving clarity and expression to the Nocturne in E flat and projected the heart and soul of Chopin.
Grieg’s Lyric Pieces may not be well known but are truly lyrical and here beautifully played with a light touch, intense feeling and nuance.
Finally, Gershwin’s songs including The Man I Love and then Rhapsody in Blue without, as he said, the usual orchestra behind him but they weren’t required with his electric playing.
To perform all these different compositions from Bach to Gershwin with such control, understanding and musicality is a true tour de force and the audience had a marvellous treat.
Viv McLean is a frequent visitor to the Island, happily, and I urge everyone not to miss his next appearance.
A Trio of Delights - September 2016
The new season of West Wight Arts concerts in Freshwater got off to a cracking start last Saturday. The Trio Apaches are in fact three soloists – Matthew Trusler, violin, Thomas Carroll, cello, and Ashley Wass, piano who play also as a trio because they share an interest in the same repertoire and simply love playing it together.
The wonderful surprise of the evening was the Piano Trio in F sharp minor by Arno Babajanian, an Armenian composer of the early 20th century, very popular in the 1930s/40s but who is sadly unknown to most of us, but shouldn’t be. It is very accessible music and sounds so filmic and moves from the lush and romantic to the frenetic in the third and fiendishly difficult movement which gave the impression of a chase. This fabulous trio brought out every nuance and emotion with elegance and sophistication.
They had started the evening with the Beethoven Piano Trio No. 5, also known as the Ghost trio and immediately showed their authority and command of such a beautiful and well known work.
They ended with Ravel’s masterpiece, his Trio in A minor. The four movements move from gentle to electrifying and require the musicians to pass the themes between themselves with great artistry. It was a privilege to hear the Trio Apaches play this in a live concert.
As a final treat, they played their own transcription of the William Tell overture with great gusto and humour and sent everyone home in high spirits
From Mellow to Melancholy - April 2016
The bassoon was once called ‘the clown of the orchestra’ and it certainly can be humorous, but also mellow or breezy or romantic or melancholy and it was all these things in the hands or Amy Harman who was partnered by the amazingly talented pianist, Ashley Wass.
Their programme included works by Schumann, Schubert and Bach, originally intended for instruments other than a bassoon but which work extremely well as it is a vocal instrument with a broad range of sound particularly in the Three Romances Op.94 by Schumann, originally for the oboe to be played ‘not fast, simply heartfelt’ which they certainly were.
Amy Harman took a break to recover her breath and Ashley Wass played Liszt’s Concert Paraphrase on Mendelssohn’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. This is a real showpiece! Based on two movements, The Wedding March and The Fairies’ Music it is fiendishly difficult but also has a hushed, delicate section before a truly rousing end. Even Liszt would have been more than impressed by this pianist’s technical ability, musicality and sheer bravura.
It is possible to adapt many musical works for the bassoon, but it shows itself to best advantage in pieces specifically written for it, as the two works at this concert - the Saint-Saens’ Sonata for bassoon and piano and Sarabande et Cortege by Henri Dutilleux. Amy Harman has impressive breath control and expression and both artists were in total sympathy in their performance.
This, unhappily, was the last concert in the West Wight Arts current series but they return in September
Mountaineering For Pianists - March 2016
Some best-loved compositions are like mountain climbing for the pianist as they are instantly recognised and everyone feels they know how they should be played without thinking of the technical difficulty. Most soloists are only brave enough to include one per concert but Viv McLean, at last Saturday’s West Wight Arts concert, gave us several.
Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor and then two of his four Ballades, numbers 1 & 3 were executed with great expression, dexterity and where necessary formidable speed. The first Ballade is story-like, becomes stormy and returns to what we realise is a sad tale. The third Ballade moves from gentle to turbulent and all Chopin requires deft fingering, strength, feeling and subtle pedalling which to this pianist are second nature.
