MENTION the names Charlotte, Daniel, Jamie and Katya to any regular punter at the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival and they will instantly know who you mean.
For the uninitiated, this is a reference to violinist Charlotte Scott, pianist Daniel Lebhardt, cellist Jamie Walton and pianist Katya Apekisheva. All are core members of the resident team during the summer festival – so I shall use their first names here.
It was a special pleasure to welcome them back to our area as winter closes in, incidentally reminding us of treasures in store next summer (specifically, August11 to 24 2014). Here we enjoyed sonatas by Strauss and Rachmaninov, alongside bonbons by the latter and by Schubert.
Schubert’s Adagio in E flat, D.897 (known by its publisher’s title, Notturno) is a touching piano trio. It begins pianissimo and is – rarely for Schubert – marked appassionato. With the benefit of hindsight, we can feel the nostalgia of a piece written during his 32nd and final year.
Here it was beautifully controlled, with Katya’s rippling piano a constant underlay and the dotted figure in its opening phrase still prominent in its brief chorale.
Rachmaninov stood at the heart of the evening. His Cello Sonata in G minor, a work of his late twenties and the last chamber music he was to write, brought a much-deserved spotlight on Jamie, with Katya still in support (although the actual spotlights flickered distractingly).
Its first three movements showed varying degrees of agitation here. The opening grew in intensity, right up to its fiery conclusion. Scherzo and trio were neatly contrasted, the one nervy and staccato, the other smoothly melodious.
The slow movement teetered on the brink of sentimentality – but never crossed that line. The finale was quite different. Now in the major key, it reached unexpectedly sunny uplands, delivered with immense conviction right through to its furiously happy coda.
Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque in D minor (1893) dates from his late teens but took another two decades to reach its final form. It sounds much like Brahms. Its themes emerged clearly from Daniel’s piano, although Charlotte’s violin needed to resort to some muscularity to match his enthusiasm. Jamie’s cello remained firm and the ending was properly solemn.
Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata is another early work, dating from his early twenties, with all the exuberance that implies. Daniel’s passionate piano moved a little too readily directly from piano to forte, with little between. Charlotte not merely withstood the challenge but soared sumptuously in both the outer movements.
The Andante between, marked ‘Improvisation’, was a different matter: an absolute gem. Its song-like melody elicited exceptionally sweet tone from Charlotte, with Daniel nobly self-effacing, and reached a rare ‘pin-drop’ moment at its close, the audience completely transfixed. It crystallised an evening of exceptional warmth – just what the doctor ordered, in fact.
Review by Martin Dreyer
* Next summer’s programme details are available at www.northyorkmoorsfestival.com.
WHEN standards are already so high, it is hard to imagine that the best wine has been kept till last. Yet this final afternoon devoted to Schubert surpassed everything else I had experienced at this year’s North York Moors Chamber Music Festival. It was nothing short of sensational.
The ‘Trout’ Piano Quintet, D.667, was preceded by the B flat Piano Trio, D.898. The performers in the latter were violinist Benjamin Baker, cellist Alice Neary and pianist Daniel Lebhardt. Their ensemble was so taut, so larded with deep understanding and leavened with the utmost sensitivity to each other, that it seemed certain that they had collaborated before.
Within this delightfully Viennese pastry the ensemble gently drew attention to any number of Schubertian subtleties, teasing our tastebuds with the smallest of details, so that the total confection was constantly riveting.
When the breezy first movement’s second theme arrived, beautifully enunciated by Neary, it was impeccably emulated by Baker; they were in perfect agreement. The pause in the recapitulation was tantalisingly elongated, thanks to Lebhardt.
The slow movement was a lovely contrast, ruminative, thoughtful, even subdued. Its very intimacy drew us in, so that when the piano thinned down to a single line near the end, it was riveting in its simplicity.
The crisp Scherzo was balanced by an extremely smooth, legato Trio, while the frisky final Rondo was light on its feet, positively balletic. I do not expect to hear this account bettered. Equalled, perhaps, but never bettered. I would not be surprised if this threesome were to perform regularly outside this festival. It was no surprise to learn that Neary is to join Baker as a special guest at his New Zealand festival, At The World’s Edge, in October.
A completely new team took over for the ‘Trout’. It did not quite live up to its predecessor in the programme but was nevertheless extremely satisfying. Schubert wrote it while enjoying a holiday in the glorious countryside around Steyr, about 100 miles west of Vienna. So it was fitting that we should enjoy the piece in a rural setting.
The quintet, led by violinist Charlotte Scott, got off to an engaging start, with ensemble always taut. Her fellow string players were violist Simone van der Giessen, cellist Jamie Walton and bassist Siret Lust, with Christian Chamorel the eloquent pianist. But it was not until the second movement Andante that colours really began to emerge, highlighted by the close-knit duet between viola and cello, as also leavened by the rare streak of melancholy here.
