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|Sunday 22nd April 2018
Piers Lane piano
Scarlatti: Short Sonata in B minor (Longon No. 33)
Scarlatti: Short Sonata in G major (Longon No. 347)
Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major, Bk. 1, No. 3
Bach: Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor, Bk. 1, No. 22
Beethoven: Sonata No.23 in F minor for Piano, Op.57 'Appassionata'
Chopin: Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op.27 No.1
Chopin: Nocturne in Db major Op.27 No.2
Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op. 22
The journey began with a sonata by Scarlatti, a limpid, flowing, returning melody followed by a second sonata where the fingers danced across the keys. Two Preludes and Fugues from Bach’s 48 were next, the rich contrapuntal textures seeming to hold the passionate intensity in check.
They themselves were a prelude to Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata. Those first, almost silent, fateful notes that grow and grow until they become surging waves of tempestuous sound, waves of sound that Beethoven knew, with the onset of his deafness, he would be able to hear no more, no matter how loud and powerful and deafening they were. And then the Andante con Moto, holding on to a stillness, a restless, disturbed peace, before the Allegro and Presto when everything seemed as though it would be overwhelmed in sound before the final tragic chords.
And Chopin, two Nocturnes, Opus 27, one, anguished, longing, sadly lovely, and the other with a melody as opalescent as moonlight on the water.
And then Rachmaninov, his Variations on a Theme of Chopin. The theme was the Prelude in C minor with its heavy resonant chords so redolent with meaning. The twenty-two variations explored the implications of those opening chords, brilliant, tragic, dramatic, lyrical, poignant by turns as though we journeyed through all the possibilities of music from Scarlatti and Bach through Beethoven and Chopin to arrive at this constantly inventive outpouring of emotion. Then, finally, we returned to those wonderful chords of Chopin’s Prelude, now, impossibly, richer and more resonant than they had been at first.
And the man who took us on this journey? Piers Lane, a great keyboard virtuoso – nothing seemed to escape his dazzling fingers – but also, and more importantly, a supreme master of the emotional architecture of music.
Review by Steve Matthews
|Sunday 25th March 2018
Fitzwilliam String Quartet
Lucy Russell violin, Marcus Barcham Stevens violin
Alan George viola, Sally Pendlebury cello
Purcell: Fantazia No. 7, Z.738
Marcus Barcham Stevens (their violin player):
Double on Purcell’s Fantazia No.7 (2015)
Fantasia On One Note (2016)
Praetorius: Chorale: Es Ist Ein Ros’ Enstsprungen
Brahms: Chorale Prelude: Es Ist Ein Ros’ Enstsprungen, Op.122/8 (Arr Ron Mustchin)
Beethoven: Quartet in F minor Op. 95
Schubert: Quartet No. 14 in D minor, Death and the Maiden
A very special occasion took place on Sunday evening at the Theatre by the Lake. The Keswick Music Society celebrated its 70th anniversary with a concert given appropriately by the Fitzwilliam String Quartet. They are frequent performers in the town as one of the founder members at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge almost 50 years ago was violinist Jonathan Sparey who attended Keswick School and whose parents Leslie and Joan were founders of the Music Society.
The large and appreciative audience was treated to an exciting and uplifting performance of two of the great works from the String Quartet repertoire, by Beethoven and Schubert. Before this we heard the dramatic and expressive Fantazia no.7 by Purcell, composed when he was only 20, but showing absolute mastery of complex technical devices. It led seamlessly into a Fantasia in similar style composed by the Fitzwilliam's current second violinist Marcus Barcham Stevens. The chromaticism and unusual harmonies made for deep expressiveness and drama. A Fantasia on one note after Purcell also by Marcus Barcham Stevens completed the set.
The pieces were beautifully played, with purity of tone and clarity of texture. Limited use of vibrato meant that the individual strands were easily heard, but there was no lack of romantic expressiveness and drama.
An Organ Choral Prelude by Brahms followed in an arrangement by Ron Mustchin, who was formerly Jonathan Sparey's teacher at Keswick School. This was affectingly played with lyricism and tenderness by all of the performers.
Beethoven's Quartet in F minor Op.95 concluded the first half of the programme. This work from the composer's 'Middle Period' in many ways foreshadows the late quartets despite its conciseness of form. The dramatic opening was startling and powerful with complete unity of attack and precision followed by moments of tenderness.
The intimacy of the second movement was magical with the interweaving lines of the chromatic fugue building to an intense climax before suddenly racing into the third movement. Here the jagged rhythms were brilliantly executed with the players in complete unity. The quartet ended with virtuosic and breathtaking speed.
