Adam Chamber Music Festival, Nelson

The Floating Bride

Songs, violin sonata and piano trio by Fauré, Harris, Elgar, Brahms

Jenny Wollerman, Piers Lane, Douglas Beilman, Helene Pohl, Rolf Gjelsten

Nelson School of Music, Saturday 31 January

Piers Lane is a top international pianist and he should fill a house of reasonable size anywhere in the world. Here he did not play solo and was happy to be simply a collegial musician: he accompanied singers, a violinist and took the piano part in a trio. But his presence, his modesty and ready collaboration as equal partner with other musicians were a constant delight.

It opened with Jenny Wollerman singing, first, three Fauré songs: Les roses d’Ispahan, Au bord de l’eau and Après un rêve. There was a little much graininess in Wollerman’s voice in the first but her normal purity of tone returned in the second; for the third, her voice was perhaps a bit too wide awake to portray her state on waking from a dream.

Then came Ross Harris’s new song cycle, The Floating Bride, The Crimson Village, settings of poems by Vincent O’Sullivan that were inspired by paintings of Chagall; a project that Harris had himself suggested to O’Sullivan. They were sung most skillfully and imaginatively by Jenny Wollerman whose discreet gestures and body movement – in The Dancer for example – helped her interpretation: and though the settings did not always aim to reflect the sense or feeling of the words, they often created visual images that were surprisingly evocative of Chagall’s paintings.

The piano part was quite elaborate, sometimes even, as in The Ladder to the Moon or Give me a Green Horse, drawing the attention away from the voice and Lane did them proud with careful, detailed handling.

Piers Lane’s next job was to play Elgar’s Violin Sonata with Douglas Beilman. This late piece, of the vintage of Elgar’s Piano Quintet and the String Quartet, demands warm and passionate playing and it flourished with Beilman’s flawless performance on his opulently-toned instrument and Lane’s fluent and commanding playing, from the dramatic to the feathery and lyrical. The thoroughly prepared, beautifully balanced partnership made it something of a revelation both to those familiar with it and to others.

In Brahms’s Second Piano Trio Lane was joined by Helene Pohl and Rolf Gjelsten; the opening passage was magically subdued but there was full-blooded playing later in the movement and a sparkling, quirky Scherzo. For all Brahms’s alleged antipathy to the Romantics around him, this work proves he’s a fully paid-up composer of his age of high Romanticism.

The riches of the entire concert reinforced the disappointment that it had not attracted the full house that it deserved.

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