Vieuxtemps: Viola Sonata in B flat, Op 36; Bax: Viola Sonata (1922)
Helen Bevin (viola) and Rafaella Garlick-Grice (piano)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace. Wednesday 7 October
This recital was by two graduates of the New Zealand School of Music: it was at least illuminating if not exactly revelatory, an opportunity to hear to greatly gifted musicians who have been acknowledged in other countries before they have been listened to and appreciated in their own country – a rather common experience.
The pair began playing together, as Duo Giocoso, in 2008 while they were studying at the New Zealand School of Music, won a scholarship that took them to Britain where they played both at the Edinburgh Fringe and in a lunchtime concert at St Martin in the fields in London.
Vieuxtemps was the great Belgian violin virtuoso of the generation before Eugène Isaÿe, a contemporary of César Franck, known mainly for his violin concertos. It was interesting to hear a chamber work, carrying the opus number before his last Violin Concerto – No 5, though there was nothing in it that would have surprised listeners of a generation earlier. Nevertheless it’s a very attractive piece, whose romantic quality found a champion in Helen Bevin’s beautiful, rich viola tone; she and Rafaella Garlick-Grice played its generous tunes with phrasing that was delightfully musical, resisting any temptation to conceal its frank sentiment or to belittle its unpretentious, popular character.
The second movement, a Barcarolle, enjoyed a plain melody that might have looked backwards, but the performance conferred on it a certain weight, especially in the last movement where the viola spends much time on the C string.
Bax’s Viola Sonata was the result of his friendship with Lionel Tertis who was largely responsible for turning the viola into an important solo instrument. The first movement has a recognisable English character where the duo created interest with their instinct for the Bax’s musical personality. The second movement was played with energy, abrupt chords from the viola, but never an ugly note.
In the last movement I felt a certain Irish sentiment which was treated rhapsodically, with thick piano chords and a charming pensive melody given to the viola.
Though such a programme might not have been a particular draw for a paying audience, we must count ourselves lucky to be able to enjoy these free lunchtime concerts of very worthwhile if less known music; however, I gather that the voluntary organizers and their overhead costs seem not always to be appreciated, judging by the amount of koha left by audience members. There’s always scope for greater generosity.