REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on ‘Which Dreamed It?’, North York Moors Chamber Music Festival

Ben Goldscheider: “Immaculate”

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.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on Elizabeth Brauss, BMS York, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, February 17

Pianist Elizabeth Brauss

I AM going to frame this review of German pianist Elizabeth Brauss’s excellent recital with a couple of whinges. Firstly, there should be an usher seated at the exit doors during the recital. No matter how quietly someone intends to leave during a performance, the doors close with a disruptive kick. This could be easily mitigated and yes, it matters.

Now to the review: Throughout the concert, I was struck by how thoughtful, how sophisticated Ms Brauss’s playing sounded. This was self-evident from the opening Concerto in D minor by Bach (after Marcello).

The Allegro and Presto movements bristled with crisp, razor-sharp articulation while the central Adagio was achingly poignant, played with such lyrical tenderness. Quite remarkable.

As was Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses. I confess that I have never heard the piece before, but goodness me what a wonderfully cultured, superbly knitted theme and variations it is. A few observations: stand-out points included the driven question-and-answer chat – left-hand octaves, right-hand chords of the third variation and the crispest of crisp staccato canon in variation four.

The sixth variation seemed to leap with neurotic joy, the seventh incredibly fast and thrilling. The musical bleed into the fugal variation ten was so wonderfully judged and the ensuing contrapuntal dialogue so clear and distinct.

Ms Brauss’s final variation or coda made the musical hairs on the back of your head stand to attention. They were still there throughout the performance of Hindemith’s mesmerizing, gently radical In Einer Nacht. What a marriage of intellect and emotion this turned out to be. Indeed, the character pieces, so wonderfully threaded together, had echoes of the second-half Schumann.

Once again, we were treated to a performance of serious insight and engagement. The work dazzles with diverse influences from opera, jazz and Debussy, closing off with a terrific bow in appreciation of J S Bach.

Ms Brauss delivered a full calendar of emotion, from simple playfulness to the gently twisted or grotesque. Her interpretation was infused with genuine empathy, as eloquently expressed in her introduction to the work.

After the interval, we were treated to a Schumann masterpiece, Carnaval. As is well documented, this collection of miniatures recreates a musical masked ball with guests including the composer’s friends, characters from the commedia dell’arte and Schumann himself.

The playing was so in tune with both the technical and creative demands, the characterisation so

vivid, that it left nothing to be desired or needed. Like the recital itself, every gesture here seemed infused with meaning, the whole work bristling with vitality.

Which brings me to close with my second critical point: why the encore? To be sure, it was Schumann (Von fremden Ländern und Menchen); to be sure, the performance was utterly poignant, but it just wasn’t necessary.

Following the conclusion of Elizabeth Brauss’s wonderful Schumann Carnaval, all that was needed was the rapturous applause it clearly deserved and then to set off, in the words of Paul Simon, homeward bound.

Review by Steve Crowther

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Paul Lewis, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, January 14

Paul Lewis: ” A strain of melancholy threaded through the evening but the result was riveting”

PAUL Lewis is among Britain’s finest pianists. So to have him visit York at the invitation of the British Music Society – which is enjoying a bumper season – was a special privilege.

He presented two of Beethoven’s better-known sonatas, the ‘Pathétique’ and the ‘Appassionata’ (not names assigned by the composer), which framed a Debussy suite and Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy.

A strain of melancholy threaded through the evening but the result was riveting. The opening Grave of the ‘Pathétique’ was exceptionally spacious, with chord-resolutions delayed to the absolute maximum, so that the succeeding Allegro, taken at lightning pace, felt even quicker by contrast.

The accompanimental figures in the slow movement were rich and dark, which lent the main melody, beautifully sustained, an autumnal fireside warmth. In contrast, the rondo theme in the finale was surprisingly light and frisky at first, becoming progressively more urgent until its resolute last appearance, which recaptured the intensity of the very opening of the work.

Debussy’s Children Corner suite is not kiddies’ music, either for players or listeners. Lewis offered the pretence that it was, touching in the details of these character-pieces with a delicate brush while keeping their droll humour to the fore.

Jimbo’s clumsy lullaby, the doll’s clockwork serenade and a snowy white-out were but preludes to the loneliness of the little shepherd and the Golliwogg’s self- satisfied strut (with a moment of self-doubt thrown in). It was hard not to smile throughout.

Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy Op 61 in A flat. which dates from 1846, three years before he died, is one of the most forward-looking pieces he ever penned. It belonged next to Debussy in this programme exactly because it is so impressionistic.

Its dance element – the polonaise section of the title – only really becomes clear towards the end, after a considerable stretch of varying, improvisatory ramblings. Lewis excelled in differentiating its many changes of colour, where lesser pianists can get lost in its brambles. In his hands it became a ballade, often tinged with melancholy, with the third of its three main sections building persuasively into dramatic closure.

By now, Lewis’s adrenaline must really have been flowing: volatility was the name of his game in Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’, Op 57 in F minor. Where there was some cloudiness in the first movement’s bass line, its very detail endowed the central variations with a marvellous nobility, stoically underpinning the increasingly taxing decorations.

He preferred to gloss over the ‘ma non troppo’ (not too much) of the third movement’s Allegro – which added to its fearsome frenzy but left little acceleration in reserve for the closing Presto. No matter: it still became a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, daringly delivered.

Review by Martin Dreyer