Monday, 28 February 2011

Classical Journey Tuesday 1 March

No 'Journey' as such this week.  Only time for a few extracts to illustrate the wonderful fortnight of music we have had since the last 'Classical Journey'.  Starting with the gorgeous recital of soprano Alison Burnett with piano by Nicky Perry (see previous post) we have enjoyed Devon Baroque's 'Europe in Transition' at St James' in Exeter, Oldway Mansion and Dartington Great Hall, a stunning piano duet recital by the Musical Director of the Exeter Bach Society, Nicholas Marshall with his close and astoundingly talented friend, Roger Fordham, the Divertimento Ensemble in the staggeringly beautiful setting of the James Wyatt music room at Powderham Castle and, to cap it all, a benefit night of opulent proportions put on by Hamish and Muffet Monro at Blundell's School in Tiverton, featuring the Exeter Symphony Orchestra, the City of Exeter Pipe Band, Michael Mates MP in comic revie mode, and the wonderful and glamorous violinist, Tasmin Little. - the last in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund (aka ABF, The Soldiers' Charity) - great music and a great cause.

Devon Baroque: Europe in Transition
Sebastian Comberti plays perfect 'cello with Devon Baroque
L-R Linda Hannah-Anderson, Emelia Benjamin
Margaret Faultless, Steve Glead,
Sebastian Comberti Jan Spencer, Oliver Sandig
Last weekend there were three opportunities to hear and see the magnificent Devon Baroque ensemble play music from the transitional period between the 'baroque' (1600-1750) and 'classical' (1750-1820).  Renowned international 'cellist, Sebastian Comberti, joined a trimmed down ensemble for a series of beautiful pieces by late baroque/early classical composers, William Boyce, W. A. Mozart, Luigi Boccherini, and Joseph Haydn.
The opening symphony by Boyce (No 4) brought Sebastian Comberti to the forefront immediately.  The ensemble was reduced in size compared to their previous concert series ('Les Goûts Réuinis').  There were no other 'cellists (no Reinmar Seidler, or Jonathan Rees) and violone player Jan Spencer played his part very delicately.  As a result, thhe sound of Sebastian's 'cello broke through immediately against the very gentle and perfectly coordinated violin sound.
For Mozart's Divertimento in B lfat (K. 137) Jan dropped out completely allowing Sebastian to provide the continuo with a very light touch.  With such a soft combination every accent from the violins (led of course by Margaret Faultless) was a delight.  In the Allegro Molto the 'cello tremolo was fast but still gentle alternating with single notes.  Sharon Lindo, leader of the second fiddles (all four of them) stood statuesque, waiting for the moment when the full sound was introduced for full effect.  The Allegro Assai (very lively) introduced a jerky element, with sweet short notes from the first fiddles, to finish the piece.
Jan relaxed further during Boccherini's 'Cello Concerto No 7.  Sebastian played a series of enchanting solos, his fingers dancing on the fretboard.  The violins stayed soft as he played a very accurately right up to the highest position.  The Adagio, with even Steve Glead's violin taking a break, and the violins reduced to a whisper, allowed to Sebastian to take the audience on a journey of pure auditory pleasure ending in a magical ending on the open string, and an audible sigh of satisfaction from the audience.  Jan joined Sebastian in the final Allegro in a combination which was perfectly balanced.  The 'cello, initially low and slow, sped to a high harmonic trill at the end which some likened to the sound of a flute..
The leader of the ensemble, Margaret Faultless, is a soloist in her own right and the first piece after the interval (during which people took the opportunity to explore the beautiful ground of Dartington) was Haydn's Violin Concerto No 1.  Supported by both Sebastian Comberti's 'cello and Jan Spencer's Violone, Margaret performed beautifully, with the violins and violas in perfect harmony despite their leader's attention being otherwise engaged.  After an allegro which ended gently with a soft passage from the violone, the adagio built perfectly with delightful pizzicato accompaniment to Margaret's solo.  The presto involved an interesting collaboration between Margaret and Jan on his violone - drawing a beaming smile from Margaret at the satisfying sound they were producing.
A bouquet for the leader
Margaret Faultless
The final piece of Mozart, Divertimento in D (K. 136) involved very fast and precise playing by Sebastian Comberti repeated by the other players.  Steve Glead and Emilia Benjamin playing viola got their chance to show their virtuosity in a few solo sections.  Sebastian himself performed a splendid pizzicato section, which was repeated later.  For the audience at Dartington there was an extra treat - as the opening allegro came to its abrupt end the ensuing silence was broken by the piercing whistle of the steam train pulling into Churston station on its way to Kingswear - at precisely 4.34pm.  The following andante was soft and dreamy and so gentle, right up to the the last drawn out note.  The presto finished the concert with big fun.  Sebastian Comberti was teh centre of attention, but there were also opening sections for Sharon Lindo who also worked in lovely duet with Margaret Faultless.
The final concert in the series, at Dartington Great Hall, was as atmospheric and moving as ever.  a packed house basked in the delightful sound of a small and perfectly co-ordinated ensemble, and two very special soloists, Margaret Faultless and Sebastian Comberti.
The next 'Devon Baroque' concert series will be at the end of June, over four days, starting in Plymouth and moveing to Barnstaple, Exeter and finally St Mary's Church in Totnes for the Sunday afternoon concert.  'Towards Bach' will involve plenty of music by J S Bach but also Nicholas Bruhns, Johann Rösenmuller and Jean Sigismond Kusser.  Watch this space for further details.