After a brilliant scherzo, the variations that give the work its nick-name were slightly under-characterised, the song theme needing a touch more emphasis. Throughout I felt we required a little more from the double bass, which carries less well than the higher voices in this marquee. The finale was given its superb rhythmic impetus by Chamorel’s intelligent pianism.
This concert underlined the magic ingredient of the whole festival: spontaneity. Chamber music, at least outside London, is so often experienced at the hands of groups who repeat the same programme while touring. Many are extremely proficient. But they may lack the freshness that is always on display here, and the calibre of performers is unrivalled by any similar festival. Long may it thrive.
Living Backwards, North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, St Michael’s Church, Coxwold, August 16
IF you are scratching your head over the title above, you deserve an explanation. It comes from Lewis Carroll, whose looking-glass themes are being explored in this year’s festival, which remains North Yorkshire’s best-kept musical secret. This was the fourth of the 14 programmes that could be heard daily until August 26.
Such titles are needed since no named group is performing. We know the musical menu in advance but must wait until the start of each event to discover which of the 27 resident players are involved.
This title? You may well not have encountered Ravel rubbing shoulders with Telemann, not to mention Dvořák with Biber. Throw in an intro by Saariaho, and put everything in reverse chronological order, and you have the outline of this wonderfully eclectic afternoon programme.
Benjamin Baker, who with fellow-violinist Charlotte Scott bore the brunt of the playing, opened with a tender account of Kaija Saariaho’s solo Nocturne, which she wrote in 1994, the same year as her violin concerto. Although intended as an in memoriam for Lutoslawski, it also commemorated the composer’s own death two months ago.
As Baker walked slowly away another memorial piece began, Ravel’s violin and cello sonata to honour Debussy. All but one of its four movements reflects Debussy’s joie de vivre, as did Alena Baeva and Jamie Walton’s playing.
Their warm, weaving dialogue in the opening and skittish scherzo, rapidly alternating bowing with pizzicato, were picked up again in the zestful finale, which bubbled with bonhomie. The slow movement, however, was properly elegiac: deliberate, bleak, and hushed at the close.
Dvorak’s Terzetto in C, for two violins and viola, brought back Baker and Scott, joined by Sascha Bota on the lowest part. They revelled in its unexpected demands. The scherzo’s emphatic return after a gentler trio was but a prelude to a theme and variations that were delivered with ever-increasing panache. Here were three superb virtuosos sharing their unbridled delight in unfamiliar repertoire – almost a trademark of this festival.
Gulliver’s Travels was Telemann’s response to Swift’s widely popular satire, a five-part suite for two violins. Once again it involved Baker and Scott: their palpable rapport was essential to the success of its quick-fire conversation, especially in the teasing ‘Brobdingnagian gigue’ and the busy dance of the ‘untamed Yahoos’.
Scott remained on stage to deliver a stylish, spellbinding account of the 16th and last of Biber’s Rosary sonatas, a chaconne that is the ultimate test of the Baroque violinist. A visit to Wonderland? Definitely.
EXPECT the unexpected when the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival invites next month’s audiences to peer into the looking glass.
Now in its 15th year, the summer festival will combine daring programming with an inclusive atmosphere in its fortnight run from August 13 to 26.
This year’s theme, Into The Looking Glass, takes inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s 1872 novel to “explore the psychology of the mind through the prism of music, conveying its various chapters with carefully curated music that takes the audience on an adventurous journey through many twists and turns”.
Having forged ahead to play to live audiences through the height of the Covid pandemic by hiring an open-sided, 5,000 sq.ft marquee, the festival retains the format this year in the grounds of Welburn Manor, near Kirkbymoorside.
In addition, a series of lunchtime concerts will be presented in North York Moors National Park churches at St Michael’s, Coxwold; St Hilda’s, Danby; St Hedda’s, Egton Bridge, and St Mary’s, Lastingham.
From his North York Moors home, the festival’s artistic director, cellist Jamie Walton, has gathered around 30 international artists, such as pianist Katya Apekisheva, French horn virtuoso Ben Goldscheider and violinists Charlotte Scott and Benjamin Baker.
Award-winning Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko and Russian-born, Luxembourg-based violinist Alena Baeva will make their festival debuts.
Works by Bach, Schubert, Strauss, Schumann, Debussy and Mendelssohn, among others, will be performed.
Walton says: “Although the festival is primarily chamber music in the classic sense, the success of last year’s appearance by folk singer Sam Lee and his band opened up our audiences to new styles and acts, while attracting Sam’s own fanbase to the world of classic music.
“This year, we’re delighted to welcome eclectic singer/violinist Alice Zawadzki and her jazz-infused trio for a concert entitled Wonderland, specially developed for the festival.
