Many entertainments could be enjoyed in Leighton Buzzard and Milton Keynes on Saturday the 22nd of March. Indeed, the Leighton Library car park was stuffed with the vehicles of those enjoying live music in both the Baptist Hall and the Library Theatre. What a shame one can’t be in more than one place at once!
In the Library Theatre I listened to this year’s Countess of Munster Musical Trust artiste – Martyn Jackson – accompanied by pianist Alison Rhind. Oh – and I should mention the third Lovely Thing present on the stage: Mr Jackson plays a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume on loan to him from Frau Angela Schmeink. What a beautiful instrument and what luscious sounds Mr Jackson brought forth from it.
The first piece on the programme was Arcangelo Corelli’s 22 variations on ‘La Follia’. ‘La Follia’ is a Portugese dance tune popular around the end of the 17th century. Immediately it was clear that Mr Jackson was a man making muscular music of great light and shade with little fuss. The violinistic effects Corelli wrote allowed us to experience, right at the outset, the full range of his skill and talent. Breathless stuff.
He followed this with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A major, Op 47, the ‘Kreutzer’. During this, longer and less frenetic, work we had more time to appreciate Alison Rhind’s accompaniment: always of great musicality, alert to the needs of the violinist, bringing out the melody and nuances of her piano part. Movement II, the Presto, was surprisingly gypsyish. The Andante flowed dreamily, Mr Jackson demonstrating a nimble lightness within it while Ms Rhind conjured a big, mellow sound out of the piano. The final Presto was announced with a huge major chord from the piano, after which both instruments scampered off like cat and mouse producing, inter alia, a luscious, poignant melody: an irresistible finale!
There is a little story about the title of this Sonata which I cannot resist sharing. It was originally written for the mulatto violinist G P Bridgetower, who – with the composer – gave the first performance of it in 1803. Unfortunately Bridgetower and Beethoven fell out. Presumably Beethoven swept the sheet music out of Bridgetower’s hand and looked for another violinist to sell it to. Step up Mr Kreutzer. One assumes he paid for the ‘new’ piece, and it was duly dedicated to him. But when he came to work on it he is recorded as having exclaimed that it was an ‘outrageously incomprehensible composition’. And he never played it. He was wrong, and Bridgetower (who knew its worth) was robbed.
After the interval we were given Edward Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E minor, Op 82, which is only now becoming popular as a recital piece. This being Elgar and written in 1918 it is full of Romantic Gloom. What Elgar can do with Romantic Gloom is just too too glorious. And what these two did with Elgar was glorious too. Once again the Vuillaume made its spectacular presence felt. During the third movement of this piece I had such a strong sense of how a player makes love to his – or her – violin.
To finish the concert we were given a piece by a composer I hadn’t come across before – Henryk Wieniawski (1835 – 1880): his Fantasie brillante, on themes from Gounod’s opera Faust, Op 20. Wieniawski was himself a violinist, and wrote this piece to showcase everything the instrument and its player are capable of, drawing on the glorious tunes in Gounod’s Faust. It is acrobatic in the extreme, for both violin and piano. Mr Jackson played every inch of his Vuillaume: like the proverb about the pig, we got everything including the (tuneful) squeak. To give him a little respite the piano took over with a gentle, soulful tune. But, irrepressible, the violin rejoined and the two instruments wrapped each other in glorious melody, rising like larks. The end of the piece was so climactic that it would have been plain wrong to have asked for or been given an encore. And thus we filed out of the theatre, still enthralled. I hope I come across Wieniawski, Martyn Jackson, Alison Rhind and the glorious Vuillaume again. Together or severally. Soon.
If you want to know more about Martyn Jackson, this is probably the place to start – http://martynjackson.com/