Piano Duet: Nicholas Marshall and Roger Fordham
Piano twosome
Roger Fordham and Nicholas Marshall
The following Wednesday (23 Feb) Nicholas Marshall and Roger Fordham give a free recital at Glenorchy.  Nicholas is a well known figure as the Musical Director of the Exeter Bach Society.  He is also a very talented pianist.  He was joined on Wednesday by a quite remarkable musician, Roger Fordham from Torbay, who has developed an impressive repertoire of piano pieces which he plays with consummate skill - despite having been blind from birth.  Not only did Roger play treble and bass parts in separate pieces, he also played a beautiful solo piece as well - all by ear of course.  He also proved an entertaining raconteur, giving several of the introductions, despite not being able to see the audience - and initially facing the wrong way.  Roger also agreed to be photographed with Nicholas, but clearly this must be an unrewarding chore - and a rather incomprehensible project - when the end result involves a sense he has never known.  But one sense he and Nicholas clearly do know and share - hearing and music.  A wonderful recital.  The full programme was:
Mozart: Sonata in c K.521.  Roger played treble, Nicholas bass.  Opening with a lively allegro, very complicated but crisply played all the way to its breathless finish.  A thoughtful andante leading to a hugely complicated allegretto - all played from memory by Roger.
Schubert: Impromtu in F minor D.935.  Roger played this as a solo, warning that the crossing over of the hands might 'confuse his brain'.  Roger played with a very firm touch becoming more and more vigorous.  The softer passages, coming at intervals, made a delightful contrast.  The 'hand crossing', when it came, involved a steady rhythm in the right hand with the left playing alternately above and below.  Roger did seem uncertain at times, but managed to stay in control, delivering two little stories in instalments, one in the treble one in the bass.
Debussy: Petite Suite.  Nicholas and Roger changed places, Roger taking the bass.  These four duets were composed and performed by Debussy to promote his orchestral works - and make more money.  By his own admission, Debussy was very nervous before playing them in public.  Nicholas and Roger may have been nervous, but they didn't show it.  'En Bateau' was simple and playful, with a gentle rolling bass.  'Cortège' was much more frenzied, amazing and amusing, finishing with a bang.  'Menuet' was light and soft.  'Ballet' was once more tempestuous but with serene moments of calm.
Nicholas Marshall is also the Musical Director of the Exeter Bach Society with regular conducting engagements.  Apart from the Bach Cantata service at the Cathedral this weekend, Nicholas is also preparing the Bach Society for a performance of Bach's Mass in B minor at St David's Church Exeter on Saturday 2 April.  Guildhall student Clement Hetherington will return as tenor with three other new faces in the other parts, soprano Raphaela Papadakis, mezzo-soprano Cátia Moreso and bass Ben McAlteer.  Roger Fordham, who lives in Torbay, made quite a journey to be with us, for which many thanks.  Roger also plays regularly at the Budleigh Festival (which starts on Saturday 16 July this year, full details to be arranged).

"Powderham Castle 1769 Organ Restoration Project"
The Bryce Seede Organ
That title may sound a mouthful but, under the inspired guidance of Professor George Pratt, the trustees of the restoration fund have been endeavouring over the past year to raise funds to restore the early classical  Brice Seede organ in the James Wyatt Room at Powderham Castle.  In his own words, when George first encountered to organ at Powderham he fell in love, and is determined to see it restored to its former glory.  Two independent surveys found the survival of such a rare organ to be of  the 'utmost historical importance'.  The initial estimate for restoration and conservation of the organ was £35,000.  By July last year, through appeals and benefit concerts - involving the organ itself in the James Wyatt Music Room, £3,700 had been raised - just over 10% of the amount required.  By the end on the year the figure had reached roughly £12,000 - a good third.  But then the collapse of markets and the increase in VAT (which affects the conservation of priceless instruments too, by the way) meant that the estimated cost started to increase faster than money could be raised.
Neverthelsess efforts continued, including the wonderful concert on Friday evening last week.  The Divertimento Ensemble led by Brenda Willoughby accompanied George playing his beloved organ (restored to playable, but by no means original, condition by Michael Farley of Budleigh Salterton in 2009).  Voices were supplied by Josie Walledge, soprano, and Laurence Blyth, countertenor, for two magnificent baroque vocal works by Giovanni Pergolesi.  Josie Performed the Salve Regina (Holy Queen) as a solo soprano piece and filled the room with her sweet angelic voice.
Professor George Pratt at the console
This was no ordinary room, of course.  The James Wyatt Music Room itself is an absolutely ravishing baroque survival of which the organ is only a part.  The Ninth Earl of Devon, and Third Viscount of Powderham, William Courtenay, engaged the architect James Wyatt to design the flamboyant music room  to house the organ - which was commissioned shortly after he was born.
Laurence joined Josie for the familiar 'Stabat Mater'.  Familiar, but now wonderfully embellished by the opulent surrounding and the magnificent sound of the Bryce Seede Organ.  Laurence gave a very stirring performance and was clearly communicating well with Josie.  At the interval he disappeared.  He had been feeling very unwell - not that anyone would have known from his impressive singing.
During that interval some very exciting news was revealed.  Simon Fishwick, the Powderham Estate Director, addressed the audience to announce that - after George's colleague, Adrian Huxham of the Huxham Charitable Trust, had approached perhaps one hundred possible sponsors - a sponsor has agreed to provide funding to make up the amount raised to date to whatever the cost of restoration for the Bryce Seede organ!  Furthermore the current (18th) Earl of Devon, Hugh Courtenay, has appointed Professor George Pratt as 'Honorary Kapellmeister' of Powderham.  George, who had been playing, and conducting, with his back to the audience, turned and received this unexpected and welcome news with his face wreathed in smiles.
However, benefit concerts will continue.  The restoration of the organ will be brought forward and concert proceeds will go towards its maintenance and the extension of the musical work of Powderham.  The next concert is certainly not to be missed.  On Friday 6 May the world acclaimed flautist Judith Hall from Bovey Tracey will be at Powderham to perform Max Reger's 1904 Serenade for Flute and Sir Andrzej Panufnik's 'vocalese' music transcribed for flute and orchestra.  Further details on this site.
But Friday night's entertainment was still only half finished.  After a leisurely intermission drinking wine in the sumptuous oak-panelled rooms of the castle, the audience were treated to two glorious works by the 'Red Priest' himself, Antonio Vivaldi.  First George played the Sinfonia al Santo Sepulcro (The Holy Sepulchre) demonstrating the fine timbre of the Bryce Seede Organ, and concealing as much as possible the 'white knuckle ride' of uncertainty about which notes would actually sound.  Then, as a 'first' for Powderham, Vivaldi's Gloria Mass was performed as the composer initially intended - with only female voices.  (Vivaldi composed music for the inmates of the 'Ospedale della Pietà', Venice orphanage for girls.)  Josie was joined by the imposing figure of Juliet Curnow singing alto.  (See post 11 February for details of Juliet's mezzo-soprano performance of the Nelson Mass and Duruflé Requiem under the direction of - Laurence Blyth!)  Antonia Brook sang the tenor voice while Jenny Broom sang a transposed bass part.  George was not sure whether this combination would work - the voices would be 'upside down' - but the resulting sound was magnificent.  Everyone left in an an exultant mood - especially knowing that the unique Brice Seede organ would be restored and preserved for posterity.
(The concert posting that was here about the 'Messiah' was an error - that concert was last year!)

