The Cannons Scholars; Piano 4 Hands

Original plan for this weekend was a quintet gig in Somerset, which got cancelled for some reason or other.  So nothing in the diary, until (a) an e-mail from a friend saying ‘come to our concert on Saturday night’, and (b) another friend asking if I was going to Blackheath Halls’ Sunday morning offering?  (Thanks, Sue and Gillian).  So now I have two nice concerts to write about!

The Cannons Scholars is an ad-hoc-ish young and jolly band playing baroque music on modern instruments, under the direction of John Andrews.  Saturday’s programme was Vivaldi’s Gloria and Handel’s ‘Dettingen’ Te Deum, which on paper looked like altogether too much triumphal D major;  in practice, both works had enough inventiveness and contrast to keep the interest engaged, especially in these bright and characterful performances.

Like anything John Andrews does, it seems, the performances were immaculately organised and presented (great little programme notes, by the way), immensely musical and very exciting.  (And I’m not just saying that because he’ll be reading this!  Hi, John.)  Yes, a very few ragged corners here and there.  But nobody’s perfect.

St Paul’s, Covent Garden, is a lovely venue:  cosy, welcoming, not too resonant, even quite good sight-lines.  And it’s right at the heart of Covent Garden (remember My Fair Lady?  It’s where Professor Higgins meets Eliza Doolittle), though on this occasion there wasn’t too much extraneous noise from buskers and street performers outside.  To me it always feels like being in someone’s sitting room, thanks to Inigo Jones’s simple domestic box shape, the decorated plaster ceiling, and the knick-knacks – sorry, monuments – around the walls.  (It is ‘The Actors’ Church’:  I was sitting alongside Terence Rattigan, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin…)
The choir – the Minerva Consort, only a dozen strong – never sounded small, and made the rafters ring.  Some nice soloists too (good to see that soprano Amy Haworth was at Trinity, Cambridge, under Richard Marlow, same as me – but I guess I was there before she was born!).  An admiring word for Sue Treherne’s clarion oboe solos, and the fearless high trumpets of John Parker and his colleagues.

Listen out for Handel’s Semele in March 2008!

This morning (after the extra hour in bed – hurrah) I rolled up at Blackheath Concert Halls for my free coffee and croissants, and was pleased to discover I could get a Musicians’ Union discount on my ticket…  The recital was by piano-duet team, Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa, trading as ‘PIANO 4 HANDS’.  Disappointingly small audience, but that meant I could sneak into a front-row seat.

The duo were a joy to watch.  I’ve never heard such near-telepathic unanimity in a duet team, and they were obviously having fun too.  They played from memory in all except Debussy’s La Mer – a mixed blessing when there was a minor memory lapse in Mozart’s C major Sonata (K521), which otherwise received an engaging and sparkling performance.  (As always, I find myself wondering who it was written for:  was Mozart one of the original players?  And if so, which?)

Then came Schubert’s F minor Fantasie – such a wonderful and heartbreaking piece.  Amazingly forward-looking, too:  a single movement incorporating all the movements of a conventional sonata, with cyclic use of the opening theme prefiguring Liszt, César Franck and much more.  Their performance was very moving and involving – my only negative thought being that perhaps they were hitting the piano too hard for the size of the hall (but I was sitting in the front row).  

But the Hall’s lovely little Bösendorfer sounded absolutely glorious.  What a great investment, and what a wonderful instrument.

After the interval (too early for alcohol!) came Debussy – evidently a speciality of theirs:  I bought their Debussy CD on my way out.  The Petite Suite is an early work, uncharacteristically muscular and straightforward for Debussy, and they sailed through it with aplomb and a fine swing, incidentally making more sense of the choppy tempo-changes in the last movement than I have heard before.

The concert ended with a piano duet version of Debussy’s La Mer, which, as Joseph Tong interestingly pointed out, was completed before the orchestral version.  It was fascinating to hear how much Debussy composed in terms of the piano, and conversely some passages which didn’t make sense on the piano but called to mind Debussy’s extraordinary orchestral colours.  The sounds that emerged were truly volcanic – or oceanic – at times.

I came away feeling I had had a rare treat – great music in fine and penetrating performances, delivered with panache, fun and intimacy.  I have to confess I hadn’t come across this duo before, but I will certainly listen out for them again.  Thank you!

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2 Comments on “The Cannons Scholars; Piano 4 Hands”

  1. jonathanburton Says:

    Answering my own question about the Mozart duet sonata, K521: it was composed for Franzeska von Jacquin, Mozart’s pupil, daughter of his friend Gottfreid von Jacquin. My guess would be her on top, Mozart on the bottom (as it were). He also wrote the piano part of his clarinet/viola/piano trio (K498) for her.
    Next question: I wonder if there was any ‘scandale’ about her. He often had this problem with his girl pupils… (she would have been 18 at the time)

  2. jonathanburton Says:


    Sorry — hard to proofread as it’s so small.

    But I think ‘Franzeska’ is right.

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