Kate-S-and-Steven-DKate Semmens, soprano & Steven Devine, harpsichord. Weymouth Sunday Concerts, 10 March 2019

When I think of the Notebooks of Anna Magdalena Bach, I imagine a weighty tome, leather bound, filled with album leaves of handwritten music on thick creamy vellum.

Anna Magdalena was the second Mrs Bach and was her husband’s helpmeet, looking after his children and assisting in copying out music part for performance. The two surviving collections of music which have come to be called Anna Magdalena’s Notebooks contain works for keyboard and voice, written by her husband and others, used for teaching and for entertainment. The works are small-scale and domestic and offer an intriguing glimpse into the home life of the Bach family: the children studying their keyboard and composition techniques and the entire family enjoying making music together. Interleaved with verse songs, polonaises and minuets are early workings of pieces which Bach later turned into works regarded today as some of the finest in the entire classical canon, including the Aria which opens the Goldberg Variations and Schlummert ein which was developed into Cantata 82.

Kate Semmens and Steven Devine presented a charming programme of works for voice and keyboard drawn from the Notebooks of Anna Magdalena. Performing on an instrument by Colin Booth, copied from a 1710 harpsichord made near where Bach lived, Steven brought vibrancy and elegance to the music, and for me, someone normally to be found at piano concerts, it was refreshing and instructive to hear a harpsichordist’s approach to aspects such as voicing and articulation. Despite the dynamic limitations of the instrument, Steven brought richness of tone and texture, most keenly felt in an uplifting performance of the Italian Concerto BWV 971.

Kate’s soprano voice is warm, expressive and colourful with clear diction and fine sense of drama and contrast. There was a lovely sense of synergy and understanding between these two musicians which highlighted the intimacy of the music, and both musicians introduced the works on the programme, engagingly setting them in context. This was a intriguing insight into the home life of JS and AM Bach and a delightful afternoon of fine music, beautifully presented.


Weymouth Sunday Concerts are presented by Weymouth Music Club. Now in its 74th season, the club hosts six concerts per year on Sunday afternoons at Weymouth Bay Methodist Church. Further information

Meet the Artist interview with Kate Semmens

Meet the Artist interview with Steven Devine

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

 

As friends and some readers/followers of this blog already know, I am leaving London towards the end of this month for a new life in Dorset, in the west of England. I say “new life” though in fact the county is familiar – my husband hails from Dorset (Poole) and we were married in Stourton Caundle, a tiny village near the attractive minster town of Sherborne. So I have had an association with Dorset, and visit regularly, for 30 years.

When I first mentioned I was planning this move, certain friends exclaimed “but how will you manage without the Wigmore Hall and all the concerts/music?“. It’s true that leaving London and its vibrant musical and cultural life will be hard – I have lived in or near London for 40 years and for much of that time, concert-going in the capital has been an important part of my life. But I will not lack music in the West Country: as another friend who relocated to Spain a few years’ ago said to me before she left, “I have lots of CDs to listen to and there’s Radio Three“. Many Wigmore Hall concerts are broadcast on Radio Three, as are concerts from other concerts halls around the UK and beyond, so even if I am not there in person, I can at least be there in spirit! In addition there’s also Spotify, Medici TV and much more. There is also plenty of live music making outside the Metropolis: I have already had friendly exchanges with Plush Festival (Andras Schiff is the headline artist at this year’s festival) and I look forward to reviewing some concerts there later this summer; and many leading artists play at regional festivals and concert societies before presenting their programmes at a London concert hall. It may take a little more effort to get to places, but my husband has promised to buy me a Smart car.

In addition, I am looking forward to forging new connections with musical people in the west country, many of whom I have already “met” online via social media.

The blog of course is not going anywhere – it is both local and global, and will continue in the same vein for as long as I have the interest and motivation to write it. So far, it has brought me many interesting and stimulating encounters with musicians, both professional and amateur, journalists, critics, writers and other bloggers on music and culture, a number of whom have become close friends of mine. This sense of “community” is very important to me, as are the meaningful interactions I have both via the blog and social media in general. It is for this reason that I have, unlike some other bloggers, kept commenting open on the site to encourage conversation and discussion.

In fact, my relocation will, I hope, offer more time to write as I will be giving up piano teaching (at least for the time being). A book has been on my mind for some years, and a number of other writing projects. I am also looking forward to having more time to play the piano – and to reflect on playing the piano (which no doubt will prompt further blog posts!).

Thank you to everyone who reads, follows and shares this blog. I look forward to sharing many more thoughts on music and piano playing with you.