Romantic musical fantasies on a chilly evening.

Recital by Rosalind Ventris (viola) and Lara Dodds-Eden (piano) at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre

On Saturday 1 December, 2012 those of us who braved the wintry weather enjoyed a tremendous concert under the aegis of Leighton Buzzard Music Club..

The programme promised the warm, dark tone of a viola, early twentieth century British music which I hadn’t heard before – plus other delights.  The programme balanced the seldom heard with the more popular. Mmes Ventris and Dodds-Eden had put together a feast of Romantic, melodious, fantasias and variations

The first piece was by Edwin York Bowen; an early twentieth century British composer influenced by his contemporary, ‘the father of the viola’ Lionel Tertis. Bowen wrote his Phantasy Op. 54 towards the end of the first world war. Thus the hints of Vaughn Williams that it contained were perhaps not to be wondered at. The seductive warmth of the viola low down in its range quickly banished the chilly night outside. As the piece developed it became increasingly – and surprisingly perhaps – upbeat on the viola, reinforced by busy, complex work from the piano. The piano led the viola into new places, filled the spaces it left as it moved on. Although Bowen was not afraid to leave quiet – even silent – places in his music too. Nevertheless the final section was a wild, romantic ride with ‘witches’ sabbat’ written all over it.

Segue to the next piece – Märchenbilder Op. 113 by Robert Schumann. Märchen are fairy tales. These four Romantic little pieces beguiled us into dark forests where innocents held hands, many-roomed castles where maidens awaited rescue; handsome princes, changeling babies, evil stepmothers and witches threaded through the music. In the final piece I swear I heard a conversation between a princess and a frog (well, a cursed prince). The princess promised never to leave her amphibian friend, there was always hope. And with that thought the two wandered away in the twilight.

The final offering of the first half was by Paul Hindemith (Sonata Op.11 No. 4); a fantasy with variations. The sonata was appealing, vibrant and resonant, from the beginning. It being Hindemith, there were many odd – and oddly pleasing – harmonies. The viola had a number of repeated phrases at the end of the first movement; sexy little figures moving up and down the viola’s range, echoed by the sharp clarity of the piano. This was the kind of complementary playing that makes one realise what talent and skill it takes to play such challenging music with grace and poise. The second movement was even livelier, leading us back to folk tales. In the third movement the odd harmonies returned, followed by the most un-Hindemith-like romantic melody before becoming wild and gypsyish and, finally, slashingly guttural. What a finale.

The second half of the concert began with Paganini’s La Campanella. This is a well-known piece of wild, Romantic music. Paganini supposedly made a pact with the Devil enabling him to play the violin with infernal skill. Although arranged for the lower instrument it was still a work of the devil. So – this is music which shows off one’s skills, or shows them up. Ms Ventris applied herself to it with grace and determination embellishing the original melody with fabulous variations, supported sympathetically by Ms Dodds-Eden. Bravissima!

The final and most substantial piece of the evening was Brahm’s Sonata in E flat, Op. 120 No. 2, written in the composer’s graceful old age. Possibly the most Romantic piece of an evening of Romantic music this was full, meaty, luscious. The languishing, lovely themes insisted one had known them forever whilst being, at the same time, completely fresh. Here was pathos, joy, triumph, rumbustiousness and rustic homeliness. The dialogue between viola and piano covered the gamut from life to death. And indeed, the triumphant ending – from an ageing composer – undermined Death’s sting.

This was LBMC’s annual concert sponsored by the Countess of Munster’s Music Trust. They run a Recital Scheme which has a very good eye indeed for quality players and this year Rosalind Ventris and Lara Dodds-Eden are supported by the scheme. This Trust – and others like it – enables LBMC to bring marvellous music to Leighton Buzzard.

Check the society’s website for details of their next concert on 26 January 2013.




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