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.
Tim Lowe and Katya Apekisheva, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, September 15
YORK Chamber Music Festival’s tenth anniversary season bounced into life with this lunchtime recital centred round Brahms’s First Cello Sonata. The remainder of the programme involved some Beethoven variations, a couple of Tchaikovsky bonbons and two Schumann movements originally intended for horn. But it was a pleasing taster nonetheless.
The first of Brahms’s two sonatas for cello and piano, in E minor, is a surprisingly mature work, given that it mostly dates from his late twenties and is his first chamber piece for two instruments.
Compared to most of his contemporaries he was a late developer. The first movement, in which the major key makes futile attempts to take over from the minor, relies heavily on the cello’s lower range. Here the balance between the players was, rarely in this recital, not quite right and a little more heft in the cello might have solved the problem. But there was no faulting Tim Lowe’s upper register, which sang with heartfelt joy.
There was a jaunty opening to the minuet and an engaging return to its resumption after the halting trio. Bach’s influence on the finale was plain to hear and the ebb and flow between the duo after the central unison was riveting, before a decidedly edgy coda.
Beethoven’s variations on Handel’s aria See, The Conquering Hero Comes – nowadays often sung as an Easter hymn – shows a remarkable affinity for the cello’s spectrum of colours, which Lowe amply demonstrated. As so often as an accompanist, Katya Apekisheva was quick to adapt her tone to the work’s chameleon moods.
Two Tchaikovsky pieces originally intended for piano solo revealed the composer’s talent for a long-breathed melody, particularly one in a minor key. He loved his C sharp minor Nocturne, Op 19 No 4 so much that he orchestrated it. Lowe was richly touching in the little cadenza at its heart. Even more soulful was the Valse Sentimentale (Op 51 No 6 in F minor) with its passionate undercurrents.
Schumann wrote his Adagio and Allegro, Op 70 for horn and piano but allowed a cellist friend to transcribe it. In this guise it sounds remarkably different. Lowe delivered a beautifully calm line in the Adagio, and the duo captured the Allegro’s rapture superbly, with its second theme ideally balanced by the piano, before full-blown excitement at its close.
Festival Strings, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, September 15
STRING quartets by Haydn and Mendelssohn preceded Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen in its original form in this evening recital, which was the first at which all of the festival’s seven resident string players were present. Looked at another way, this was late Haydn, early Mendelssohn and late Strauss, a potent combination.
Jonathan Stone led the ensemble for Haydn’s Emperor quartet, Op 76 No 3 in C, backed by John Mills as second violin, Simone van der Giessen as viola and Jonathan Aasgaard as cello. There is always an element of hazard – part of the fun, if you like – when four independent souls, mainly used to solo work, link talents, particularly in a work by Haydn that requires the utmost precision.
That hazard is increased when they opt to play with very little vibrato, as here. That decision was odd given that this is a work of the late 1790s, with several toes, if not a whole foot, in the Romantic era. That may be the reason why this combo never quite settled.
Intonation was slightly awry in the nervous first movement and even the Emperor adagio (variations on Haydn’s hymn for the Kaiser, now the German national anthem) lacked real character, virtually vibrato-less.
The minuet was much more relaxed, even chirpy, with nice shading in its trio, but the finale was a touch too fast for its semiquavers to enjoy real clarity. The overall effect was intimate where we needed to hear more of Haydn’s heart on his sleeve.
Mills took over from Stone to lead Mendelssohn’s Second Quartet, Op 13 in A minor, with Hélène Clément as the new viola. Although only 30 years separate this piece from the Haydn, the players’ difference in approach was tangible.
Right from the start, there was a new commitment. After a rich opening Adagio, inner voices shone through commendably in the turbulent Allegro. After the slow movement’s central fugato, Mills’s little recitative to return to the opening was exquisite.
The central scherzo in the Intermezzo was light and delicate, returning to the movement’s opening with a delicate rallentando, before almost no break into the restless finale. Among so much incident here, the viola’s recall of the fugato theme was a pivotal moment, briefly changing the mood, before another outbreak of violence, stilled in its turn by the violin’s pacifying cadenza, supremely executed.
Thereafter, the recall of the very opening Adagio brought comfort and calm. It had been a passionate narrative, probably inspired by the teenage Mendelssohn’s unrequited infatuation at the time.
For nearly half a century, Strauss’s Metamorphosen was known only as a piece for 23 solo strings. Then the original version, for string septet with double bass foundation, came to light in 1990. It is writing of great intensity, which grew from a lament on the bombing of Munich in 1943.
The ensemble, led again by John Mills, brought great clarity to the score’s complex tapestry. From the dark opening on lower strings, its eventual emergence into major key territory brought a gradual quickening of rhythmic life, with all the players becoming as fervent as the ‘engine-room’ of violas.
