Archive for the ‘Leighton Buzzard Music Club reviews’ Category

The Sterling Trio

May 2, 2014

Sterling stuff

On Saturday 26th of April the Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s 68th glorious season concluded with a very well received recital by The Sterling Trio.

The trio comprises Sarah Atter on flute, Lauren Hibberd on piano and Thomas Verity on clarinet and bass clarinet. This is an unusual trio combination and the original repertoire available to them is not vast. As a result they ‘beg, borrow and steal’ (their words – not mine) whatever interesting material they find and re-arrange it to suit themselves. This approach enables them to play an astonishing variety of styles from the gamut of musical periods. For example, the programme included a re-arranged Baroque sonata for trio by J J Quantz (1697-1773) and a piece in which ‘two incisive motifs swirl and clink together … to replicate the raw energy of techno music’ by Guillaume Connesson, who was born in 1970 (and which, at points, required the strings of the piano to be brushed). It was marvellous to be introduced to music from composers like the, frankly, obscure (Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) as well as to enjoy pieces by more famous composers (Brahms, Fauré, Arnold). In all we enjoyed a smorgasbord of nine different composers. This was a tasting menu that the Heston Blumental himself could be proud of!

Although a this is a rare combination of instruments, it was apparent from the first notes played that it was a happy one. The three musicians were finely attuned to each other. The different timbres of the flute and the clarinet complimented each other beautifully, framed and underpinned by the piano.

LBMC’s new season starts on 20th September with the exciting Japanese pianist Aisa Ijiri playing amongst other things Mendelssohn and Da Falla. I look forward to sharing that with you.

http://thesterlingtrio.com/thesterlingtrio.com/Home.html

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Leighton Buzzard Music Club present Martyn Jackson and Alison Rhind: the Oxjam concert

March 26, 2014

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/

 

Mark Bebbington, pianist extraordinaire and champion of British music, plays Leighton Buzzard

March 1, 2014

On Saturday 22nd February Leighton Buzzard Music Club achieved another musical coup:  they brought to the Library Theatre’s stage the critically acclaimed pianist, Mark Bebbington. Mr Bebbington records  the work of modern – particularly British – composers on the Somm ‘New Horizons’ label. Thus it was that Mr Bebbington warmed up his audience with some Haydn and Schubert before devoting the second half of the programme to the music of John Ireland.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. First I must mention the socks. Musicians – especially male musicians – tend to be conservative dressers. They don’t like their sartorial preferences to get in the way of the music. So there isn’t much to inform an audience, before the first piece has got fairly under way, as to what sort of musician the chap on the stage is. Not so with Mark Bebbington who, whilst conventionally garbed in black, sported a pair of socks apparently based on Google’s logo. I like a little subversion in my musicians: this augured well. So, a word to the wise – if you want to know what’s coming, check out the musician’s socks.

He began the recital with Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 40 in G major, which I haven’t heard before. The music was full of decorations and modulations between major and minor keys, requiring a delicate approach as well as an accurate one. This was particularly so when the accidentals and runs (like mice cavorting on the keys) evident in the first movement became mice performing gymnastics in the Presto. An exuberant piece which built to an uber-exuberant climax. Great fun!

As the applause faded he plunged straight into Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat major: the one with thunder rumbling around in the left hand at the beginning. It is full of emotion – majestic, yearning and grief-stricken. And was, indeed, the last piece Schubert completed before he died. The second movement begins with a single, funereal bell which then becomes a joyous peal. The third movement shows us a happy, busy man. But that theme cannot be sustained for long and anarchy soon intrudes, before order is restored and the music becomes relaxed to the point where it resembles barrelhouse piano. Finally sturm und drang become general in the final, ecstatic Allegro. And that, as they say, is all he wrote.

Before beginning to play after the interval Mr Bebbington rued the fact that John Ireland’s music has become ‘unjustly neglected’. I can vouch for that ‘unjustly’, having sung some choral Ireland recently in a concert which also included pieces by Britten and Moeran, two of Ireland’s pupils; motifs from those two composers are constantly foreshadowed in Ireland’s music.

Ireland was influenced by Debussy and Ravel. He was particularly adept at communicating the movement of water, demonstrated for us by ‘The Island Spell’ (from Decorations published in 1915) and Amberley Wild Brooks, written about the area of Sussex in which he lived. There is an echo of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes in both pieces.

