British Music Society of York: Daniel Lebhardt, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, December 1
FEW pianists are able successfully to combine both accompaniment and solo work. But less than a week after he had appeared in a supporting role in Helmsley, Daniel Lebhardt was back in Yorkshire for this solo recital as part of the British Music Society of York’s 102nd season.
He opened with four ballades by Brahms, but thereafter interleaved Scriabin and Bartók with three Ligeti preludes. The ballades are a product of the composer’s early twenties and grouped in two pairs, the minor and major keys of D and B; they are mainly in three-part song form.
Lebhardt played them lovingly, concentrating on their melodies and keeping accompanimental figures in the background. Nowhere was this more successful than in the last, which was beautifully sustained.
We were to hear little of this approach in the rest of the programme. Ligeti’s 18 preludes are nowadays becoming de rigueur in piano recitals (two days earlier Danny Driver had included some here).
They are frequently volatile, often fast-moving, and a supreme test of virtuosity. Lebhardt was unlucky with No 6, Autumn In Warsaw, where he had a memory lapse that a re-start could not surmount, although we had sensed the falling leaves well enough. The prestissimo ending of No 15, White On White, given later, was thrilling.
The audience stayed on his side and he came back even more determined. So much so that he took out his anger on the ‘Drammatico’ opening of Scriabin’s Third Sonata, with exceptionally strong accents.
But he still managed to convey its ebb and flow. He had regained composure by the third, slow movement, which was gentle, bordering on sentimental. Fire was to return with a vengeance in the finale; it was to become a chorale by the end. He also made strong contrasts between high and low registers in Scriabin’s Vers la Flamme.
Born in Hungary, but now based in this country, Lebhardt showed a particular empathy with Bartók. The three Studies were wonderfully crisp; they must have acted as stimulants for Ligeti. The first was a whirlwind of close harmony, while in the second he brought out the theme with great clarity in the left hand. There was not much evidence of the ‘Rubato’ the composer marked in the third, but it was neatly structured nonetheless.
Bartók’s ‘Out Of Doors’ suite (Szabadban) had a special ring of truth. Lebhardt found the humour in ‘Musettes’ (although it needed to be a touch lighter), and ‘The Night’s Music’ was appropriately eerie.
‘The chase’ was highly percussive and riddled with cross-accents, in true Allegro Barbaro vein. Indeed, if there were a quibble about the second half, it would be that too much of the music was percussive, allowing the pianist’s lyricism little rein. But his virtuosity – with the one exception – was never in doubt.
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.
North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: ‘Which Dreamed It?’, St Mary’s, Lastingham, August 25
THIS was one of the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival’s more adventurous programmes, but that did not deter the punters: it was a full house.
There were two pieces each from Schumann and Debussy, balanced by four much more contemporary works by two Brits and two Germans. It made for a stimulating mix, not least because the performers were so utterly committed.
Ben Goldscheider began out of sight in the Saxon crypt, the church otherwise darkened, with Bernhard Krol’s Laudatio for solo horn (1966). Inspired by the ancient Christian hymn Te Deum Laudamus, it could hardly have been more appropriate as a scene-setter, journeying from plainsong into more modern, questing territory. Goldscheider was immaculate.
He also closed the evening, with Jörg Widmann’s Air (2006). The music conveys something of the atmosphere of alphornists signalling to each other between mountain-tops, so that there are constant echoes and imitations, given a third dimension by the piano strings being wedged open and resonating eerily. It is a favourite competition piece. Goldscheider was more than equal to its taxing variations and drew sustained applause.
He had been soloist in Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, with Daniel Lebhardt offering tenacious piano support. After nicely sustained legato in the Adagio, he cantered through the succeeding rondo with immense panache, testing his rapid tonguing even further by speeding up in the coda.
In Mark Simpson’s Nachtstück (2021), he did not hold back from the work’s more nightmarish contrasts, varying his tone in the darkness, but becoming more triumphal after Lebhardt’s keyboard climax. He is a riveting performer.