In 1819 the music publisher Diabelli composed a simple little waltz and sent it to several composers asking for a single variation. Four years later Beethoven sent him 33 Variations on this theme which can be said to be a veritable Everest for the performer. Just to be able to remember the order of the variations let alone the notes requires a great feat of mental agility as well as exceptional performance skills. Many Variations are humorous or have different emotions and change pace and style with virtually each one. Beethoven took a singularly ordinary waltz tune and made it glorious 33 times over but only when played by a performer with the talent of Viv McLean.
Although exhausted, he treated the audience to Debussy’s La Cathedrale Engloutie as an encore perfectly rounding out a marvellous concert.
Trombone of Gold - February 2016
In 2008, a smiling boy of 12 clutching his trombone stepped onto the stage of the BBC Young Musician of the Year and swept everyone away and won the title. Now 20, still smiling but with a trombone coated in gold Peter Moore took the stage at the West Wight Arts concert last Saturday along with the excellent American pianist Jonathan Ware.
The trombone doesn’t have a huge repertoire of works specially written for it. However, the Horn Sonata of Beethoven and many songs can be arranged for it and the instrument is fascinatingly close to the human voice. Mahler’s Urlicht from Das Knaben Wunderhorn and Four Serious Songs by Brahms worked beautifully and were played with such musicality and control by both artists who clearly enjoy their collaboration.
The piano too has many songs and Jonathan Ware gave a delicious rendition of Schumann’s Romance in F sharp which Clara, Schumann’s future wife, described as ‘the most beautiful love duet’ – just what was needed close to Valentine’s Day !
Pieces by four composers who wrote for the trombone – Eric Ewazen, Christian Lindberg, Sigismond Stojowski and Arthur Pryor – were showcased and although perhaps unknown to most of the audience left us wanting to know them better as they were all different genres but showed the flexibility of the instrument and the performers.
These two marvellous young musicians ended by giving us a special treat and played Misty as an encore which had everyone stamping approval and wanting more.
The Santiago Four - January 2016
It was a delight to be in a packed hall last Saturday for the West Wight Arts concert. Often, if the programme contains music composed after 1900, the less courageous stay away and generally miss out but not so at the Santiago String Quartet concert.
Formed in 2008, their mission is to promote Latin American quartet works largely unknown in the UK. They also like to play friends’ compositions and began with pieces by Will Todd and Ronald Stevenson. These were challenging but accessible to new ears and they played them with love and care. They also performed Three Divertimenti by Britten which were probably the best known and also the earliest works in their programme.
Then the men donned rakish red ties to denote the passion and fire of Latin America, especially Mexico where the founder and cellist Jonathan Hennessey-Brown spent eight years. Presto II by Miguel del Aguila is a heady mix of latino, jazz and dance and although not melodic is certainly ear-catching and challenging for the performers.
Two beautifully melodic works by Astor Piazzolla had the Tango flowing through them and the Quartet’s commitment shone through. Another by the same composer was surprisingly different, although still a Tango, but verged on the violent.
They ended with the Mexican Javier Montiel’s Caprice based on Paganini Themes. One critic lacking a sense of irony declared it to be ‘ludicrous, sarcastic and burlesque’ . Happily The Santiago had discovered the irony and played it with understanding and passion. The audience then left tapping their toes all the way to the front door.
Three's Company - The Trio Isimsiz - December 2015
West Wight Arts concert last Saturday provided a marvellously talented young trio called Isimsiz who play with maturity. They began with Schubert’s heartrendingly beautiful Notturno in E-flat major written when he knew he was dying. This Adagio moves from sadness to resignation with courage and even defiance.
Next was Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.2 in E minor of 1944. A subtle theme was developing in the Trio’s programme and that was Death. This contemplates the sacrifice of the Russian people during the Second World War and begins thoughtfully and becomes agitated and then brighter with hints of optimism. His third movement starts with huge piano chords and then the melody is passed back and forth between the three instruments. By the end, The Dance of Death, hope is abandoned and the terrifying climax is without optimism for Russia’s future. This work requires formidable technical skill and interpretation from all three players and the Trio Isimsiz certainly provided it.