The substantial London Pieces, comprising ‘Chelsea Reach’, ‘Ragamuffin’ and ‘Soho Forenoons’ also draw on Ireland’s surroundings, when he lived in London. ‘Ragamuffin’, for instance, is based around a tune Ireland heard an urchin whistling in the street.

As finale Mr Bebbington gave us the fiercely difficult First Rhapsody in F-sharp minor, which is so seldom played that the music has never been published. Or perhaps the rationale is the other way around. Whichever, Mark Bebbington played from the manuscript. Rachmaninov, and Liszt, inform this music. It has a filmic quality, is by turns romantic, then urgent and vibrant and throughout is full of ravishing tunes.

Our warm applause moved Mr Bebbington to give us a substantial encore – Chopin’s spirited ‘Scherzo’.

Mark Bebbington is a passionate advocate of modern music; which, under his hands, becomes both beautiful and beautifully explained.

He is recording the whole of John Ireland’s oeuvre. If you want to know more about that try these links: http://www.markbebbington.co.uk/ and http://www.somm-recordings.com/somm/newhorizons.php

Joo Cho and Marino Nahon

December 27, 2013

Songs to warm a winter evening at Leighton Buzzard Music Club

Those of us who braved the bleak midwinter to attend December’s recital enjoyed an evening of songs by two more talented young performers enticed to Leighton Buzzard by the very clever committee of the LB Music Club. Haverhill in Cambridgeshire run a well respected music competition each year. Singers don’t often win it – but Joo Cho did in 2009 and, as a result, has been prevailed upon to take the stage in the Library Theatre with her very fine accompanist Marino Nahon. Their partnership appeared mature, seamless, as if they’d been playing together for years.

He, of course, only has to play in one language … and did so with an element of theatricality that, personally, I always appreciate in a pianist. At times he hovered over the keyboard like a hunting cat searching out the heart of the music.

Joo Cho, the South Korean singer, moved seamlessly from language to language as well as from style to style, dealing now with the lyricism of french, now the passion of spanish, now the explosive vocal combinations of german. Her soprano voice was as warm and mellow as liquid chocolate, powerful and tender at need.

The songs were grouped into four sections. The three sections in the first half comprised short and delightfully accessible pieces, with a pleasant variety within the little cycles and across them too. We began with Fauré; his luscious, lyrical songs are always favourites of mine. Here were a little suite of five – two of his better known songs sandwiched between three perhaps less well-known. These were followed with five love songs by Brahms, himself  both a lyrical and Romantic German composer. Finally in the first half of the concert we enjoyed a suite by the spanish composer Joaquin Turina (who was new to me). Nahon began this with a spirited piano solo; Joo Cho completed the suite with four songs running a gamut between yearning and passion.

The second half of the concert was given over to Schubert songs, some well-known, some less so; some ‘Troutish’ if I may put it thus, some more dramatic – tending even to the melodramatic – some yearning, some serious. Nobody does angst like Schubert; his passions roil, his heartbeats pound and then … ah! … all fails and we’re suddenly swooping down towards death and doom. What a master of song he was as a composer – and how delightfully his songs were rendered for us by Cho and Nahon.

I was surprised when Mr Phillips told me that singers don’t attract big audiences. Instrumentalists is what people want to listen to, apparently, rather than singers. What an opportunity missed. One may revel in the big guns of an operatic performance – such as the relatively recent Tosca, perhaps, at Milton Keynes theatre – but performances of the quality and intimacy of this recital in Leighton Buzzards’ Library Theatre are rare and precious. Especially so now that we don’t sing in our own parlours any longer, preferring to let X Factor contestants do that for us of an evening.

Review: Rosanna Ter-Berg and Leo Nicholson at Leighton’s Library Theatre on the 2nd of November 2013

December 4, 2013

What lifts the spirit more than a bird singing its tiny heart out? The flute engages us like birdsong. Rosanna Ter-Berg, a riveting young flautist, brought to Leighton Buzzard a programme comprising some of the most luscious and best-loved works for the flute, with a little solo piano from her talented accompanist as well.