The final work of the evening was Schubert's Quartet D810 'Death and the Maiden'. This work contrasts deep melancholy and despair in the face of death with tender consolation. In this most moving performance the players displayed a huge range of expressiveness and drama. With contrasts between powerful orchestral sonorities and whispering hushed playing, between sweeping rich phrases with delicate filigree accompaniments and jagged accented passages, this was an exhilarating experience . The second movement theme was exquisitely played with soft reverence, the phrases expressively rising and falling. The first violin accompaniment passages above the theme were delicately executed with a sweet tone. In the Scherzo the rhythms were angry and insistent whilst the Trio passage was full of tender yearning. The Final movement like a dance of death was breathtaking as it raced to its terrifying end.
The breadth and expressive range of the Fitzwilliam Quartet as an ensemble as well as the individual artistry of all four players is outstanding, and we were very privileged to experience such an evening.
In recognition of the Keswick Music Society’s 70th anniversary, Jonathan Sparey and his sister Carolyn also a distinguished viola player, cut a celebratory cake after the concert, with members of the Music Society and audience.
Review by Sue Johnson
|Sunday 11th February 2018
Jess Gillam saxophone
Jonathan Fisher piano
Pedro Iturralde: Pequena Czarda
Bela Bartok: Three Hungarian Folksongs from Csik
Jeremy Wall: Elegy for Trane
Chick Corea Arr. John Harle: Selection from "Children's Songs"
Peter DeRose arr. Rudy Wiedoeft: Deep Purple
John Williams: Escapades
Claude Debussy: Syrinx
Maurice Ravel: Piece en forme de Haberna
Darius Milhaud: Scaramouche: Brazileira
Dave Heath: The Celtic
Michael Nyman: 'If' from 'The Diary of Anne Frank'
Rudy Wiedeoft: Valse Vanite
Phil Woods: Sonata For Alto Sax And Piano (First Movement)
There aren't enough superlatives to describe Jess' performance on Sunday evening. The mixed and varied programme allowed her to display the different timbres of which the saxophone is capable. Prior to the recital, Jess explained the origins of the saxophone in the 1840s, first in military bands, then subsequently adopted by jazz musicians. Being such a newcomer, it does not have the repertoire of the other old established woodwind instruments, therefore much of the music she played comprised of arrangements and compositions by 20th and 21st Century composers.
The concert opened with an original piece for saxophone by the Spanish saxophonist and composer, Iturralde. Jess was able to demonstrate vibrato and slow, sustained styles in addition to smooth and well controlled running passage. Continuing the Hungarian folk theme was Bartok's transcription of three songs from Csik. The next piece was an elegy for the famous saxophonist, John Coltrane. This gave Jess an opportunity to change the mood to melancholy, displaying great control of tone and dynamics. The tune Deep Purple followed. A well known jazz standard of the 1920s, it has been made popular by many artists, including the Osmonds. Jess swapped her favourite Soprano Sax for the Alto to give an impeccable rendering. Concluding the first half was music from the Speilburg film, Catch Me if you Can (John Williams). In the second movement gave Jess showed her capabilities during the cadenza passages, her fingers seeming to glide flawlessly over the keys.
In the second half, it was a treat to let the atmospheric off stage playing of Debussy's Syrinx flow over us and concentrate solely on Jess' playing without her on stage exuberance. Well known pieces, Ravel's Habanera and Milhaud's Braziliera followed, again played with polish and feeling. The Celtic by Dave Heath, captured the style of Scottish bagpipes, which Jess portrayed convincingly. The tempo change again with the song If, from the animated film about Anne Frank; suffice it to say that it was an emotive piece. A ragtime waltz with a lyrical melody, followed by the first movement of Phil Woods' Sonata for Alto saxophone concluded the concert, again combining the elements of traditional and jazz music. There were times when the audience was so spellbound, you could hear a pin drop; a reflection on Jess' ability and personality.
The pianist, Jonathan Fisher, also needs a huge 'Thank you'. His sympathetic and unobtrusive accompaniments enhanced the whole concert. Accompanists of such calibre are rare to find. The virtuoso finger clicks were brilliant!
Jess displays a maturity and work ethic beyond her years, obviously having her feet planted securely on the ground. In spite of her slight frame, she is capable of producing a full, big sound as well as the controlled quietness required in several of the pieces. Her tuning and control were secure, no matter in which register of the instrument she played.
Jess is convinced that learning a musical instrument is a powerful way of expressing who we are and she aims to expose as many children as possible to the saxophone and its repertoire. It was gratifying to see so many youngsters in the audience; hopefully they have been inspired to make playing an instrument part of their lives.
