Guest review by Jennifer Mckerras 

One of the great joys of lunchtime recitals is having the opportunity to see young performers at the beginning of their professional careers. And two such were given a prime performance opportunity at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 24 October. Chanae Curtis (soprano) and Ella O’Neill (piano) garnered a large and appreciative audience for their recital, including a half-term crowd of families with children of all ages.

Curtis and O’Neill began their programme with Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido, Op.65. They continued with Three Poems of Fiona MacLeod by C.T. Griffes, and concluded with a selection of lieder by Strauss.

Chanae Curtis has a truly superb voice: velvety caramel in tone. She also has a tremendous range of colour and force, which this programme fully exploited. The very first item (Beethoven) is a long and complicated piece for both singer and accompanist, and requires several mood changes. Curtis and O’Neill guided the audience through all the twists and turns of the aria, and received justifiably rapturous applause at its end.

It was, however, in the American repertoire that Curtis really shone. She seemed to relax and connect with the audience in a way that had not been as present in the Beethoven. The Griffes songs are perhaps a little less well known by British audiences, and really deserve to be known better. Curtis’ handling of the texts was deft and well-nuanced, though sometimes the very full acoustic of the church building caused the text to be lost.

Ella O’Neill is currently undertaking postgraduate studies at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with Simon Lepper. In this recital she was a masterful accompanist, and I think has a tremendous future. She navigated the twists and turns of mood in the Beethoven with aplomb, and her handling of the Griffes and the Strauss lieder was delicate and assured. O’Neill has a great stage presence: calm and unfussed, she has developed the gift of allowing the music to speak for itself. This is a tremendous ability in a player at the beginning of her professional career! She is also adept in giving both soloist and audience total confidence in her playing; one feels that very little could shake her.

The Strauss lieder were delivered with great assurance from both performers, and were hugely enjoyed by the audience. The encore was a spiritual, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, in an arrangement by Margaret Bonds. Again, Curtis found a new level of connection with the audience and the text – she positively glowed as she sang. It is a pleasure to see a performer wholeheartedly inhabit the music in this way.

The reception for Curtis and O’Neill was overwhelmingly positive; even the half-term passers-by stayed captivated until the end. These performers are certainly a pair to watch for the future.

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Reger – Serenade for Flute, Violin & Viola, Op. 141a in G

Haydn – Symphony No. 101 in D, “The Clock”, arr. J P Salomon

Ensemble Nova Luce, Monday 21 November 2016

I escaped grey skies and pouring rain on Monday to slip into St Martin-in-the-Fields for a delightful lunchtime concert given by Ensemble Nova Luce.

A chamber ensemble formed in 2015 by postgraduate students and fellows of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Ensemble Nova Luce performs unusual repertoire and chamber arrangements of well-loved orchestral works which offer a fresh take on the music while also harking back to the historical convention of music being performed at home as a form of recreation. Such arrangements made large-scale suitable for small-scale and intimate gatherings of friends, to be played in the comfort of one’s living room.

Another of Ensemble Nova Luce’s projects is exploring the lost art of classical improvisation, something which during the time of Haydn and Mozart, and indeed into the 19th century with musicians such as Liszt, was an everyday part of the performers’ skill set. The practice of improvisation gives performers the freedom to diverge from the score and the idea that there is one version of the music, a concept which has gained increasing currency with the wide availability of high-quality of recordings.

The recital opened with Max Reger’s Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola, Op 141a. The distinctive instrumentation, which omits the lower registers, major key and witty musical figures combine to create a bright, joyful mood. The work was engagingly performed by Rosie Bowker (flute), Marie Schreer (violin) and Henrietta Hill (viola)._

The second work in the programme was Haydn’s Symphony no. 101 in D Major, “The Clock”, arranged for a chamber ensemble of flute, two violins, viola, cello (bass) and piano by J P Salomon who was a founding member of London’s Philharmonic Society at the same time as Haydn visited London. The ensemble of seven musicians created a full, textural sound, underpinned by the double bass part which lent a richness to the music. Meanwhile, the small scale arrangement reminded us that it is possible to enjoy this music in a more intimate setting. There was wit and humour aplenty, in particular in the second movement (from where the symphony gets its nickname) and a keen sense of the musicians thoroughly enjoying this music. A most enjoyable and vibrant concert and an excellent start to the week. I recommend seeking out Ensemble Nova Luce.

After the concert, I met up with the bass player, Gwen Reed, a postgraduate student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, following studies at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. In addition to her work with Ensemble Nova Luce, Gwen performs with several other ensembles in London, including the Silk Street Sinfonia and Ensemble X.Y., and she has performed in London’s Barbican Hall, LSO St. Luke’s, and Cadogan Hall, as well as at venues in Europe. In common with her colleagues in Ensemble Nova Luce, Gwen is clearly a very active, engaged young musician who is keen to create performance opportunities and to collaborate with a wide variety of musicians and composers.

