4th Concert – Charlotte Spruitt, violin, and Angus Webster, piano, St.John’s Church

Keswick Music Society Concert 24th February 2024: Review

Last Saturday Keswick Music Society treated its audience to another outstanding musical evening at St. John’s Church. The Society’s previous concert featured the distinguished and much-loved pianist Dame Imogen Cooper. This time it was two youthful musicians who are building their careers and reputations: Charlotte Spruit, a Dutch violinist and Angus Webster, a British pianist, who for good measure doubles up as an opera conductor and also plays the viola. They did not disappoint.

Their choice of four violin sonatas gave us a rare insight into the state of the composer’s art in this genre from the late 18th century to the early 20th, with works by Mozart, César Franck, Debussy and Janáček, although not in that order. The evening opened with Debussy’s G Minor Sonata, L140. Composed in 1917 towards the end of Debussy’s life, this mature and serene work enabled Ms Spruit to show us marvellous purity of tone, impeccable intonation and great interpretive sensitivity, while Mr. Webster’s brilliant and profoundly sympathetic playing provided an object lesson in achieving the instrumental ensemble that Debussy was striving for. This was followed by Mozart’s E Flat Major sonata, K 380, a relatively early work of contrasting moods and styles which requires both players to display virtuoso qualities as well as the ability to handle with confidence the many changes of key and tempo. They did so admirably, with some particularly fast passages on the piano being executed flawlessly.

The second half of this impressive violin and piano recital again consisted two sonatas, by Janáček and Franck, demanding works that again put these two young artists on their mettle.

            The sonata by Janáček is rarely heard, but seemed particularly appropriate at the present time, since it was conceived as a response to the invasion of Hungary by Russian forces in 1914. This dramatic work was brought to life most effectively by the young musicians in a performance full of contrasts. They play well together, with an alert interplay of interest and a good sense of balance. In the four movements the unusual melodic and harmonic features were always at the service of musical expression, from some quiet, lyrical moments to bold and colourful features.

            Franck’s violin sonata is a well-loved work in the repertoire and has also been arranged for cello. The almost vocal writing at times was given free play in this expansive performance, with warm tone throughout the long phrases, and some nimble piano playing especially in the energetic second movement and the famously canonic finale. As one might expect, Franck’s music was well suited to the sympathetic acoustics at St John’s church, and the substantial audience responded enthusiastically to this performance, so much so that we were rewarded with a delightful miniature by Lili Boulanger, as an encore.

The next concert in the series will be given by the Pirasti Piano Trio at St. John’s Church on Saturday April 13th and will include a Brahms Trio, music by Rebecca Clarke and the intriguingly named Café Music by Paul Schoenfield. Tickets are available from Theatre by the Lake, Bookends and at the church door.

Ian Hare and Roger Cooke