Beautifully balanced programme of perfectly judged music for lunchtime

St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Music for flute (Hannah Darroch), oboe ( Calvin Scott), piano (Robyn Jaquiery) and organ (Charles Sullivan)

Telemann; Krebs, Rhené-Baton; Bartók; Piazzolla; Madeleine Dring

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 8 June, 12:15 pm

Most of the lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s offer interesting music, either familiar or unusual, played by fine musicians. Students are worth hearing as they almost always exceed one’s expectations for the enterprise of their programmes and professionals delight with their artistry and maturity.

This one had the enterprise of the best student recitals, in performances by very polished professional players, in the mix of moderately familiar and totally unfamiliar music. Just before the players began, a small group of children came and sat in the front, listened with evident attention and appeared to hear the music in the same way as adults did; Suzuki method pupils I gathered. I’m sure their attention was in large part a tribute to the players’ musical charisma.

Telemann is no longer the rarity that he might have been 50 years ago; and this Trio Sonata in A revealed the composer at his best, writing for winds, blending them in the most beguiling way and finding melodies that were fresh and attractive. Though the piano wasn’t treated as a solo performer, flute and oboe wove lovingly about each other, the melodies passed back and forth. The thought came to me that Telemann sounded, in his handling of the two woodwinds, like the very quintessence of early 18th century music, more authentic, representative and true to its spirit in a certain way, than Bach in Germany or Vivaldi in Italy.

Krebs was about 30 years younger than Telemann (or Bach), and the Fantasia in F minor for oboe and organ, Charles Sullivan on the pipe organ, with oboist Cavin Scott alongside the console in the organ gallery, hardly exhibited the learning of complexity of Bach. Improvisatory yet carefully composed, the oboe sounded more comfortable and idiomatic than the organ which seemed to have met an unequal competitor in the very human quality that a beautifully played oboe can create.

Emmanuel Rhené-Baton, born 1879, was roughly a contemporary of Ravel or Stravinsky but didn’t quite make such a mark. Nevertheless, looking at material on the Internet, it’s clear that he only barely escaped being a well-known conductor and a gifted, if minor, composer. He was born and lived much of his life near or in Brittany and loved the sea. His Passacaille, speaks in the accents of the French school of flute music – Paul Tafanel, Fauré, Lili Boulanger, Henri Büsset, Philippe Gaubert…even Debussy, and this was a charming performance of what seems to be the only flute piece that he wrote, or at least, that seems to be played. Hannah Darroch spoke about it, as she did about the Piazzolla Tango Etude, rather too quickly and a bit much specialist listener expectation, but her playing, tenderly supported by Jaquiery, was a nice revelation of a composer I didn’t know.

Piazzolla’s Tango Etude No 2 (one of six) was actually written for flute and piano, not an arrangement, though he apparently (through the player on a YouTube performance) made a remark to the effect that the accents should be exaggerated to imitate the sound of the bandoneon. That was how it was played and Darroch achieved a fine idiomatic feeling.

Calvin Scott also spoke, pitched at an appropriate level of assumed knowledge, about Bartók’s Four Hungarian Folksongs, for oboe and piano, interestingly identifying their origins. They might have been the most meaty and individual pieces in the recital; evidently from territory now part of Romania (because Romanians were the dominant population when boundaries were set in the post-WWI Treaty of Versailles). The playing was careful, unhurried, giving varied weight to certain phrases, and though Scott’s playing was beautiful, it also captured enough of Bartók’s pains to preserve a peasant authenticity; and here the piano part was very much an important partner.

And the trio came together again to play a Trio written by Madeleine Dring (1923-1977; I hadn’t come across her either). Jaquiery told us that she was an English actress as well as composer and much of her music was for the theatre. This delightful trio, in three conventional movements, avoided any sign that she worried too much about writing music for academia, to impress the avant-garde. Yet there was distinctive character, here and there a real melody, set in a generalized contemporary idiom. I tended to think of French rather than English composer influences – like Ibert or Poulenc and there was a sense of delight, a confidence, in the way she pursued the course of her musical ideas.

So the entire concert was a wonderful anthology for the middle of the day, in this sort of context: variety of eras and styles, nationalities and intents. Among the many delightful, spirit-lifting recitals one hears at St Andrew’s, I rated this one of the very best.

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