Review by Norma Bagot
|Sunday 7th January 2018
Oliver Wass harp
Henry Roberts flute
Bach: Flute Sonata in C major
Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits
Telemann: Fantasy for solo flute
Debussy: Syrinx (solo flute)
De Falla: Spanish Dance no. 1 (solo harp)
Bartok: Selection from the Suite Paysanne Hongroise
Chopin: Variations on a theme of Rossini
Piazzola: Histoire du Tango
Those people who braved the cold, icy weather to attend Keswick Music Society’s concert on Sunday were rewarded with a delightful, well-programmed and beautifully performed concert. Oliver Wass (harp) and Henry Roberts (flute) may be young but they showed great maturity in their ensemble playing and in the balance of their programme.
They opened with the J. S. Bach Flute Sonata in C major which provides the flute with a continuous melodic line and very few rests. It demands very controlled playing and the ability to shape the music. After a slightly nervous start, Henry Roberts provided an understated, beautiful rendition of the sonata playing with controlled vibrato and expressive dynamics. Oliver Wass’s accompaniment immediately showed him to be sympathetic and understanding of the music. His muffling of the lower notes of the harp maintained a good dynamic balance with the flute in this gentle piece and that balance continued through their performance of Gluck’s ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’
The solo items which followed highlighted the players’ ability to take the notes and turn them into an emotional music experience. It is one thing to read the notes & play them technically; it is another thing to create emotions and take the audience with you through a story. In Debussy’s ‘Syrinx’, Henry Roberts played with a pure sound across all of the registers using pauses and dynamic changes to create a wonderful, imaginative scene. The audience hung on the sound especially as the final notes died away to nothing. By contrast, Oliver Wass gave a lively performance of De Falla’s ‘Spanish Dance no. 1’. He mastered the pedals of the harp, making it look effortless and created dynamic contrasts which are not easy to obtain from the instrument.
The second half started with Bartok’s ‘Suite Paysanne Hongroise’ which was full of folk rhythms, challenging whilst sounding simple. Whilst introducing the next piece, Chopin’s ‘Variations on a theme of Rossini’, Henry Roberts joked about this being the ‘harps revenge’. The flute part grows steadily faster with rapid downward arpeggios in the third movement and staccato arpeggios in the fourth. Throughout, the harp maintains a simple oom-pah accompaniment which gives a basic harmonic support. Both players looked like they were enjoying the charm of the piece. The concert ended with Piazzola’s ‘Histoire du Tango’ which allowed Oliver Wass to demonstrate his talents as a percussionist, beating out rhythms on the casing of the harp. There was a great variety of moods swinging from strong, rhythmical to slow, calm moments. The second movement in particular showcased some beautiful, soft harp playing. It was an exciting piece to end the concert.
Thanks have to go the Countess of Munster Trust who sponsored this concert and provide support to countless young musicians. They have found two stars in Oliver Wass and Henry Roberts.
Review by Angela Turner
|Sunday 10th December 2017 7.30pm
John Tomlinson bass
Christopher Glynn piano
Wagner: Wotan’s Journey - all of Wotan’s monologues from the Ring
Schubert was 32. He was dying from syphilis. In his Schwanengesang, his Swansong, he sang of love and death. John Tomlinson, with flowing white hair and a white beard, is forty years older. He sang of love and death, but the wonderful bass voice and the feeling and the vision were not those of a young man. He strode around the stage, embodying the music, the rustling trees, the towering cliffs. His voice was tender, muted but not lyrical when he sang of love’s yearning in the serenade (Standchen). His voice was dark and deep and resonant as he sang of woe and despair in Resting Place, In the Distance, and especially, Atlas. His heroic voice seems made for the overwhelming desolation of this song. It quavered on the moment of darkest despair. In The Town as he is rowed through the mists towards a lost love – Christopher Glynn’s piano picturing the pale, eerie sun, as it so deftly painted the atmosphere throughout the cycle – the singer might have been moving over the waters to his own death. And in that most disturbing of all Schubert songs, as he gazes at the deserted house of one he loved and sees only his ghostly self in the pallid moonlight, there was a feeling of unearthly unease.
Sir John became these songs. He was not, like Franz Schubert, a young man with a life’s passion unsatisfied, facing a tragic death, but an old man, freighted by despair, who had known a life’s passion.
After the interval Sir John came on stage. That voice which seemed to quaver with despair as he sang Atlas, was, in fact, struggling. He could not take on the demanding role of Wotan as he sang excerpts from Wagner’s Ring Cycle. His heroic cloak remained draped over the back of his chair, voiceless and lifeless. It was a sad end to what had been, despite the problems, a moving performance.
Review by Steve Matthews
|Sunday 12th November 2017 7.30pm
Adam Barnett-Hart, Danbi Um violins
Pierre Laponte viola, Brook Speltz cello
Mozart: String Quartet in A Major K464
Barber: String Quartet
Grieg: 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
Patrick 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
R.Strauss: Horn Concerto No.1
Beethoven: 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