Monday, 9 May 2011

Music for Flute, Strings and Organ at Powderham Castle Friday 6 May

Flute, Strings . . .
Viola Andrew Gillett, Flute Judith Hall
'Cello Vicky Evans, Violin Mary Eade
Funding for the restoration of the 1769 Bryce Seede organ at Powderham Castle is now guaranteed. (Restoration will start next year!) Meanwhile concerts in the James Wyatt music room will continue - so that people can hear the organ, and much other great music besides.
On Friday the Castle was host to an internationally acclaimed flautist, Judith Hall, and members of the Divertimento String Ensemble. Mary Eade, Andrew Gillet and Vicky Evans provided the violin, viola and 'cello respectively.
That's a very interesting combination of instruments, and some composers have written work specifically for it.
The ensemble played us four pieces - faultlessly - and also included were two pieces to show off the (currently only partially restored) Bryce Seede organ. It is worth mentioning that the programme for this event contained the clearest and most succinct notes on each piece that you could hope to see. The author? Curator of the James Wyatt Music Room, and the Bryce Seede organ, George Pratt himself!
the concert opened with a quartet for flute, violin, viola and 'cello by Mozart. Despite having expressed a dislike for the flute (probably in jest), Mozart wrote several of these quartets for his wealthy patron Ferdinand de Jean. He certainly understood the flute. All four instruments had their chance to shine - separately and in combination. All four played superbly and Judith's flute playing was particularly polished, flowing easily and combining perfectly with the other instruments.
Next came the music of Max Reger - without the 'cello this time. As Andrew explained, one unappreciative critic once said that Reger was the only composer whose name sounds the same backwards as forwards - like his music. Others appreciated his forward looking style and after hearing the 'trio' we were persuaded to agree.
. . . and Organ
Curator and Organist George Pratt
The next piece was a set of bagatelles for two violins 'cello and harmonium by Dvořák. (The harmonium is a type of  reed organ which did not exist when the Bryce Seede organ was built. The first true harmonium was not built until seventy years later. But Dvořák's harmonium part is just about enough for the organ to cope with, in its partially restored state.  To play the bagatelles, all the stringed instruments had to be retuned. At the time that the organ was built, pitch had not been standardised, and the organ was tuned noticeably lower than modern pitch. George demonstrated by playing one note on the organ and comparing with Judith's flute (which she was not going to retune!) Awful! However, with the strings retuned the ear soon accepts the lower pitch and we were able to enjoy five lively bagatelles.
'Scherzando' involved crazy 'cello pizzicato contrasted with steady reliable harmonium, 'Menuet' accentuated the soft tone of the harmonium in a theme repeated in different keys. The second scherzando repeated the same tune but was much grander, even spiritual, and the 'cello, plucked gently by Vicky, sounded out like a guitar. The canon involved only  violin (Mary's) and the final bow stroke from Vicky seemed to go on almost indefinitely, and even when it stopped the harmonium continued for quite a while longer. (Being powered by an air-pump, it has limitless sustain.) The final poco allegro involved a different tune and several sweet little intro's by Vicky on her 'cello. After George had brought things softly to a close on the organ it was time for refreshements - in the sumptuous reception  and dining rooms of the castle.
After the interval George fulfilled his side of the restoration bargain. In return for the financial help to restore the organ, he will ensure that it is possible for the public to hear it played at least six times a year. This strictly means after the organ has been restored, but George sees no reason not to show off the organ to the public in the meantime. He surprised us all with an intriguing set of five pieces which Josef Haydn composed for mechanical clock. Written to be played by a clockwork mechanism, they were not constrained by the limitations of human hands. Despite this George did manage to play them - although with some difficulty. He was not helped by the recalcitrance of some of the controls and his need not to overtax the mechanism. Not only were the pieces delightful (and very competently played by George) they also gave us an opportunity to hear the organ played on its own. It is a lovely soft sound. Fully restored, its range will presumably be much greater. There were some worrying rattles from inside the organ, which no doubt convinced the visiting trustees that it definitely did need restoring.
After Geroge's recital there was time for quite a bit more flute and strings. First we heard a wonderful piece which was very specific to our visiting flautist. Judith was the first person to play Panufnic's 'Hommage à Chopin' on the BBC and subsequently commissioned his daughter, Roxanna, to write an arrangement for flute and string trio. Now the quartet really had something to get their teeth into. Judith was in her element, of course, and the other players played equally beautifully. It was wonderful to hear very modern music played in a baroque music room, and feel the span of the intervening centuries. And Panufnic's work is very lovely - a perfect 'homage' to his fellow countryman.
Aspiring young flautist Leonie Jones
gets the chance to discuss her forthcoming
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
placement with an international star
Judith Hall
The concert finished as it began, with a Mozart quartet for flute and strings, just as gorgeous as the first. A very satisfactory concert all together! Then, after the concert the musicians were very happy to meet us all and discuss their work and future plans. Divertimento will continue there collaboration with Judith in a concert next Friday at Bridgetown, Totnes. In a similar vein they will team up with oboist Lynn Collins for a concert this Thursday. George, of course, could answer any questions regarding his pride and joy - The Bryce Seede organ.
Plans are well under way for the restoration of the organ. Two of the sponsors' trustees were at the concert to hear the organ in action. They heard its potential, but also its present limitations. Repairs will start next year. A new work, to have its première on the newly restored organ, will be commissioned for next December. Suggestions for further concerts are welcomed. A repeat of the very popular 'mini Messiah' has already been suggested. Paul Morgan who retired from his job as Cathedral Organist last summer, and is now Organist Emeritus, has offered to play us a Bach organ concerto later in the year.
Long may we hear the sound of the lovely old organ, played in its original home in the James Wyatt Music Room - along with many other instruments and voices besides!

Divertimento Entertainments

Sherwell United Church Plymouth Thursday 12 May 1pm
Oboe Lynn Collins
Violin: Mary Eade
Viola: Andrew Gillett
Cello: Vicky Evans
Oboe Quartets: Mozart, Kromer, JC Bach
Britten's Phantasy Quartet.
Tickets: £6.50 Box 01752 266163 (9.30-12am Mon-Fri)

St John's Church, Bridgetown, Totnes Friday 20 May 7.30pm
Flute: Judith Hall
Violin: Mary Eade
Viola: Andrew Gillett
Cello: Vicky Evans
Flute Quartets: Mozart, Rossini, Reger
Tickets: £12 £10 buy 3 get 1 free (children free)
Box: Totnes Tourist Information 01803 863168
          Divertimento 01803 863677

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