The theme was mainly French, from around 1850 into the twentieth century. She began with Fantaisie by Hüe (pronounced ‘Who’) , followed by Poulenc’s substantial Sonata for flute and piano, a wonderful mature work of 1956. If you have heard no other piece of flute music you have heard this, and it would take a real Scrooge not to love it.  Next Leo Nicholson let rip with one of Liszt’s fiery re-imaginings of other composers’ music, in this case the Soirées de Vienne, based on Schubertian waltzes. Finally we were introduced to a tiny quirky piece called Sprite by Nunn (a British composer now in his forties), played solo on the piccolo and employing  sounds I’ve never heard conjured from a woodwind before.

The second half began with a short piece by Saint-Saëns, Romance Op 37, his unmistakeable languorous riffs in the piano part allowing the flute to float. The major work of this half was Prokofiev’s Sonata for flute and piano, hailed as a masterpiece immediately when premiered in 1943, despite its surprisingly bucolic sentiment in a time of war. Finally, Suite de Trois Morceaux, by Godard, was a dazzling showpiece: achingly beautiful, technically demanding, becoming a little dirty and jazzy, and finishing with a breathless flourish. We enjoyed a little encore: part of Jeux by Ibert. The piano rippled beneath plaintive calls from the flute, calming the soul for the journey home.

Tina May sings Piaf

November 6, 2013

On Saturday 19th of October 2013 jazz singer Tina May brought her Parisian set to Leighton Buzzard Library theatre. Ooh la la!

She brought also Karen Street, accordéoniste; Julie Wilkington on double bass; and long-standing collaborator, composer and jazz pianist Nikki Iles. Formidable!

Nothing says ‘French music’, to me anyway, like an accordion. Karen Street’s playing ran through the set like raspberry ripple runs through ice cream: sharp, fresh, essential.

The work done by Julie Walkington on her bull fiddle was prodigious. I haven’t heard a bass slapped like that since the last time I saw ‘Some Like It Hot’. Not only did she keep them all together with driving and imaginative bass lines, she also made intriguing melodies during the solos she took.

Nikki Iles led the way, filled in the interstices and used her breadth of talent on the piano to add delicate colour and vibrancy to every song.

The life and soul of the evening was Tina May. This is by no means the only material she sings. But she made it clear that she has been a Piaf fan since forever – (“I’ve become a bit of a Piaf anorak”) – and it showed. She’s a fluent French speaker who studied in Paris. Every song she sang was beautifully packaged and delivered with love. She has a great range, very clear at the top, very warm at the bottom. Occasionally it comes with a wicked twinkle, sanctioned by Piaf (“I can be ‘appy. But not for long.”) and snippets of Piafery, some of which I share with you below.

We heard, ‘Pigalle’ and ‘Sous le Ciel de Paris’ enunciated so clearly that my rusty French could keep up: merveilleuse! In among the songs we learned that La Môme Piaf, the little sparrow, has now been gone 50 years, was a busker in Paris in the Thirties before finding fame, and an eye opener when she toured the United States (where people thought French singers were all like the urbane Maurice Chevalier and the gyrating Josephine Baker). Next we heard ‘J’Attendrai’ the epitome of Piaf’s, preferred, tragic mode. Most of what she sang was written for her. Between the wars, in the Twenties and on into the Thirties, every family would have lost someone to war, usually a young man, maybe more than one. Piaf’s songs of loss had a universal appeal.

Next we heard the jauntier ‘L’Accordéoniste’, (never trust an accordion player …). Next a song beloved of crooners for as long as I can remember ‘The Falling Leaves’, originally composed in 1945, in French, as ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’ with music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics Jacques Prévert, revamped later by Johnny Mercer. We enjoyed a medley of both versions. Next we heard the bitter sweet ‘La Vie en Rose’ taken slowly and given full measure: lovely. The first set was concluded with ‘Milord’ – something Sally Bowles could well have sung in The Lady Windermere club in Berlin: ‘divinely decadent, darling’.

The second set began ‘L’Hymne a l’Amour’ (lyrics by Piaf, music by Marguerite Monnot). This also exists as ‘If You Love Me’. Once again we enjoyed French and English versions commingled. Next came ‘Que Reste’T’il de Nos Amours?’ by Charles Trenet, subsequently adopted by jazz players world wide. Next ‘Si Tu Partais’, also by Trenet.