Tasmin Little - A Special Performance at Blundell's School

Exeter Symphony Orchestra
take the stage
On Saturday night there was another very special benefit concert.  This time proceeds were to go to the Army Benevolent Fund (now called, simply, ABF - the Soldiers' Charity).  To raise money to help British soldiers who have been injured or fallen on hard times as a result of their service to the county, Hamish and Muffet Munro had, almost single-handedly, brought together a wonderful line-up of musical talent.
The setting was Blundell's School in Tiverton a wonderful, traditional public school with imposing gothic buildings.  However, the concert was not in the main school building but in the new wing on the opposite side of the road.  Glass-fronted it shines like a beacon when open for functions at night.  Several hundred arrived for the concert, dressed formally - some old Blundellians, some army officers, all prepared to pay a hansome £35 for a concert and supper with proceeds going directly to help individual soldiers suffering the consequences of war.
Hamish keeps order
The Exeter Symphony Orchestra opened the proceedings with the overture to Gioachino Rossini's opera 'The Thieving Magpie'.  The snare drum gave a rousing opening leading to a gentle crescendo bringing all teh instruments with increasing vigour, ending with the tuba.  Notable in the line-up were several woodwind players familiar to regular 'Classical Journey' listeners.  Sally Kirby (see posts 10 & 16 January) was playing the bassoon.  Richard de la Rue (see posts 14 & 29 November 2010) was playing clarinet.  Julia Hill (see concert listings below) was playing oboe.  Last but not least Ruth Avis was playing Flute.  (We shall be hearing Ruth again on Phonic FM today!)

