Friday, 11 November 2011

The Music of a Great British Composer and Pianist - Richard Henry Walthew - Played by his Grandson, Clarinettist John Walthew, with Composer and Pianist Josephine Pickering. Glenorchy Church Exmouth Wednesday 26 October

Beautiful Music for Piano and Clarinet
Josephine Pickering and John Walthew

The lunchtime concerts organised by Glenorchy organist David Lee are always very interesting and enjoyable, and often involve something very special.

On Wednesday 26th October he invited local pianist and composer Josephine Pickering to play duets with local clarinettist John Walthew. John's father Richard Sidney Walthew was also a clarinettist, and his grandfather was the famous British pianist and composer Richard Henry Walthew (1872-1951).

Richard Henry Walthew in 1928
Photograph by Lafayette Ltd, Dublin
National Portrait Gallery
The concert started, naturally enough, with the music of Richard H Walthew - a set of bagatelles for Clarinet & Piano, dating from the very end of the nineteenth century. With becoming modesty, John explained that he had chosen this suite of four pieces because they were the least demanding of his grandfather's works. The four movements were, however, full of interest and humour.

The spirited Allegro was followed by the gentle sing-song of the Allegretto Grazioso. The Andante was thoughtful - and certainly seemed to involve a lot of careful cooperation between the two players. The best was saved for last, however. The Allegretto Semplice Poco Religioso (a fairly quick simple little religious movement) was gentle and exotic to begin with but built to grand passages for the clarinet with equally grand piano chords.

By way of contrast Josephine and John then moved on to a very exotic piece by Richard H Walthew's contemparary Alfred Pratt, the first piano and clarinet duo from his 1912 Opus 17 - Souvenir d'Ispahan. (which continues with the perhaps more famous 'Idylle Printanière' ('Idylls of Spring')). At the Royal College of Music, Alfred Pratt was a student of Charles Villeirs Stanford and Hubert Parry - tutor to Richard H Walthew himself. Opus 17 is dedicated to Alfred's contemporary, the clarinettist Charles Draper.

The music was very complicated, requiring great control. John was clearly on top form, however, and burst into a slow and mysterious clarinet solo (with equally magical piano accompaniment by Josephine). The music transported us to Persia and the breathtaking Islamic architecture of ancient Isphahan - a thousand years ago the greatest city in the known world. The tour was breathtaking, and the last exultant notes left John quite literally breathless. Magnificent!

When John had recovered somewhat, he drew out a letter - a letter written to his grandfather by a grateful colleague and collaborator - Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams and Walthew, like Pratt had both studied music under Hubert Parry. Vaughan Williams remembered the time fondly, their discussions of music and theology, and especially the piano duets they played together. He even, with his typical good grace, described himself as a mere 'amateur' compared with the musically prolific Walthew.

John and Josephine, naturally, proceeded to play some of the music which Vaughan Williams held in such high esteem. During the decade after Richard and Ralph's time together at the Royal College of Music, Richard wrote two sets of 'Four Meditations' - in 1897 and 1903 respectively.  John and Josephine played the second set.

In the Andante Expressivo, Josephine played with gentleness and expression allowing John to throw himself fully into the glorious clarinet part. The Allegretto Quasi Allegro was even faster for the clarinet with Josphine's piano part following behind. A sweet and lovely movement ending on a delightfully light pair of piano chords. The Poco Lento was more serious, but still just as beautiful, with a very interesting synchopation between the two instruments. The final Allegro Tranquillo was full of emotion, building in speed and intensity right to the final notes. It was easy to see, and hear, what Vaughan Williams had found so inspiring about Richard Walthew's music. For us to hear it played by Richard's grandson John was a very special additional pleasure.

John then let the attention shift to another great pianist and composer - the one sitting in front of us at the piano. Since her retirement, Josephine Pickering has been able to dedicate more of her time to composing music - often intended specifically for her musical colleagues and friends. In 2002, for example, Josephine wrote a Mazurka for Piano and Clarinet (Opus 3), for her to play in duet with Philip Henry. (Philip and Josephine have played together many times before, not only piano and clarinet, but also flute and even cor anglais! - details.)

A mazurka is a lively Polish folk dance, and Josephine's 'Mazurka' was definitely lively. The piano part was full of crazy hopping chords, while there was even more fun for John in the clarinet part.

For Josephine's 'Waltz' (Opus 32) John switched from his 'B flat' clarinet to the slightly lower 'A' clarinet and, after a quick practice flourish to re-familiarise his fingers to the wider spacings of the keys, played on. The sound of the 'A' was sweeter than the 'B flat' and very mellow, and the waltz was very fast, with some amazing virtuoso clarinet to finish. A superb composition, superbly played!

After all that excitement one might expect something gentle and restful to finish the recital. Not on this occasion. The final piece was fast, strident, and lots of fun for everyone. Alan Langford's 'Scherzetto' for clarinet and piano was a thrilling modern piece - a little side-line really for Langford who produced music programmes for the BBC from the fifties onwards (real name Alan Owen). A lovely parting piece and a wonderful tribute from one composer to another.

Many thanks to David Lee for another wonderful Glenorchy Lunchtime Concert, and to John Walthew and Josephine Pickering for their outstanding playing - and composing.

Glenorchy lunchtime concerts continue every Wednesday until Christmas. On 16th November Alex West returns to play music for piano and organ. Who could forget his recital of nineteenth century Parisian music. (That post is still regularly 'most popular' on this blog - details.)

23rd November: Dorothy Ferrier (Mezzo Soprano) Dorothy Worthington (Piano)
30th November: Ana Laura Manero (Piano) Arturo Serna ('Cello) = 'Duo Teresa Carreño' (Venezuela)
  7th December: Kevin Hurst (Clarinet) Frances Waters (Piano)
14th December: Val Howels (Soprano) John Brindley (Baritone) Frances Waters (Piano)

And John Walthew will be playing with the Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra on Thursday 24th November at Exeter Cathedral. With Marion Wood conducting, the orchestra will be performing Igor Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' - and - Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto (soloist Alexandra Dariescu! - Solo recital at Budleigh Festival - details)

Watch this site for further details - and photos.

Clarinettist John Walthew in rehearsal
for the 24th November Cathedral performance of
Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' and Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto
with Richard de la Rue (fellow member of the 'Clarion Clarinet Quartet' - details)
in the background - Prue Tasman and Michael Vellinga play bassoon

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