Debussy’s Rhapsody (named ‘First’ but in fact the only one) for clarinet and piano (1910) saw the first appearances of Robert Plane and Christian Chamorel respectively. Plane captured the composer’s will-o’-the-wisp aura, much helped by Chamorel’s early restraint. They brought terrific verve to the work’s later stages.
They were joined by viola player Simone van der Giessen for Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen (Fairy-tale narrations). Three of the four tales are marked ‘lively’ and they got off to an effervescent start.
There were pleasing contrasts, though, both in the lovely central section of the second tale and in the martial, dotted rhythms of the last, which were crisp and to the point. The exception was the third, where a peaceful, rocking movement in the piano featherbedded a soaring line in the viola, not quite matched here by the clarinet.
The four berceuses from Thomas Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel are not the stuff of sweet dreams, indeed the title is ironic. With Lebhardt returning to the piano, viola and clarinet brought an elegiac feel to the opening lullaby, followed by something altogether bolder with a terrifying ending in the second. Only the finale seemed likely to produce a soporific effect – and it was touchingly shaped.
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: Aurora, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 27
SO to the festival finale. We had no less than 11 players here, spread over three pieces, which gave a very full audience the chance to bid au revoir to most of their favourites.
Schumann’s Piano Quintet was followed after the interval by Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes and Dohnányi’s Sextet in C. It was a joyous occasion.
The Schumann was led from the piano with characteristic fervour by Daniel Lebhardt, although its Allegro brillante was bursting with positivity on the part of all five players, a thrill undoubtedly felt by the audience.
Its yearning second theme, alternating between a light viola and a stronger cello, counterbalanced the opening excitement. Indeed, Alice Neary’s cello offered a firm foundation throughout the work.
Similarly, the gently rocking second theme in the slow movement made a tender contrast to the opening march. It came to an impeccably hushed, long-breathed close. There were strong gypsy connotations in the trio and a vital coda to the scherzo.
Not so vital was the start of the finale which was heavy. But it was deceptive. When dialogue returned, Lebhardt dabbed in some nice pianistic touches, not least in his playing with rests, and when the counterpoint got going, there was no looking back. In perhaps the most ingenious movement Schumann ever wrote, the coda’s double fugue built into an immense climax, hugely satisfying here.
Prokofiev was hardly going to equal Schumann, but his clever take on klezmer – Jewish non-liturgical music – sounded like the real thing here, with Matthew Hunt’s clarinet taking an eloquent, agile lead.
Katya Apekisheva’s often rippling piano chords added a propulsion that was patently balletic, as Prokofiev undoubtedly intended. It made a pleasing diversion.
Dohnányi’s Sextet uses a piano quartet alongside clarinet and horn, which tends to mean that the horn dominates the texture whenever it enters. But Ben Goldscheider’s horn is a subtle instrument and he used it with discretion.
Ensemble was taut right from the start, in an opening theme with a charming little kink in it, illuminated by violin, clarinet and horn. The acceleration towards the close was beautifully managed.
The strings were silent when the funeral march invaded the slow movement but Apekisheva’s piano arpeggios steered all the players back into line and a peaceful conclusion.
Hunt’s clarinet led the scherzo’s engaging lilt, and the trio’s skittering triplets injected a note of sheer fun. When the scherzo returned, the ensemble distilled pure romanticism out of the harmonic stasis near its close.
The festival could not have closed with a more joyful movement than the finale, where Dohnányi seems to shed all inhibitions and go for sounds that are more Broadway than Brahms. The syncopation was dazzling, but immensely disciplined. It conjured everything that this treasure of a festival is all about.
North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: Towards The Flame, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 23
THIS was the most modern of this year’s programmes – 20th century music bar two Dowland lute songs – yet there was no falling-off in attendance, a mark of how dedicated this audience is. Dowland, indeed, was the focus of the first and the last two works on this programme, with two Russian pieces in between.
The pianist Daniel Lebhardt carried the lion’s share of the first half. He opened with Darknesse Visible, written by Thomas Adès in 1992 for solo piano, and inspired by Dowland’s song ‘In Darknesse Let Mee Dwell’ (in the original spelling).