Tasmin Little
For the second piece the soloist came onto the stage - Tasmin Little.  Tasmin was resplendent in an orange satin décolletage and played RAlph Vaughan Williams' 'The Lark Ascending' perfectly and in perfect co-operation with audience.  She used every break in the solo part to beam pleasure and encouragement to the other musicians with her infectious smile.  Her own playing was utterly perfect and the last note was drawn out to the last dying breath of the bow on the string - quite perfect!
Then two Blundell's pupils, Charles Silcock and Alexander Everett, braved the spotlight to perform Emille Fauré's Mi-a-ou from the 'Dolly Suite' on the grand piano.  A splendid duet from two very brave young lads.
The orchestra resumed with Britten's 'Matinées Musicales'.  The snare set the scene again for a fun violin theme with lots of percussion and sounding brass.  Those woodwind players each got their turn to be heard playing attractive little pastiches with what sounded like glockenspiel accompaniment (sadly the electronic equivalent, but still well played by Daphne Harlock).
To end the first half - and the ESO involvement - the overture to Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro'.  Anyone who has listened to Phonic FM long enough to remember 'Light Bites' with Lily Neal would recognise that overture - Lily's theme tune.  The ESO played us out with gusto - and plenty of support from the tympani!
Hamish took the stage to warn everyone, very sternly, that they must not dally when the end of the interval came.  Anyone not in their seats was likely to get mixed up in the City of Exeter Pipe Band.  Twenty minutes later, with everyone back in their seats, and a good number or the orchestra members sitting in the gallery, the pipers marched in.  Splendid in full regalia, they marched in playing 'Alba an Aigh' ('Scotland the Brave'). Six sets of pipes, with eighteen drones wailing, fairly set the hall ringing with sound of one highland tune after another.  The players, in full highland dress, stood solid and impressive throughout.  As they marched out to one last rendition of 'Alba an Aigh' the audience, their ears still ringing, prepared for the special highlight of the evening.
Tasmin, billed to play a little Telemann and Bach, re-entered the stage, now dressed in an equally resplendent green satin décolletage.  Instead of Bach she played an extraordinary arrangement of the 'Skye Boat Song', almost entirely in harmonics - interspersed with double-stopped chords - and ending with a delicate strummed chord as if on a guitar.  Standing alone centre-stage, she the spoke out clearly to the whole audience explaining that she didn't think Telemann would follow neatly after the pipers.  She had decided to to 'off-piste' with that little arrangement - entirely of her own invention!
She also explained that she was playing her 'Giovanni Guadagnini' violin, made when Mozart was a baby - 1757.  (Not the Stradivarius on this occasion!)  The Telemann was only the allegro from his second Fantasia, short and vigorous.  Bach's E major Partita she played in its entirety - all five movements - after explaining that a previous performance given from a boat on the Zambesi River in Zimbabwe had attracted a rather terrifying audience.  A hippo!  Fortunately the music brought the hippo as much pleasure as the human audience and no confrontation ensued.  After the prelude and four dances Saturday's audience understood the hippo's sentiments precisely.
Finally Tasmin played her own arrangement of Frederic Weatehrly's 'Danny Boy' (the tune of which is really the 'Londonderry Air').  Tasmin's arrangement, which she had been inspired to compose on a performing tour of Ireland, was quite sublime, finishing with delicate combination of bowing and pizzicato.
William Godfrey and Michael Mates MP
Last on the bill of musical entertainment was Michael Mates MP performing the songs of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann.  I had kept an open mind about this, being prepared for some young upstart making a fool of himself.  Not a bit of it.  Michael Mates, when he appeared, was every inch the music hall performer.  having first performed as a pupil at Blundell's School 67 years ago (!) his experience showed in his confident bearing and polished delivery.  William Godfrey, at the piano, chimed in from time to time with a strangely contrasting voice - just as Donald Swann had in the original 1950s performances.
When Michael spoke of the revues of the 1940s and 'At the Drop of a Hat' in the 50's it was interesting to realise that he was speaking from personal experience.  He has performed selections of Swann and Flanders numbers 125 times and raised over £300,000 for various charities including, of course, ABF - the Soldiers' Charity.  On Saturday night he sang 'Transport of Delight', 'A Gnu', 'Rain on the Plage', 'Friendly Duet', 'The Gasman Cometh', 'Misalliance', 'Ill wind', 'Slow Train' and , very appropriately following Tasmin's Zimbabwean tale, 'The Hippopotamus'.  Michael's links were very reminiscent of Michael Flanders, who was sadly not familiar to everyone in the audience.  When he quoted the intro to 'Ill Wind' ("I had hoped to play a horn concerto . . . ")  Some people were genuinely disappointed that he hadn't brought a horn with him.  'Slow Train' was particularly moving as the recitation of railway station names (all sadly closed following the Beeching Report) again referred to a time that Miccchael could remember.  He had travelled to Blundell's each morning on a line which has since been destroyed.  To finish the evening in style, everyone joined in with 'The Hippopotamus'.  A rousing chorus to cheer everyone up.  (Just visible through the dressing room door, Tasmin was also enjoying the performance!).
The originals - Flanders and Swann
After an address from Brigadier Lunn reminding us all of the vital work of the ABF, and a brief prayer for all soldiers by Padré Pearson-Miles, William came back to the piano for the National Anthem.
The concert was followed by supper and an auction and sale of gifts to raise further funds, but that's another story.  All money raised went to the ABF, and any further fund-raising projects or donations are always welcome.  Even as you read this a soldier serving this country may be killed or injured leaving him or her disabled and potentially destitute.  To find out more about how the ABF helps our soldiers, and how we can help too, read the full details of their work at

This morning there will be a very brief mention of all these great concerts, plus a few extracts - a recording of Sebastian Comberti playing the 'cello, an aria from Pergolesi's 'Stabat Mater' and Vaughan Williams' 'The Lark Ascending'.  Sally Daldorph will join us by telephone to tell us about another great concert this Saturday - German romantic music - and we'll have a chorus from Brahms Requiem to give us the flavour.
At 10.30 Ruth Avis will join us along with her 'Piazzolla Duo' partner, guitarist Clive Betts.  They will play live music - Astor Piazzolla's 'Café 1930', Sebastián Iradier's 'La Paloma' and Jacques Ibert's 'Entr'acte - and discuss their concert this weekend, which sounds wonderful.  At 11.30 their place will be taken by Bethany Jameson and Romano Viazzani of Vérité Productions to tell us about their musical play 'the Accordionist' which opens at the Bikeshed theatre tonight.  Oh - and they will be playing us some music as well - numbers by Edith Piaf and some of their own.  Bethany is a soprano and Romano plays the accordion.  But we'd guessed that!

