Friday, 11 November 2011

Two Pianists David Lee and David Southerns - Lunchtime Duets and Solos for Piano and Organ Glenorchy Church Exmouth Wednesday 2 November

Two gentlemen of music
Pianists David Lee and David Southerns

Every once in a while David Lee, who organises the lunchtime concerts at Glenorchy, steps in to give a recital of his own (see 'A Week of Music' 7th November 2010) - or with another pianist (e.g. 'Duet at Glenorchy' 27th January 2011).

On Wednesday 2nd November (and not for the first time) David joined forces with local pianist David Southerns.

David Lee started the recital with two hornpipes arranged for organ. First Arthur Sullivan's hornpipe from the operetta 'Ruddigore', which was initially respectful to the church organ, but soon increased in energy to finish with irreverent rasping chords. Noel Rawsthorne's 'Hornpipe Humoresque' was even more irreverent tboth to the instrument and to the music of the great composers of the past. Phrases ended in chords that were too loud - and painfully out of tune - very reminiscent of the great keyboard comic, Les Dawson. The music of various composers featured, before degenerating very un-smoothly into the recurring hornpipe theme. We nearly hear Bach, Vivaldi, Thomas Arne, Charles-Marie Widor - but each goes the same way. Just when it seems things can't get any more ridiculous the music suddenly and unceremoniously stops - and out steps a rather shame-faced David Lee from behind the organ console. An interesting opening, the hornpipes were light-hearted, even a bit silly, but rather special in their way - and definitley lots of fun.

David Southerns changed the tone completely with his piano solo, Josef Haydn's Sonata in E flat. The music was very serious, but definitely happy. David S. has a very economic playing style, gentle but firm in his handling of the keys. Never rushed he allows a confident pause between phrases which is delightfully restful. Certainly he never seems at all flustered, rather everything is very leisurely. Haydn's Sonata is very engaging and easy to follow - but certainly not simple!

Having seen what the two Davids can do individually, we then heard their wonderful duet playing. In Grieg's Symphonic Dances, both played the piano. They did not simply combine their playing to make a four handed sound. They passed the tune playfully between themselves. Dance No 2 was very dancable, with amusing intervening runs and trills passed back and forth between the steps of the dance.  Dance No 1, which they played second, was more of a march - quite strident - but also very clever and interesting. There was a lovely section where an ominous treble tremolo (David L) is undercut by minor bass chords (David S) which slowly die away - lots of concentration, control and cooperation!

Then came something very special. Duets for organ and piano. David Lee played the organ (very softly) while David Southerns joined in on the piano. The two players could not see each other, so this was very clever stuff indeed.
Handel: 'Angels Ever Bright and Fair' ('Theodora')
Bach: 'My Heart Ever Faithful' ('Cantata 68')
Grieg: 'Triumphal March' ('Sigurd Jorsalfar')
Sometimes the piano echoed the organ. Sometimes they worked together. David L could change the mood very easily by pulling out more stops on the organ, but David S would also change his sound to accomodate. The final march was a triumph of coordination. Each swell on the organ was matched by David S on the piano - right to the final note. Brilliant!

Finally the two Davids played a selection of seven from Robert Schumann's 'Zwolf Vierhändige Klavierstücke für Kleine und Gross Kinder' ('12 Four-Hand Piano Pieces for Small and Large Children'), Op. 85. By 1848 Schumann was already suffering the decline which would lead to his death in 1856. However, the death of his baby son Emil, and of his friend Felix Mendelssohn's sister Fanny the previous year - and the death of Felix himself - galvanised Robert into action. He started composing this very humorous set of pieces for his wife and children. (Robert and Clara had been married eight years and had four remainig children by this time - Marie (7), Elise (5), Julie (3) and Ludwid, just born.  The opening 'Birthday March was performed by Robert and Marie on 13th September 1848 - Clara's 29th birthday - and the day after Robert and Clara's eighth wedding anniversary.

How did it sound? In a word - happy! The playing summed up the feeling of the piece and put it in context perfectly. The remaining tunes were clearly for children - of all ages. The 'Bear Dance' involved a continuous 'growl' from the bass (provided by David Lee - the two players had changed places) while David Southerns provided the melody of the pipes the bear danced to in the treble. Definitely not the kind of entertainment we would find amusing today, but we must recall that Robert's children, and probably Robert himself, would have been unaware of the cruelty involved. Their innocent pleasure in what they thought was an innocent spectacle, still persists in the music.

In similar ways the other duets in the suite represent different childhood pleasures in music. Two melodies intertwine in 'Twining Wreaths', a 'Circle Dance' that makes you want to dance, 'Hide and Seek' with lots of running around the keyboard - trying to find each other, very insistent and frightening 'Ghost Stories' and a langorous and somnolent 'evening song'. Lovely music reminding us of a brief interlude of happiness in the troubled life of Robert Schumann - family man.

As an encore David Lee and David Southerns played a piano duet arrangement of Felix Arndt's song to his fiancée Nola Locke. 'Nola' was written in 1915 in a very forward-looking ragtime style, already developed by Scott Joplin and later adopted - as a direct result of Arndt's influence - by George Gershwin. Sadly Arndt did not live to see that - or to enjoy his marriage to Nola. He was killed by the epidemic of influenza in 1918. However, just like Schumann before him, Felix Arndt was blissfully happy in his ignorance of what was to come, and the music reflects this.

The concert ended as it had begun - with a generous helping of irreverent fun.

Many thanks to David Lee for organising the whole series - and for playing the piano and organ himself on this occasion - and to David Southerns for making a welcome return to Glenorchy.

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)

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