REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on Ensemble Intercontemporain, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, April 17

Ensemble Intercontemporain: “The Rolls-Royce of contemporary music performers

YorkConcerts presents Ensemble Intercontemporain, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, April 17

ON Wednesday evening, the Rolls-Royce of contemporary music performers, Ensemble Intercontemporain, performed an extraordinary programme of music by Martin Suckling, Thomas Simaku and Olivier Messiaen.

The concert opened with Martin Suckling’s Visiones (after Goya), an inspired response to a specific drawing from Goya’s unique, if somewhat unsettling, Witches and Old Women Album. The Visiones depicts an intimate dance between a possibly inebriated old couple with another chap looking on, or rather on the floor looking up. The image seems to have an uncomfortable erotic edge, perhaps sex in old age.

Anyway, to Mr Suckling’s work. In response to the Goya sketch, Visiones (after Goya) has three instrumentalists, cello, clarinet and piano, and three sections. In the first part, the clarinet and cello dance, serenade each other in ‘repeated microtonal lyrics’.

The percussive piano creates distance and commentary. The effect is very distinct, haunting and not a little spooky. Yet there is intimacy and it is this, as well as the superb playing by Martin Adámek (clarinet) and Renaud Déjardin (cello), that draws you into this sound world.

There is also a genuine warmth of engagement. This is particularly obvious in the second section ‘lullaby’ before the dance becomes ritualistic. The third section is a kind of distorted recapitulation; a memory, a nightmare. Maybe.

The piano (the imperious Dimitri Vassilakis) now sings the song, the clarinet has the role of ‘soft multiphonics’ commentary whilst the cello lets rip to very dramatic effect. The dance returns but now transformed. To be sure the piece was, like the Goya, unsettling. But it was true to the artist’s multi-layered complexity, and beauty. The performance was illuminating.

I had a bit of an issue with a2(b) for violin and cello by Thomas Simaku; not with the forceful piece itself, nor with the thrilling performance by soloists Jeanne-Marie Conquer (violin) and Renaud Déjardin (cello), but with the extensive programme note.

OK, the instrumental explanation of a2 (a due) was fine; it made perfect sense. However, the dramatisation of opposites – a response to the ‘remnants of the wall in Bernauer Strasse’, a tale of contrasting cities, of brutally conflicting ideologies representing oppression and freedom in 1945 Berlin – did not.

To be fair to the composer, he clearly stated that the musical and extramusical could not be separated; they are two aspects of the same song. But for me the piece did not (and could not) deliver an image of complete opposites: because the most striking and distinguished aspect of Simaku’s music is its mastery of an organic, cellular and uniform musical language. The uncompromising, almost violent, gestures and mood swings worked perfectly well on and in their own terms.

However, the piece was jaw-droppingly good and technically seriously accomplished. I thought the fast, driving conclusion with its spent, exhausted epilogue was very effective indeed. The performers were on top of their game, and they needed to be.

Just one minor whinge before the interval: what was it with the photographer taking shots from the back of the auditorium? It was distracting and utterly unnecessary.

After the interval we were treated to the most illuminating performance of Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time. For what it’s worth, the balance of the opening Crystal liturgy didn’t seem quite even, but given the quality of performers and the excellent acoustic, this is more likely due to my ears waking up again after the 20-minute break.

The second movement Vocalise, for the Angel who announces the end of time, was sublime. The control needed and delivered by clarinettist Martin Adámek was extraordinary. The effect was otherworldly, visionary; beautiful, delicate but definitely bleak.

The Interlude was an utter, quirky delight. Were there echoes of Shostakovich? I thought so. Possibly. Renaud Déjardin and Dimitri Vassilakis’s performance of Praise To The Eternity Of Jesus was the best live version I have heard.

Nothing quite prepares you for this experience; it was so hypnotic, so compelling. I think this is due to the piano ‘accompaniment’ which came across so powerfully. At first, a pulse, a heartbeat, gradually driving the cello song with almost hammer-like intensity before they melt into ecstasy, resolution. Quite extraordinary.

The Dance Of Fury, for the seven trumpets, was technically perfect. It delivered a unity of purpose and energy. Edge-of-the-seat stuff. The penultimate Tangle Of Rainbows…was brimming with physicality. It both looked back, specifically to the second Vocalise, as well as to the future and the final movement in particular. The performance of Praise To The Immortality Of Jesus, was simply divine.