What's on in March

Vérité Productions (Soprano Bethany Jameson, Accordionist Romano Viazzani)
Bikeshed Theatre Fore Street Exeter
Tues-Sat 1-5 March 7.30pm
The Accordionist
Story of Edith Piaf Tribute Singer Jacqueline Lacroix
Tickets £10 (concession £7) Box 667080
Bethany Jameson as Jacqueline Lacroix
as Edith Piaf in the studio this morning
Romano Viazzani adds magic
with his accordion

Josephine Pickering (Piano) and Julia Hill (Oboe)
Glenorchy United Reformed Church Exmouth Wednesday 2 March 12.30pm
A very special lunchtime concert!
No charge for admission

Exeter Recorded Concert Society
Exeter Central Library Music Room Saturday 5 March 1.30pm
A Russian Selection  Ray Fane
Admission free

West Barok
Director, Brian Northcott
West Barok Exeter's Early Music Ensemble
Glenorchy United Reformed Church Exmouth Saturday 5 March 7.30pm
Baroque Gems
Bach: Jesu meine Freunde
Monteverdi: Messa a quattro voci da cappella (1650)
                      Adoramus te Christe
Campra: Cantate Domino (soprano duet)
Vivaldi: Sinfonia ('cello & continuo)
Tickets £10 (£12 at door) Booking: 01395 272401

Beare Trio (Chris with sax)
Exeter Chamber Choir and The Beare Trio
Crediton Parish Church Saturday 5 March 7.30pm
Chris Gradwell, clarinet; Hilary Boxer, 'cello; Andrew Daldorph, piano
A Feast of German Romantic Music
Rheinberger: Abendlied
Beethoven: Trio No 4 in Bь Opus 11 (allegro con brio)
Bruckner: Locus Iste, Ave Maria
Brahms: Piano Trio in A minor Opus 114 (adagio)
                Requiem (Wie Lieblich sind deine Wohnungen:
                                     How amiable are your tabernacles)
Bruckner: Christus factus est (Christ became - obedient for us, Philippians)
                   Os Justi (The mouth of the righteous - speaks wisdom, Psalm 37)
Mendelssohn: Concert Piece No 1
                          Psalm 43
Schubert: Psalm 23
Mendelssohn: Verleih uns Frieden (Grant us peace)
Bruck: Studies from Opus 83
Rheinberger: 3 motets
Brahms Geitliches Lied (Sacred Song)
Rheinberger: Abendlied
Tickets: £7 (at door £8, concessions £4)
ECC Tickets 01404 813041
(Many thanks to Sally Daldorph for phoning in those details to the studio this morning.)

The Piazzolla Duo
Holy Trinity Church Exmouth Saturday 5 March 7.30pm
Clive Betts, guitar & Ruth Avis, flute (plus Emma Welton, violin)
'Celtic Tango'
Latin American folk medley (from Brazil, Chile and Mexico)
Albeniz: 'Asturias'
Bizet: 'Habanera' from the opera 'Carmen'
The 'Little People' - Eos Sídhe
Sebastián Iradier: 'La Paloma' (another habanera, 'Dove', Cuba 1860)
Carlo Domeniconi: 'Sonatina Mexicana' (guitar, Berlin 1986)
Marco Granados: 'Venezuelan Studies' (flute, Venezuela 2007)
Trad: Spanish Ballad, 'Amazing Grace', 'Danny Boy'
Turlough O'Carolan: 'Sídhe Bheag agus Sídhe Mhór' (Ireland 1690)
(That's your actual Gaelic - Irish this time -
a 'Little Fairy Clan' and a 'Big Fairy Clan')
More medleys:
Irish: 'Harvest Home', 'Belfast Hornpipe' (guitar and violin)
Welsh: 'All through the night', 'Suo Gân' ('Lullaby') 'The Bells of Aberdovey' (flute and violin)
C.P.E. Bach Sonata in A minor (flute, Berlin ~1750)
Jesus and the twelve disciples
Duccio di Buoninsegna
Tickets: £10, booking: David Prentice 07890 511439

St Peter’s Singers / Exeter Bach Society and Chamber Ensemble
Exeter Cathedral Sunday 6 March 5pm
Laurence Blyth, Alto
Tom Castle, Tenor
J.S.Bach Cantata 22: Jesu Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe (Luke 13:31)
This is an Anglican evening service - no charge for admission

  . . . and following the service:
Lara Melda (well known as Lara Ömeroğlu, 'Young Musician of the Year' 2010
Exeter Cathedral Chapter House, Sunday 6 March 6pm
Lara Ömeroğlu, 'Young Musician of the Year' 2010
Piano Recital
J. S. Bach: Fantasia in C minor
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No 11
Schumann: Abegg Variations
Chopin: Étude in C sharp minor
Tickets £12, with concession £9, students £6
Phoenix Ticket Agency 667080
Opus Classical (Exeter Guildhall) 214044
Front of House: Roger Churchward 468867

Antonio Vivaldi - The Red Priest
If music be the food of love (Chapter House Concert Series)
Exeter Cathedral Chapter House Wednesday 16 March 7.30pm 
Julie Hill baroque violin
Clare Garton-Sprenger baroque ’celloAndrew Daldorph harpsichordSiona Stockel soprano
Music to include
Vivaldi Nulla in mundo pax sincera
Handel Violin Sonata in F Op.1, No.12
and music by Bach and Purcell.
Tickets £12 (students £6) to include light refreshments and a glass of wine
Box:  Cathedral Shop 01392 271354

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Alison Burnett and Nicky Perry at Glenorchy 16 February