Piaf was a troubadour of griefs – she had many in her life; an unwanted child, love affairs, marriages, car crashes, addictions. Each song she sang was a little story. Few of them happy. I had wondered if a whole evening of Piaf might be a little depressing – but not a bit of it! The set continued with a happy-sad song about ‘les jolies putes’ of Hamburg fleecing the sailors who came ashore with two months’ pay and two days’ leave: ‘C’Est Hambourg’.

We moved a little away from Piaf next with Cole Porter’s ‘I Love Paris’ (which by now I absolutely did), followed by a mixed version of Piaf’s ‘Mon Homme’ and Billie Holiday’s ‘My Man’. Those two really weren’t lucky in love, were they? I wonder if they ever compared notes? We needed something less dour after that, and we got ‘La Goualante de Pauvre Jean’, which skips along in a most Parisian manner.

But, you may say, isn’t there something seminal missing from this concert? Indeed, and we were given it as an encore: the incomparable ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’. And a verse in English too.

C’est tout. Bravo!

Do check out Tina’s website here: http://www.tinamay.com/. In addition she has a Wikipedia entry and is on Facebook.

Jenkinson-Frith duo: Leighton Buzzard Music Club, Saturday 26 January 2013

February 13, 2013

Leighton Library Theatre was well filled on 26th January to hear the exciting duo Richard Jenkinson (cello) and Benjamin Frith (piano). They brought with them an adventurous, programme of Russian music that brought out the passion and melody, strength and melancholy of the Russian temperament. Had the snow still been lying outside we would all have galloped home by troika …

They began with Suite Italienne by Igor Stravinsky, a transcription of part of his ballet Pulcinella. Mr Jenkinson introduced it to us as being both virtuosic and melodic – a combination Russian composers seem to enjoy. And it’s hard not to espouse one at the expense of the other. Magical musical tricks passed from one instrument to the other and back again. The melodies – derived from peasant music – rippled back and forth too. In the ‘Tarantella’ the instruments chased each other like mice, then the pursuit became weightier, ending in a pounding final cadence. The following ‘Minuetto’ was sonorous, full of discords and  bleak jokes; a donkey brayed, echoing a figure in the first movement; the tone was dark. Out of this the finale shot like a firework, the melody as overwhelmingly sweet as bonfire toffee, punctuated with technical wizardry, strange harmonies and discords.

Follow that … how? Well, with Dimitri Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata in D minor (Op. 40). The composer wrote this while he was have difficulties both within his marriage and with the Communist state. He was not the only Russian composer for whom this led to dichotomies, the music veered between lyricism and bitterness, old-fashioned peasant joy and an urban sardonicism. There was nostalgia aplenty here. And fear of the future.

The piece began sweetly, built effervescently, became quiet and languid. Next staccato from the piano and pizzicato from the cello conveyed real menace. Heavy feet ascended a dark stair after midnight. There was the knock on the door which is never good news. The cello gave octave leaps of terror. The menace was sustained in the second movement, while a fragile happiness teetered on a vibrating string. The cello throbbed with a profound theme low in its range. A clock ticked. Sleep at last overcame the terrors of the night. In the next movement a busy morning had begun. Errands were run. Women gossiped when they met – ‘did you hear?’- and hurried on. In the ‘Largo’ a bell tolled, a soul yearned. Chords from the piano became momentarily brighter before the cello re-established the prevailing, slavic melancholy. In the final ‘Allegretto’ the men linked arms for a Cossack dance. But no-one could dance to what followed. This was the Devil’s music. A desperate kind of revelry continued despite the certainty of hell waiting. It began quietly, so the Devil couldn’t hear – but finally the night became filled with frenzied joy.

The second half of the programme began with a tiny piece by Alexander Glazunov: Chant du Ménestrel in F# minor (Op 71). It takes almost longer to introduce than to play! This was luscious, richly romantic music – a tiny box of the most luxurious chocolates.