Review by Steve Crowther

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Angela Hewitt, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, April 12

Angela Hewitt: “A multitude of subtleties and a sensational technique”

PIANIST Angela Hewitt played preludes and fugues, framing examples by Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Barber with the original master himself, J S Bach. These bare facts mask a multitude of subtleties and a sensational technique. She held her capacity audience spellbound.

Most performers are ill advised to open with an address, just when the punters are all agog with anticipation. But her words were delivered so graciously, with wit and charm, that we were delighted to hear her insights. And she was insistent on no applause until the interval, a smart decision that helped everyone’s focus.

In mid-career Mendelssohn made a deliberate study of Bach’s counterpoint, which resulted in his six Preludes & Fugues, Op 35. The first of these swerves between E minor and E major. Hewitt made a stunning moto perpetuo of its prelude, before robustly highlighting the fugue subject in a majestic crescendo to its climactic chorale.

Shostakovich was another composer to hold Bach in reverence and he wrote a full set of 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op 87 in 1951. The spare textures of the F minor fugue, No. 18, are ideally suited to Hewitt’s style and its counterpoint emerged with immense clarity.

Even more incisive was the demanding fugue that concludes Barber’s piano sonata, its relentless cross-accents dazzling at high speed.

Hewitt had opened with the earliest numbers from the Book I of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, a handful more than the programme had promised – perhaps she was in the zone and forgot herself. No-one minded in the least, quite the contrary. Her ability to give differing degrees of prominence to contrapuntal lines, even as many as three or four, remains one of the wonders of her intelligent approach to Bach.

The last of Bach’s six partitas (dance suites in all but name), BWV 830 in E minor, is one of the towering monuments of the keyboard repertory. The crispness of her rhythms was especially apparent here.

After a rhapsodic Toccata, with a fine central fugue, the Allemande was phrased with particular subtlety, so that the succeeding Corrente, taken at some pace, had a jack-in-the-box flavour by comparison; the abrupt Air was brisk too.

The stately Sarabande was deeply melancholic, its dotted rhythms making it taut, even edgy. There was room here for a touch more serenity. After a witty Gavotte, the Gigue, even with the jagged intervals of its fugue, was remarkably balletic, further testament – although none was needed – to Hewitt’s prodigious dexterity, both mental and physical.

As an encore, she wound down with the very first of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, in E major, generating a wonderful cantabile.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict  on Maxwell String Quartet, BMS York Concerts

Maxwell String Quartet: George Smith, violin, Colin Scobie, violin, Elliott Perks, viola, and Duncan Strachan, cello

Maxwell String Quartet, BMS York Concerts, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, March 8

WELL, the performance of Haydn’s iconic Quartet in E-flat major (Op.20 No.1) was breathtaking in its flawless technique, balance and engagement.

The opening lengthy Allegro seemed almost effortless in both the technical demands and instrumental interplay. The music is so intelligent, radically so, and the Maxwell String Quartet’s playing reflected and thrived on this.

The minuet (placed second), with its enigmatic trio, was thoroughly enjoyable. I loved the viola’s role in joining the party late and harmonically directing the listener back to the minuet via the back door of F minor. The Presto finale was bristling with vitality, rhythmic syncopations and rolling modulations. A great signing off.

But it was the Affettuoso e sostenuto which lingered. This is a quite extraordinary movement of real emotional depth and the performance delivered.

Quite extraordinary too, were the Quartet’s wonderful transcriptions or ‘impressionistic and sensitive reworkings’ of traditional Scottish Folk Worksongs. These were drawn from and inspired by explorations of traditional music drawn from “Scotland’s hardworking societies”: fishing, tweed and wool making and so forth.

The Quartet played these with as much care to detail – nuanced phrasing and insight – as they had brought to the Haydn. I liked the democratic reversal of violin leads too.

These were prefaced by a Scottish tune underpinned by a bagpipe cello drone aimed at irritating the ghost of Mendelssohn. The great man evidently disliked the traditional instrument. A nice touch.

Mendelssohn’s magnificent Quartet No.6 in F minor (Op.80) was written in response to the death of his beloved sister Fanny in May 1847. The choice of key here, F minor, deliberately reinforces the emotional tension since there will be greater tension on the strings.

