Posts Tagged ‘chamber music’

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.


James Sherlock, delightful evening of piano music at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre

May 3, 2013

James Sherlock blew onto the stage of Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre on Saturday 16th February like a breath of spring in his daffodil yellow socks (for which he apologised) and an amusing line in anecdotes (you couldn’t make up Dame Fanny Waterman’s masterclass, could you?) to underline his delightful skill and talent on the piano.

The programme was a Chopin sandwich with a wide range of fillings. Sherlock began with Chopin’s Barcarolle in F# major, Op 60. A barcarolle was originally a gondolier’s song. Although Chopin loved Venice this is the only barcarolle that he wrote. It is chock full of his characteristically mellifluous melodies, illustrating the lagoon and moon above it. A pair of lovers in their gondola bob up and down on the irridescent wavelets. Magical. Really, if you don’t enjoy Chopin’s piano music you must be dead.

Next we enjoyed a short piano sonata (in E flat major, K282) by Mozart written in the composer’s middle age (he was eighteen at the time …). Sherlock moved fleetly through the Adagio, danced through the two little Menuetti and finished with the flourish of the tiny Allegro. His obvious affection for the music emphasised what very good tunes Mozart wrote, even if sometimes they don’t have the subtext of other, weightier composers.

To follow was A Farewell to Hirta, written by Francis Pott in 1994. Anyone who’s read my reports before will remember how I enjoy being introduced to music that is being written now.  I haven’t come across Pott before, but I shall certainly look out for more of his compositions having heard this. ‘Hirta’ is gaelic for St Kilda, and this piece describes how the tiny population finally had to leave the island in 1930, their way of living with nature having been disturbed to the point where it could no longer sustain them. It was moody and yearning (perhaps unsurprisingly) with the occasional Scotch snap peeking out and a great wheeling and wailing of seabirds (part of the islanders diet) pulsing through it. It ended with a single sonorous note from the bottom of the keyboard which Sherlock allowed to die away to nothing. Super. Sherlock played this one piece from music – which he had loaded onto an iPad, turning his own pages with the flourish of a forefinger. No more floppy music, no more pages that have been turned too soon or too late, or won’t stay turned. The way of the future this, surely!

The final piece before the interval was J S Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor, a partita transcribed for piano, which James Sherlock described as being ’72 variations lasting five seconds each, imitating an entire orchestra of instruments, moving from major to minor and back again’. And so it proved. After the Chopin and the Pott with their underlying stories, this music relied on cleverness and energy, this brought out by the light and shade and sheer brio with which Sherlock performed it. With our enthusiastic applause still ringing he jogged off stage. We shogged off to the bar.

The second half began with two little pieces by Schumann. The Romance in F# major (Op 28 no 2) is the middle one of three and was a favourite with Clara, when she and Robert Schumann were engaged. We were instructed to note particularly that it is ‘a duet for thumbs’, which move together and in thirds throughout. It was certainly a duet (whether for thumbs or lovers) of great power and quietude. Widmung is a transcription by Liszt of one of Schumann’s songs. It is a riot of  embellishment on a simple theme and was particularly effective after the restrained Romance.

We were now firmly in Romantic territory and continued yet deeper in, drawn by Sherlock’s choice of music and his performance. Debussy’s Images, Book 1 is a trio of little pieces. It began with ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ which carried the listener hither and yon like a twig in a stream until, at the end, the import of the title suddenly swam into view. This was followed by a slow sarabande (‘Hommage a Rameau’) of earthy and majestic proportions. Finally the best known movement of the three – ‘Mouvement’ – rollicked through a series of gaily animated triplets.

Which lushness brought us back, once more, to the king of lushness: Chopin. The final bon bouche of our Chopin sandwich was his Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op 61. It’s a fantastical composition, written  immediately after the Barcarolle which began the evening, and seemed to draw together the music we had enjoyed throughout the evening – here were echoes of the Scotch snaps of Pott, the dances by Chopin, Mozart and Bach and the fantasy of Liszt’s Schumann transcription. Chopin wrote many polonaises (the dance from his Polish homeland that he loved), but this was his last and the one which moved furthest from the traditional form, breaking new compositional ground. It is one of his finest pieces and a fitting end to a lovely evening of music.