Adès uses only notes from the song, nothing added, but he “explodes” it – his word – so that it occurs at the extremes of the piano, often heavily accented. Snatches of the original are glimpsed fleetingly in the middle of the keyboard, more so towards the end of its seven intriguing minutes. Lebhardt played it without a score, a mark of his diligence.
Prokofiev’s First Violin Sonata, in which Benjamin Baker joined Lebhardt, is one of his most tortured and tortuous. It took him eight years to write, finishing in 1946. While the first movement meandered darkly, a low-lying slow march in the piano, the violin nervously double-stopped before rushing into ghostly semiquavers.
The clarity this duo brought to the work was enhanced by the contrast they brought to the two themes of the succeeding Allegro Brusco. Once again, Baker’s violin grew more frenetic, until the eventual collision of the themes seemed entirely logical.
He allowed a touch of lyricism into the slow movement melody, before a skittish finale, mainly staccato and strongly syncopated. Here the intrusion of the nursery-style melody was served up as a red herring, before the ghostly tones of the very opening restored the sense of menace that hovers around this work. It all sounded very logical in this account.
Lebhardt returned to give Scriabin’s Vers La Flamme – the evening’s title – where he relished the mounting urgency and heavy accents that surround an insistent tremolo. Scriabin’s apocalyptic vision requires considerable pyrotechnics, but Lebhardt tackled them with near-missionary zeal, again by rote.
Lutenist Matthew Wadsworth appeared after the interval in company with viola player Scott Dickinson and pianist Katya Apekisheva. He gave an intimate reading of two Dowland lute-songs, ‘Flow My Tears’ and ‘If My Complaints Could Passions Move’. Britten quotes both of these in his Lachrymae for viola and piano, but uses the second as the basis for a theme and variations in reverse; the theme appears at the very end.
Viola and piano treated the work lovingly, although in its Appassionato section – where part of the first song appears – they turned up the drama. When the theme finally appeared, there was a real sense of catharsis. A satisfying conclusion to what might have been an uncompromising evening.
North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: La Belle Époque, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 10
NO fewer than 11 different musicians took part in what was essentially a song-recital by mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, devoted to ‘mélodies’ – the French answer to the German Lied – whose heyday was that prosperous period of roughly 35 years up until the First World War.
Among the composers, we enjoyed a fascinating handful of lesser lights jostling with the likes of Debussy, Ravel and Chausson.
Huntley certainly knew her way around this repertory. When singing with piano accompaniment – provided by the keenly attentive James Baillieu – she quite properly used no score. She found pathos at the centre of Duparc’s L’invitation au voyage and sustained a lovely line against Baillieu’s rippling piano. Paladilhe’s Psyché made a pleasing miniature with the voice in a largely secondary role.
Her account of Debussy’s Trois chansons de Bilitis – who was supposedly an ancient Greek poetess but was in reality a fiction created by Pierre Louÿs and fooling many classicists – was equally fluent.
The semi-recitative of ‘La flute de Pan’ and the rueful reminiscence of ‘La chevelure’ was countered by more forceful momentum in ‘Le tombeau de Naïades’. Later we had shapely Chaminade, and Viardot’s Havanaise in operetta style, with Baillieu injecting witty habanera rhythms.
But the real treats came when she had an ensemble at her side. In Chausson’s Chanson perpetuelle, violin and viola sweetly in turn echoed the vocal line and the full piano quintet helped generate considerable intensity.
Even more of a pleasure was the chance to hear Ravel’s Chansons madécasses with the flute of Claire Wickes (doubling on piccolo), alongside Jamie Walton’s cello and Daniel Lebhardt’s piano. Here was intriguing scene-painting, impressionism with exotic ethnic tints. This group was notably well-knit.
A breath-taking finale came with violinist Benjamin Baker, barely off the plane from New York, in the concertante role in Chausson’s Poème, Op 25. The early elegiac mood turned gradually more upbeat, as Baker’s soaring cantilenas and dizzying arpeggios built towards a protracted final cadence that turned from minor to major at the last gasp. A quintet, led from the piano by Katya Apekisheva, lent energetic support. Another festival gem. But Huntley had played her part superbly too, setting the fin de siècle tone.
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.