The rest of the programme comprised Sergei Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata in G minor (Op 19). Great melodies were, once again, a feature. The music was somehow bright and dark at the same time – here was something that was almost a lullaby, but perhaps for a dead child. Here were echoes of Rachmaninov’s  Piano Concerto No. 2  (remember the movie Brief Encounter). But Rachmaninov has an apparently endless source of wonderful melodies.Here was another. Jenkinson conjured marvellous things from the bottom of the cello’s range, then notes from the very top of its register. Now another gorgeous theme was both unexpected and completely inescapable. Here was yet another – higher and yet lovelier than those that had come before. Layer upon layer of melody. The piano and cello called each to other; the two instruments caressing, exhorting, climactic. The final theme was insistent, gorgeous, repeated, handed from one instrument to the other. And from this heightened place one final, stupendous pyrotechnic flourish erupted and was gone.

Our calls for an encore were enthusiastic – and successful. This was a cunning choice; it stayed within the Russian theme and incorporated Benjamin Britten (the centenary of whose birth it is this year: expect much Britten in 2013 – hooray!). It was the entirely pizzicato ‘Serenata: Allegretto’ from Britten’s Cello Suites. This was the fifth of nine suites, the first performance of each having been given by Mstislav Rostropovich . Mr Jenkinson coaxed the most astonishing guitar-like sounds from his cello while Mr Frith surrounded these with a tiny, complex, sympathetic piano part. Strumming a cello? Yes indeed. And counting furiously (if silently!). A true oddity and a delightful digestif to a thrilling concert.

 

Romantic musical fantasies on a chilly evening.

February 13, 2013

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.

 

 

The English Piano Trio play at Leighton Buzzard Music Club

February 13, 2013

On the 20th of October LBMC presented the English Piano Trio. The Trio have been playing together for 23 years. All that experience means they are perfectly together, reading each other’s minds as easily as we could read their professionalism from the white tie and tails worn by Messrs Ravenscroft and Pearson and the elegant kingfisher-blue silk gown by Ms Faulkener.

Before the first piece – Robert Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63– Timothy Ravenscroft told us a little about its first performance. According to Clara Schumann’s journal those present comprised the great and good of Dresden, including both Wagner and Lizst. Wow.

Schumann’s Trio is true musical Romanticism, full of intensity and passion. The opening’s strong and urgent pulse was emphasised by the low register of the violin. The strings descended lower still into a complex, yearning figure, which quickly grew into a twisting search for that first theme again. Both the violin and ‘cello finally recaptured it. The second movement began with a galloping, syncopated scherzo. Now the piano seduced the strings. Their four-note cadence, rising and falling, became increasingly mournful until … back came the gleeful silent movie theme with which the movement began. The strings forgot their melancholy and chased the piano to a concluding flourish. In the following slow movement the piano led the violin gently through an autumnal world. The ‘cello joined them in delightfully sonorous passages. Now the tempo quickened like un bout de souffle, before languishing once more. As the final yearning note died away the trio plunged into the fiery fourth movement, in which the ‘cello played delightful figures, showcasing its rich tone. Therafter the piano and violin played call and echo until finally the original theme flew up once more out of a deep-voiced fugue. The three instruments chased each other from major to minor, fortissimo, back to the home key and a triumphant final coda.

The second piece was one that the Trio had commissioned from Cecilia McDowall and first performed in 2009. It is marvellous to know that composers are making new music to reflect the age we live in – and, of course, to get to hear it. Jane Faulkener introduced Colour of Blossoms.  It is based on a 13th century Japanese story concerning the emptiness of war. It began with an evocation of the great temple gongs, which are associated with peace in Japan. Like windchimes, the piano’s chords often failed to resolve, providing an ethereal quality. The middle section was more European in feel, jagged, then lyrical, then positively angry, before the strings returned us to soaring Japanese airs while the piano sounded that great temple gong of peace once more.

After the interval the Trio played Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio, which gave the piano its head from the beginning with a broad, noble theme which the strings followed. The second movement began with the ‘cello playing what sounded for all the world like an English drinking song, then buzzing around the melody like a great bee. The following slow movement was lovely, hymn-like; once again introduced by the piano, soon flanked by the strings, rendering an unexpectedly upbeat tune. The final movement rollicked and scampered in between breaking waves of heroic melody.

For encore we enjoyed Oblivion by Louise Farrenc – a moody piece which had much in common with 1940s’ French movie music. It included a resonant motif from the ‘cello which took me straight back to the ‘black cattle, white horses’ films made about the Camargue in the Fifties which I loved as a child.

