REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Sacconi Quartet & Tim Lowe, BMS York, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, October 1

Sacconi Quartet’s Ben Hancox (violin), Robin Ashwell (cello), Hannah Dawson (violin) and Cara Berridge (cello): Performed Schubert’s incomparable String Quartet in C and York composer Nicola LeFanu’s newly commissioned Quartet, both a celebration and a reflection. Picture: Emilie Bailey

FORTUNE favours the brave. Back in May when the Covid outlook was far from clear, the British Music Society of York (BMS) took the courageous decision to go ahead with their 100th season in October. It had already been delayed a year.

This quintet – a string quartet with added cello – was the happy result, in a members-only evening last Friday.

Schubert’s incomparable String Quintet in C was preceded by the world premiere of an engaging new BMS commission for the same forces from Nicola LeFanu, one of the society’s two vice-presidents.

Titled simply Quintet and lasting some 20 minutes, it lives up to the composer’s typically lucid programme-note as a combination of celebration and reflection, which are mirrored in two contrasting themes. The faster of these provides a rondo motif while the slower inspires its diversions.

The device works excellently. The two cellos generally operate as a pensive pair, while the higher strings interrupt, sometimes intensely, always excitedly, often preferring a catchy iambic rhythm when not adding twinkling filigrees. But all of the instruments have something individual to say.

At the centre of the work is a solemn chorale, after which the second cello has a broad, yearning passage – which Tim Lowe attacked with relish. This is the signal for mounting urgency that is capped by a return to the opening cello duet at the close. Did I detect here the semitone with which Schubert so determinedly ends his quintet?

Second cellist Tim Lowe: “The engine” in Schubert’s String Quartet in C

The Sacconi and Lowe brought fervent application to their task, clearly enjoying its challenge. The music makes real sense on a first hearing, but would also repay deeper listening. It certainly commends itself as a partner to the Schubert.

Any players faced with one of the towering monuments of Western music will feel humbled. This manifests itself in different ways. Here there was a studied intensity to the first two movements of the Schubert, before an earthier Scherzo and a finale infused with the spirit of dance.

The mood of anticipation in the introduction was satisfied when the Allegro got going, but the repeat of the exposition was much tauter (and rhythms wittier too) than its first statement.

Second cellist Lowe was the engine, as in several places later, for the development section. He also ignited more fire in the middle of the slow movement – although the pregnant rests that followed were a tutti effort, before the heart of the Adagio hovered beautifully again.

In the Scherzo, the ensemble really began to relax, so much so that its Trio almost ground to a halt, it was so leisurely. In the circumstances, the return of the Scherzo came almost as a relief. 

The finale, so often a let-down in this work, was anything but: there was even an element of mystery before the main theme returned. Doubt lingered as to whether all five players shared the same overall vision for this piece. But the BMS is back in business. Hurrah!

Review by Martin Dreyer

More Things To Do in and around York for Grayson Perry’s ‘normal people’. List No. 47, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s up Duck? The Dead Ducks sketch comedy troupe head for Theatre@41 Monkgate, York

CLOWNS, ominous things, Grayson, James, tango, chamber music, horrible British history and watercolours in teamwork add up to shows aplenty for Charles Hutchinson and normal people alike to check out.

Sketch comedy show of the week: The Dead Ducks: Ducks Out Of Water, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (3/9/2021), 8pm

UNIVERSITY of York Comedy Society sketch troupe The Dead Ducks make their Theatre@41 debut with Ducks Out Of Water as a cast of five serves up fun scenes that range from the relatable to the ridiculous.

Be prepared for completely original content in a humorous mix of parody and farce with a delectable side order of top-notch acting.

Look out for pirates, cowboys, clowns and assorted animals, alongside Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse “like you have never seen them before”. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk/events/.

Sunset Gazing, by Suzanne McQuade, on show at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York

Exhibition of the week: Suzanne McQuade, Touch Of Tranquillity, Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, until Octoger 23; open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm

LEEDS watercolourist Suzanne McQuade quit her long-standing customer service job five years ago to take the plunge and become a full-time artist.

“Using watercolours is like teamwork; I have to allow the watercolour to move and merge, and utilise the patterns it creates,” says Suzanne, who loves how this medium’s translucency enables light to flood into her landscapes and seascapes.

Drawing inspiration from the British countryside and coastline, she paints what she finds captivating, from a dramatic sky to underwater rocks. “I try to make the scene in front of me to be as beautiful as possible,” she says.

Alexander Wright: Performing Small, Small Ominous Things with Megan Drury at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington

Open-air theatre show of the week: Small Small Ominous Things, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, Saturday, 8pm

LOOK out for a tiny red gun hidden in the grass; a picture of a puppy eating a toy dinosaur; a dull feeling in the pit of your stomach; a bug burrowing into your skin.

Welcome to a late-night mix of stories, tales and unsettling considerations from partners Megan Drury and Alexander Wright, Australian actor, writer and creative artist and North Yorkshire writer, theatre-maker and visionary facilitator respectively.

Gather around the fire as they collaborate for the first time live At The Mill, bringing small, small ominous things out into late-summer’s fading light. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/

Making a splash: The new Normal for artist Grayson Perry, performing on tour at York Barbican

Who-knows-what-to-expect gig of the week: Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, York Barbican, Monday, 7.30pm

IN his own words, despite being an award-winning artist, Bafta-winning TV presenter, Reith lecturer and best-selling author, Grayson Perry is a normal person – and just like other normal people, he is “marginally aware that we’re all going to die”.

