Posts Tagged ‘Leighton Buzzard Music Club’

Apollo5: ‘With a Song in my Heart’

March 15, 2015

What fun we had on the last day of January in St Barnabas church, despite the cold outside. The easiest musical gift to share is the voice – and it is also the most portable. Many more people use their voices to sing than might consider playing a physical, musical instrument. Thus it was no surprise to see the church well-filled, and local singers besides myself sitting, wrapt (in more ways than one) in the audience. Several spoke warmly, during the interval, of the songs we enjoyed.  For this concert LBMC moved to the acoustically-warm (if otherwise chilly) St Barnabas’ Church in Linslade. This, and a little subtle amplification, enabled Apollo5 to fill the church with melodies. The group brought their programme ‘With a Song in my Heart’ – a mix of sacred choral music, spirituals, traditional melodies, jazz standards and pop songs. Nobody except the performers was brave enough to remove a coat, I noticed. But with a generous sprinkling of toe-tapping numbers such as The Andrews Sisters’ ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and Duke Ellington’s ‘Java Jive’, we survived quite happily.

I enjoyed the Spirituals they sang, but their English folk songs were perhaps the strongest aspect of their repertoire, with ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ the standout song for me. Apollo5 are nothing if not versatile; they moved between ‘contemporary’ songs and church music, from a Monteverdi madrigal to songs from musicals. It was a particular pleasure to hear ‘The Call’ from Vaughn Williams’ Five Mystical Songs. Choosing and arranging their material for their slightly unusual forces is a big part of their success.

Apollo5 is part of the charitable foundation Voces Cantabiles Music, they are also Ensemble in Residence with Surrey Arts, and have worked with Red Balloon Learner Centres.

http://www.apollo5.moonfruit.com/

http://greshamcentre.com/

Musical gems at Leighton Library on Saturday 29th November 2014

March 9, 2015

The Manor House String Quartet is a shifting combination of very fine classical string players organised by and around Vaughan Jones, their principal violin. The members all have other commitments with orchestras etc, and come together to play chamber music in concerts, for weddings and other occasions They enjoy unearthing unusual repertoire. The music they played for us certainly proved what a fruitful and enjoyable activity delving into the archives can be. Mr Jones specifically mentioned the Merton music library (which is continually adding to its founder’s collection of little-played scores discovered in unlikely places). I give the URL here, as I know that many people locally are interested in music-making: http://www.ourtext.co.uk/acatalog/Merton_reprints.html

After a very few bars it was obvious this was going to be a lush evening. They began with an early string quartet by Beethoven (Op 18, no 5) and followed this with one by Beethoven’s secretary, copyist and friend, Ferdinand Ries. This was inspired programming as one could hear how Ries had brought in elements of his friend’s style while still producing something that was much more than a copy of Beethoven. It was melodic, sunny, robust – and so little heard that the quartet played from photocopies of scores hand-written by the composer. As Mr Jones pointed out, Beethoven was such a giant of his time that he pushed many perfectly tuneful composers out of the limelight. How delightful to be introduced to one such by these talented and knowledgeable musicians.

The second half was given over to Schubert’s luscious and deservedly well-known “Rosamunde” quartet (D804). Poor Schubert did not write happy music – but if you want intense, yearning, soulful and wistful he’s your go-to guy. A beautifully measured end to an extremely pleasurable evening.

Celebrating the birth of the saxophone

March 4, 2015

Last Saturday Leighton Buzzard Music Club hosted another in their excellent series of classical concerts by upcoming musicians with Anthony Brown playing saxophone accompanied by Leo Nicholson playing piano. Readers may remember Leo Nicholson visited Leighton last year with flautist Rosanna Ter-Berg, which was a delightful concert. This time he accompanied a different performer, again to captivating effect.

Not much music is (even now) written for the saxophone, so Mr Brown has to seek repertoire, which leads him down less trodden footpaths of music creation. This truffling produced a concert which was an engaging and eclectic mixture of short pieces, mainly French and English and mainly twentieth century.

In order, we enjoyed: ‘Michelangelo ‘70’ by Astor Piazzolla (arr. Brown), this had a Big Band feel, edgy and plummy by turns on the sax; ‘And everything is still … ’ (2010) by Andy Scott, a simple air returning in increasingly energetic and decorated variations;  ‘Three Preludes’ (1926) by George Gershwin, quintessentially Jazz Age; ‘Histoires’ (1922) by Jacques Ibert; ‘Gentle dreams’ (1987) by Dave Heath, a lullaby with hints of a Celtic feel and of Coltrane; ‘Tableaux de Provence’ (1948-55) by Paule Maurice, a piece written for the saxophone included to celebrate Adolphe Sax’s centenary; ‘Two elegies framing a shout’ (1994) by Mark-Anthony Turnage, angular, with a little dirty sax; ‘Glass’ (1998) by Graham Fitkin, the sax runs a gentle melody around the the piano; ‘Fantasie Op 89’ (1863) by Jean-Baptiste Singelée, cadenzas and trills galore; ‘After the tryst’ (1995) by James MacMillan, full of sea birds crying and winds soughing;  ‘Scaramouche’ (1937) by Darius Milhaud, opera bouffe and great fun; finally ‘Le lievre et la tortue’ (1957) by Pierre-Max Dubois; as encore they let rip with a little more Gershwin – ‘I got rhythm’.

Emily Mowbray and friends entertain Leighton Buzzard Music Club

November 2, 2014

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!

Aisa Ijiri plays Leighton Library theatre: strength in depth

September 25, 2014

On Saturday last, the 20th of September, Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s season of monthly classical concerts recommenced. These will continue now until next April: eight months of excellent recitals by up and coming young musicians selected by the club’s knowledgeable committee.