Leighton Buzzard Music Club : Tim Lowe and Stephen Gutman

July 22, 2012

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


LBMC: An evening of musical tapas with Hannah Marcinowicz and John Reid

July 22, 2012


On Saturday 26th February 2011 those very clever people at Leighton Buzzard Music Club brought us two more talented young musicians: Hannah Marcinowicz with her saxophone and John Reid playing the piano. The underlying theme of the concert was Spanish, although the composers came from many lands and several different centuries.

The mellifluous sound Hannah produced with her sax made it immediately clear that the instrument can do much more than jazz solos. The sound was like a purring kitten, prone to scampering off in trills and runs and with a surprising range of both tone and pitch. When I attend these concerts I am constantly surprised at the wonderful music and varied repertoire given by solo instrumentalists of all persuasions. This was one of the charms of the evening.

The Spanish theme was established with the joyous little ‘Fantaisie sur “Le Freischütz” de Weber’ by Jean-Nicolas Savari. It was followed by a yearning piece of Debussy – ‘Syrinx’. Hannah explained that, in mythology, Syrinx was a nymph who fled from Pan down to the water’s edge and turned herself into a reed which Pan plucked and shaped into pipes, so he has been playing her ever since – and you could hear the nymph’s fear and the wind in the reeds in the music. The mood turned sprightly once more with a musical realisation of five picture postcards in ‘Tableaux de Provence’ by (hooray!) a female composer, Paule Maurice. My favourite of this little suite was “Des Alyscamps l’âme soupire” which had a soulful, Gershwin feel to it. The final piece of the suite was recommended to us as a French version of “Flight of the Bumble Bee” and proved a tour de force of speed and trills. Bravo!

John now gave us two Argentinian dances by Alberto Ginastera. The first harked back to the Thirties and had something of Scott Joplin’s slow rags about it, crossed with Manuel da Falla, with lots of luscious blue notes. The second was a fast dance allowing John to showcase his formidable skills and talent.

The first half was brought to a close with Hannah’s ‘signature piece’: an arrangement of “Deep Purple”. Variations on the theme of that lovely song were played with enormous verve by both parties.

The second half opened with a short, lyrical and varied sonata by Telemann which led us forward to more demanding music by Jean Françaix which Hannah described as ‘a cross between Poulenc and Stravinsky, spiky and anti- romantic. Here were African influences as well as Latin, harking back to the Twenties and including something, introduced by John as ‘intricate’, in five-four time. Next came a traditional Japanese love song, gentle as a lullaby, which was surprisingly western in tone and tempo. Now we returned to the fiery Latin temperament with ‘Intermezzo from “Goyescas”’ by Enrique Granados. Finally we heard ‘Pequena Czarda’ by Pedro Iturralde. There was a big dollop of film noir about this piece. The girl with the sad eyes spies M’sieur Rick through the hazy cigarette smoke in his ill-lit gin-joint; the music takes off in loops and palpitations as she wishes she hadn’t come. She flutters, she prevaricates. She tries to run from him and suddenly there’s a touch of klezmer to the music as she tries to push her way through the Jewish refugees in the doorway. But Rick is at her elbow now. The refugees bicker amiably as he leads her away. I shall keep my ears open for more Iturralde; this piece made a very fine finale. So much so that our enthusiastic applause persuaded Hannah and John to give us an encore – Scott Joplin’s ‘New Rag’.

What a lovely selection of Spanish-flavored musical tapas – as light and pequeño as you could wish for.


LBMC: Alexander Ardakov (2010)

July 20, 2012

The evening of Saturday 18th September was the start of Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s autumn season. The season’s brochure promised both quality and variety – in particular the Russian pianist booked to open proceedings: Alexander Ardakov.  Ardakov has an impressive discography, plays on Radio 3 betimes and holds a professorship at Trinity College of Music in London. This was his third visit to Leighton Buzzard. Thinking of all this I asked David Phillips before the show, “how do you get such good people to come and play?”. He smiled enigmatically. “We have contacts,” he said – and would say no more.

So on Saturday this most accomplished Russian pianist played for us Russian music as only a Russian can play it. We were given Tchaikovsky, Chopin (Polish, but who’s counting), Scriabin and Mussorgsky.