The final work was Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor of 1883 the year after his beloved mother died – another Death connection. Its threatening mood moves to a Polka becoming sorrowful and contemplative. The lovely middle theme describes memories replayed in music and the vigorous ending suggests he was saying, musically, that life goes on. One of the great delights of this work is that Dvorak composed such a fine balance between the three instruments and never allows one to dominate. It is a true conversation in music which the Trio Isimsiz played superbly with elegance and understanding.
Songs Unlimited - Tom Primrose, piano, Lucy Hall, soprano, David Webb, tenor - November 2015
There is a mystery in the music world. Whereas people flock to musicals and opera, song recitals are often poorly attended. However, the sizeable audience that braved the rain last Saturday and came to West Wight Arts’ concert in Freshwater were given a treat by two singers and a pianist.
Pianist Tom Primrose, soprano Lucy Hall and tenor David Webb are young, enthusiastic and highly talented. The overall theme of the programme was Love, in all its moods with songs and duets by Schumann, Schubert and Richard Strauss and the English translations provided enhanced our enjoyment.
Lucy Hall’s sweet yet secure soprano voice was particularly effective in Strauss’s Morgen (Tomorrow) which incorporates a beautiful instrumental solo which Tom Primrose delivered with delicacy and sensitivity. David Webb has a fine tenor voice with a mellow lower register and his dynamic range and German diction were shown to good effect in Schubert’s Abendstern (Evening Star). He is also a good communicator, another essential for a recitalist. The first half concluded with a Strauss duet Licht und Liebe (Light and Love) and the blending of their soprano and tenor voices was excellent.
The second half moved into the twentieth century with songs and duets by, amongst others, Frank Bridge, Ivor Gurney, Benjamin Britten, Roger Quilter, Noel Coward and Ivor Novello.
Lucy Hall’s voice was well suited to A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (and who could name Manning Sherwin as the composer?) and elegantly changes singing style between Lied and this popular evergreen. David Webb’s rendition of the Benjamin Britten songs, particularly O waly waly and The Sally Gardens caught the mood of them perfectly and the fiendishly difficult and humorous The Crocodile.
The evening ended with two much loved duets – Noel Coward’s I’ll See You Again and Ivor Novello’s We’ll Gather Lilacs and were so well received that they encored the latter and encouraged the audience to join in, which it did, and surprised the singers by being word perfect.
All smiles and Talent - Alexandra Dariescu - October 2015
If you love classical music, the West Wight Arts series of monthly concerts at the Freshwater Memorial Hall are not to be missed and last Saturday’s recital was by the internationally acclaimed Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu who loves the Isle of Wight and this was her third visit. She has great charm, transmitting her enthusiasm to the audience and from the moment she starts to play there is no doubting her formidable talent.
She began with the Mendelssohn Variations Sérieuses which were inspired by Beethoven’s Variations and they have extreme difficulty in common. She made them seem effortless with wonderful tone, clarity and faultless technique.
Next she played five preludes – two by Fauré, written in his sixties and three bySzymanowski at only 18 all in the early 1900s. These were beautifully juxtaposed and fascinating to hear two composers at opposite ends of their careers expressing the same gentle, contemplative ideas which Miss Dariescu exploited with sensitivity and finesse.
The first half finished with Chopin’s ‘Heroic’ Polonaise in A flat Major. Playing Chopin publically is like speaking Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquys. Everyone hastheir own opinion of what it should sound like but Miss Dariescu showed no fear and attacked this with gusto.
Next was a piano transcription by Pletnev of the Nutcracker Suite. Such transcriptions are never as pictorial as an orchestral version but her playing had expression, strength and delicacy and it was almost possible to conjure the Sugar Plum Fairy.
