A picturesque drive through west Dorset, the sun setting over the sea, snow still covering some of the higher ground along the route, took us to West Bay yesterday evening for a concert by violinist Philippa Mo at Sladers Yard, a small gallery in a historic Georgian rope storage warehouse.

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Sladers Yard, West Bay

By day the gallery’s café, by night, with seating arranged in the round on three sides, the small space was transformed into an intimate concert venue for a programme of music for solo violin by Teleman, Pisendel, Bach, Smirnov, Tartini and Karg-Elert. This was the fifth concert in Philippa’s series ‘Partita, Fantasia, Caprice’, her personal journey through Bach’s solo violin sonatas, complemented by baroque and contemporary music which reveals connections between music and composers. Philippa introduced each work in the programme, highlighting points of interest which gave the audience a way in to the music.

As someone who frequents piano concerts, usually in larger-scale venues where one can feel at one remove from the performer/s, the experience of hearing and seeing Philippa perform in such a small space was fascinating. The late great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter queried why audiences might want to see him playing and opted to play in almost complete darkness, so the audience couldn’t see him “working”, but I think audiences have a great fascination with the way musicians produce the music and if you’re ‘up close and personal’ in a small space such as Sladers Yard, you really appreciate the physicality of music making. You’re right there with the performer in the moment of creation, following the fingers, the body. In addition, in a small space with a good acoustic, I heard wondrous colours, harmonics and resonances from the instrument which I had not thought possible, sounds and timbres which may be lost in a larger space or when the violinist is accompanied by a piano or other instruments.

The whole concert was an intensely absorbing experience. In such a small space, one is compelled to listen attentively, and Philippa’s understated mannerisms and gestures are proof that one can create a profound ‘presence’ by sound alone.

The final concert in Philippa Mo’s series is on 8 June at Sladers Yard, West Bay, Dorset.

Concert-goers can enjoy a glass of wine or local craft beer before and during the concerts and there is also the option to stay for supper at Sladers Yard after the concert. The atmosphere is friendly and convivial.


Meet the Artist interview with Philippa Mo

 

For this concert, I exchanged the deep red plush seats of London’s Wigmore Hall for my first visit to Plush Festival, held in the tiny village of Plush, deep in Thomas Hardy country in Dorset. Here in 1995, far from the madding crowd, Adrian Brendel established the festival in a spirit of collaboration and shared music-making. A deconsecrated church, which sits in the arcadian grounds of Plush Manor (bought by the Brendel family in the early 1990s as a bucolic retreat) is the venue for the concerts. Its generous acoustic and small size make it perfect for intimate chamber music and solo recitals; in addition, visitors may sit in on open rehearsals.

I’d known about the village of Plush (the pub, the Brace of Pheasants does a good Sunday lunch) and the Brendel connection for years, but this was my first visit to the Festival – part of my determination to seek out quality classical music in Dorset, my new home since I moved from London in May.

The drive to Plush suggests one is entering a special place. Leaving Dorchester (Hardy’s “Casterbridge”), I left the A-road and passed through the villages of Piddletrenthide and Piddlehinton (“Longpuddle”). Then a sharp right turn and up a steep hill and there was a sign to Plush Festival, guiding the way. The village is chocolate-box-pretty, with the pub at its heart. The signs to the festival pointed beyond the centre of the village and a winding, tree-lined lane takes you into the grounds of Plush Manor. A helpful gentleman guided me to park my car in an adjacent field and asked if I’d been to Plush before.

Outside the church, small groups of people lolled in foldout camping chairs or lounged on picnics rugs. Some were even enjoying a picnic ahead of the concert. A small bar offered wine, prosecco and soft drinks, and there was a bunting-draped stall next door selling CDs. The murmur of conversation was accompanied by birdsong. A friend texted (before my mobile reception disappeared) to say he was at Glyndebourne for the afternoon, and I thought there was a touch of the Glyndebourne experience, in microcosm, at Plush – though minus the dinner jackets: people were dressed casually. After all, this was a lunchtime on a sunny Saturday in August…..

10567-b5caaf2a50ce50da7f81d22244175770The soloist for this concert was Filippo Gorini, a prize-winning young Italian pianist. His programme was unexpected for a weekend lunchtime recital – Schumann’s Geistervariationen (“Ghost” Variations) and Beethoven’s mighty Hammerklavier Sonata – but Kat Brendel, Festival Director, told me afterwards that this was “the programme he wanted to play”. It proved a bold and successful choice.

Schumann composed his Ghost Variations in 1854, shortly before he was committed to a mental asylum. It was his final piece, dedicated to his beloved Clara, and the work is freighted with melancholy and tenderness. Filippo Gorini caught the tragic intensity and intimate poignancy of the work. Understated, elegant and restrained, one felt Gorini fully appreciated that Schumann is a composer who wears his heart on his sleeve; the final variation ended on a whisper, with Gorini allowing the sound to fade into the stillness of the church.

Beethoven, by contrast, is at his most declamatory in the Hammerklavier Sonata, which opens with a daring leap across the keyboard and a rollicking fanfare motif. This was masterfully shaped by Gorini who brought energy and vivid colour to the music. At its heart is the Adagio, a huge slow movement of infinite serenity and profundity which in Gorini’s hands felt like a stand-alone piece of music. Time was suspended, and while a butterfly fluttered, agitato, around the church, nothing could break Gorini’s concentration – nor the audience’s (who were as committed as any Wigmore audience). This movement, played with an intense concentration which echoed Gorini’s sensitive approach to the Schumann, has an almost Schubertian harmonic trajectory and introspection, with the improvisatory qualities of a Chopin Nocturne. Out of this other-worldly space came a finale of restless physicality.

Chatting afterwards, I mentioned to one audience member that I felt Gorini had the ability to make one forget a pianist was actually present during the performance. It’s a rare talent, and his lack of ego or unnecessary gesture undoubtedly contributed to this impressive performance.

If you think great music is only to be found in the metropolis, think again: Sir Andras Schiff returns to Plush Festival tomorrow for a sold out concert, and past seasons have enjoyed performances by Paul Lewis and Till Fellner.


This years Plush Festival continues from 14-16 September. Full details here

 

 

 

Header image: courtesy of Plush Manor