When this had subsided back into grief, the cry of pain from the top three voices was answered by a vivid tutti, after which resignation slowly took over, with Strauss’s dotted figure assuming the characteristics of a recurring sob. It had seemed to subsume remorse, regret and elegy – for all mankind.
Katya Apekisheva, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, September 16
KATYA Apekisheva is one of a very rare breed of pianists, one who is equally accomplished as a soloist and as a supportive player (otherwise known as an accompanist). She changed her originally published lunchtime programme into an all-Schubert recital, combining works written in the last year of his life, 1828.
Schubert’s Drei Klavierstücke (Three Piano Pieces), D.946, of May 1828 together equal the breadth of a full-scale sonata, although their keys are not related. They are better considered as impromptus, which implies sudden inspiration, even if they are all essentially in three parts.
Apekisheva took time to adjust her tone down to the size of the venue and began quite stridently, blurring the first statement in No 1 in E flat minor with over-pedalling, an oversight that she handsomely corrected on its repeat. Still, the central melody was too loud to be much of a contrast with the opening.
No 2 in E flat major enjoyed a more tender start, although it quickly boiled into something like anger when Apekisheva produced a trombone in the left hand where a gentler bassoon would have done the trick. Then we began to sense a Viennese flavour emerging at the move to the minor key, before a beautifully smooth transition back to the calm of the opening. This was more like it.
No 3 in C major was a real crackerjack, crisp and crunchy. The central trio was trimly smooth, right down to its stormy ending, and the syncopation in the returning scherzo injected exactly the wit we had been waiting for. She was back in the groove.
September 1828, a mere two months before Schubert’s death, saw him produce no less than three full-scale piano sonatas, which together may be said to crystallise his musical philosophy. The last of these, D.960 in B flat major, has a serenity largely missing from its two predecessors, which are more volatile. Apekisheva underlined this with some of her finest playing, growing more luminous with each movement.
Her opening was very spacious, a touch slower than is traditional, but right in keeping with the composer’s marking ‘Molto moderato’. The second theme was quicker, but its melodic flow was several times impeded by a little too much rubato. There was real nobility in the slow movement’s second melody, where the trombone returned, quite justifiably this time, to her left hand. But its overall mood was deeply ruminative, even doleful.
The scherzo was flickering and fairy-light, just what the doctor ordered, with fierce accents in its trio. Apekisheva’s contrasting moods throughout the finale were testimony to her deft touch, which enabled her to convey her ideas in the subtlest ways, tiny inflexions that reflected her intelligence.
By the end she had the sunlight bursting through the detached notes in the left hand, with the movement’s magical octave opening reduced to a pianissimo before the final burst of enthusiasm. This was Apekisheva at her radiant best.
Festival Strings and Piano, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, September 16
THREE works written by English composers in the first two decades of the 20th century made an extremely satisfying combination on the festival’s second evening. Vaughan Williams’s rarely heard Piano Quintet was the centrepiece, framed by Bridge’s Three Idylls and Elgar’s Piano Quintet after the interval.
Bridge’s Three Idylls of 1906 come right out of the Edwardian playbook, those balmy years before Europe turned to war. They speak of a more Arcadian time infused with innocence. Bridge opens and closes the first, which is in C sharp minor, with a viola solo, the instrument reflecting his own professional career as a player.
Simone van der Giessen brought to it the dark colouring it demands. But with Jonathan Stone as leader the ensemble dissolved neatly into its quicker, major key section, before muting back into something calmer.
The Allegretto, No 2 in E minor, was notable for its springy rhythms, before breaking off into greater restraint. No 3 in C major, an Allegro con moto, has a catchy tune, with more than a sniff of Morris dancing; its snippets were jovially exchanged between the voices. The unexpected chorale that follows did not deter a snappy ending.
Vaughan Williams did not encourage, nor expect, his Piano Quintet in C minor (1903-5) to be played, regarding it as backward-looking. But his widow Ursula succumbed to pressure and allowed its performance only as recently as 1990. It reveals much about the composer’s early influences, as well as his likely direction of travel; we can now see it as a pivotal work, in other words.
The work is unusual in using a double bass and dispensing with a second violin. This give its bass line a firmer foundation and, with pizzicato, a more percussive impact. Its broad Brahmsian sweep at the start shows Vaughan Williams’s Romantic inclinations, before folk-song notions had grabbed his imagination. Even here, however, the second theme, with strings alone, begins to sound English and the use of the coda to give each player, including the double bass, a brief solo is a distinctive touch.