Ardakov opened with six short pieces by Tchaikovsky. They ran the gamut from lively to warm to soulful. One could picture the silver birch leaves falling in the forest; the rain dripping from the branches; clouds of breath in chilly air, feet dancing to keep warm. Next Ardakov gave us four Polonaises by Chopin. I have always thought of Chopin as being a bit misty and fey (I only know the Nocturnes). So the robust passion of these dances was a surprise.  Ardakov spared nothing – certainly not the piano, which at times gave the odd tiny squeak of protest as he drew impassioned rivers and swirling eddies of notes from it. The Polonaises were very well received by the audience. Breathless, we made our way to the bar.

But the highlight of the evening was yet to come. To begin the second half of the programme Ardakov gave us three dainty and melodic Etudes by Scriabin. They were a delightful sorbet before the wonderful confection that is the Pictures at an Exhibition. Mussorgsky, apparently, wrote of how the music poured out of him in response to the memorial exhibition of Victor Hartmann. So did the music pour from Ardakov’s fingers. The music is wonderfully illustrative – from the stately minor chords of the ‘Catacombs’ to Baba Yaga’s hut scurrying about on its chicken’s legs – yet keeps returning to certain themes, which helps to hold the diverse ‘pictures’ of the music together. The most notable recurring theme is the Promenade, which was used for the theme tune of TV’s The New Statesman some years ago.

Finally Ardakov, most generously, gave us not one encore, but two! Your reviewer is not a classical music specialist, but I think the first was a Chopin Nocturne (and it turns out they’re not that misty and fey after all). The second was a piece of which I have a ‘Very Easy’ piano arrangement at home that I sometimes stumble through. Would that my fingers would behave in the way that Alexander Ardakov’s do! He enthralled us with two hours of scintillating music and was warmly rewarded by an appreciative audience at the end.

Leighton Buzzard Music Club provides an astonishingly high quality of music. If you’re a youngster – or have youngsters – playing instruments at school do come along. Many of the performers the canny Mr Phillips and his crafty committee engage are youngsters on their way up in the classical music world; some of them have been or are currently part of Radio 3’s ‘New Generation Artists’ scheme and/or have won other prizes and scholarships. When they’re household names you’ll be able to say you saw them at Leighton Buzzard first!

Galliard wind ensemble

July 18, 2012

Wind ensemble a real blast!

On Saturday 17th of April, the Galliard Ensemble gave the final concert in Leighton Buzzard Music’s current season.

The ensemble comprises five players: Kathryn Thomas on soprano and alto flute and piccolo; Katherine Spencer on clarinet; Paul Boyes on bassoon; Owen Dennis on oboe and Richard Bayliss on horn. The ensemble has a first rate track record, having been part of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme.


The music was from seven composers, three different centuries and five countries. The programme was light and varied. The pieces selected were like hors d’oeuvres and the appetite was merely whetted (or not) before something else was brought out for one to try.


We began with the overture from Rossini’s Italian girl in Algiers. The sound was full and sweet, the musicians a joy to watch as fingers fluttered like wings to coax out the melodies. Next we enjoyed Haydn’s Divertimento in B flat, the music moving from majestic to sprightly; from delicate to robust. The third piece – Kleine Kammermusik fur funf Blaser by Hindemith – showed the composer’s virtuosity and allowed the players to show off theirs too. The first , rhythmical, clock-like movement was followed by a feathery waltz featuring the piccolo. The third movement was passionate and romantic and the last full of flashy, fiery cadenzas for the flute. A gamut of music run in little more than ten minutes.


After the interval we were given Trois Pieces Breves by Ibert. The interplay of flute and oboe was luscious, the interweaving of all five instruments in the final piece quite magical. Holst came next (Wind quintet in A flat Op 14) – pastoral and pensive, with the horn contributing a warm solo. The penultimate piece required a bit more work on the part of the audience. Arvo Part (from Estonia, and still living) wrote his Quintettino in an austere style using a 12 tone scale. There were moments of magic in this – the way the breath taken in by the players became part of the musical line. But it was a little too bleak for my taste. The final piece of the evening was Berio’s, Opus Number Zoo, a musical entertainment with words, in a similar vein to William Walton’s Façade,  but created some 25 years later. It pushed to the limit what could be coaxed from these instruments, while the spoken words flitted across time and space ‘a cry of bombs, the scream of a distant field … what can be the reason?’


Enthusiastic applause brought an encore – ‘Lisbon’ from Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger. Perfect winding down music, it’s hard to imagine anything more quintessentially English than this tiny song without words. It makes one want a plate of roast beef right then and there before skipping off to dust off the maypole.