In fine voice: pianist Nicky Perry accompanies soprano Alison Burnett
There was some disappointment at  Glenorchy last week as the advertised performers were unable to come to Exmouth to provide the music.  Singing teacher Alison Burnett had been hoping to bring her singing students from St Margaret's School in Exeter to give a public performance.  Unfortunately their academic work took precedence.  Quite equal to the challenge, Alison prepared a selection of songs to sing herself, and local pianist Nicky Perry very kindly joined her at the piano.
Alison started with Purcell's 'Shakespearian' piece 'If Music be the Food of Love'.  Mark Padmore had sung this at Dartington the previous week with the Britten Sinfonia.  It was interesting to compare Mark's tenor voice and Alison's soprano.  Mark's voice had been deep and passionate.  Alison was just as passionate and her singing voice was full and strong with very clear diction.  The voice part had much more tune than the piano and used Alison's full range of pitch of volume.  Alison explained afterwards that there are three versions of Purcell's song and she had been treating us to the most elaborate version - I think we noticed.
That first number established quite clearly what the theme of the lunchtime concert would be - 'English Love Songs'.  Alison had eleven more beautiful love songs for us, two by a composer she particularly admires, Madeleine Dring.
Alison started with three songs very different from each other.  First was an aria from Thomas Arne's late baroque 1749 opera 'The Judgement of Paris': 'O Ravishing Delight' based on the Greek myth about the disaster which follows the decision of the future King Paris of Troy about which goddess, Hera, Athena or Aphrodite was the most beautiful.  Alison's singing was certainly beautiful.  The volume was held back as she varied the tempo of her singing in response to complex figures on the piano.
Both of the first two songs have previously been performed by young soprano Bethany Partridge at Broadclyst Church on 6 November last year for a morning concert, and recorded by her technically minded father Michael.  We can hear Bethany singing those songs again on the 'Classical Journey' before too long.
Next was something much more modern.  'If', based on the diary of Anne Frank,with words by Roger Pulvers, was set to music by a living composer, Michael Nyman (67 next month) for Selya Araki's 1995 animated film 'The Diary of Anne Frank'.  To a backing of gentle piano Alison expressed all the loneliness and longing of a girl forced to live in hiding from totalitarian forces.
Deviating slightly from the 'English' theme the next song was a Broadway number set in Hungary, and expressing a slightly different sentiment.  'Will He Like Me?' from the 1963 musical 'She Loves me' has words by Sheldon Harnick (now 87) set to music by Jerry Bock (died November last year, age 79).  Amalia Balash works in a perfume shop in Budapest and has a pen-pal who turns out to be her colleague Georg Nowack.  Alison, as Amalia, waits to meet her 'mystery' pen-pal.  With very careful control of pitch she opened with words almost like normal speech, and full of uncertianty and diffidence.  The last line expressed her terrible loneliness and Alison's expression was totally convincing.
Next, to France, and a song by Parisian jazz pianist Michel Nyman (now 79) who is perhaps most famous for his setting of 'Windmills of Your Mind' by Alan and Marilyn Bergman (now 85 and 81) which opened the 1968 film 'The Thomas Crown Affair'.  Alison sang Michel's setting of a lyric by the same authors, 'Magic', which is about love that insidiously lost its magic.  Michel played piano for a recorded performance of 'Magic' with Kiri Te Kanawa in 1992.  Each phrase is sung to a descending series of notes which beautifully contrasted Alison's high and low range, the lower notes rich and romantic - but of course very sad.
The next song was unaccompanied, definitely English, and fitted the 'love' theme - simply because Alison loves it!  The composer, Eastbourne pianist Michael Head belonged to a slightly earlier generation, born in 1900 and living until 1976. 'The Singer' is his 1938 setting of Bronnie Taylor's poem 'I Met a Singer on the Hill'.  Alison started straight into this song after 'Magic' without a break, despite the change of key.  Her voice was high and soft - haunting and lingering. The sentiment was very touching as she recalls offering the singer gold to stay with her, but he walks off to the sound of laughter.  The tune was very complicated, but just right, and a lot for Alison to remember with no help from Nicky at the piano.  The ending was very complex and very lovely.
The first Madeleine Dring song was 'It was a Lover and his Lass'.  Madeleine Dring was also definitely English, being from North London.  She was 23 years younger than Michael Head, but sadly died only a year after him.  This theme from Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' has been set to music by many composers including Frederick Delius (1919), Gerald Finzi (1940) and even Ernest Moeran (the same year).  Madeleine Dring's version was very comical with the complicated internal rhymes worked perfectly by Alison.  Nicky's piano playing was very sensitive to the subtle play on words in the lyric, only giving way to a solid crescendo at the end, to finish with a bang.