The chorale-like start to the Andante, heard in the piano and commented upon by the strings, was handled eloquently here before becoming more animated. On its return, the piano accompaniment sounded as if cribbed from his song Silent Noon, which was written the same year as this work was begun: a hazy, calming effect.
Strings and piano faced off against each other in the final Fantasia, but after Katya Apekisheva’s piano had furiously escaped the fray, they all came together in a staccato reconciliation, led by John Mills’s violin.
A wistful reminiscence, with pianistic bells tolling across the landscape, was followed by a grand build-up broken only by the piano’s return to the chorale and a quiet close that the ensemble controlled beautifully. It was hard to imagine a more revealing account of this superb work.
Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor of 1918, by contrast, was written in the wake of a searing war. Its hesitant introduction breaks into anger in its second theme, from which the ensemble, with Jonathan Stone back in the leader’s chair, did not recoil. The little three-note rhythm, a drumbeat of war, permeated the whole first movement, and the ensemble made the most of it, even in the deeply rueful ending.
The immense climax at the centre of the slow movement subsided as quickly as it arrived, and the extended coda resumed the telling harmonic stasis with which the movement had opened. The ensemble was unflaggingly insistent throughout Elgar’s heavily accented finale, building to a coda that was thrillingly optimistic.
YORK Chamber Music Festival returns for its tenth anniversary season from September 15 to 17, once more under the artistic directorship of Tim Lowe.
Since its founding in 2013, the festival has gone from strength to strength and will celebrate its first decade by inviting six supreme string players in Europe and the British-based Russian pianist Katya Apekisheva to participate alongside cellist Lowe.
He will be joined by John Mills and Jonathan Stone, violins; Hélene Clément and Simone van der Giessen, violas; Jonathan Aasgaard, cello, and Billy Cole, double bass.
Picking out highlights: Mendelssohn’s joyous String Quartet Op. 13 was his first mature chamber music, written at the age of 18, and Dvořák’s String Sextet was his first great success in chamber music, a smash hit that was soon played all over Europe.
At the other end of their careers, Elgar’s response to the First World War included his late Piano Quintet, contemporary with his famous Cello Concerto, while the string septet version of Strauss’s Metamorphosen is a moving elegy for the cultural destruction caused by the Second World War.
In a concert of cello and piano music Lowe is joined by Katya Apekisheva in Brahms’s golden, glowing First Cello Sonata, and Apekisheva performs a solo concert to include Schubert’s great last Piano Sonata in B flat major.
Lowe says: “In our time, Europe is once again at war and as Strauss said when he re-read his Goethe, anger is never the last word. I hope that beauty and truth will shine through during the tenth anniversary of York Chamber Music Festival. We will certainly do our best. I look forward to greeting you all in September.”
Tickets are available from the National Centre for Early Music box office, in Walmgate, at ycmf.co.uk or on 01904 658338 in office hours. A Festival Saver ticket offers extra value to those wanting to attend multiple concerts. Young people aged 18 and under can attend all the events free of charge.
York Chamber Music Festival: the programme
Event 1: September 15, 1pm to 2pm, Cello Recital by Tim Lowe (cello) and Katya Apekisheva, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York.
Beethoven: 12 Variations on See The Conqu’ring Hero Comes from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus; Brahms: Cello Sonata No.1 in E Minor, Op. 38; Tchaikovsky: Nocturne for Cello and Piano, No. 4 from 6 pieces Op. 19 and Valse Sentimentale No. 6 from Six Morceaux, Op. 51; Schumann: Adagio and AllegroOp. 70.
Event 2: September 15, 7.30pm, Festival Artists John Mills, Jonathan Stone, Hélene Clément,Simone van der Giessen, Tim Lowe, Jonathan Aasgaard and Billy Cole, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York.
Haydn: String Quartet Op. 76 No. 3; Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 2 in A minor Op. 13; Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen, version for String Septet.
Event 3: September 16, 1pm to 2pm, Piano Recital, Katya Apekisheva, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York.
Schubert: Three Piano Pieces, D946; Schubert: Piano Sonata in B flat major, D960.
Event 4: September 16, 7.30pm, Festival Artists John Mills, Jonathan Stone, Hélene Clément, Simone van der Giessen, Tim Lowe, Jonathan Aasgaard, Billy Cole and Katya Apekisheva,Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York.
Frank Bridge: Three Idylls H.67; Vaughan Williams: Piano Quintet in C Minor; Elgar: Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op. 84.
Event 5: September 17, 3pm, Festival Artists John Mills, Jonathan Stone, Hélene Clément, Simone van der Giessen, Tim Lowe and Jonathan Aasgaard, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, York.