She concluded with Chopin’s Scherzo No.2 in B flat Minor requiring great dynamic range and sensitive expression which she achieved and was given a mighty ovation by the delighted audience.
Franco-German Accord in West Wight by Richard Harwood (cello) and Julius Drake (piano)
Debussy’s Sonata for cello and piano is notable for its brevity. The instant that the cello enters the warm tone and sonority of Richard’s play was evident. In a slow finale the melody in the cello stretching up the fingerboard to finish with a long slow double stopped harmonic with not a trace of imperfection.
A dazzling spiccato section in the third movement played by an artist who takes care of every note, no matter how small, high notes on the fingerboard and extravagant glissandos with wild and delicious rubato complete the work.
Faure’s second Sonata
The introduction of theme and variations in a shared fugue structure ensues with a lovely serene solo passage of falling chords played by Julius finishing in the warm lower registers of Richard’s wonderful Rugeri cello of 1784.
Fauré reserved his most exquisite melody of heartbreaking beauty for the second movement through a pianissimo duet it grows in intensity leading to a fabulous open bottom C on the cello then finishes with a long third tapering to silence.
Cascades of notes in the piano and cello punctuate the exciting finale.
A fine rendition of the Schumann Adagio and Allegro was followed by Brahms Sonata in E minor
The sonata is actually entitled "Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello." The piano "should be a partner - often a watchful and considerate partner - but under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role"
This work of genius mixes romantic thoughtful melodies in the first movement with a lilting song in the opening bars and thence to a trio of cascading scales in various forms all beautifully crafted by the pair with a recapitulation of the original material to finish in the second. Fireworks are set off in the Allegro finale with a fugal discussion between piano and cello and true to Brahms’ intention, the piano has a fully equal but in Julius’ hands a sympathetic role. As the movement hurtles to the end, the pace is increased still further and both players came to a stunning finish.
Pleas for an encore were rewarded with Faure’s Après un Rève movingly played in a dream-like trance of sound to finish the evening on a blissful note. The audience reflected the fine playing with abundant and lasting applause.
Richard will be joining the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra for Elgar’s Cello Concerto in January 2016, a date for the diary.
May 24th 2015 - The Heath Quartet
At this special WWAA concert in memory of Patsy Tolfree. The Heath Quartet presented a challenging programme, featuring some of the most demanding and well-known quartets in the repertoire. Haydn’s G minor Quartet, op 76/1 was underpinned by a driving momentum, powered on by wonderfully bright and incisive inner parts. Where the melody called for it, we heard a vibrant and resonant sound, but a sparse, vibrato-less tone was there when needed: a bleak beauty, at times achingly emotional, always there in Haydn, but not always projected so confidently. This ensemble is not over-led and changes in tempo are achieved without fuss or over-statement. Moods were expertly judged and the audience loved the unexpectedly bright ending.
Left feeling the dynamic range wasn’t quite right, I wondered if it was because of the ‘in-the-round’ set up, but in a barn-storming performance of Janacek’s Quartet 2, ‘Intimate Letters’ the Quartet demonstrated they were setting the stage for this astonishing work. It ranges from the most breath-takingly beautiful and profound to harsh, brutal and raw passages, Janacek makes full use of the wide range of sounds players can make on stringed instruments. The Heath Quartet brought this off stunningly, wrenching us from Haydn’s late 18th century sound-world and tumbling us into 1917. Where called for we were never left to forget we were listening to horsehair being scraped across tense steel and guts, with the same instruments projecting lyrical lines of richness and warmth where demanded. The dynamic range was amplified from shock and awe to pin-drop intensity. Their playing pushed to the limit, the audience was left breathless, as indeed were the players.
