On Saturday 11 October one of Leighton Buzzard’s favourite, and most talented, daughters returned to her home town to play a professional engagement for the first time in her burgeoning musical career. Emily Mowbray and two of her friends from the Royal Northern College of Music – Polly Virr and Tom Hicks – put together a trio of violin, ‘cello and piano to play to a well-filled theatre, mingling with friends and family at the interval. These three musicians are well used to the limelight as individuals, but this was their first concert together. The programme was imaginatively put together, consisting of an hors d’oeuvre of duets and solos in the first half, leading to a more substantial entrée in the second. The audience was kept on its toes, as it played ‘name that tune’ – the trio eventually played almost all the pieces listed in the programme, but not in the order shown.
Emily and Polly got the concert off to an exhilarating start with Johan Halvorsen’s Passacaglia in G Minor, based on a piece of Handel, and chock full of fireworks for both violin and ‘cello. The players clearly enjoyed enormously showing us what their respective instruments could do. Next we enjoyed a piano solo from Tom; Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E minor Op.90 (first movement), which demonstrated what a lovely flowing style he has. The pretty rippling figures moved tended towards angst and melancholy.
Tom was joined by Emily for Sarasate’s Gipsy airs (Op 20). This is probably one of Sarasate’s best known works – and for good reason. The music is derived from spicy Hungarian folk melodies. The sensuality and passion in the music remind the listener what it is to be alive. The players allied first class technique with flair and all that passion to produce an exhilarating performance. To follow that they had chosen Shostakovich’s Sonata for ‘Cello and Piano in D minor (Op 40). In place of the exuberance of the Sarasate we were enveloped by a sense of loss and yearning. The slow section with which the piece closed I found quite magical; a softly beating drum, fainly heard from far away, plucked on the ‘cello and echoed right at the bottom of the piano.
Barely had we recovered from this when yet another mood was evoked by Tom and Emily playing Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu Cher, (Op 42, No 1 “Meditation”). This was immensely rich and gorgeous – to the point where I was so spell-bound I omitted to make any notes! Suffice it to say that around me I could hear a number of little noises of appreciation in that moment when the music is still within one and before the applause.
The first half of the concert was concluded with a tiny piece for the ‘cello created by Mark Summer (an American composer, in case you haven’t come across him before): Concert etude No 1, “Julie-O”. If there is a gamut of ‘cello methods which may be run, then this piece required them all. I have never heard a ‘cello “slapped” before – and not just plucked, as the jargon is for a jazz bull fiddle in, for example, Some Like It Hot, but also literally slapped percussively. The slapping turned into a traditional fiddle tune, which became jazz, which morphed into bluegrass – there was a lot packed into this three minute piece. If you haven’t come across Mark Summer before I commend him to you. Suitably wowed we stood up for the interval.
To hear the trio as a trio we had to wait for the second half, which comprised the meaty Trio élégiaque No 2 in D minor (Op 9) by Rachmaninov, composed to honour the early, sudden (and apparently mysterious) death of Tchaikovsky. The opening movement is funereal, rising to a place where the spirit may fly away, then tumbling down into a pit of grief – this reinforced by the image before us of the two young women, bowing furiously, resembling nothing so much as the Fates spinning and measuring the lives of us poor mortals. It is a monumental Trio. I find Rachmaninov an astonishingly modern-sounding composer, given that he died as long ago as 1946, and this piece (written in his youth, of his mentor) is a case in point. You can hear it using the musical tradition that of Tchaikovsky and carrying it forward to Rachmaninov’s own later film music; particularly its apotheosis, Brief Encounter.
As I like to opine at least once during every LBMC season, the future of ‘classical’* music is assured as long as young, talented folk like these three delight in investigating the intricacies of technique on their instruments; finding new synergies between instruments, composers and their works; and bringing this level of passion to the music they play.
LBMC’s next concert is on Saturday 8 November, at 7.30 (note the earlier time this year) when saxophonist Anthony Brown and pianist Leo Nicholson will give us an exciting programme of modern and jazz-informed music. LBMC aficionados will recall the most enjoyable concert given by Leo Nicholson last season, accompanying flautist Rosanna Ter-Berg.
* I never know what to call modern ‘classical’ music. Obviously there is nothing remotely ‘classical’ about it – it’s new! It’s just a musical genre. So ‘classical’ is a clumsy way to describe something that may only have been written this year. To call it serious music is way too po-faced. To call it modern music doesn’t nail it down accurately enough (there is so much popular music around which also merits that soubriquet). So anyone who has a good idea as to what we should call it– let me know. Please!