(Look out for a Meet the Artist interview with Gwen Reed, coming soon to http://www.meettheartist.site)

 

www.ensemblenovaluce.com

(photo credit: Skins Elliott Photography)

 

 

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(photo: Colin Way)

My concert-going year got off to a wonderful start with a solo performance by Pavel Kolesnikov, a sensitive young pianist who showcased Debussy’s evergreen and ever-popular Préludes Book 1, with L’isle joyeuse to round off a most satisfying and engaging lunchtime recital at London’s Wigmore Hall

Debussy’s Préludes are amongst his most popular repertoire for the piano, Book 1 being the most well-known. When Debussy first published these works, he headed them with a number only, their titles being hidden at the foot of each piece. The intention clearly was that their stories, pictures and moods were revealed gradually to pianist and listener. In Kolesnikov’s performance, there was a similar sense of the music unfolding before us, with new voices and inner lines of melody revealed gradually or unexpectedly.

Read my full review here

My local music society based at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington is proving a rich and varied source of fine music this autumn. Last month I attended excellent concerts by Helen Burford, in an eclectic programme of mostly contemporary music, and Joseph Tong who played works by McCabe, Sibelius and Ravel, and ended with a rollicking ‘Wanderer Fantasy’ by Schubert. For the first concert of November, pianist Madelaine Jones returned to the NPL to give a lunchtime recital of works by Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and little-known female composer Louise Farrenc.

4bfbb2f28b-DSCF5588Now in her final year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich, south-east London, Madelaine studies with my piano teacher, Penelope Roskell (I first met Maddie at one of my teacher’s weekend courses, some three years ago). A busy performing musician, Madelaine is now looking beyond next summer to where her musical studies might take her next: this recital was an opportunity for her to perform her programme for forthcoming auditions at the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music, Trinity, and Yale, amongst others.

Madelaine introduced her programme, explaining that Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ is considered to be the Old Testament of music, while Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas are the New Testament. As it happened, her programme contained works from both, and the opening Prelude from the Prelude & Fugue in D minor BWV 875 from Book 2 of the WTC was played with vigour, colour, and crisp articulation (Madelaine also plays the harpsichord, evident in her lightness of touch in the Prelude). The Fugue was more thoughtful, with sensitive attention to the strands of counterpoint (in her introduction, Madelaine described a fugue rather charmingly as “voices chasing each other”). This was an authoritative account, and a splendid opener for the concert.

Beethoven’s Opus 10 Piano Sonatas were published in 1798. The first and the third of the Opus are serious and tempestuous (the Op 10, no. 1 prefigures the Pathétique Sonata), but the middle sonata of the triptych, Op 10 no. 2 in F major, is more light-hearted, a “cheeky” first movement which amply displays Beethoven’s characteristic wit and musical humour. Madelaine was alert to the rapid shifts of mood, dynamics, and orchestration in Beethoven’s writing: a sprightly first movement gave way to an elegant minuet and trio, followed by a fugal finale, nimbly played by Madelaine. Sparing use of the pedal, precise articulation and musical intelligence resulted in a very colourful and enjoyable account of this early period sonata.

In a change to the printed programme, Stravinsky’s second Piano Sonata (1924) came next, again engagingly introduced by Madelaine. Composed while Stravinsky was resident in Paris in the 1920s, this Sonata harks back to Baroque and Classical models, and it was an inspired piece of programming to place it straight after the Beethoven, which helped illuminate the classical elements inherent in Stravinsky’s writing (a first movement in Sonata form – exposition, development, recapitulation – followed by a slow movement). Indeed, the slow movement, as Madelaine put it, was written as if Stravinsky had taken a typical Beethoven slow movement and simply “allowed the hands the wander around the keyboard”. Madelaine’s precise attention to detail, tonal clarity, energy of attack, and musical understanding made for a most interesting performance.

To finish Madelaine played the Air russe varié, op. 17 by Louise Dumont Farrenc, a French composer who, according to Schumann, writing in his Die neue Zeitschrift für Musik showed great promise, but who has fallen into obscurity. And indeed the work Madelaine performed was redolent of Schumann’s own music with its contrasting and varied movements and musical volte-faces. This work was proof that Madelaine is equally comfortable in Romantic repertoire, delivering a performance that caught the full emotional sweep and virtuosity of this music: a committed, bravura performance founded on solid technique and undeniable musicality.

Details of Madelaine’s forthcoming concerts can be found on her website:

madelainejones.co.uk

My Meet the Artist interview with Madelaine

Forthcoming concerts at the National Physical Laboratory Musical Society:

6th November – Corrine Morris, cello and Kathron Sturrock, piano

11th November – Alice Pinto, piano

18th November – Nadav Hertzka, piano

22nd November – Kathron Sturrock, piano

26th November – Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist), piano in works by Bach, Cage, Debussy, Liszt, Elgar, and Messiaen

Concerts take place in the Scientific Music, Bushy House, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington TW11 0LW, and start at 12.45pm. Tickets £3 on the door.

Alexandre Tharaud (image credit: Marco Borggreve)

Despite the bad weather, the gales, and the cancelled trains, I managed to get into central London yesterday (thanks to the District Line which was fully operational from Richmond) to view the ‘Honoré Daumier: Visions of Paris’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (review to follow), and to hear French pianist Alexandre Tharaud in a lunchtime concert of music by Bach, Schubert and Chopin. I had been much looking forward to this particular Wigmore lunchtime recital because the programme was all music I know well and love.

There is perhaps a lesson in here, for the concert was a disappointment, and it made me wonder whether I should, in future, select concerts which do not feature music I know well……

Read my full review here