ALNWICK MUSIC SOCIETY
Tuesday 27th February at The Playhouse
Those who braved the snow to attend Alnwick Music Society’s latest concert at The Playhouse were treated to an evening of superb music making by young UK-based pianist Chiyan Wong. Chiyan started with Ferrucio Busoni’s arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations in a wonderful fresh performance that felt newly minted. Busoni’s arrangement is intended to exploit the powerful sonority and range of the modern concert grand and this outstanding performance certainly achieved that whilst still preserving the spirit of Bach’s timeless original.
Next, Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Six Bagatelles, opus 126 provided an interesting contrast of style. These are the finest of Beethoven’s bagatelles, here heard to their best advantage in a spirited performance.
More Busoni followed with his Sonatina Seconda, conceived as a study for the opera Doktor Faust. Chiyan made the most of this dark, turbulent music conjuring up a diabolical scene of mystery and sorcery.
The music of Franz Liszt is associated with pianistic virtuosity and his Reminiscences de Don Juan provided Chiyan with yet another opportunity to demonstrate his exceptional talents. This was a powerful and dramatic performance with the piano achieving orchestral-scale sounds that rang through the Playhouse.
It is a great pity that this wonderful concert did not have a larger attendance but those of us present felt privileged to have heard this remarkable young man who will doubtless delight audiences for many years to come.
Tuesday 6th February 2018 at The Playhouse
The Gould Piano Trio lived up to its international reputation with an outstanding evening of fine music at Alnwick Music Society’s latest concert.
Opening with a spirited performance of the third of Beethoven’s opus 1 piano trios, the fine qualities of musical fire and integrity for which this ensemble is famed were immediately apparent. In Beethoven’s time this was considered an innovative work, with all three instruments having equal status. This was a beautifully balanced performance with a wonderful rapport between the players.
Mark Simpson’s excellent piano trio ‘After Avedon’ is a challenging new composition recently commissioned by the Gould Trio. Inspired by four portraits at an exhibition by American photographer Richard Avedon this highly dramatic work runs through a gamut of emotions, the first movement sad and wistful, the second agitated, the third dark and disturbing and the finale described by Benjamin Frith, the Gould’s pianist, as a jazz-inspired romp. Their committed performance was most impressive.
Finally came Ravel’s superb piano trio. With elements of Spanish, Basque and Far Eastern music, this work requires performers of the highest calibre. From the delicate, wistful opening to the exuberant finale, the Goulds revelled in this demanding music. At times it was difficult to believe that only three musicians were playing as they filled the Playhouse with joyful sound. This provided a fitting end to a concert that will live long in the memory.
Tuesday 28th November 2017 at The Playhouse
The Schubert Ensemble provided a wonderful evening of contrasts when they performed music by Beethoven, Brahms and Charlotte Bray at Alnwick Music Society’s latest concert.
Beethoven came first with his famous Ghost Piano Trio. In this fine, robust performance, the joyous first and third movements provided an excellent foil to the eerie central slow movement which gives this work its name.
Charlotte Bray’s Zustände, meaning ‘states’, is a new work inspired by a recent visit to Greenland and is all about ice in its various forms. Its shimmering opening movement created a palpable chill in the Playhouse and was followed by dramatic sounds representing the movement and breakup of ice as it shatters, melts and glints in the sun.
After the interval, Brahms’ warm and passionate First Piano Quartet provided welcome relief from the cold in a superb performance that ranged through a gamut of emotions. The final movement, a lively Gypsy rondo, was performed with great gusto and panache, which sent the audience away smiling after an evening of fine music performed to the highest of standards.
Tuesday 10th October 2017 at the Playhouse
Moray Welsh and Martin Roscoe
Alnwick Music Society made a fine start to its concert season with a delightful programme of music for cello and piano played by Moray Welsh and Martin Roscoe.
Opening with Beethoven’s twelve variations on “See the conquering hero comes” from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, Moray and Martin immediately demonstrated the fine rapport that exists between them.
Schumann’s highly tuneful Five pieces in Folk-style came next, mixing rustic humour with soulful emotion and robust high spirits in equal measure.
Janacek’s three movement Fairy Tale, based on an epic legend by Russo-Turkish poet Vasily Zhukovsky, is a less familiar work. However, in the hands of Moray and Martin, who successfully captured the exotic, magical atmosphere of this passionate music, it was clear that this deserves to be much more popular.
Another passionate work, but this time with a gallic air, was Debussy’s Cello Sonata, originally entitled “Pierrot angry at the moon”, which brought the first half of the programme to a suitable close.
After the interval came the major work of the evening, Brahms’ Cello Sonata no.2, considered by many to be the high point in late nineteenth century chamber music.
This fine performance lent strength to that argument with both players making the most of the wide range of moods and beautiful melodies that make this sonata so memorable.
Tuesday 2nd May 2017 at the Playhouse
Alnwick Music Society’s last concert of the season was an all Schubert evening, played by their president, Martin Roscoe, one of the UK’s best loved pianists.
The evening opened with two youthful scherzos, providing a light hearted aperitif before the more demanding fare of two late Piano Sonatas which were to follow.
The Sonata in G major, op.78, is one of Schubert’s less heard works but it is one of Martin’s favourites. His love for this work was evident in his sensitive playing, which captured its lyric poetry.
Schubert’s Sonata in B flat major, D960 is considered to be one of his greatest works. Written in the months leading up to his death, there is nothing to suggest that his musical powers were waning. This is all encompassing music with moments of both dramatic turbulence and ethereal tranquillity, albeit with an underlying element of profound sadness. Martin’s fine performance expressed the entire spectrum of these emotions.
