REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on Mishka Rushdie Momen and Friends at Ryedale Festival

Mishka Rushdie Momen: “Clearly one of the most thoughtful, gifted and sensitive British pianists”

Ryedale Festival: Mishka Rushdie Momen and Friends, National Centre for Early Music, York, July 25

IT’S an odd thing about the NCEM acoustic at St Margaret’s Church: the spoken voice is difficult to hear clearly, unless of course you use a microphone, as in the preconcert introduction.

This was true of both spoken contributions from violinist Tim Crawford and Ms Momen, and yet I could hear the pizzicato playing by cellist Tim Posner resonating beautifully throughout the performance. Mind you, he is a very fine player.

Anyhow, to the concert itself. Mishka Rushdie Momen and Friends suggested an intimate gathering of people who are on close terms with each other, and this is exactly what we got. The performers were at ease with each other.

They happily shared the dialogue, listening carefully to each instrumental utterance before replying. They even (musically) flirted with each other; the second canonic study by Schumann was a veritable love duet between violin and cello.

So, let’s start with the Schumann Six Etudes in Canonic Form Op. 56. Evidently, he wrote these pieces in 1845 as an attempt to overcome his “writer’s block”. They were originally written for organ or pedal piano, but it was Schumann’s friend, Theodor Kirchner, who later arranged these for piano trio. The canonic form is one of discipline, of formal conversation; we don’t usually tend to hear it sing, but it does here.

Following the tender second study touched on earlier, any whiff of the academic template is dispelled by the lovely Schumanesque melodic sound world. The music is joyous and so was the playing.

The fourth was conveyed as the charming romantic song it is, with lovely shaping of the musical phrases and rippling decoration. The performers clearly had fun with the very rhythmic, dance-like fifth and in the sixth they delivered a heartfelt, yearning finale. Moving too.

This brings us to the opening work, Smetana’s Trio in G minor, Op. 15. The Trio was written in response to the death of the composer’s four-year-old daughter, Bedriska, of scarlet fever in 1855. The players really captured the quite violent contrasts of the opening allegro moderato. Tender cello and violin solos crescendoed into full-throttle drive. These melted into both delicate and impassioned outpourings of nostalgic memory and grief.

There were echoes of Brahms in the work, but the overall impression conveyed was distinctly Czech; particularly in the thrilling second movement with its musical windows of reflection and the nervous energy of the brilliantly performed allegro finale.

Ms Momen’s performance of the wonderfully descriptive Smetana work, Memories Of Bohemia in the form of Polkas, was a real treat. Lovely touch, phrasing, expressive rubato and executed with real panache.

Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor Op.49 is a terrific work, and the trio delivered a terrific performance. Tim Posner’s opening cello theme was delivered with purpose and nobility. Ms Momen’s agitated accompaniment, at first chordal, then transformed into flights of bristling arpeggios as the theme is repeated.

The contrapuntal reworkings of the second, song-like melody were beautifully judged, as was the opening cello’s melody, now joined by a haunting descending line in the violin. The assai animato signing-off seemed to set the instruments on fire.

There was a quite intimate call and response about the Songs Without Words second movement. For example, in the opening musical piano invitation to the violin and cello to join the dance. The piano writing in the exuberant Scherzo is a virtuosic tour de force. And yet, captured in this performance, there is also magic in the air.

I loved the way the passages were thrown to each of the performers in turn, as in some musical game. The way the music effortlessly dissolved into the ether was delightful.

Apart from Tim Posner’s rather unexpected sweeping Mendelssohnian cello melody, this finale was very much hang-on-to-your-hats time. The driver is very much the piano, the writing is seriously demanding, and Ms Momen’s technique and musicality delivered. The final climax integrates the virtuosic and the song, with a crowd-pleasing signing off.

Mishka Rushdie Momen is clearly one of the most thoughtful, gifted and sensitive British pianists and consequently well equipped to embrace both solo and chamber music performance. Mishka Rushdie Momen and Friends – here the excellent Tim Crawford (violin) and Tim Posner (cello) – gave us a concert of equality of engagement, insight and enrichment.

Review by Steve Crowther