Roger Quilter belonged to an even earlier generation.  An Eton student born in Hove in 1877, he published copious song collections until the stress of life as a covert homosexual, compounded by the loss of his nephew in the Second World War led to mental health problems which affected him until his death a few years later at the age of 75.  Alison chose one of Quilter's most popular settings, his 1905 'Love's Philosophy' with words by Percy Shelley, written a century earlier.  The theme of being unable to appreciate the wonders of nature, if denied a kiss from a loved one, is very sad but the piano accompaniment is complex and thrilling.  Nicky performed it masterfully and ended exultantly.  Meanwhile Alison's part took her to the top of her range, filling the Church with impassioned sound.
Coming back to Madeleine Dring's generation Alison sang Benjamin Britten's setting of his contemporary, W. H. Auden's, 'Tell Me the Truth about Love' which was the first of Britten's 1939 collection of four settings of Auden poems called 'Cabaret Songs', composed for Hedli Anderson.  Incidentally, the second, 'Funeral Blues' ('Stop all the Clocks') has since been made famous by the film 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' which came out in 1994, 14 years after the song cycle was finally published.  Britten and Auden also suffered as a result of their homosexuality and this is reflected in the strange and disturbing words of 'Tell Me the Truth about Love'.  Auden runs though a long list of unlikely similes, asking  if any corresponds to what love is like, and suggesting that the experience is totally alien and unknown.  Alison and Nicky added to the confusion of the words with Britten's oddly synchopated piano rhythm and Alison's coquettish delivery, complete with confused facial expression.
Alison then moved forward a generation again.  Birmingham-born filmscore writer Stanley Myers died in 1993 at the age of 63.  He is most famous for the piano tune without words 'Cavatina' which appeared in a guitar arrangement in the film 'The Deer Hunter' in 1978 played by John Williams, who had previously performed the same music for an earlier film in 1970.  Williams also collaborated with jazz singer Cleo Laine in 1973 in a version with her own words - 'He Was Beautiful'.  Nicky played the accompaniment as originally intended, on the piano.  The tune was simple and gorgeous, as Myers would have wished.  As the slow languid tune progressed it became softer and softer towards a feather light finish.  A very special moment.
For the last two songs Alison came forward off the stage and stood by the piano.  First she sang the 1953 hit originally written for Ella Fitzgerald by American songwriter Arthur Hamilton, but not heard publicly until 1955 when it was recorded by Hamilton's old school-chum (and by that time actress and singer) Julie London.  London repeated the performance to telling effect for the film 'The Girl Can't Help It' a year later.  The song, 'Cry Me a River', is still well known in this country today, having been re-recorded by Joe Cocker in 1970 and again by Mari Wilson in 1973.  Winter sports fans will remember it from the BBC coverage of last year's Vancouver Olympics.  Hamilton's mastery of counterpoint is reflected in the beautiful piano scoring which tells its own story.  Alison gave us the full force of the anger towards the hypocritical lover, as intended by Hamilton.  The accusations almost seemed personal!  (See main picture above.)
A bouquet for the pianist
(and a very floral soprano -
clock those floral stilettos
brought from Malaysia!)
The final song had to be by Alison's favourite songwriter, Madeleine Dring.  'Song of a Nightclub Proprietress'  is the second of Dring's 1976 'Five Betjeman Songs'.  The words are, needless to say, by Sir John Betjeman.  The first song in that series, 'A Bay in Anglesey' is quite restrained, describing a view across the Menai Straits at tea-time.  Number Two is quite different.  The proprietress comes down in the morning to find a scene of devastation in her already run-down club.  Nicky's piano-playing punctuated a litany of complaints from Alison, who looked utterly appalled by the sight (we imagined) she saw.  Some, including myself might have been thrown by the first complaint - "There was Kümmel on the handle of the door."  The sugary herb liqueur must have gone out of fashion not long after the poem and song were written.  All the other gripes were much more intelligible and the timing between Alison and Nicky was very tight right up to the little piano solo to finish.
Despite arranging her programme at quite short notice, Alison had an encore all ready.  (The demand was there all right!)  We slipped back in time to 1933 for a song from George and Ira Gershwin's musical 'Pardon my English'.   Alison warned us that this tale of the siren mermaid named after the treacherous Loreleifelsen, a huge rocky outcrop on the bank of the Rhine in Germany, would not be along the lines of the respectable version by Franz Liszt from the mid-nineteenth century.  This was a decidedly more saucy version.  Mitzi Maybe gave a particularly ebullient performance of it at Pullabrook on twelfth night (see post 10 January).  Alison delivered the goods with equal comic brilliance to end an overwhelming cornucopia of excellence which was another in the superb Glenorchy lunchtime concert series.  'The Lorelei'!

