Monday, 24 October 2011

More Tasty Music: Hilary Boxer and Susan Steel - Sonatas Spirited and Serene - 'Cello and Piano - Wednesday 19 October

Two very talented musicians
'Cellist Hilary Boxer and Pianist Susan Steele
In the far-off early days of the 'Classical Journey' listeners became familiar with the voice of 'Cellist Hilary Boxer, founder and driving force of the 'Tasty Music' concert series. Following the huge success of 'Mellow 'Cellos' which Hilary performed with fellow 'cellist Julie Pirie on Monday 11th October (It was Wonderful!), Hilary teamed up with pianist Susan Steele for 'Sonatas Spirited and Serene' on Monday 6th December (And it came to pass . . . - scroll down for details).

Hilary and Susan played Bach, Beethoven and Boccherini sonatas and, following a respectful period for rehearsal, Susan reappeared in Barnstaple's Queen's Theatre on Thursday 10th February for a simply spectacular performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto with the North Devon Sinfonia (Classical journey Tuesday 15 February - scroll down).

With the launch of this year's 'Tasty Music' concert series, with several exciting new venues, new music, and an exciting new featured artist - flautist Ruth Avis - it could only be a matter of time before Susan Steele made a welcome return for more 'Sonatas Spirited and Serene' with Hilary Boxer.

Susan's first appearance with Hilary was at the Queen's Theatre in Barnstaple on Wednesday 5th October for a lunchtime concert of - Bach and Beethoven Sonatas! On Wednesday 19th October the spirited sonatists played a repeat lunchtime performance at Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth.

The concert included not one, but two glorious sonatas. The first was composed in 1721 by the 36 year old Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Kothen, Johann Sebastian Bach. The 'Gamba Sonata in D major' was the second of three sonatas for 'cembalo' (harpsichord) and 'cello that Bach composed in that year - the year of his joyous marriage to the nineteen year old soprano Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a year after the tragic death of his first wife Barbara.

The opening adagio was slow and deceptive, giving no hint of the excitement to come. Susan opened with just her left hand playing the bass line. Together they played a gentle and stately movement, under total control, before launching into the amazingly lively allegro. Despite the speed and complexity of the music, Susan's piano playing was incredibly slick - brilliant.

The andante was equally challenging, with both players giving everything to the performance. The short piano solos along the way, and the long 'cello trills were utterly delightful. The final allegro was once again full of excitement, but controlled excitement. The short gentle section half way through was played gorgeously and the huge leaps between bass notes on the 'cello, which came more and more often, were hugely impressive and enjoyable.

Incredibly spirited playing from Hilary Boxer
- and Susan Steele
In addition to the inspired music of Bach, Hilary and Susan also played music written nearly a century later  by the 38 year old Kapellmeister to Jerome Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, Ludwig van Beethoven, in the Royal Court at Kassel in 1808. Sonatas at the time were normally scored for piano with 'instrumental accompaniment'. In this great year, however, during which Beethoven completed his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, he also wrote two piano trios, his Violin Concerto, and the beautiful Third 'Cello Sonata.

Initially Susan got all the action on the piano,with impressively complex trills and cascading downward runs over a sustained 'cello note. Although Susan had ample opportunity to display her virtuoso talent - which she used to good effect - Hilary also got her chance to play gorgeous solo passages on the 'cello.

The Scherzo was incredibly passionate and vigorous with Hilary bowing and plucking the strings of the 'cello with a will. On the piano Susan switched from bouncy staccato to serious passages in powerful leaps. Her almost endless trills were incredibly beautiful. Finally the adagio cantibile was gentle and smooth as expected, with both players applying total concentration to create a deliciously coordinated sound. Still things couldn't stay calm for long. As Hilary's 'cello notes got longer and longer, Susan's piano playing got faster and more vigorous. The concert had finished with a song - but what a song!

As an encore the duo played something familiar - 'Oblivion', composed for orquesta in 1982 by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. The Beacon Piano Trio played this last week in their own special arrangement, but the piece has recently been made famous by Julian Lloyd Webber in the arrangement he composed for 'cello and piano and recorded with John Lenehan in November last year.

This arrangement without violin was different but equally lovely. And why the sudden interest in 'Oblivion' and Julian Lloyd Webber? Obvious really - the man himself was in Exeter to rehearse Elgar's 'Cello Concerto with the Young Musicians' Orchestra of the Swan for a celebrity concert the following night. What a fitting tribute, and a very special end to another superb selection of Sonatas Spirited and Serene.

Susan Steele will not be playing in concert again in the immediate future but Hilary Boxer's 'Tasty Music' Concert Series continues with Cello+Cello and Cello+Flute:

'Cello Chaconne
Hilary Boxer & Jane Pirie (also 'cello) - classical/ trad/folk/jazz
originally heard on Monday 11th October last year
details: 'It was Wonderful!' 11/10/10
Wed 9 Nov, 12.30pm, Bicton College (with lunch) 01395 562300
Sun 13 Nov, 4pm, The Corn Barn (Yta Batchelor 01884 32107)

Festive Flute
Hilary Boxer & Ruth Avis (flute) - Bach, Villa-Lobos, seasonal tunes
A new collaboration for Hilary, but Ruth is a well known local artist -
details: 'Songs for Flute and Piano' with pianist James Keefe 25/10/10
Also scroll down 'A Week of Music' 7/11/10 for details of
Ruth's 'Piazzolla Duo' concert with guitarist Clive Betts
Sun 4 Dec, 4pm, The Corn Barn (Yta Batchelor 01884 32107)
Wed 7 Dec, 12.30pm, Bicton College (with lunch) 01395 562300
Full details of all 'Tasty Music' concerts are available at

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