“Throughout this festival, audiences can expect the unexpected in a fantastical fortnight that showcases great talent, sublime music and spectacular locations. There’ll be loads of vitality and we’ll be pushing some boundaries.”
For the full festival programme, head to: www.northyorkmoorsfestival.com. Tickets for each main festival concert cost £15, free for under-30s. A season ticket for all 14 concerts is £150.
OUTSIDE, a chill wind rattled in off the North Sea, but inside St Hilda’s this piano trio recital promoted by North York Moors Chamber Music was more like the first cuckoo in spring, heralding warmer times, especially the NYMCM’s own festival in August.
Trios by Beethoven and Mendelssohn were prefaced by duos featuring the violin and cello in turn. Charlotte Scott’s succulent violin put everyone in the mood straight away. Svendsen’s popular Romance, Op 26 of 1881, originally for violin and orchestra, can easily sound hackneyed. In her hands, it came up fresh and new, moving from dreamy elegy to full-blown romanticism. Daniel Lebhardt’s piano kept in close attendance.
Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op 70 No 2 in E flat has suffered by comparison with its companion piece, the ‘Ghost’ trio, if only because it lacks a nickname. Its generally warm aura reflects the friendship Beethoven enjoyed with the Hungarian Countess Erdödy, to whom Czerny claimed it was secretly dedicated.
The ensemble found tranquillity in its opening Poco sostenuto, where each instrument suggests a different key before it settles into E flat. There was a lovely transparency in the recapitulation, the quiet opening echoed magically. In the second movement’s double theme and variations – a device much favoured by Haydn but rarely by Beethoven – we heard the two dances, major and minor, coolly differentiated.
The succeeding, song-like Allegretto was notable for the conversation between unaccompanied strings and piano at its heart. The finale’s stormy centre had a powerfully symphonic feel, reaching a majestic climax. Donald Tovey describes it as “stupendous”. It certainly was here.
Jamie Walton brought his most mellow string tone to bear on Mendelssohn’s last Song without Words, Op 109 in D, written for cello and piano. He was particularly sumptuous in its central section and there was a nice tenuto before the recall of the opening.
Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Trio, No 2 in C minor, benefited especially from Lebhardt’s light-fingered pianism. The merging of the two themes in the energetic first movement was cleanly done and the outer sections of the ‘fairy’ Scherzo were extremely nimble.
In a hell-for-leather finale, however, the trio sounded as if in combat with one another and the triumphant chorale emerged with less clarity than it deserved. But one could only admire the commitment this represented, a virtue in evidence throughout the programme.
Review by Martin Dreyer
North York Moors Chamber Music Festival will run from August 13 to 26. Box office: 07722 038990 or northyorkmoorsfestival.com.
North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: Spring, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 19
ONCE again it was the ever-reliable, sweet-toned violin of Charlotte Scott that took the lead in this afternoon’s works, Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata, Op 24 in F, and Schumann’s Second Piano Trio, Op 80 in D.
Up to this point, the piano – a medium-size Steinway – had been the cause of several comments, mainly negative, about its tone. To these ears, it verged on the clangy; others thought it tinny.
Certainly James Baillieu, the admirable pianist here, had appeared to struggle to produce the kind of sound he wanted. But by now, something had changed, adjustments made no doubt, and the piano returned to something like mellowness.
F major has often been a key indicating the joys of nature, especially for Beethoven. Think of his Pastoral Symphony or the last string quartet. All that was here, in the nuances delivered by both players.
The exposition was given a full repeat, just as it should be (but isn’t always). The mood music continued in the daydream of an Adagio, with the violin tone now more intimate and the pair enjoying gentle dialogue in the third of its three variations. After the comic Scherzo, with the violin intentionally lagging a beat behind, the rondo found the pair in wonderful harness, melting teasingly back into repetitions of the theme.
They were joined by cellist Jamie Walton for the Schumann. The early tremolos in the strings became tempestuous, but clarity never suffered, even through the long acceleration into the final climax of the first movement.
The cello was the first to break out of the introspective ruminations of the slow movement and Baillieu’s piano became a little over-dramatic before the return of the theme. But there was a delightful ebb and flow as little motifs were tossed around in the succeeding dance. The finale was lent an attractive urgency by the lightness of the semiquavers in all three voices, as the counterpoint fizzed.
North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: Turning Points / A New Genre / Jubilee Quartet, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 13-15
ANOTHER day, (yet) another special occasion at this extraordinary festival. The programme was as big a draw as you could imagine, Mendelssohn’s Octet for strings, preceded by the penultimate of Mozart’s six string quintets, K.515 in C. For connoisseurs of chamber music for strings alone, it doesn’t get much better than that.
The Mendelssohn, the work of a 16-year-old, almost singlehandedly brings back the string orchestra into existence. It requires virtuosity from all eight players but especially from the top violinist.
The way Charlotte Scott filled this concertante role was nothing short of magnificent: determined, deliberate, dazzling and utterly focused. In a word, gutsy. But the inner voices emerged here with considerable clarity.
This was all the more remarkable since four seasoned professionals were joined here by the young Jubilee Quartet (with Julian Azkoul standing in for their injured leader). The youngsters were in no way overawed by the company they were keeping. Indeed, it may be that each group inspired the other to greater heights.
A few highlights will have to do duty for a performance that will live long in the memory. The unison wind-up into the return of the opening, following a pregnant piano passage, stood out in the first movement. The slow movement was a tenderly woven tapestry, its dark opening picked up more strongly later.
The scherzo, so often associated with the composer’s ‘fairy’ music began with wonderfully taut dance rhythms, but only turned really light-footed later, a pleasing surprise. The brisk tone of the fugal finale set by the cellos was imitated with equal panache all the way up the instruments, with Scott’s virtual moto perpetuo icing the cake. The whole was breath-taking, not least from an ensemble that had enjoyed so little time to coalesce.
It is not often the Mozart finds itself as the warm-up act, normally taking pride of place. But it set the bar high. Benjamin Baker, in decisive mood, was leader here. He engaged in delightful dialogues with both cello and first viola in the first two movements. The delicacy of the slow movement heightened the eventual contrast with the finale, which was taken at a terrific clip, but superbly survived by all five players alike.
It was prelude to a great weekend. On the Saturday, two of the great Romantic piano quintets framed the UK premiere of a work for the same forces by Albanian composer Thomas Simaku. ‘Con-ri-sonanza’ deliberately hovers rather than progresses, opening with plucked piano (Daniel Lebhardt leaning inside) heard against tremolo strings, with sudden intense interjections.
The tremolo becomes eerie, the interjections more strident, until a pregnant pause leads into a gentle piano phrase and an altogether more ethereal texture with high glissandos in the stings. The piano’s interruptions gradually subside, until the cello rises up the harmonic series from its C string. Mere description does not do justice to a piece that constantly intrigues – and delighted the house.
In the opening Allegro of Schumann’s Piano Quartet, it was to be expected that the second theme would emerge so gloriously from cello and viola – Brian O’Kane and Simon Tandree respectively.
More of a surprise was the marvellous contrast between the two melodies in the slow movement, with the rests in the ‘funeral march’ given full value as opposed to the creamy legato of the major-key tune that follows. Other little details tickled the fancy: the return to the trio in the Scherzo and the short gentle interlude in the otherwise boisterous finale, where the mildly fugal ending reached a thrilling climax.
Dvorak’s quintet appeared nearly half a century later and speaks powerfully of his roots in Bohemia, an aspect emphasised here. The ensemble was spearheaded by the redoubtable Charlotte Scott, neatly partnered (as so often at this festival) by Vicky Sayles, with Katya Apekisheva’s piano providing a consistently sensitive underlay.
Jamie Walton’s cello brought an elegiac touch to the start of the Dumka and its return on Meghan Cassidy’s viola was equally nostalgic, its triplets beautifully elongated. The Scherzo was notably snappy, and the finale ebbed and flowed lusciously, thanks to a very happy balance between piano and strings.
Sunday’s lunchtime event was one of the five devoted to Young Artists, with the Jubilee Quartet – such vital participants in the Mendelssohn Octet – returning on their own, with Julian Azkoul once again heroically standing in for their regular leader, who fractured a hand a few weeks ago. Haydn was in his seventies when he wrote his last quartet, Op 103 in D minor, leaving only its two middle movements completed. The Jubilee played them respectfully and immediately showed how well they communicate among themselves.
But what followed was of an entirely different magnitude. Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ Quartet, D.810, also in D minor, is a much-played work. I hardly expected a group this young to find new insights into it. I was wrong, utterly. Co-ordination was electric and attacks incredibly precise. All the group’s ideas emerged with total clarity, led by the four-note rhythmic motif that dominates the opening Allegro.
The song-theme of the title was enunciated without vibrato before some heart-stopping variations: the leader tinting in his comments to the first one, the cello ethereal in the second, the sense of dance in the third, and the little dotted rhythm from the inner voices in the fourth … I could go on. The ending here was serene, even cathartic. Azkoul’s passagework in the trio was silky-smooth in the middle of a properly jarring Scherzo.
In the finale, the Jubilees really went hell for leather, at a dangerously rapid tempo that yet never swerved out of control. Accents were firm and determined, teamwork everywhere shining confidently through.
On this evidence, the Jubilees are bound to go far – their enthusiasm is infectious, exactly what an audience loves. They owe a great debt to Azkoul’s smiling calmness under extreme pressure: he is a superb musician. But we must also wish their injured leader a full and speedy recovery, with all four returning to this festival as soon as may be.