LBMC: Claire Jones, harpist

July 18, 2012

The golden girl with the harp

On Saturday 20th February 2010 Leighton Buzzard Music Club presented an evening of harp music by Claire Jones, currently harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales.

On entering the theatre one found the stage dominated by Claire Jones’ magnificent golden ‘Salvi’ harp, romantic and ethereal, albeit some seven feet tall. Anticipation was high, therefore, when the golden girl from Wales joined her glorious instrument on stage.

Her programme was varied, and designed to show off the harp’s capabilities and party tricks. During the evening she also explained something about how the harp is played, how to buy a new one, how to travel with one, what it was like to play regularly for royalty and their guests and how to solve amplification problems when playing a harp in the middle of the Millenium Stadium for an international rugby union match!

She began with Fantaisie on themes from ‘Eugene Onegin’ by Tchaikovsky, gracefully coaxing from her instrument extraordinary ornamental runs and trills. Next we were given Partita No 1 by J S Bach, a particular favourite of Prince Charles. This piece showed us a different side of the harp and the harpist. It sounded as though it had originally been written for the harpichord. The music moved in a stately but lively fashion quite unlike the bird-like work in the Tchaikovsky.

Next we were given a modern piece by Patrick Hawes – a name some readers will be familiar with as he is Classic FM’s composer in residence. How Hill was obviously a favourite of Claire’s. She completed the first half of her concert with her own arrangement of Men of Harlech, demonstrating that a harp can be commanding as well. While Claire plucked music from the instrument it threw golden highlights from its pillar and highly varnished sound board around the theatre, as well as notes.

After the interval the evening continued with Rosetti’s Sonate, which music poured over us like honey, sweet and hypnotic. This was followed by another modern piece written for the harp by an Arabian composer, Ami Mayammi, about whom I can find nothing – except to encourage you to search her (or him) out for yourselves. Maqamat was music redolent of indolence, the seraglio and the oasis; Claire made the harp purr and maiow, producing luscious discords and pedalled drops in pitch.

Her penultimate offering was the Theme from ‘Schindler’s List’ by John Williams, which, again, she had arranged herself. The familiar melody felt almost as though it were being produced by a guitar – but, of course, a guitar of many more than usual strings and greater sonority. The final item in the concert allowed Claire to demonstrate her dexterity with glissandi and harmonics with her new Salvi harp. Finally, warm applause called her back for an encore, a melody drenched in lovely arpeggios.
‘Thank you for having me,’ she said as she sat down to play her final piece. The pleasure was ours, golden girl. The Prince chose his harpist well*.

* Claire Jones is no longer the Prince’s harpist.

LBMC: Mélissa Kenny, harpist

July 16, 2012

January is a long and dreary month – so it was particularly pleasant to hear Mélissa Kenny play her beautiful harp on Saturday the 28th of January under the aegis of the excellent LBMC.

The young musicians who grace the Library Theatre stage usually just sit down and get on with it. LBMC always provide a good programme, but it enhances the experience to hear what lies behind the musician’s choice of music. Ms Kenny explained that her programme, spanning the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, would show us the variety of music the harp was capable of producing. Those who’ve read this column before will know that I particularly enjoy being introduced to new music, modern composers and Da Falla. Ms Kenny had, it turned out, put together the perfect concert to please me.


A word about the harp’s vital statistics, as told to us by Ms Kenny, may be in order. Harps have 47 strings, and seven pedals which expand the notes available by half a tone each way, according to whether the pedal is up, level or down. So one can conjure more notes out of a harp than out of a piano. Who knew?

What is demonstrable is that a full size harp is extraordinarily beautiful – ‘voluptuous’ is the word that springs to mind. It insists you stand and gawp at it. It seems impossible that its shape can be sustained under the tension all those strings exert on all that beauty.

Mélissa Kenny is much influenced by French music. The first piece she played was by Marcel Grandjany, an important, twentieth century, French harpist. His ‘Rhapsodie’ showed the colouration, timbres and rich harmonies that can be conjured from the harp. Next came Louis Spohr’s ‘Fantaisie in C minor’. Spohr was a contemporary and compatriot of Beethoven. This piece, despite its Germanic origins, had a Spanish fire and gaiety about it. ‘Serenade’ by Elias Parish-Alvars followed. He developed harp playing by new use of harmonics, pedals and en-harmonies. His ‘Serenade’ was both delicate and robust, full of emotion.