Beethoven’s astonishing C Minor Quartet, op.131 followed. While chronologically lying between the outer works of Haydn and Jancek, it was performed as if it came from another place and time entirely. Long fugal lines were phrased around each other sensitively, bringing out harmonies overlooked in less thoughtful performances. Vibrato was turned up and down to provide well-judged seasoning or to reduce the music to its absolute essence. Tempi were superbly chosen, driving relentlessly on, relaxing back and at times unwinding completely only to jump back in with a bouncing, energetic ostinato, inner-parts again to the fore. The last movement, a ‘devlish dance’ left all breathless again. This performance presented Beethoven as freshly as if it were composed yesterday and the entire concert marked a fitting celebration of all life.
April 11th 2015 - Manus Noble
It is always a pleasure to listen to the classical guitar, and last Saturday evening at the Memorial Hall in Freshwater was pure delight. There was an expectant buzz in the almost full hall when Manus Noble came on stage, and the young performer immediately engaged the audience with his engaging pre-performance chat. The Argentinian composer Piazzolla’s Verano Porteño, was a good choice of opening piece, with enough lyricism and familiarity of style to set the tone for the evening. The quiet middle section also helped in adjusting ones expectation of dynamic range – always a challenge for the guitarist in any concert hall. In the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer’s Berceuse and Un Dia de Novembre Noble demonstrated an interesting variety of timbre, and showed off the beautiful range of tone colour available on the instrument.
The complete contrast of the Dyens treated us to what Noble himself described as ‘flashy’ playing. Noble demonstrated a very even right hand technique and showed excellent technical control in the relentless rhythmic section. He has a lovely light touch and in extremely challenging technical sections, with flamenco, jazz and percussive elements, this young performer didn’t even raise an eye brow. The audience loved it!
Yuquijiro Yocoh’s ‘Sakura Theme and Variations’ was a charming piece emulating Japanese instruments. Noble used bending notes, beautifully executed harmonics and perfectly controlled tremolando to great effect.
The first half concluded with a piece written for Noble by Gary Ryan, Noble’s former teacher at the Royal College of Music. This piece was exciting, very rhythmic, heavily influenced by jazz, and used interesting right hand techniques – venturing onto the fingerboard to give percussive, double-bass type effects.
Manus Noble then introduced Bruce MacCombie’s ‘Nightshade Rounds’ as being ‘probably the hardest to accept and listen to’, adding that he hoped the audience ‘liked the note E’! His helpful, humorous pre-performance chat only served to deepen appreciation of this minimalist picture of intoxication from deadly nightshade(!). Delirium and hallucinations were conveyed with a masterful display of technique, again exploring the wide range of tone quality, from metallic to almost liquid as the performer’s right hand moved across the strings. Noble’s caution was unnecessary; the piece was enthusiastically applauded.
The Scottish lament of Niel Gow followed before another composition from Gary Ryan, ‘Railroad’ – a very enjoyable piece with American folksong influences and rhythmic strummed sections. There had been audible gasps of disappointment from the audience when this was announced as a programme substitution (instead of Albeniz), but the Ryan proved to be exciting and refreshing.
Two of Noble’s own compositions completed the programme – ‘Mirage’ and ‘Inishowen’, the first piece being an exploration of Oriental scales and necessitating some serious re-tuning of nearly all the guitar’s strings. The sounds were indeed evocative, even imitating the sitar of Indian classical music. It was interesting to note that the particularly outstanding technical strength that Manus Noble had shown us – his superb right hand versatility – was precisely the area that he explored to the maximum in his own compositions. He has excellent control of tremolando, and a huge variety of strumming and percussive techniques, extremely accurate harmonics, is very fast, and obviously enjoys the interaction of both right and left hands on the fingerboard. The first composition made fascinating use of the adjusted tuning and enabled some really gorgeous harmonic progressions to flow under the fingers in arpeggiated sections.
An encore of Dowland’s ‘My Lady Hunsdon’sPuffe’ concluded a very enjoyable evening.
