Leighton Buzzard Music Club : Tim Lowe and Stephen Gutman

On Saturday 26th March, 2011 LBMC presented the climax of their current season: their annual concert sponsored by the Countess of Munster Musical Trust Recital Scheme. The Scheme puts excellent young musicians and concert organisers (such as LBMC)  in touch with each other. Each organisation gets to choose one artiste – rather like a box of chocolates being offered round. The result was a particularly yummy concert in which Tim Lowe played his beautiful antique Italian cello while Stephen Gutman provided spirited and sympathetic accompaniment.

During the course of the evening I learned that the ‘cello is capable of much more than is often asked of it in orchestras. The concert began with a robust folk tune – ‘La Folia’ arranged by Marin Marais. In an era when much music is amplified you don’t really expect to be pinned to your seat by two unamplified instruments, but so it was. The fingers of Tim Lowe’s left hand scampered up and down the neck of his lovely old cello, occasionally in danger of being run over by the enthusiastic work being done by the bow in his right. He played warmly, spiritedly, lyrically and pizzicato – each change of mood reflected in his face and body language. It is enormous fun to watch a cellist play.

Their second piece, by Schubert, was written for an instrument called an arpeggione – a kind of guitar played with a bow which, apparently, didn’t catch on. But it is possible to play it on a cello. Some of the many intriguing facets of concerts such as this is that you get to hear beautiful music which often you have never heard before, sometimes by composers you haven’t previously come across, occasionally written for instruments which are no longer in existence. Three for three In this instance. The piece contained enormous variety, from lively to lyrical, and in places required the cello to be as nimble as a violin.

The final piece before the interval was Martinu’s ‘Variations on a Theme of Rossini’. The two players appeared to have as much fun performing as we had listening to it. The little Theme is followed by six tiny Variations incorporating a comic opera buffa motif, broken triplets, syncopated piano chords, furious scales, arpeggios. As with the movie Airplane, every time you spent a moment enjoying one tiny item three more rushed past you. I most enjoyed the more measured Andante (Variation III), in which the rich underlying theme moved sinuously between the two instruments. Then, like Tom and Jerry, the instruments were off again, chasing each other through the remaining Variations to number VI – a final restatement of great clarity and vivacity.

After the interval we were given ‘Scenes from Jewish Life’ by Ernst Bloch. The first movement, Song, was a yearning melody with distinctly klezmer influences: lush indeed. The second, Supplication, conjured up harried prayers with drones, mirrored passages and falling cadences. The last movement, Prayer, built on the previous two with fervent, slurred notes and an ending which hung unresolved. It was my favourite of the three.

The final item was Camille Saint Saëns’ Cello Sonata No 1 in C Minor Op. 32. The cello rose to wild heights, then sank once again to a warm purr beneath the cellist’s hands. Here were familiar figures served in a different sauce, at a different temperature – combining to make a delicious new recipe. The two men were each wrapt in the music, yet constantly aware each of other’s musical needs. The final lyrical movement juxtaposed the sharpness of the piano with the richness of the cello to glorious effect.

For an encore we were treated to a short ‘Prelude’ by Ernest John Moeran – a beautiful Irish song without words. It was so lovely that I had to stop jotting and listen properly – so this is the end of the review …

… except to say that there is one more chance to hear some great musicians strut their stuff under the aegis of Leighton Buzzard Music Club: the Majestic Brass Quintet will be playing on Saturday 16th April at 8 pm. Go, if only so that I can make this pun – you’ll be blown away!


Judi Moore



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