A harp arrangement by Grandjany, of ‘Spanish Dance No 1’ from da Falla’s opera La vida Breve, concluded the first half of the concert. A little sigh of pleased familiarity rippled through the audience as Ms Kenny conjured the well known, whirling gypsy who falls dead at her perfidious lover’s feet.

The second half contained both more substantial and familiar works. First we enjoyed Fauré’s ‘Impromptu, opus 86’. Here was a Romantic composing for the most romantic of instruments – a potent combination. I could have listened to this all evening.

Next she played a modern piece by Philippe Hersant, called ‘Bamyan’ which is an evocation of the two giant Buddhas destroyed there by the Taliban in 2001. A sinister beginning with an eastern flavour moved into spare, spiky motifs. A beautiful, moody piece.


Debussy’s ‘Première Arabesque’ was a good choice to follow the Hersant, being luscious and full – again from the Impressionist school, as several of the pieces she played to us were: music to be lulled by, something the harp excels at.


Finally Ms Kenny launched into Ekaterina Walter-Kühne’s ‘Fantasy on themes from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin’: the much loved ballroom scene waltz. Her fingers flew across those 47 strings to produce the muscular theme interspersed with its dynamic variations.


Our applause was enthusiastic. Ms Kenny was easily persuaded to leave us with an encore. This was a piece by John Marsden ‘The Hummingbird’ – a tiny, joyful Latin-American evocation with great light and shade.


I left humming the Onegin AND feeling I’d learned something about a fascinating instrument.

Leighton Buzzard Music Club : Iain Farrington’s concert ‘A night of light’

July 15, 2012

On Saturday 17th of March  Iain Farrington made a welcome return to Leighton Buzzard to play a light classical programme. But not the naff, light classical one gets in lifts. Dear me no.

Farrington began with his own arrangement of the ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’, which immediately demonstrated his liking for ‘a good tune’ and a light, scampering touch on the piano. He plays in praise of strong, simple melody and harmony.

Big composing names often dash off something lighter between major works. We now enjoyed one such by Elgar. He wrote it late in life, when he had, arguably, already written his best music. Simple little ‘Serenade’ is light and charming and soothes the soul.

William Walton’s ‘Façade’ began life as a single suite for piano and Edith Sitwell bellowing poetry down a megaphone. It also has many half lives. ‘Popular Song’ may be the best known ‘song’ from the suite. It is music which demands one perform a soft shoe shuffle – one long musical witticism: marvellous. Percy Grainger’s ‘Country Garden’ came next. Farrington’s jazz and blues influences brought out nuances of this quintessentially English tune that I’d never heard before.

Billy Mayerl was popular on the radio between the wars, influenced by “stride” piano and ragtime, Art Tatum and Scott Joplin – much like Farrington himself. Three short Mayerl pieces followed. ‘All of a Twist’ was in the Walton mould; furiously fast, bluesy and full of notes. ‘Marigold’ was syncopated in a ‘Kids’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you’ style. ‘Railroad Rhythm’ incorporated the sound of the wheels on the rails, the whistle, the train rushing by and a final mournful hoot as it disappeared.

Both Mayerl and Gershwin had great technique and an ear that enabled them to unify jazz, blues and pop within a classical structure. Three Gershwin pieces arranged by Farrington completed the first half of the programme. ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ was a full-blooded, vibrant musical statement. ‘Someone to watch over me’ had the song peeping through a glorious supporting swirl of music, which finally died away before Farrington launched into ‘I got rhythm’, which became faster and more furious until …the interval.

Farrington’s own composition,  ‘Fiesta’, began the second half. The seven short movements celebrate life. In ‘Conversation’ Farrington figures sharply observed conversations within the music. ‘Stride Dance’ ramps up the excitement. ‘Song’ gives us time to, maybe, smooch a little. ‘Fast Dance’ has a Peter Gunn-ish quality shading towards the sinister. ‘Nocturne’ allows us to sit down outside for a moment in the cool, night breeze. ‘Finale’ drives us back onto the dance floor. The tempo is furious, the volume up to eleven. The neighbours are complaining!