To bring his audience down to earth again, Martin concluded with Schubert’s wonderful Impromptu in G flat.
He will be performing this same programme at the Wigmore Hall later this year, in celebration of his sixty fifth birthday – the audience are in for a treat.
Tuesday 4th April 2017 at The Playhouse
Opera North Brass Ensemble
Alnwick Music Society heralded spring with a rousing concert of brass music at The Playhouse. Opera North Brass Ensemble, lead by Murray Greig, provided a wonderfully varied programme of music extending from the seventeenth to the twenty first century. After an opening flourish by contemporary composer Barry Russel, the Ensemble moved on to music by Daniel Speer and Thomas Weelkes, using their modern instruments to capture the sounds of an earlier age. Individual instruments were then given the spotlight in a range of short compositions including works by Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and a young, up and coming composer, Benjamin Ellin.
The second half of the programme, featuring well known music specially arranged for the ensemble by Murray, ranged from Verdi’s Nabucco Overture to Warlock’s Capriol Suite. Perhaps the most memorable item was a colourful arrangement of Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No.1, originally for eight cellos, which successfully captured the vibrant spirit of South America.
This was the first brass concert to be held by the Society for many years and its enthusiastic reception will doubtless ensure another such event before too long.
Tuesday 21st February 2017 at The Playhouse
Another great recital in The Playhouse with works by Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Prokofiev, and two Poles, Weinberg and Szymanowski. The Alnwick Music Society concert on February 21st featured a violinist of outstanding calibre who, over the years, has appeared many times for the Society, usually as leader of either the Sorrel or the Maggini Quartets. Her concert partner was Nigel Clayton, whose sure and inspiring pianism completed a perfect duo. In the Strauss Violin Sonata the richly lyrical and almost orchestral style contrasted well with the quicksilver virtuosity of the Mendelssohn in the second half, whilst in the first Prokofiev’s songlike Five Melodies followed the attractive Violin Sonatina of Weinberg whose reputation is burgeoning after years of being overshadowed by other late 20th Century Russian composers. Once again a wonderful evening with a well-filled house to enjoy it.
Tuesday 29th November at The Playhouse
Premiere of New Music by Local Composer
It was a great privilege for the Alnwick Music Society to be able to host the First Performance of John Caskin’s latest work ‘Lines from a Wanderer’, for baritone and piano. It was commissioned by the Society and was performed by Marcus Farnsworth and pianist James Baillieu. Based upon poems by W.B.Yeats, Thomas Hardy, and Robert Browning, the common theme is man’s desire to travel, to escape and be alone, and the inevitability of thinking of the lives and fortunes of those left behind. It is a serious work, perhaps not easy to appreciate well first time around, but highly expressive of the emotions in the poems, and shot through with moments, not only of lostness and yearning, but also of lyricism. The evening’s programme began with songs from Schubert’s Schwanengesang (Swansong), written at the end of his life, and sensitively performed by the artists. After the Casken work it was fitting, on the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme, to hear George Butterworth’s lovely “Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’”, remembering how A.E.Housman’s poems summon up the grief of lost comrades, one of them being Butterworth himself who died on 5th August 1916 in the early weeks of that fateful conflict. Then, to end the evening, we were given renderings of Benjamin Britten’s folksong settings ‘Salley in our Alley’, ‘I wonder as I wander’, and ‘The Plough Boy’. Both artists excelled in singing and playing of fine musicianship and great creativity. Another memorable evening.
CONCERT REVIEW – Tuesday 15th November at The Playhouse
Queen of Pianists
Superlatives fail me! This was an absolutely superb concert, with a packed Playhouse for Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt. In a glittering long silver dress, she began with six of Scarlatti’s sonatas and made them sing and dance for us. Her playing was from memory, quite a feat in a two hour programme; here was playing of great intensity and feeling, and a rock-solid technique. The Mozart sonata (K333) that followed reminded us of the greatness of Mozart’s music. After the interval we were entered a different world with two Beethoven sonatas (opus 31/2, and opus 27/1. Here, she brought out all the drama in the pieces, her facial expressions revealing an interpretation arising from deep within her. To delight an already satiated audience she played another Scarlatti sonata for an encore, and the Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. If you weren’t there you missed a treat. Bravo!
CONCERT REVIEW – Tuesday 11th October at The Playhouse
VAN KUIJK QUARTET
The young French Van Kuijk String Quartet, named after its leader Nicolas, gave us a splendid recital of Haydn, Ravel and Beethoven on Tuesday 11th October. Their playing was immaculate, and their concentration very noticeable as they sought to get the most out of the music. Not surprisingly, the Ravel Quartet was perfection indeed. I’ve never heard playing of such finesse in this work. The delicately perfumed slow movement oozed summer heat and sultryness. This was pianissimo playing of rare intensity. They dared to play really slowly, holding the tension of the music beautifully. One fellow member of the audience told me that it was as if she was by the river in southern France, with the insects hovering over the water, spending a lazy day in the warmth. An exquisite and passionate performance. As good as a holiday in Provence – almost!
CONCERT REVIEW – Tuesday 30th August at The Playhouse
There was a time when women who were pianists were not hired to perform some of the bigger, more powerful works in the piano repertoire. Not so now, as Alexandra Dariescu demonstrated at the recent Alnwick Music Society concert. Looking stunning in a scarlet dress, she played with power, vigour, great expression and, when needed, gently and persuasively. The early Beethoven sonata (op.10/2) was given clarity, joy and humour. She took us also into the fascinating world of late Faure with his Nine Preludes (op.103), and concluded her programme with the piano version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. “It’s only 114 days to Christmas” she said disarmingly. Another splendid concert, with more exciting recitals to come. Check at The Playhouse for details.