March 7th 2015 - The Dussek Piano Trio
On Saturday evening the Memorial Hall in Freshwater was packed for an eagerly anticipated evening of chamber music. Michael Dussek (piano) was joined by Margaret Powell (cello) and Manon Derome (violin).
The concert began with Beethoven's Trio in E flat (Opus 1), an early work very much in the Haydn style. The first movement is immediate and energetic, and the players responded with a dramatic sense of ensemble perfectly suited to Beethoven's writing; I have rarely heard such a driving sense of rhythm and finely judged tuning.
The second movement Adagio Cantabile signals Beethoven's departure from 18th century convention and clearly shows his future direction towards middle period works like the Ghost and Archduke trios. As the violin and cello played the beautiful lyrical phrases the audience was rapt.
In the third movement the trio explored the sudden, contrasting phrases which are the essence of scherzo, once again with perfect ensemble, vitality and sense of direction. The Finale was a return to fiery energy and drive, the piano lines being played with especial style and aplomb. As the applause continued, one audience member commented she had never heard the Freshwater Steinway played so masterfully.
The Schumann Fantasiestücke in A minor is a later work than the Beethoven, deliberately composed on a chamber music scale. Michael Dussek said he imagined Robert and Clara Schumann and Brahms all playing together, and indeed this piece did often sound like three good friends performing to each other.
The conversation between players was most pronounced in the third Duet movement, a sweet lyrical dialogue between the strings in the full Romantic style. Once again the audience was all attention -- we didn't want this to come to an end! Margaret Powell warned us in advance about the section of the Finale which sounds like an error -- we all listened out for it but the playing was so good I couldn't hear anything amiss.
Although composed at the same time as the Schumann, Mendelssohn's Trio no.2 in C minor is an altogether larger work with a piano part approaching concerto-scale. The players expanded the breadth of their sound, perfectly capturing the lengthy phrases. Manon Derome was most effective, producing a sweet, powerful romantic tone quite distinct from the bright energy we heard in the first half of the concert. The final section of the first movement was especially powerful, almost symphonic in scale.
The second movement Andante is reminiscent of Mendelssohn's songs without words, eloquent and smoother than the large scale first movement. Another Scherzo followed, full of presto semi-quavers, a technical challenge which didn't seem to bother the players at all! The Finale returned to the large scale of the opening, a powerful movement almost religioso in its passionate phrasing and reaching a huge climax on a symphonic scale which once again seemed to present no difficulty to the players!
The applause was thunderous and sustained as we all cheered and stamped our approval. Another successful evening for the West Wight Arts Association.
February 7th 2015 - Ben Baker, violin and Petr Limonov, piano
Once again the West Wight Arts Association brought world-class talent to the Island in the form of London-based rising stars. Multiple prize winning violinist Ben Baker was joined by Moscow-born pianist Petr Limonov. The programme on Saturday 7 February in The Memorial Hall, Freshwater, was chosen by the Association’s page-turner-in-chief Sandy Hunt in honour of his 70th birthday, for which he was given a rare night-off to sit back and enjoy the music.
And what a delight it was. We started with Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro, one of an intriguing set of pieces the composer passed off successfully as 18th Century masterpieces during the early years of the 20th Century. It’s hard to believe today that he got away with it, especially with Limonov’s luxurious piano chords providing a generous almost Rachmaninov-like pillow of sound on which Baker could present the increasingly technically challenging material with assured, but never self-indulgent aplomb. Baker is a player who lets the music speak for itself, making the double and triple stopping appear almost effortless. This was followed by Kreisler’s charming La Precieuse. The pair used the acoustic of the hall and their instruments well. At one point during Beethoven’s Sonata number 10 in G (Op 96), the low notes on the Association’s Steinway blended so beautifully with the lower strings on Baker’s 1859 Vuillaume, they seemed to become a wholly new instrument.
