REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Rhapsody, North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, August 8

Katya Apekisheva: Mainstay of the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival for several years

North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: Rhapsody, Welburn Manor Marquee

THE best-kept secret in the music world is back in business. Not that it ever went away.

Last August, North York Moors Chamber Music Festival (NYMCMF) discovered it could align with current Covid regulations by staging events in an open-sided marquee at Welburn Manor.

It was a thunderous success, such that the same venue has been re-erected this year for almost all the events, which continue until August 21 (the three exceptions, Young Artists’ events, are in St Hilda’s West Cliff, Whitby).

You may also be wondering what “Rhapsody” implies. Uniquely, this festival does not announce its performers until just before each event. They are all seasoned performers combining a holiday on the Moors with chamber music (a change is as good as a rest, since many earn their living in orchestras).

Young Artists apart, no established ensembles play here. Hence the events only have titles. “Rhapsody” covered piano quartets by Brahms and Fauré.

Two completely different foursomes were on display this time. In Brahms’s Third Piano Quartet, in C minor, the pianist was Katya Apekisheva, who has been a mainstay of the festival for several years. Her counterpart in the second of Fauré’s two piano quartets, in G minor, was Daniel Lebhardt. Both did sterling work in quite different ways.

I mention them first, not because they are more important than the other players, but because the piano can easily predominate in this form of music, all but turning it into a
concerto – with strings struggling to make an impression.

Neither quartet worked out like that. Apekisheva kept a firm hand on the tiller throughout the Brahms, making very little use of the pedal and keeping her textures crisp and clear. Charlotte Scott’s violin was a willing partner in her fierceness.

But the others made their voices heard too. The viola of Rosalind Ventris was notably appealing in the return of the second theme in the opening Allegro, as was
Kate Gould’s cello in the slow movement, setting a mellow tone.

The piano’s insistent chatter in the finale became big and bold – but not over the top – when C major finally arrived, and there was a beautiful fade-out before the final two crashing chords.

The Fauré was equally thrilling. Of the two pieces, it is the more rhapsodic, roaming hither and yon after the opening unison statement of intent. The ensemble as a whole, keenly spearheaded by the violin of Johannes Marmen, underlined its adventurous melodies. Lebhardt’s whirling piano in the (second) scherzo movement, imitated in all the voices, turned into a harlequinade dictating a variety of moods.

The Adagio took a while to get into its stride – the otherwise steady viola of Bryony Gibson-
Cornish might have been a touch more fragrant – but it settled into a lilting rhythm before the carillon began to ring out charmingly on the way to the ethereal, muted ending.

The rolling phrases of the final (third) Allegro Molto emerged especially pleasingly in the violin, with Jamie Walton’s pizzicato cello adding urgency. The composer’s first piano quartet has always enjoyed wider currency than this one. After such an exciting account, it is hard to understand why.

Review by Martin Dreyer

For more information on the festival, head to: