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Concert Reviews 2017 - 18
      John Tomlinson/ Escher Quartet /Patrick Hemmerle/ Royal Northern Sinfonia     
Sunday 10th December 2017  7.30pm

John Tomlinson  bass

Christopher Glynn piano


Wagner:  Wotan’s Journey - all of Wotan’s monologues from the Ring


Review coming shortly

Sunday 12th November 2017   7.30pm

Escher Quartet
Adam Barnett-Hart,  Danbi Um 
Pierre Laponte 
viola,  Brook Speltz  cello

Mozart:  String Quartet in A Major K464
String Quartet
String Quartet


The Escher Quartet have earned international acclaim since their formation in 2005 in New York. Their reputation rests on a distinctively resonant quartet sound, immaculate ensemble and real musical insight into their eclectic repertoire. All these qualities were on display throughout their fascinating programme for Keswick Music Society.

Mozart’s Quartet in A K.464 opened the concert with suave affection. The steady tempo adopted for the first movement allowed phrases to unfold naturally and gave time for the interplay of parts to be savoured. Quartet leader Adam Barnett-Hart set a constant example of refined tone production which was matched by the other players – a great foundation for any ensemble. The Minuet and Trio and the large-scale Variations received similar care and attention to detail while the finale was lively and humorous without breaking any speed records – a musically intelligent approach to Mozart .

Cellist Brook Speltz next introduced Samuel Barber’s String Quartet of 1936 and explained how Toscanini heard an early broadcast performance and persuaded the composer to arrange the central Adagio for string orchestra.   The rest is history with this version becoming one of the iconic pieces of the twentieth century – rolled out for every solemn national occasion, a wordless secular hymn to express mourning or deep contemplation.    So how would the quartet version compare? The amazing appeal of the piece owes much to its simple structure – from a hushed start of a single note it processes  for most of the movement with a rising theme of even notes played by each instrument in turn until a final intensive climax is reached. The effect is mesmeric; all passion is now spent and the music unwinds in a brief coda. The Escher Quartet made a deep impression with their flawless control of the extended melodic line – an intimate and personal testament by individual players but just as powerful a denouement as the more familiar orchestral zenith with all its extra manpower. The first  movement  opens with a vigorous unison statement propelled by anapaest rhythms and was despatched with abandon by the Escher players. It ends quietly in preparation for the Adagio but when the same material is used for the third movement Barber saves up a final Presto section to bring the work to its rousing end – excitement effortlessly stirred up by these fine players.

For the past 140 years the Grieg String Quartet has never really established itself in the repertoire and performances are few and far between so it was good to have the opportunity to hear an outstanding quartet show what they could do for the piece. The opening bars quote from Grieg’s song Fiddlers in a forthright manner and it reappears in the other movements in various guises. The boisterous Nordic themes of the first movement  often appear in double stops from all four players so it was fortunate that the quartet  could still retain some clarity in this dense writing   The middle two movements returned to the charm and humour associated with his popular theatre music.   The Romanze gave the cello a chance to shine with a melody of appealing sentiment – shared with the rest of the quartet and alternating with more agitated ideas and always performed with persuasive musicality. The Intermezzo is a Norwegian springdans which uses the same cross rhythms as the Czech furiant.. Rhythmic vitality and crisp articulation kept this music alive to the last note. The finale reintroduced the song motto theme before scampering off into a high octane saltarello. This was a brilliant end to the concert – secure in technique and energised, the Escher Quartet  finished in great style – a memorable evening of quartet music somewhat off the beaten track.                               

Review by John Upson

Sunday 22nd October 2017   7.30pm

Hemmerlé piano

Beethoven:  Diabelli Variations

Chopin: Etudes Op. 10


Those of us who were fortunate in hearing the young French pianist Patrick Hemmerlé’s recital last November looked forward to hearing him perform again and we were not disappointed. This unassuming young man has a phenomenal technique and a musicianship which gets to the heart of everything he plays. In his last recital he performed J.S.Bach’s “Goldberg” variations and Chopin’s second set of  “Etudes”  op.25. Last Sunday’s recital was almost a companion to his last one as Hemmerlé  gave us Chopin’s first set of “Etudes” Op.10 and Beethoven’s “33 variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli”. The Beethoven and the Bach are generally regarded as the greatest sets of variations for the keyboard.  Whilst Beethoven and Chopin are now regarded more as composers, in their lifetime they both achieved fame as virtuoso pianists, so their writing for that instrument makes considerable technical demands upon the performer. It is nothing short of astonishing to hear the complete “Diabelli” variations and the Op.10 “Etudes” in one concert with only a 20 minute interval between them.