The next concert will be on Wednesday 2 March when the performers will be local pianist and composer Josephine Pickering accompanied by oboist Julia Hill.

Josephine Pickering (Piano), Julia Hill (Oboe)
Glenorchy United Reformed Church Exmouth Wednesday 2 March 12.30pm
Admission free

Monday, 21 February 2011

Northcott Theatre - 'Vienna Mozart Trio'

A happy musical family:
Diethard ('cello), Irena (piano), Daniel (violin)
On the night of Saturday 12 February, the Exeter University Theatre Company removed their scenery and props from the all black stage at the Northcott Theatre.  The next day they were replaced by one grand piano.  On Sunday evening that piano was being played by international piano virtuoso Irena Auner.  Irena is originally from Russia but now has her home (when she is at home) with her husband Diethard in Austria - Vienna of course.
Diethard was on stage too, at the foot of the piano, accompanying his wife with equal skill on his 'cello.  In pride of place, by his mother's side, was their son Daniel playing his violin.
Irena and Diethard have been performing around the world for seventeen years now.  More recently, however, Daniel has joined them to form the 'Vienna Mozart Trio' - in between his other professional engagements.  Daniel, who is now 23, has won a string of international prizes for his playing.  Three years ago he won the Johannes Brahms International Prize, followed by the 'Violin in Dresden'.  At the end of last year he won the KlassikPreis, Österreich Gradus as Parnassum - in Vienna, where else?  He then went on to play the solo in the Alban Berg Violin Concerto with the Tonküstler Orchester at the Vienna Concert House.
The Trio are regular visitors to the UK, and after Sunday's performance they were booked to play in Yeovil followed by the Austrian Cultural Forum in London on Tuesday for a twentieth anniversary celebration.
The Trio's opening piece was by Mozart, of course: Piano Trio in G.  Irena showed us straight away the quality of piano playing we could expect.  By the time the violin and 'cello joined in the audience were entranced.
All three quickly got the measure of the Northcott's acoustics and created a perfectly balanced sound, lyrical piano lovingly enfolded by the polished sound of the violin and 'cello.  The second movement, 'the walk' allowed us to follow each instrument more closely and every note was perfect and delivered with a wonderful depth of feeling.  Having established their credentials the Trio could relax and have fun.  Mozart's Piano Trio ends with a delightful and playful set of variations.  As each elaboration drew to a close Diethard would initiate another with perfect timing.
The programme moved forward in time to Beethoven's Piano Trio in D - 'The Ghost'.  This was much more vigorous than the Mozart.  Irena opened with a concerted attack on the piano and kept up the pace from then on, occasionally slowing to a gentler pace only to crash onwards again.  The combination of instruments was just right to keep each distinct while producing a further dimension of sound when combined. By way of division of labour Diethard and Daniel opened the second movement - slow and expressive - with the utmost delicacy.  Despite a few moments of excitement, Irena was very careful not to dominate the very tender violin and 'cello parts.  Her left hand sustained a very regular tremolo against the other instruments, and even against the playing of her other hand.  When the big piano notes came, Irena's head would fly back with hair flying, just like the master himself - Ludwig Van Beethoven.  For the final gentle heartbeat of a closing phrase Irena kept her eye keenly on the other two ensuring an absolutely perfect finish.  The Presto was a perfect interaction between son and father on violin and 'cello, but now with some really wild and complex piano playing, a very entertaining combination.  Tantalisingly short as it is, the pizzicato flurry on the violin and 'cello just before the final decisive notes was a delight.
The time-honoured custom of pre-ordering drinks for the interval continues at the Northcott.  Not having to take part in a scrum at the bar allows the audience members to take a seat and reflect on what they have heard.  The music of the first half had been very skilfully played and beautifully expressed, but was there anything to lift it above the other masterful performances one might see?  Irena's presence shone through and father and son displayed maturity and youthful vigour in equal measure.  They were surely going to do something really special in the second half.
And it was very special.  While the first half had comprised two three movement trios, the second was a continuous performance of the six consecutive movements of Dvořák's Piano Trio in E minor.  Each movement is what Ukranian Slavs would describe as a Dumka - a meandering and thoughtful ballad.  The mood repeatedly ventures into the realms of sadness and melancholy only to be dragged back to joy and humour.  All three stayed on the roller-coaster ride brilliantly, with Daniel really milking every last ounce of pathos out of the more reflective passages.  After the furious finish to the first Dumka the opening of the second was deceptively slow and pondorous.  The audience were expecting some big change to happen but the trio kept us hanging on very skillfully.  Each false move towards a crescendo was built with total sincerity.  The build up, when in finally did come, was relentless and exhilarating, breaking unexpectedly for a beautiful solo form Diethard, followed by an apparent restart from the very beginning, so slow and gentle it was almost unbearable.  A few twiddles by Irena intimated the onset of more excitement, shorter this time but ending in a violent finish for all three players.  Then - we guessed! - everything was gentle and tender again.  Each instrument played a very simple slow melody, very demanding with no embellishment to help keep the momentum.  This movement was masterfully restrained ending with two precise plucks of the violin string by Daniel.  Daniel's 'tick-tock' at the beginning of Dumka number four was steady as a metronome leading to a plucky little dance, parts of which was literally plucked by Daniel and Diethard - giving way inexorably to the slow and solemn again with an almost imperceptible finish.  Dumka number five involved Daniel and Diethard taking turns to play accompanied by Irena on the piano.  Daniel's high solo section was sweet as a nut, as was Diethard's which followed.  A ticklish little dance on violin and 'cello led to the final thump-thump of chords from the piano.  The final Dumka seemed to pack the previous five into a few short minutes, swinging from one extreme to the other.  To hold this together after all that had gone before demonstrated incredible stamina and skill.  Diethard's low bass drone on open strings was controlled to perfection, deep and sonorous, at some points like the eerie rustling of the wind.  And how was it all going to finish?  Fast and furious or slow and serene?  Right to the last moment either seemed possible but ultimately, what appeared to be a slow sedate close, gave way to one last flamboyant flourish - crowned by delighted applause.  Some who had heard the Dumky many times before and knew exactly what to expect had still been surprised and amazed.  One exclaimed happily that it was the best performance she had ever heard.
After a brief conference the family Auner returned to the stage for a very welcome encore.  There was no introduction, but the tune was soon clear.  The Allegretto from Mozart's Piano Sonata in A - the Turkish March or 'Rondo Alla Turca'!  After the rigid discipline and emotional extremes of the Dumky, the Rondo was fast and furious and wild, but at the same time controlled and perfectly balanced.  A lovely end to any concert.
After a brief return to the south west for a concert in Truro, the Trio are now in West Yorkshire preparing to entertain the music lovers of Huddersfield (whose need, let's face it, is greater even than ours!).  Instead of Dvorak's Dumky, the Huddersfield Music Society and their guests will enjoy Ravel's Piano Trio in A minor.  Never a dull moment with the Vienna Mozart Trio!
Let's hope the Auner family decide to pay us a return visit before too long.  In the meantime the Northcott Theatre Classical Concert Series continues with a visit by the Piatti String Quartet on Sunday 13 March.

Piatti String Quartet
Northcott Theatre Sunday 13 March 7.30pm
Haydn: Quartet Op.76 "Emperor"
Schubert: Quartettsatz
Smetana: Quartet in E minor "Z mého života" ("From my life")
Tickets £13 Box: 493493

The Piatti String Quartet:
Jessie Ann Richardson, 'cello; Charlotte Scott, 1st violin;
Michael Trainor, 2nd violin; David Wigram, viola.