Piano & Violin
It was a cold dark night, just before Christmas.
In the spacious church at Southernhay, a small group of enthusiastic music lovers waited to hear a rare recital by two Russian classical musicians. Both are from Tula, south of Moscow, and studied music together at the Dargomyzhsky College of Music (which has since been renamed the Dargomyzhsky College of Arts). Ekaterina Shetliffe now lives in Paignton with her husband, fellow pianist Lee Shetliffe. Yulia Northridge lives in Derby, so it is always a special occasion when audiences can hear them play together.
The evening was billed as Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, but the recital started with something very different, and very spectacular, which put all thoughts of the winter cold from everyone's mind. With very little preamble, Ekaterina introduced Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto. Bruch composed the concerto for Otto von Königslow while he was teaching in Koblenz in 1866. Bruch himself conducted the première. Two years later Joseph Joachim played a revised version at Bremen.
In the duet arrangement, Ekaterina provided the sound of the full orchestra on the piano, while Yulia gave an exquisite and enrapturing performance of the violin solo. The effect was stunning. The beautiful tone of Yulia's violin floated above Ekaterina's complex and impressive piano performance.
They played all three movements. First the vorspiel (allegro moderato), followed by the gentle adagio, and finally the extraordinary allegro energico. Needless to say, the energy was amazing throughout.
Incredibly, the two performers, in full evening dress, then met the audience in the foyer of the church and served hot drinks. They also discussed their music and plans for the future. With no time at all to relax or rehearse, the duo led the audience back into the church for more musical marvels.
With their indefatigable and idiosyncratic optimism, Ekaterine and Yulia opened 'round two' with the opening allegro of "La Primavera" (Spring) from Antonio Vivaldi's "Le Quattro Stagioni" (The Four Seasons). Ekaterina's piano part was deceptively simple, but complemented Yulia's delightfully anachronistic trills on the violin perfectly. The sound quickly transported us to a warmer and more sensual place.
Ekaterina then introduced the composer whose music we had all come to hear. They played the final movement from "Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher" (Memory of a Clear Place), which Pyotr Tchaikovski began composing at Montreax in 1878. The "Méditation" was completed in Switzerland, and the other two movements during a fortnight's holiday on the Ukrainian estate of his patron Nadezhda von Meck. Ekaterina and Yulia forewent the Méditation, and the subsequent "Valse-Scherzo", to play the final "Mélodie".
What a beautiful and delicious sound. Yulia poured emotion into the violin part while Ekaterina embellished perfectly in the bass.
In a complete change of mood Ekaterina and Yulia then played "Syncopation" composed by Fritz Kreisler in 1926. This strange mix of ragtime and Scottish dance - with a large dash of big-screen pathos - was certainly a surprising departure. However, the way the two musicians played, one might think we were still in Russia.
It was therefore a small step to the the blissful piece for piano and soprano voice, "Vocalise", composed by Kreisler's contemporary Sergei Rachmaninov in 1915. Since it was written, virtually every instrument has been pressed into service to sing the soprano part - particularly the violin, which is perhaps the most popular.
The song has no words, so no transcripts are needed. Voice or strings, the message is always abundantly clear. Rachmaninov was deeply affected by the premature death of his fellow student at the Moscow Conservatory, pianist Alexander Scriabin. Scriabin, like Rachmaninov was only 42 at the time. Although moved to write "Vocalise" as the last of his "Fourteen Songs", Rachmaninov never played his own compositions in public again - always insisting, "Scriabin only."
How lovely to hear Yulia sing this perfect song on her violin, softly and subtly supported by Ekaterina on the piano.
The parting word for the duo was a piece specifically composed for the violin. "Csárdás" (meaning "A Hungarian Tavern") was composed by Vittorio Monti in 1904. The ponderous piano opening by Ekaterina led to an overwhelmingly sad introduction by Yulia on the violin. Soon however, the music changes to to a lively circle dance. Forget all your troubles - for a while!
Having whipped the dancers into a frenzy of excitement the tune returns to the mournful refrain, picked out in harmonics. Finally the dance begins again in earnest, flying through three variations before the final crashing chord.
A fabulous ending, and a fabulous concert.
Tune in to Phonic FM at 10 am on Tuesday 10 March to hear the whole concert on "Classical Journey" - especially the Bruch Piano Concerto, which is out of this world.
Anyone wanting to hear Ekaterina in concert again, has not got long to wait. Ekaterina will be accompanying soprano Claudia Alvarez Calderon in a recital of Italian opera arias, and Peruvian folk songs this weekend. They will be in Studio 3, Dartington Space at 7.30pm on Saturday 14 March.
Saturday 14 March 7 for 7.30pm
ITALIAN OPERA PERUVIAN FOLK
soprano: Claudia Alvarez Calderon
Piano: Ekaterina Shetliffe
Falstaff "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio"
Gianni Schicchi "O mio babbino caro"
Roméo et Juliette "Je veux vivre dans ce rêve"
"Les Oiseaux dans la Charmille"
"Somewhere over the Rainbow"
Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Lerner:
West Side Story "I feel Pretty"
Emmerich (Irme) Kálmán:
Die Csardasfurstin "Heia in den Bergen"
Theodoro Valcarcel: "Suray Surita"
Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales:
"La Perricholi", "La Ramilletera", "Soy Peruana"
Come and enjoy an evening of opera,
musical and Peruvian folk pieces
sung by Italian-Peruvian soprano,
Claudia Alvarez Calderon,
in aid of the Alzheimer's Society