Monday, 23 May 2011

A Talented Concert by The South West Music School: Young Musicians Showcase, Dartington Ship Studio Sunday 22 May, Shaldon Festival Friday 17 June

Pianist Benjamin Comeau played Maurice Ravel's 'Ondine'
What is the best way to advertise a concert? A pre-concert performance, as many musicians have found recently. Despite their impending exams, the students of the South West Music School came to Dartington on Sunday to show us just what we can expect to enjoy at the Shaldon Festival in three weeks time. Four of the five young musicians who will appear at Shaldon came and played to a full house in the Ship Studio in Dartington Hall. They played a generous selection from their Shaldon programme and showed us what quality of music we can expect. Extremely high quality!
Sadly the opening words by SWMS tutor Lisa Tregale were missed by the visitors from Exeter because a certain member of their party had taken them to 'Studio 31' which is in a completely different part of the Dartington campus! However, everyone was in their seats as pianist Benjamin Comeau began his first piece, the sinfonia from Bach's 'Partita Number 2'. From the first note his playing was confident and relaxed. His fluid style moved through a series of changes in dynamics and tempo with grace and purpose. A powerful finish left us in no doubt about who was master.
Violinist Annabel Lainchbury joined Benjamin for Mozart's Sonata for Violin and Piano K304. Annabel looked quite different from her last appearance at Dartington - definitely more mature. Her playing expressed the emotion of the piece beautifully. Ben meanwhile provided a very solid piano counterpart, deftly integrated. A very professional pairing. The second movement was even more expressive with Ben and Annabel engaging in soulful exchanges which were very respectful to the theme of the piece - the death of Wolfgang's mother, Anna Maria, when he was only 22 years old.
Ben then enjoyed a break as a local pianist from Ashburton, Peter Hurst, took over to accompany violinist Freya Hicks in Beethoven's 'Romance number 2'. Freya appeared to be a bit younger than Annabel and a little more nervous, but she opened the piece very cleanly and played very calmly. The long waits while Peter played the piano sections must have been terribly nerve-wracking for her, but Freya stood her ground with commendable poise. Freya's runs on the violin, when they came, were wonderfully smooth and even. The interplay between the violin and piano were noticeably well balanced (Peter had closed the lid of the grand to ensure that he didn't overpower the violin.) Beethoven's high ending was sweetly ethereal in Freya's hands.
Then Peter accompanied Freya's older sister, 'cellist Indigo Hicks, in Robert Schumann's 'Fantasiestucke' ('Fantasy Pieces'). Initially scored for clarinet with Robert's wife Clara replaced by Anna Laidlaw at the piano (!) this piece promised to be interesting in arrangment for 'cello with piano accompaniment. Indigo made an immediate and lasting impression. The tone was superbly warm and rich especially on the top string of the 'cello. Watching, I was reminded of guitarist (and 'cellist) David Cottam who always insists on simultaneous action of right and left hand. Indigo already has her technique well developed. Each note was beautifully deft with the pressure on the fingerboard (or harmonic) superbly economic. We heard just three dances from the suite, 'Des Abends' ('Evening') - soft and relaxed, 'Aufschwung' ('Soaring') - soft and light, perhaps the inspiration for Andrew Daldoph's Jazz classic, 'Soarin' High', and finally 'Warum' ('Why') - almost a scherzo, full of changes of tempo - which were no problem for Indigo. Clara would have been pleased.
Peter then let Ben have the piano again (with the lid up!) In true 'Classical Journey' style the programme so far had progressed from baroque to classical to romantic, and now for something 'modern'. The opening movement of Maurice Ravel's 'Gaspard de la Nuit', from Paris in 1908, is his take on the story of 'Undine', this time based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. We've heard Lortzing's version on air and Alex West played Chopin's interpretation on 27 April at Glenorchy. The Ravel was even more impressionistic, evoking the feeling of rippling water and shimmering light in a fantastic journey under the sea. Ben played without music, concentrating hard on the complex rhythms, but relaxed and confident. His liquid smoothness of touch held us captivated throughout.
Violinists Freya Hicks and Annabel Lainchbury
and 'Cellist Indigo Hicks
played Joseph Haydn's 'Divertimento in D'
Finally the three girls played Joseph Haydn's 'Divertimento in D'. Annabel, as regular leader of the orchestra, kept a close eye on Freya and the two played beautifully together. Indigo proved to be a very competent ensemble player matching her tone perfectly to the two violins. Everything was wonderfully gentle and cooperative, and the three players were clearly enjoying themselves very much. The second movement included a very grand section which Annabel brought in perfectly, while the third was classic 'tafelmusik', just for fun, and lots of fun for everyone.
The whole concert was full of pleasure and excitement, and it was thrilling to hear the impressive standard of the students as they develop their skills for the future. Many thanks to the South West Music School, to Lisa Tregale for organising the concert, and especially to the wonderful musicians.

