A somewhat impromptu lunchtime recital proves a delight at St Andrew’s

Fleur Jackson (violin), Olivia Wilding (cello), Lucy Liu (viola), Ingrid Schoenfeld and Catherine Norton (piano)

Beethoven: Piano sonata in C minor, Op 30/2, movements I and 3
Schumann: Cello Concerto in A minor, Op 129 – arranged for cello and piano, movements 2 and 3
Bloch: Suite (1919) for viola and piano, movements 2, 3, 4

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 9 November, 12:15 pm

Having left the reviewing duty unplanned, both Lindis Taylor and I found ourselves at this recital, mutually unaware of each other at the time; we decided to combine our impressions. Prizes (a free annual pass for the St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts in 2018) for successful identification of the origin of the various remarks.

This programme was arranged at short notice after the originally scheduled players withdrew. Three separate duos, it proved very engaging, even though each pair played only some of the three or more movements. In principle, one should regret that such truncations are made, as they distort in some way the composer’s original intention. In the circumstances however, and given how well each piece was played, it was an interesting and musically satisfying recital.

The first performers began Beethoven’s none-too-easy Allegro con brio first movement with excellent attack, beautifully integrated. The lively staccato character of the music seemed to belie its minor key; Ingrid Schoenfeld’s lively, ear-catching piano and the bright, buoyant sound of Fleur Jackson’s violin, spiced with well-placed emphases not only characterised the first movement, but continued without the calming Adagio cantabile of the second, to the third movement, Scherzo, which persisted in the spirit of the first, in a dancing spirit, full of optimism.

Schumann’s Cello Concerto doesn’t quite rank alongside those of Dvořák, or Elgar, even of Saint-Saëns or Haydn; but it’s a charming work. Being less familiar, there was not the same feeling of something major left out, in spite of the fact that there is no break between the three movements and in the way they simply merge, one into the next, lends the whole work a particular integrity. To start with the Langsam, second movement, worked very well, and the elimination of the orchestra didn’t seem at all barbaric.

Olivia Wilding and Catherine Norton were finely paired in the expressive opening; the cello has much double stopping while Norton’s piano was a model of subtlety and sensitivity; resulting in a very convincing feeling that Schumann might actually have written it as a sort of cello sonata. One can miss the scale and colour of an orchestra in such a reduction, but the music spoke for itself, uninhibitedly.

The success of the seamless transition from the second to the last movement might profitably have been a model for later concertos, except that it removes some of the crowd-pleasing drama from the conventional concerto structure. The challenges of the Sehr lebhaft finale did not daunt Olivia Wilding, brilliantly executing the lightning shifts from deep bass to high notes. It was a scintillating performance.

Ernest Bloch can often seem a very serious composer, but in the three movements of his Suite (in four movements) for viola and piano, he imagined the islands of Indonesia, which he never visited. They were full of interest, of light and shade. Lucy Liu and Catherine Norton began with the second movement, Allegro ironico, subtitled ‘Grotesques’. The enchanting opening phrases from both viola and piano might have been animals padding through the jungle.

The Lento third movement (‘Nocturne’), a pensive piece, revealed gorgeously rich tone from the muted viola, while it was rewarding to pay attention to the piano part that Norton handled with great sensitivity. The last movement, Molto vivo (‘Land of the Sun’), included some sequences influenced by Chinese music. Strong, confident playing left a Debussyesque feeling and the sense that the suite probably deserved a more prominent place in the viola repertoire. Both players were absolutely on top of the music, technically and interpretively.

It might have been a somewhat impromptu concert but between them the five players delivered an interesting, thoroughly enjoyable concert of works that one might dare call great.

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