Eminent writers and performers have described the “Diabelli” variations as "the greatest set of variations ever written", "the greatest of all piano works", "a microcosm of Beethoven's art", a work “almost without parallel” and “the most adventurous work by Beethoven". Many of our concert pianists have avoided including this work in their repertoire, partly, one suspects, that it last for 50 minutes without a break, so to hear such a brilliant live performance of this work is a rare privilege.  Hemmerlé skilfully empathized with the composer as he drew a portrait in music of Beethoven’s moods and character. Sometimes aggressive and gruff, sometimes romantic, sometimes introspective we observed his enjoyment of friends, his love of poking fun at people,  and finally his admiration of the music of Bach and Handel –some of the many different facets  displayed in this work.

Written only two years after the death of Beethoven in 1827 Chopin’s Op.10 “Etudes” broke new ground by giving the aspiring pianist works demanding a high level of musicianship and technical ability. Each of the twelve develop one aspect of a pianist’s technique, including arpeggios, chromatic scale, dynamic control,  arpeggios on black keys only and legato and staccato playing. What Hemmerlé managed to achieve through his effortless playing was to make the listener totally unaware of the technical difficulties as he brought out the inherent musical depth of each piece. The Op.10 contain two of Chopin’s most famous pieces, the third etude in E major with its ravishing melody and the tempestuous final etude known as the “Revolutionary”.
One cannot only be amazed at the technique of this young pianist, his stamina and his musical memory as he performed for over one and a half hours without music and without a stumble. Though, like all the audience I was in awe of his technical accomplishment, it was the moments of repose which stood out for me as Hemmerlé delicately controlled the piano creating a warmth of tone and beauty. The 24th Variation (Fughetta) in the Beethoven and the 3rd “Etude” by Chopin were quite sublime and I didn’t want them to end.
A tumultuous applause elicited an encore. After this punishing programme we might have expected Hemmerlé to play a gentle short work but instead he chose to play an etude based on the first of the Op.25 by Chopin by the little known Polish-American composer, Leopold Godowsky, bringing this memorable concert to a stirring conclusion.

Review by John Cooper Green
Sunday 24th September 2017   7.30pm

Royal Northern Sinfonia

Bradley Creswick  director/violin

Michael Gerrard  viola

Peter Francomb  horn

Mozart:  Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola in E flat K.364

  Horn Concerto No.1

  Symphony No.3 ‘Eroica’ 


In order to celebrate the opening of the Society’s 70th Season, members of the Society and others who were fortunate enough to be able to buy tickets for this sell-out concert, were treated to a spectacular display of musicianship by the Royal Northern Sinfonia on Sunday evening in the Theatre by the Lake.

It was a programme of threes: three major works by three much-loved composers, with all three compositions in the key of E flat major, with its key signature of three flats.

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, K.364, is one of his most celebrated pieces, instantly recognisable and familiar to music lovers the world over, from the opening bar onwards. The outer movements are cheerful, buoyant compositions, played with great freshness, vitality and energy by this talented orchestra. The second movement, a profound dialogue between the soloists (Bradley Creswick, leader of the orchestra and violin soloist) and Michael Gerrard (viola solist) and the rest of the players, was exquisite. The soloists’ interplay of melodies floated above the strings and wind instruments and it seemed entirely appropriate that the lighting was noticeably dimmed for this movement, in the darker key of C minor, filled with lusciously expressive writing.

We were then transported to the later part of the 19th Century with a fine performance of Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto in E flat, with its larger orchestral forces, written when the composer was 19 years old in 1883. The very demanding horn solo was played by Peter Francomb, with great presence and panache, ranging from highly extrovert in the outer movements to smooth and sonorous in the middle movement.

After the interval, the audience was treated to a dazzling performance of Beethoven’s third Symphony, the Eroica, which was played with exemplary freshness, energy and vigour. The interplay between soloists within the orchestra and small groups of instruments was superb and there were outstanding moments of great beauty as well as great dramatic intensity. The second movement (the well known funeral march) contrasted extremely effectively with the three extrovert outer movements – the exuberant ‘Allegro molto’ brought the concert to a joyous conclusion and a fitting climax to a superb evening of music.

The Keswick Music Society was enabled to bring this tremendous concert to Keswick with the generous support of Orchestras Live who have helped to fund its live orchestral concerts for many years, and the much appreciated contribution of United Utilities who are working in Keswick and have very kindly offered to help this local organisation.

Review by Mike Town                                                                                                                                               

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