Cue Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, where Grayson takes you through an enlightening, eye-watering evening wherein this kind of existentialism descends from worthiness to silliness. “You’ll leave safe and warm in the knowledge that nothing really matters anyway,” his show patter promises.

Grayson asks, and possibly answers, these big questions in a show “sure to distract you from the very meaninglessness of life in the way only a man in a dress can.” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Home, James? Briefly, yes, when rehearsing at Broughton Hall, near Skipton. Scarborough Open Air Theatre awaits. Picture: Lewis Knaggs

Gig of the week outside York: James, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, September 9, gates open at 6pm

WHERE better for James to play a summer show in the wake of releasing their 2021 single Beautiful Beaches than at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.

The Manchester legends will be combining myriad anthemic favourites with selections from their “sweet 16th” album, All The Colours Of You, released in June.

Fronted by Clifford-born Tim Booth, James are completing a hattrick of Scarborough OAT visits after shows in May 2015 and August 18. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com

Prima Vocal Ensemble artistic director Ewa Salecka with Misatango composer Martin Palmeri

Well worth the wait: Misatango: Prima’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration, Temple Hall, York St John University, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, September 11, 7.30pm

AFTER a year’s delay, Prima Vocal Ensemble director Ewa Salecka is thrilled to be holding the York choir’s tenth anniversary concert at last at a socially distanced Temple Hall.

At the concert’s core will be “the fabulous Misa a Buenos Aires, Misatango, an exhilarating fusion of Tango and Latin Mass”, by Argentinian composer Martín Palmeri, performed with the Mowbray Orchestra string quartet, bandoneon virtuoso Julian Rowlands, pianist Greg Birch and mezzo-soprano soloist Lucy Jubb. Box office: primavocalensemble.com.

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival director and cellist

Festival of the month: York Chamber Music Festival, September 16 to 18

CANADIAN pianist Angela Hewitt plays YCMF’s opening recital on September 16 and joins fellow festival artists Anthony Marwood and Pablo Hernan, violins, Lilli Maijala, viola, and Tim Lowe, cellist, for the closing gala concert on September 18, both at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York.

Marwood, Hernan, Maijala and Lowe play string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Schumann at the NCEM on September 17.

Festival director Lowe joins pianist John Paul Ekins for the first 1pm concert at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, on September 17; on the next lunchtime, Ekins plays works that connect Beethoven and Liszt. Box office: tickets@ncem.co.uk.

The Horrible Histories poke fun at Barmy Britain at the Grand Opera House, York, in October

History in the re-making: The Horrible Histories in Barmy Britain, Grand Opera House, York, October 21 to 24

CAN you beat battling Boudicca? What if a Viking moved in next door? Would you lose your heart or head to horrible Henry VIII? Can evil Elizabeth entertain England?

Will Parliament survive gunpowder Guy? Dare you stand and deliver to dastardly Dick Turpin? Escape the clutches of Burke and Hare and move to the groove with party Queen Victoria?

So many questions for The Horrible Histories’ Live On Stage team to answer with the aid of the 3D illusions of Bogglevision as skulls hover, dams burst and missiles fly into the family audience. For tickets for Birmingham Stage Company’s eye-popping, gruesome, scary and unbelievable trip through British history, go to atgtickets.com/york.

York Chamber Music Festival returns for live concert series from September 16 to 18

Angela Hewitt: Canadian pianist to play recital and gala concert at York Chamber Music Festival

YORK Chamber Music Festival 2021 celebrates the return of live chamber music with a stellar cast of musicians and “some of the most beautiful music ever written” from September 16 to 18.

Billed as “the chance for a few days to refresh ourselves after the lockdown”, the festival opens with a solo recital by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, performing works by Francois Couperin, Mozart and J S Bach at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, on September 16 at 7.30pm.

Two nights later, she joins fellow festival artists Anthony Marwood and Pablo Hernan, violins, Lilli Maijala, viola, and Tim Lowe, cellist, at the Lyons for the 7.30pm closing gala concert of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 17, The Hunt, Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor and Dvořák’s sunlit Piano Quintet in A Major.

Festival artistic director Lowe persuaded Angela Hewitt to come to York at a dinner party in London. “Her passion, on which her international career has been built, is playing Bach’s keyboard music on the piano,” he says.

“This music would have been composed for harpsichord or clavichord. Bach himself was always a great experimenter and surely would have loved the sound world of the piano, which, apart from anything else, is much more suited to modern concert halls.

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival artistic director and cellist

“Why not do the same for Bach’s contemporary, the French composer François ‘Le Grand’ Couperin, who also composed for the harpsichord? So, Angela’s recital is based around these two great composers.”

Festival artists Marwood, Hernan, Maijala and Lowe play string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Schumann at the National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, on September 17 at 7.30pm.

Two lunchtime concerts at 1pm at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, complement the programme. On September 17, Tim Lowe and pianist John Paul Ekins perform Beethoven’s  12 Variations on a Theme from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke and Rachmaninov’s lush, romantic Cello Sonata for Cello and Piano.

Ekins returns on the Saturday to play works that connect Beethoven and Liszt: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, followed by Liszt’s Sonetto del Petrarca and Liebesträume No. 1 in A flat, concluding with Beethoven’s Adelaide, arranged for piano by Liszt.

Lowe, once a chorister at York Minster, looks forward to this month’s festival enriching his home city’s cultural life. “The idea is that everyone, players and audiences, should have a joyous few days of deep listening to music that is both intimate and compelling. We’re going live!” he says. “Please note, we’re offering an outreach free ticket for young people aged 18 and under.” 

Festival tickets for adults cost £10 to £15. To book, go to: tickets@ncem.co.uk. Full festival details can be found at ycmf.co.uk.