Farrington enjoys arranging seminal pieces of modern music: the Beatles’ ‘Strawberry fields forever’ and ABBA’s ‘Money, money, money’ being two. ‘Strawberry fields’ is Lennon’s haven. A bell tolls, there is nostalgia, a hint of nightmare; things aren’t quite what they seem. ‘Money, money, money’ has the Lizt-ish robustness of melody which Andersson and Ulvaeus were so good at. Farrington’s arrangment riffed around the motif, flirting, departing, returning.

Art Tatum enjoyed jazzing the classical repertoire. He arranged ‘Humoresque’ from Dvořák’s cycle of piano pieces, giving it smart new dancing shoes: here were blue notes and jazz variations. The music was breaking out all over. ‘Humoresque’ ragged! And, to close, here was Tatum’s furious ‘Tiger Rag’: wham, bam and thank you Ma’am!

Farrington shared one final piece with us as an encore: the tiny ‘Exit’ from his own ‘Animal Parade’ suite.

It’s great to see and hear someone keeping the spirit of ragtime and its relations jazz and blues alive – and adding to the canon. No need to hide this music away in an elevator!

LBMC review: Vienna Mozart Trio

July 15, 2012

Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s season finale – 14 April, 2012

The Vienna Mozart Trio provided a truly climactic evening for the end of the season. They’ve performed in major venues all over Europe, so to have them come to Leighton is a real coup – and this was their third visit!

The trio take Mozart as their starting point and, indeed, began with his Divertimento #3 in B Flat. This is an early trio, which uses the cello solely to double the left hand of the piano part. This may sound slightly dull but, on the contrary, it imparts an interesting and unusual timbre to the music. The three short movements were what I call typical Mozart: light and frothy. The Allegro was busy with notes. The piano flowed like a stately river through The Adagio, pursued by the yearning violin and cello. The final ‘Rondeaux’, in minuet tempo, produced unexpected and delightful harmonies and rhythms.

Moving forward in time, we heard next Schubert’s single movement Sonata in B Flat, which he wrote when he was 15. It’s full of little tricks with rhythm and volume, virile climaxes, lyrical passages, octave leaps – the work of a young man. And as trios had changed in form between the Mozart piece of 1776 and this in 1812, the cello now got its own melodies.

After youthful Schubert we heard a piece from his maturity; the Notturno written in the year before his death. It was immediately apparent this was a more mature and subtle work. It spoke, with a light Spanish accent, of a balmy night of love; it became proud and passionate; lips kissed dreamily, stirring a brief reprise of the earlier passion before a drift into slumber. Finally a bird heralded the new day, and the things of the night were left behind. A beautiful, tiny story in music.


The second half of the concert was a single piece: Shostakovich’s Piano Trio #2 in E minor, written in 1943. As one might expect from a Russian composer writing during World War II the theme of this piece is the horror and pity of war, as appropriate an anti-war statement now as it has ever been. It reminded me of the book The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.

It began with an eerie melody played high in the cello’s range, jagged and full of fear. The violin took over control of the melody; its voice full of tears. The cello returned with a sorrowful melody through which the violin screamed – rhythmically, tunefully – but full of pain.

The second movement drew us into a hectic, relentless dance. The mood became briefly more positive. But now the strings played the most violent pizzicato I have ever heard. You could hear the shells whizzing by and suddenly – everything was still! Out of the silence magisterial piano chords of increasing dissonance beckoned us further into the nightmare. Over this the violin played a melody that could only be Russian. We heard the cello calling through the violin’s melody, speaking for the mothers calling to their children, lost to bombs and bullets. Stoicism flooded through the violin’s reply. Finally the two instruments combined to sing a single, anguished song.

The Allegretto-Adagio began as exuberant klezmer, quickly became constrained, the harmony increasingly tortured, until a wild dance leapt from the discords, the frenzy barely controlled by striding chords from the piano. The Jewish theme burst through again on the strings underlying, sinister, not-quite-harmony. The violin rose to such a painful place that the cello sought to bring it comfort. A brief, uncomfortable peace ensued as a relentless clock ticked in the violin part. Big Russian chords broke over us, the violin played a lament picked up by the cello; ominous notes sounded from the piano and finally the cello reprised its eerie, opening tune, which finally faded to nothing, leaving the audience rapt. Applause was generous and prolonged. There was no encore.

LBMC’s new season begins on 22 September, 2012. See you there!

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