REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on Hannah Condliffe (oboe) and Dominic Doutney (piano), BMS York Concerts

Hannah Condliffe: Oboe soloist for BMS York concert

British Music Society York: Hannah Condliffe and Dominic Doutney, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, March 17

HANNAH Condliffe opened this delightful concert with the second of Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias in A Minor.

In terms of productivity, Telemann is hard to beat. But these fantasias for solo flute not only enriched that repertoire in the early part of the 18th century; they were also highly regarded and very influential.

Ms Condliffe’s performance of the oboe transcription demonstrated why. The lyricism and gentle perpetual motion were ever present, and the performance was quite mercurial in this embracing acoustic.

In a change to the original programme, Dominic Doutney performed two of the Rachmaninov Preludes (Op. 32). The first Prelude was memorable for a simple, delicate, floating melody awash with colour underpinned with a whispery mid-range accompaniment. The pianist’s touch was crisp and finely judged. Just as it was in the G# minor Prelude where the ebb and flow, the weaving of textures made it a joy to listen to.

The two Études – Pour les Notes Repetées and Pour les Arpèges Composés reinforced what a very fine pianist Mr Doutney is. Technically the playing was superb, but it was the innate sense of musical architecture in the first Étude and the tender, intimate playing in the latter which impressed.

There was also a shadow of the blues. Maybe this reflected his serious illness, or the fact that it was written in 1915 during the First World War, or then again it could just be me picking up the vibes as there is little doubting the positive energy and indeed the music’s playfulness.

This takes us seamlessly on to the Two Insect Pieces by Benjamin Britten. The Grasshopper dutifully hopped about while The Wasp buzzed around with a menacing sting in its tail. The playing captured the charming imagery.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River (arr. Maud Powell) was as moving as anything in the programme. The music just resonates in the soul – well, it did for me in this utterly immersive performance.

Like the opening Telemann, Britten’s three pieces from Six Metamorphoses after Ovid gave oboist Hannah Condliffe the chance to showcase her remarkable technique and musicianship. Pan’s free spirit is reinforced by the composer’s unmeasured notation and the frequent pauses. The performance captured this spellbinding, hypnotic quality.

By contrast, the musical depiction of the chariot ride of Phaeton in the second metamorphosis – fast and rhythmic – was exhilarating. Arethusa, fleeing the advances of the river god Alpheus and being transformed into a fountain, had both beauty and flow. Impressive.

The two players reunited to perform Poulenc’s homage to Prokofiev, the Oboe Sonata. The opening Elégie is technically demanding, but it was the charming engagement of the duo which was so affecting.

The music of the Scherzo may be described as witty, but it was the bristling vitality with its toccata-like drive to the close which was so thrilling. The final Déploration provided a touching, sober farewell to the great man.

The concert closed with Jeffrey Agrell’s Blues For D.D. The piece itself did not have much to recommend it – very clever, for sure, but cliched and derivative – but the performance did. It was fresh, zingy and utterly confident. Condliffe and Doutney clearly enjoyed performing the piece and the audience, apart from myself evidently, clearly enjoyed it too. So, amen to that.

Review by Steve Crowther

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Yorkshire Baroque Soloists at 50

Bethany Seymour: Defied feeling under the weather

Yorkshire Baroque Soloists at 50, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, January 25

IT hardly seems possible that Yorkshire Baroque Soloists has been in existence for half a century.

Founded by Peter and Yvonne Seymour, along with trumpeter John Wallace, who was a postgraduate student at University of York at the time, it has ploughed a steady, reliable furrow ever since, often alongside Yorkshire Bach Choir, which began life six years later.

This was a low-key celebration, partly because soprano Bethany Seymour had been under the weather, necessitating a late change of programme. Gone was a Bach solo cantata, replaced by a second Telemann trumpet concerto, thanks to the presence of the Danish trumpeter Niels Tilma, a dab hand on early trumpets.

There were also Bach concertos for violin and for harpsichord, along with two Handel arias and a cantata by Domenico Scarlatti.

In truth, it was a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts. Hero of the evening was Tilma himself. In both Telemann pieces he was both lithe and accurate, playing a valveless clarino trumpet and making light of their high-lying lines.

Lucy Russell: “Confident account of Bach’s A minor Violin Concerto”

Telemann rests his soloist for most of his slow movements. The exception was the lovely Adagio at the start of his only designated concerto for trumpet. The other ‘concerto’ was in fact a Sonate de Concert with two violins in close attendance, providing lively dialogue.

Bethany Seymour sang despite her troubles, although her coloratura lacked its customary clarity in ‘Let The Bright Seraphim’ (Samson). In the other Handel aria, ‘Eternal Source Of Light Divine’ from Ode For The Birthday Of Queen Anne, she duetted neatly with Tilma’s trumpet. Sad to say, her Italian diction in the concluding Scarlatti cantata let her down: this hall is notoriously unkind to ladies’ voices.

That left two concertos, the only works here not using trumpet. Lucy Russell, whose career as a violinist more or less began with this ensemble and has blossomed notably since, especially as leader of the Fitzwilliam Quartet, gave a confident account of Bach’s A minor Violin Concerto. With only five strings to support her, the bass line – of violone as well as cello – was generally too prominent. But the finale was still exciting.

Less imposing was the Harpsichord Concerto in A, with director Peter Seymour at the keyboard. The problem was a lack of immediacy, caused by having the entire ensemble – eight at its maximum – situated in the back half of the stage, so that there was a large gap between players and audience.

Some harpsichord detail was inevitably indistinct, especially in the hectic finale, although the opening movement travelled at a pleasing clip. Nevertheless, prophets should not be without honour in their own country and we may be extremely grateful to have had such a consistently proficient ensemble in our midst for so long.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on El Gran Teatro del Mundo, National Centre for Early Music, York, November 20

El Gran Teatro del Mundo: Undertaking first tour to be arranged by the National Centre for Early Music, York

CONCLUDING a six-stop tour around Britain, organised by the NCEM, El Gran Teatro del Mundo pitched up in York. I’m very glad they did.

As their name suggests – taken from by a 1655 mystery play by Pedro Calderón – they reflect the theatre of Baroque music, not physically, but through their instruments.

Beginning and ending with Germany, with three Vivaldi works between, they put a tasty sonata by the unknown Catalan composer Josep (aka José) Pla into the middle of their sandwich.

Oboe and recorder jostled happily at the opening of a Fasch sonata, later joined by violin in a vivacious finale, with rhythms firmly underlined by theorbo continuo. Fasch reappeared in a concerto, which also boasted a witty final Allegro.

There were stylish echo effects from violinist Claudio Rado in a trio by Vivaldi. In a concerto da camera for all six of the group, also by Vivaldi, there was some neat syncopation in the main motif, and a breath-taking furioso finale. But its real beauty lay in the central Largo, for recorder, violin and cello alone.

A second Vivaldi concerto, notable for the way the soloists bounced their lines off one another, finished with a spectacular chaconne, whose bass line was joyfully jazzed by cellist Bruno Hurtado.

At the heart of Pla’s sonata, which was in galant – post-Baroque, almost Classical – style, lay a lovely cadenza for violin and oboe. It finished with a thrilling Allegro assai. The work was handsomely introduced by an improvisation from harpsichordist Julio Caballero, who directs the ensemble. He was a mainstay throughout the evening.

Caballero delivered another cracking improvisation during the final Telemann concerto, as if it were a riff in a jazz session, before the supreme virtuosity of recorder, oboe and violin in its closing Vivace. This is a supremely talented ensemble, individually expert but also able to react to one another with spontaneity. They must return soon.

Review by Martin Dreyer