With well-judged use of vibrato and open strings, they brought out the expansive scope of this work: simple melodies, playful conversations, intense climaxes swiftly clearing to song-like episodes. Once again, their performances gave the space for us to really hear Beethoven, particularly in the sublime hymn of the adagio. Just as the music never failed to tease and surprise, the pair returned after the interval with an astonishing performance of Brahms’ Sonata number 3 (Op 108). Like an explosion, their musical language completely changed, their communication and dialogue more edgy and exciting, spicy and exotic. With lush vibrato and well-judged rubato, this was a beautifully balanced performance, suggesting a more intuitive relationship between instruments, less knowing and more impulsive. The finale brought us the extraordinary arrangement by virtuoso Ysaye of Saint-Saens’ Caprice in the form of a Waltz (Op 52/6). This audacious piece was performed with the bravura one would expect, but yet again, the pair used the spaces between the notes, lingering at times to inject something more than mere brilliance - a depth which many performances lack through a hurry to astonish the listener. By now we had grown used to the song-like quality of their playing, so how apt to come back for an encore with the ravishing Albumblatt by Wagner which gave us a last chance to appreciate their powerful lyrical playing.
The West Wight Arts Association continually succeeds in bringing the international stars of the future to our small Island for a modest price in a friendly and welcoming venue. If you are remotely interested in music, you really should make your way out West to enjoy the season.
January 10th, 2015: Mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley and pianist James Baillieu
What a treat last Saturday at Freshwater’s Memorial Hall. Mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley and pianist James Baillieu delivered stunning performances of a variety of delightful works. Both extremely versatile musicians, they proved equally comfortable with Italian operatic style, romantic German Lied, English song and a large selection of light-hearted songs.
Opening with Haydn’s dramatic solo cantata Arianna a Naxos (1789), Anna immediately had the audience in thrall as she demonstrated her consummate skill as a singing actress. It was obvious that she had carefully considered the character of Arianna as if she were preparing to perform the role in a full-length opera. Both performers effectively adapted to the sudden, often dramatic changes in tempo and dynamic throughout the cantata which tells the story of Arianna, abandoned by her lover Theseus on the island of Naxos. The soloist must convey a range of emotion from tender love through melancholy, anxiety, grief to anger and fury and Anna’s powerful portrayal was superb. It can be difficult to lament in a major key but the heart wrenching sighs in the aria ‘Dove sei, mio bel tesoro?’ (‘Where are you, my beloved?’) brought tears to many eyes.
Schumann’s Frauenliebe und-leben Op.42 (1840) offered a complete contrast. The song cycle represents a story covering different stages of a woman’s love – life. As in Arianna a Naxos, the work takes us through the gamut of emotions from the first stirrings of attraction through doubts and uncertainties of courtship, the joy of marriage and childbirth to the devastation of loss and widowhood. The eight songs were beautifully performed and showed the close artistic rapport between pianist and singer which is so essential in this intimate genre. Anna’s vocal range, the passion in her voice, the clear diction, elegant tone and impeccable intonation combined with the expressive and technically polished accompaniment from James resulted in a truly memorable performance of this fine work.
The second half promised ‘more laughs’ and the mood was indeed lighter with a mixed bag of delights beginning with Sullivan’s Orpheus with his Lute. Too many to list here but there were songs by Gibbs, Vaughan Williams, Stanford, Coates, Weill, Bernstein, Coward and others. All were entertaining, some were funny (Bolcolm’s Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise), some sad (Delius’s Twilight Fancies), some nostalgic (O’Connor’s The Old House) and some expanded the theme of life from women’s perspective of the first half, but this time in a lighter vein (Winkler’s Tamara, the Queen of the Nile). Anna showed she has it all – talented, unaffected, the power for a big finish when required, both charming and disarming with a sense of humour that totally endeared her to the audience and a mature voice that belies her youth.
Unsurprisingly two encores were demanded – Novello’s We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring and Gershwin’s The Man I Love.
A wonderful evening.
Dr. Rene Mairis