Boccherini: String Sextet No.1 in E flat Major, Op. 23 G454; Dvořák: String Sextet in A Major, Op. 48.
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.
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: Post War Paris; Trio Mazzolini, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 19 and 20
POULENC was the chosen representative of Paris in the eras after the two World Wars, with Prokofiev in his neo-classical prime characterising the Roaring Twenties. But last Thursday evening’s programme was given in more or less reverse chronological order.
Poulenc’s only three sonatas for solo wind instruments date from the last five years of his life. All were written in memory of friends as he began to contemplate his own demise. But they are far from elegiac, combining reminiscence with levity: Poulenc is rarely able to keep a straight face for long.
The Oboe Sonata of 1962, the last to be written, is the most outwardly mournful of the three and remembers Prokofiev. Nicholas Daniel’s oboe took a leisurely approach to the opening Élégie, describing a giant arch that reached a restrained crescendo before subsiding placidly, accompanied every step of the way by Katya Apekisheva’s sensitive piano.
The scherzo was typically flippant, but more than balanced by a pensive finale, where the action was mainly in the piano while the oboe wept.
Five years earlier, Poulenc had written his Flute Sonata, formally in memory of his patron Elizabeth Sprague but fired by the spirit of his friend Raymonde Linossier. Thomas Hancox brought verve to the puckish opening, with smooth legato in the central Cantilena. He was even lighter on his toes in the finale – which is briefly interrupted by an elegy when Poulenc remembers to be serious.
Hancox brought a trigger-jerk to the start of every phrase, which was fine at exciting moments but distracting when the going was supposed to be calmer.
The sounds of Paris were much more apparent in the Clarinet Sonata, where Matthew Hunt was soloist, partnered by Alasdair Beatson’s piano. Although in memory of Honegger, it was written for Benny Goodman, hence its several nods towards jazz. Its central Romanza was especially affecting but the shrieks in the finale were pure Benny. This duo mixed flair with finesse.
Prokofiev’s Quintet in G minor, Op 39 began life as a ballet, Trapeze, written in 1924, using the unusual combo of oboe and clarinet, with violin, viola and double bass. It reeks of circus life. The winds are so dominant in the opening that one feared for balance, but the double bass led the way in the following movement, often made to sound like a cello, with quirkily dissonant outcomes.
Similarly later, rapid bass pizzicato, imitated by the other strings, led to a crazy ending in the Allegro Precipitato. Straight out of the Twenties, the finale, although in three-time, was more Charleston than waltz. Nikita Naumov’s bass was the star of this show.
Poulenc’s Trio, Op 43, written only two years after the Prokofiev, was much more backward-looking, even nostalgic in its romanticism. It linked Daniel’s oboe and Beatson’s piano to Amy Harman’s bassoon. Its long-limbed Andante might almost have been late Brahms; it was lovingly presented.
The trio made teasing use of the many rests at the end of their jaunty Rondo, probing Poulenc’s wit to its limits.
Last Friday lunchtime, it was the turn of the Trio Mazzolini to take their place as the last of the Young Artists in the festival, an initiative, incidentally, that has been a great success by all accounts.
Piano trios by Haydn and Mendelssohn framed the 1998 trio by Judith Weir. This is a work of refreshing directness and clarity that wears its heart on its sleeve. The bells of St Mark’s, Venice ring through the opening movement which radiates exotic tints of the barcarole that is Schubert’s Gondelfahrer, its inspiration.
The strings handled the harmonics of the Scherzo deftly, and the taut curlicue motif in the finale was positively crystalline here. The Mazzolinis clearly revelled in this idiom.
The Haydn, a late work in C major, was notable for the ensemble’s use of rubato, which carried more than a hint of signposting that the music does not need. Still, Harry Rylance’s piano passagework in the finale was impressive, even if his partners struggled to achieve a good balance.
We heard more from the strings in Mendelssohn’s Trio No 2 in C minor, although Yurie Lee’s cello could have afforded to project even more. The highlight was the Andante, the trio negotiating its rolling acres beautifully together and bringing it to a lovely close.
There was exciting propulsion in the Scherzo and the sweeping piano chorale in the final Allegro heralded a sweet-toned outpouring from Jack Greed’s violin. This is a talented trio, with Rylance an exceptionally agile pianist, even if one could not always be sure that he was listening to his colleagues as keenly as he might.
This brought an end to my festival, which has been even more satisfying than last year’s – and that is saying something. The Welburn Marquee must surely become a fixture. Even allowing for a few bleating lambs and the odd passing tractor, it has an intimacy that is somehow exactly suited to chamber music and the audience this year has exulted in the many treasures it has heard. The rapport between listeners and players has been second to none.
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.
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: northyorkmoorsfestival.com