This was helpfully explained by cellist Duncan Strachan, whose engaging, informative vocal commentary throughput the concert added a welcome layer of inclusivity and engagement.

The raw emotion was evident from the start of the Allegro vivace assai. The musical narrative was convincingly propelled forwards (echoes of late Beethoven Op.95) and right on the edge, leaving this listener feeling unsettled yet gripped.

The Allegro assai exploded in the same dramatically driven, angst-ridden direction. Not sure why, but I heard pre-echoes of Tippett, maybe the String Quartet No.2. Anyway, the stabbing, brutal syncopations here reinforced the mood of anger and despair; the dramatic shock being even greater as this is not what we expect in a civilised, traditional scherzo. Whilst in the contrasting trio section, the violins play a haunting, ethereal melody over cello and viola octaves.

Mercifully there was some respite in the form of the poignant Adagio. Here the playing captured the mood of tenderness, sadness and loss. But it is the calm before the musical storm and the closing Finale once again ripped forwards. The movement culminates in the first violin ratcheting up the already palpable tension to a thrilling, if decidedly defeated, conclusion. Quite something.

And that should have been that. Just spontaneous appreciation in the form of loud applause. But no, the Maxwell Quartet gave us an encore, two in fact. Back to Scottish folksong. Both beautifully played and very well received. It’s just that they unnecessarily diminished my experience of their remarkable performance of the Mendelssohn.

Review by Steve Crowther

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Harriet Burns & Christopher Glynn, March 6

Soprano Harriet Burns. Picture: Benjamin Ealovega

Harriet Burns & Christopher Glynn, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York

THIS was almost the recital that never was. Aboard a train from London that broke down in Peterborough, pianist Christopher Glynn arrived half an hour late by taxi. There was compensatory wine on the house for punters before eventually soprano Harriet Burns opened zestfully with three unaccompanied folk-songs, which I took to be Scottish.

With return trains to be caught, that left barely an hour for the announced programme of Schubert and English settings followed by Strauss’s Four Last Songs. Inevitably this had to be seriously abridged, although no announcement was made about what was to be omitted. The duo warmed in with Schubert’s ‘An Sylvia’, crisply delivered, and hit full stride with his ‘Frühlingsglaube’ (Faith In Spring) where the soprano’s duplets were impeccably counterpointed by the piano’s triplets.

The only other Schubert to survive the butchery was ‘Der Einsame’ (The Recluse), which was beautifully restrained, evoking the pleasures of solitude, not least through the lovely legato produced by Burns.

Otherwise we were left with two cuckoo songs, Ireland’s ‘Earth’s Call’ and Gurney’s neo-Elizabethan ‘Spring’, both of which use the bird to conjure that season. They were the highlight of the evening, voice and piano echoing and embracing one another.

Christopher Glynn: Train broke down en rioute to York

Vaughan Williams’s Four Last Songs, settings of poetry by his second wife Ursula, deserve to be heard in their entirety. Here we had to be content with an effectively intimate account of ‘Tired’. Glynn’s whirlwind pianism in Stanford’s setting of Whitman’s ‘Joy, Shipmate, Joy!’ brought the first half to a suitably ecstatic close.

A very brief interval – the lights remained dimmed – allowed Glynn to change out of his jeans into a full suit. Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder were not what they should have been. But it was not the fault of the performers. The composer goes to considerable lengths to graduate his response to the first three songs, settings of Hermann Hesse, so that when he reaches the fourth, Eichendorff’s ‘Im Abendrot’ (At Sunset), the analogy between twilight and approaching death is crystal clear.

The soprano’s bravest efforts to build the necessary atmosphere were annihilated by ignoramuses who insisted on applauding after each song. York audiences should know better. Even so, there were some lovely individual moments from both performers, although Burns was inclined to expand and contract her sound too regularly on longer notes. Glynn’s piano was impeccable, not least in the touching interlude before the last verse of ‘While going to sleep’.

Let us hope that this duo will soon be invited back and perhaps even offered beds for the night. We might then hear the Strauss cycle again and the Vaughan Williams one in full, along with plenty of Schubert, of course. They – and we – deserve nothing less.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Will Clark and Hilary Suckling, BMS York, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York

Will Clark: Former leader of National Youth Orchestra, now studying at Royal Academy of Music

BOTH players of international reputation, this violin and piano duo can truly be claimed as York’s own.