LBMC’s next concert is on the 10th of November and will be given by John Barker on saxophone and Tim Sidford on piano. The programme promises to run the gamut between Bach and Brubeck. Forget how many shopping days it will be to Christmas by then and get on down there!

Splendid beginning to Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s 67th season

October 21, 2012

This appeared in the Leighton Buzzard Observer 2 October 2012 edition. I post it here for anyone who missed it – or who’s interested in catching future concerts. Full details of what’s coming up on LBMC’s website,  link here : http://www.lbmusic.co.uk/

“LBMC began their new Season in glorious style on the 22nd of September with a recital by Korean pianist Jong-Gyung Park. She came courtesy of the Haverhill Sinfonia International Soloists’ Competition, which she won last year.
What a wonderful array of musical talent S Korea is exporting. And what a healthy ‘classical’ music scene exists when talent such as Ms Park’s graces the stage of Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre!
Ms Park is petite and gently smiling, with delicate and expressive hands which belie a great deal of physical strength, and tremendous musicianship. She plays without music and with eyes closed. She crouches tenderly or tigerishly over the piano as the composition demands, her feet often dancing on and off the pedals. Her programme was delightfully varied, not to mention technically demanding. It flitted and sipped among four of the great composers of the past 250 years: Mozart, Schubert, Debussy and Liszt.
First we enjoyed Mozart’s nine tiny ‘Variations in D on a Minuet by Duport’, (K 573) containing fire and trills, limpid and gently flowing melodies, theatricality, and finally a broad, bold restatement of the theme. These demanding pieces were written as a virtuoso display of talent and technique. Every embellishment imaginable is introduced at some point. Ms Park relished them all and we enjoyed it thoroughly.
Schubert’s ‘Drei Klavierstucke’ (D946) occupied the remainder of the first half. Again, these three pieces require masterly technique. In places they break, what was then, new ground harmonically. ‘No 1 in E flat minor (allegro assai)’ opens urgently, pleadingly; runs and trills abound, executed lightly and brightly. The beautiful melodies flowed from Ms Park’s fingers like the song of a thrush – and apparently effortlessly. Finally the original theme returned, like an old friend whom one is always pleased to see. ‘No 2 in E flat (allegretto)’ was gentler – a child’s lullaby perhaps. Now a wilder section growled ominously in the bass, with a little optimism retained in the right hand. The two figures tussled. Now the lilting lullaby hasreturned, but becomes as busy as a mouse in the skirting. At last the lullaby restates one last time – almost mournfully now as it leaves us. ‘No 3 in C (allegro)’ began fiery before becoming a chordal, pastoral dance. There was sternness in the finale, and wondrous expression. Ms Park played with her whole being, body and soul.
The second half began with Debussy’s ‘Images, Book 2’. It’s hard to credit now that this music provoked ‘bafflement and fierce discussion’ when it was first head. Now we find Debussy thoroughly romantic, but back in 1907 it was a different story.
The hypnotic ‘Bells’ was a welter of tumbling notes, evoking French church bells on a Sunday morning. ‘The Moon sets above the Ruined Temple’ cast a different spell, teasing out a poetry of sound. At the end the audience collectively caught its breath. In the final piece, ‘Gold Fish’, the fishes darted and played. The three pieces exemplified Debussy’s contention that words are static, lame ways to express certain ideas. As a writer I do, indeed, feel the restriction of trying to express in words what he created for Ms Park to play. But one soldiers on!
Finally we enjoyed three pieces from Liszt’s ‘Deuxieme Annee de Pelerinage, Book 2: Venezia e Napoli’. These were ‘Gondoliera’, ‘Canzone’ and ‘Tarantella’. This was darker music. Liszt caught the Italian mood of flashing eyes, vendetta and drama, and Ms Park brought it out physically as well as musically. She showed us joy, angst, pain. Whatever the music desired to communicate we felt, through her playing. This sort of empathic performance is one of the strongest arguments I can think of for keeping music live and getting out to concerts.
Applause was warm and prolonged and as our reward we were treated to ‘Berceuce’ by Chopin. In contrast to all that had gone before this tiny, quiet, simple gem left us replete and complete. Bravissima, Ms Parks!