Afternoon concerts at Dartington are always a wonderful treat and we can regularly see the very best ensembles in the Great Hall - including Devon Baroque (Nov and Feb)  and the Britten Sinfonia. Next week we can see an orchestra which has worked closely with the South West Music School for some time now. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment sent six orchestral musicians to run workshops for SWMS students in January this year (q.v.). Now they are coming to give a concert themselves in the Great Hall. Next Sunday, 29 May (at that magical time of three in the afternoon) they will perform orchestral and operatic music in the Great Hall, with arias sung by soprano Elin Manahan Thomas. A rare and wonderful treat for a summer afternoon.

Meanwhile the South West Music School Students are preparing to repeat, and extend, this Sunday's recital at the Shaldon Festival. On the evening of Friday 17 June they will perform at St Peter's in Shaldon, with one more young musician, Edward Francis-Smith. In addition to Sunday's programme there will be several extra pieces including Rossini's 'String Sonata number 2' and the very special 'Piano Quintet number 1' by Louise Farrenc, which will involve all five players:

The full programme:

Haydn Diviertimento in D Major.
Performers: Annabel Lainchbury, Freya Hicks, Indigo Hicks

Mozart Sonata for violin and piano in E minor K.304.
Performer: Annabel Lainchbury

Schumann Fantasiestucke.
Performer: Indigo Hicks

Rossini String Sonata no. 2 in A major.
Performers: Annabel Lainchbury, Freya Hicks, Indigo Hicks,
                     Edward Francis-Smith


Ravel - Ondine
Performer: Ben Comeau

Rodgers and Hammerstein - My Favourite Things
Performer: Ben Comeau

Louise Farrenc Piano Quintet no.1 op.50
Performers: Annabel Lainchbury, Freya Hicks, Indigo Hicks,
                       Edward Francis-Smith & Ben Comeau

In addition to the South West Music School concert, the Shaldon Festival at St Peter's Church has much more to offer:

Thursday 17 June at 7.30pm Soprano Julie Unwin, Tenor Charne Rochford and Baritone Simon Thorpe of the English Touring Opera will perform an abridged version of Puccini's 'Il Tabarro' which they performed at the Exeter Northcott Theatre on 24/25 March this year. There will also be plenty of time for arias from Puccini's other operas, 'La Boheme', 'Madam Butterfly', 'Tosca' and many more.

Saturday 18 June, all those who booked early enough will be taking part in a choral workshop with Sir Neville Marriner with Peter Adcock playing the piano and Jonathan Watts playing organ. There will be four professional soloists, soprano Héloïse West, mezzo soprano Rebecca Smith, tenor Gitai Fisher and bass Julian Rippon. At 7.30pm there will be an informal performance of the piece being studied: Rossini's 'Petite Messe Solennelle'.

Sunday 19 June at 7.30pm, eight string players from the City of Birminham Symphony Orchestra, led by their principle 'cellist, Richard Jenkinson, are the 'Innovation Chamber Ensemble'. They will perform 'Two Pieces for Octet' by Dmitri Shostakovich and, for comparison, two romantic pieces: 'Sextet in B Flat' by Johannes Brahms and 'Octet in E flat' by Felix Mendelssohn.  supported by

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