Although based in London, Will Clark grew up and nurtured his talents here. Hilary Suckling has made York her home, so their local connexions are impeccable. Sonatas by Mozart and Brahms framed shorter works by Ysaӱe and Britten and offered satisfying variety.

Will’s appearance is deceptive. Sporting a pseudo-drag persona, with dramatically painted eyebrows above decorated waistcoat and tight black trousers, all evocative of the bull ring, he can be distracting.

It takes the average punter a few minutes to be able to concentrate on his actual playing. But it is worth the effort. Beneath the veneer lurks a thoughtful and highly proficient violinist. Sometimes he is even better than that.

The duo’s Mozart, K.454 in B flat, was unremarkable, but it offered a solidly constructed warm-up for what was to come. Clark used minimal vibrato, but it did not detract from the Andante’s cantabile line.

The closing rondo was light on its toes, occasionally even witty, as Suckling intelligently adjusted her tone after a first movement where balance had been an intermittent problem.

It was good to hear Eugène Ysaӱe’s Poème élégiaque, Op 12 in its original version, rather than the better-known adaptation for orchestra. Although very much a display piece, it remains at heart a lament, apparently in reaction to Romeo and Juliet, and the duo wisely concentrated on this. So the dramatic centrepiece became a display of anger at bereavement and the closing violin recitative conveyed a touching solemnity.

Although the Britten was described as three pieces from the Suite, Op 6, the composer ultimately distilled it down to just these three, which were the only ones first unveiled in the Wigmore Hall in 1934 (albeit revised the following year).

The opening ‘March’ was jaunty with the succeeding ‘Lullaby’ an extreme contrast, very slow and sad; Clark’s high line was impeccable. The final ‘Waltz’ was exactly right: virtuosically explosive.

Brahms’s third and last Violin Sonata, Op 108 in D minor, opens with a remarkable rhapsodic Allegro. Suckling’s piano here was admirably subdued, especially given the weightiness of the composer’s writing, before the duo became excitingly fiery. There was some lovely rubato in the slow movement.

A feel of Mendelssohnian politeness infused the scherzo, but that evaporated in the thrilling final Presto. Even here Clark allowed his violin to do the talking, rather than indulge in the sort of histrionics his appearance might have suggested.

Clark returns to this hall on March 30 as soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto with York Symphony Orchestra: on this showing, strongly recommended.

Review by Martin Dreyer, 16/2/2024

REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on Lumas Winds, BMS York Concerts, 5/1/24

Lumas Winds: First BMS York concert of 2024

BMS York presents Lumas Winds, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, January 5

LUMAS Winds opened their programme with a confident performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture. There are no hiding places in this music; technique is very much on the line and the crisply articulated playing throughout was both brave as well as admirable. Enjoyable too.

David Matthews’ Three Woodwind Studies, a set of personal, intimate portraits, was a delight. A Song For Emma (solo flute), with its charming melodic ebb and flow, was beautifully judged by Beth Stone.

Chris Vettraino’s performance of A Birthday Song (oboe) was both haunting and hypnotic. A Study For Sam (solo clarinet) was a first performance and proved to be a quirky, fun-filled gem.

Mozart’s Divertimento in F is an early work written in 1775. To be sure, it is more of a window into what was to come, but impressive nonetheless. The writing was full of confidence with each instrument given a share of the spoils. The playing was wonderful, the balance impeccable.

Sally Beamish’s The Naming Of Birds proved to be an evocative set of character pieces; very imaginative and quite unlike anything I have heard before. Each of these five demanding movements had five soloists evoking the call of each bird – partridge (horn), lapwing (oboe) and so forth.

I did find the actual live recorded introductions a tad contrived and frankly unnecessary, but it was a very engaging work and very well performed. However, not for the first time when listening to Ms Beamish’s music, the work left me impressed rather than moved.

Actually, I felt the same about Malcom Arnold’s Three Shanties. Impressive performances, impressive writing but …well, it put a smile on my face. Sally Beamish’s arrangement of Mozart’s Adagio for Glass Harmonica was an entirely musical affair. The sound was so seductive with the cor anglais replacing the oboe “to give a warm, dark quality to the quintet”. Which it did. How inspired.