They always start the season with a bang, and this season was no exception: placing the talents of the exquisite Aisa Ijiri at the piano. Hers was a complete performance in every way: she played everything (except the short encore) without music, she provided the programme notes, and from the first notes she played she caught hold of the faithful Library theatre piano and wrung its neck. I have heard Alexander Ardakov play at the Library Theatre (he’s a firm favourite and has been more than once). He gives that resident piano such a pounding that its legs shake. Ms Ijiri was more restrained: the piano’s legs did not shake, but the sound she produced was comparable. There used to be a theory that women did not make good concert pianists because they didn’t have the physical strength. Whether or not you consider that that was always a load of bull, Ms Ijiri certainly gave the lie to it. She is tiny: she produces a huge, all-embracing, sound.

So, what did she play, I hear you ask. The first half of the programme was quintessential Liszt in all his lusciousness and with his trademark occasional daring not-quite-harmonies. She commenced with Liszt’s reworking of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor. We were given an early earnest of her skills during the fugues. This scintillating opening was followed by a little piece from the Impressionistic Années de Pèlerinage, Troisième Anné, written at and about the Villa D’Este outside Rome – at that time a home of Cardinal Hohenlohe. You may know that it is famous for its fountains. Liszt captured the rise and fall of the waters marvellously, and Ms Ijiri conveyed it to us in all its glory, to the last droplet, drawing for the listener the patterns made by the sudden release of pent up water. The music conjured wonderful waves of watery sound, reducing to silver trickles of great beauty. The final pieces of this set were The Petrarch Sonnets. Liszt arranged the original settings he wrote of these for various musical forces. Ms Ijiri thoughtfully gave the texts of the sonnets in the programme notes. Once I got over the oddness of the three pieces having lost, as it were, their words, the melodies took us quite demonstrably through three stages of the poet’s unrequited love for one Laura de Noves. Ms Ijiri developed the themes with grace, power and clarity. As may be imagined from such a non-relationship, there was quite a lot of anguish involved – as in the repeated angular note at the end of the 3rd sonnet – which Ms Ijiri conveyed to us, hovering over the bass notes of the piano like a hunting hawk.

Ms Ijiri second set began with Manuel de Falla – a favourite of mine. She gave us Fantasia Baetica. This was composed in 1919, long before de Falla’s self-imposed exile at the start of the Civil War. It celebrates southern Spain, Flamenco, the guitar music, the rhythms, the percussion, the clapping and stamping, with his customary esprit. It allowed Ms Ijiri to give her percussive style free rein. Bravo!

The final, and most substantial, piece in the programme was Prokoviev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ten pieces for Piano, being a reduction for solo piano, by the composer, of his own ballet. It was delightful to be reminded of the gorgeous melodies with which Romeo and Juliet is stuffed without the distraction of the dancing – or, indeed, having to take a couple of hours over it. They are quite lovely, from the initial, robust ‘Folk Dance’; the mouse-like scampering of ‘Young Juliet’; the processing of the haughty ‘Montagues and Capulets’; the gentle innocence of ‘Father Lorenzo’; the coarseness of ‘Mercutio’; the dissonant ‘Lily Dance of the Maidens’ turning the mood towards the final, dark ‘Farewell’. Finally we are vouchsafed a return of the lark-like theme of Romeo and Juliet’s love, for which we are yearning after the darkness. Ms Ijiri’s rendering was delicious.

She rewarded our enthusiastic applause with ‘Sakura’, a short piece by young composer Llywelyn Ap Myrddin. It depicts the joy of the Japanese during the week or so when the cherry trees bloom, and the weather forecasters chart the where and when of the best displays. She has played this on Radio 3. Hear it here if you missed the concert http://wwrecords.co.uk/portfolio/llywelyn-ap-myrddin-sakura/ It is so very good to hear ‘classical’ music of the this calibre being composed and played right NOW.

And here is a link to her website: http://www.aisaijiri.com/

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

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

The Kaznowski Quartet – Haydn, Elgar and Dvorak

February 25, 2014

Kaznowski String Quartet plays Leighton Library Theatre

The theatre was full on Saturday, 25th January 2014 to hear the Kaznowski Quartet’s recital. Usually Leighton Buzzard Music Club recruits up and coming musicians for its recitals. But this quartet are, resoundingly, already here. They are local musicians. And they are top quality.

The eponymous leader of the quartet is Jan Kaznowski, leader of the Milton Keynes and Cambridge Sinfonias amongst other musical endeavours. David Knight (‘cello) also conducts Milton Keynes Sinfonia and other orchestras TNTM. It was a pleasant change to see him from the front. I usually watch him from behind, putting MK Sinfonia through their paces.  Caroline Waters  (violin) plays chamber music and with orchestras. Martin Gough (viola) has a non-musical day job but is steeped in music – particularly Elgar – and its making.

They began with a seldom heard early Haydn quartet – the D Minor. One of his finest. I was immediately aware of the great balance between the players, the sweet rounded tone they produced and their nimbleness individually and as an ensemble. I overheard warm remarks about this piece in the bar during the interval. There followed Elgar’s ‘Quartet in E Minor’, part of his final blossoming. Hints of a modern angularity combine with his more familiar ‘heroic’ style. The quartet did full justice to both aspects.

The second half comprised Dvořák’s ‘Piano Quintet in A’. For this,  pianist Justin Waters joined the ensemble. He, too, has a non-musical day job, devoting his leisure hours to music.

Dvořák’s Quintet is one of the great Romantic chamber works, full of Czech fire. It wears its heart on its sleeve, beckoning one to enjoy the composer’s passions along with the players. We were suitably seduced.

Glorious chamber music is being produced and enjoyed in and around Leighton Buzzard. Long may it continue!

Judi Moore

 

 

 

 

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.