Spring and Autumn moods in Weymouth

Columba Dromgoole-Cavazzi (violin) & Duncan Honeybourne (piano)

Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts, 25 January 2023

Spring came early to Weymouth with a fine performance of music by Beethoven, Debussy and Cecilia McDowall at the first concert of 2023 presented by Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts (of which I am concerts manager).

Concert-goers escaping a cold, grey January day were warmed by the elegance and expression in Columba’s playing. This was a significant concert for her – her first post-graduation professional engagement.

Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata in warm F major reminded us that warmer days are not far away now. This was an enjoyable opener, Columba and Duncan finding an appealing ‘conversation’ between their two instruments, with some lovely interplay and humour, especially in the third movement, and a delightful freshness in the first and final movements.

After a short pause, the mood shifted to more unsettled, nocturnal territory with Cecilia McDowall’s Strange violin, the work inspired by the poem Der Nachbar (The Neighbour) by the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. For me this was the highlight of the programme and, I felt, an unusual choice for a young violinist at the start of her professional career. And one which demonstrated very clearly that Columba is already at home with this kind of repertoire. Once again the violin and piano were in conversation, of a sort, yet this one was haunting, atmospheric, and elegiac. Long phrases in the violin, requiring great control to achieve a special lyricism and intensity of sound, contrasted with plangent, bell-like sounds in the piano before a more agitated middle section.

The concert closed with Debussy’s Violin Sonata, written in 1917 near the end of his life when he was terminally ill with a particularly unpleasant cancer. He wrote that the work was “an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war” and certainly the mood is autumnal and nostalgic, freighted with emotion, often unsettled. In his introduction, Duncan explained that he and Columba really enjoyed playing this piece and this came across very clearly in their performance which was highly expressive, replete with contrasting timbres and textures, and ever-alert to the mercurial moods and shifting colours of the music. In the final movement, turbulence and introspection are replaced by “tumultuous joy” (Debussy) and the piece closed on a triumphant note, a spring-like positivity returning.

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