Unlike Anton Reicha’s Two Andantes and an Adagio. The music was pretty forgettable, in fact I’ve forgotten it already, but the performance certainly wasn’t. Delightful.

Lumas Winds ended this splendid concert with the best work in the programme – apart from the Mozart, obviously – in Elizabeth Maconchy’s terrific Wind Quintet. It was so well written by a composer so clearly still at the top of their game. She was in her mid-seventies.

An opening Allegro of quirky urgency and unsettling metrical changes; the poco Lento more expressive, weaving contrapuntal lines underpinned by a dotted rhythm throughout; the third movement, Vivo, with a bit of a musical spat between clarinet and bassoon; the Andante opening with a short clarinet and horn duo, inviting in the other instruments to the party and the closing Rondo with each soloist having their say and the cute snap ending.

The players were at one with the technical and musical demands. The performance was illuminating.

Review by Steve Crowther

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Daniel Lebhardt, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York

Daniel Lebhardt: “Particular empathy with Bartók”

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.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Danny Driver, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 29

Danny Driver: “Did not hold back from giving it the full tour-de-force treatment”

IT was testament to his versatility that no fewer than ten different composers featured in Danny Driver’s piano recital.

A first half concentrating on music for evening and night centred on Beethoven and Schumann. Thereafter music of the last 50 years included several living composers, though one suspects this was more challenging for him than for his audience.

Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Op 27 No 1 in C sharp minor, was ushered in by the gentle lilt of Schumann’s Des Abends, its unsettled accompaniment suggesting that all was not quite well with the composer’s evening.

The Beethoven was allowed to speak for itself, its opening melody strongly outlined, while menace remained in the dotted rhythms of the left hand. In a controlled scherzo, he neatly differentiated the two halves of the opening phrase – so important for what follows – into legato (first four notes) and staccato (the remaining four). Clarity was the watchword here.

So too in the finale, which was properly agitato and taken at a tremendous lick. Beethoven’s anger here was never in doubt and Driver did not hold back from giving it the full tour-de-force treatment, with heavily percussive accents like rifle shots.

Danny Driver: Virtuosity in a daring programme. Picture: Kaupo Kikkas

In contrast, Schumann’s ‘Ghost’ Variations remained intimate (‘innig’ as he marks the theme), reflecting a moment of rare calm at a time when the composer’s mental health was precarious. There was a pleasing flow to the melody. Even in the minor key variation (the fourth), we were kept in touch with the theme by its rhythm.

After a brief journey with Debussy to the swaying dances of a Grenada evening came total change in Scriabin’s ‘Black Mass’ Sonata, No 9, which bubbled up repeatedly like a witches’ cauldron. Driver perfectly reflected the score’s volatility, almost a bacchanalian orgy, which died with exhaustion in the closing bars.

After the interval we were on much newer ground. Five Ligeti Études acted as template for a series of 21st century reactions in very similar vein. With few exceptions, the later versions were pale reflections of the original.

All but two used rapid staccato figures, hovering much of the time in the very upper reaches of the keyboard with minimalist intent. At least Martin Suckling’s Orrery (with the composer present) had a distinctive bell-like underlay and grew in intensity, thereby engaging the attention.

One could only marvel at Driver’s virtuosity and wonder how he was able to memorise such similar works. It was a daring programme, but it needed something meatier at the centre of its second half.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on The 24, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 22

Conductor Sarah Latto

THE core of this wonderfully programmed concert was the sensuous, perhaps even erotic text of the Song Of Solomon.

The poem celebrates love in an invitational courtship: two lovers singing to each other, desiring each other. They are in harmony in a God-free narrative that celebrates humanity.

This was particularly striking in Raffaella Aleotti’s setting of Ergo flos campi where the two lovers take the form of two unequal choirs. The energetic antiphonal exchanges were beautifully delivered by the singers.

The24’s concert opened with Flemish composer Clemens non Papa’s setting of the same text. This was a refined, controlled performance where the weaving of the seven-part setting was delightful. The balance was impeccably judged.

I was going to mention the striking high versus low setting of the ‘lily between thorns’, but as it was highlighted in the programme notes I’ve decided not to bother. I really enjoyed the ebb and flow of Hildegard of Bingen’s Flos Campi. The musical experience was undoubtedly spiritual.

James MacMillan’s setting of Robert Burns’ The Gallant Weaver was a secular musical match made in heaven. The work is brimming with the distinctive influence of Scottish folk music – the rich ornamental inflections or decoration was delightfully executed, as well as Gaelic Psalmody.

The overall effect was generally peaceful; the voicing was inspired with triple soprano divisions and gentle hanging dissonances that were exquisite. The only issue I had was the exposed bass and tenor setting of the words ‘the gallant weaver’, which jarred. Sir James, I suspect, not the choir.

The 24: “Radiating warmth and joy”

I personally find Morrissey a charmless, narcissistic individual, but there is no doubting his ability as a songwriter and performer. I really like The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (written by him and guitarist Johnny Marr), and I found this arrangement by Sarah Latto and the performance itself quite sublime. It was so touching, tender and respectful.

There is much to admire in John Barber’s Song Of Songs (commissioned by The Sixteen); the intricate weaving of the musical lines, lovely ornamentation and music that rhythmically danced. But I failed to engage with the work. Not even the funky ostinato of Love Is As Strong As Death or the splendid singing in By Night could revitalise that movement’s blandness.

Unlike Judith Weir’s Vertue; a very fine performance of a very fine work. Weir’s music always shines brightly, and this was no exception. Alex Kyle made a guest appearance to conduct Schütz’ Ego Dormio; the direction was assured and the performance highly rewarding.

Kerry Andrew’s CoMa Blues was a welcome change of musical gear. The composer has forged her own clearly distinctive voice, and this short theatrical performance was spot-on.

One of the concert highlights was Victoria’s Trahe Me Post Te. It is such a delight to immerse oneself into this velvety chocolatey sound world of absolute luxury. Especially when the performance, under the inspirational direction of conductor Sarah Latto, is as polished as this.

The programme concluded with Philip Glass’s Quand Les Hommes Vivront d’Amour. This attractive work is a hymn to universal love and the responsibility that goes with it, a somewhat timely message needed right here and right now.

It had all the hallmarks of Glass’s radical, and it is indeed radical, style: effective, almost hypnotically driven motor rhythms, repetitive patterns, breathing dynamic phrasing. The performance radiated warmth and joy, a great way to sign off, to say goodnight.

Review by Steve Crowther

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on London Bridge Trio, British Music Society of York

London Bridge Trio: violinist Ben Hancox, pianist Daniel Tong and cellist Cara Berridge

British Music Society of York: London Bridge Trio, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 10

IT came as a surprise to find that the London Bridge Trio, renowned for its championing of English composers, is already into its third decade.

Its appearance for the British Music Society of York contained no English music, but a tasty combination of early Beethoven and late Fauré, with Schumann’s First Piano Trio for finale.

Beethoven’s first three trios – his first official opus – were his calling card as he summoned up the courage to journey to Vienna from his birthplace in Bonn at the age of 21. They did the trick and opened many doors for him.

Op 1 No 2 in D, full of variety, speaks of an imagination off the leash for the first time. There was at once clarity and spaciousness in the ensemble’s approach, a feel for the structure without obvious signposting.

The slow movement was measured, as the trio relished its improvisatory structure, while the scherzo with its offbeat accents made a lively contrast, calmed down only in its closing six-bar calando (simultaneous decrease in sound and speed). The mood of suppressed excitement in the finale burst into the open in the closing bars.

Fauré’s only piano trio, by contrast, was the work of a 78-year-old. Its ebb and flow was remarkably cogent here, as the ensemble – launched by the cello’s theme – sustained a steady momentum throughout the opening allegro.

The slow movement was meditative, its tempo leisurely, but eventually generating warmth from the central bleakness. The finale was the antithesis of this, using its syncopation and cross accents to build excitement.

Schumann’s Op 63 in D minor, the same key as the Fauré, got off to a boisterous start, with its dotted main motif especially forceful. Its jack-in-the-box scherzo was scarcely less emphatic, bursting with surprises, although the trio was a good deal smoother.

The elegiac violin opening to the slow movement, picked up by the cello, was gently touching. But its moodiness was at once dispelled by the sunshine of the finale, now in the major key, and the final acceleration was exhilarating.

The London Bridge is a well-balanced ensemble, its pianist Daniel Tong never dominating. It was a privilege to share its many insights.

Review by Martin Dreyer