Posted tagged ‘Handel’

The Berkeley Ensemble

October 3, 2008

Another nice old London church, another concert…

This was at St George’s Hanover Square, a fine 18th-century building designed by John James in 1721-24, with connections with George Frederick Handel.  Broad, handsome, light and spacious, it is a fine church and a great venue for music (…but MIND YOUR HEAD if you’re going to the loo 😦 …)

Wednesday’s lunchtime concert was part of the Midweek Music in Mayfair series, given by the BERKELEY ENSEMBLE, a chamber group formed from members of the Southbank Sinfonia – including my niece Rosie on bassoon.

They played two pieces:  Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, K581, and the Octet by Howard Ferguson (1908-1999) – surrealistically misprinted in the programme as ‘Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006)’, a jazzer who did indeed have an octet but didn’t write this one.

The Mozart featured John Slack on clarinet – one of the current breed of ultra-cool clarinettists, which is nice because he doesn’t intrude when it isn’t his solo, but he seemed almost too laid back to the point of disappearance on occasion, and it took him a while to warm up to pitch (which is odd:  shouldn’t the strings have tuned to him?).  Oddly, the first violin, Tatiana Bysheva, also seemed to disappear at times, but that might just have been from where I was sitting.  Otherwise the strings provided a rock-solid support, warm, dependable and very pleasing – Rebecca Mathews on 2nd violin, Dan Shilladay on viola (relishing his ‘sighing’ moment in the second Trio of the Minuet:  I always imagine that this part was originally played by Mozart himself), and, above all, Gemma Wareham holding everything together from below with her authoritative (but discreet) cello playing.   [click here for biographies of the players]

I came away thinking (as always) ‘What a wonderful piece this is’, which was the right reaction!  The clarinet (as played in the 1780s and 90s by Anton Stadler) brought out the best in Mozart;  I can never quite work out whether the thematic unity of the Quintet is deliberate, or if Mozart just came out with the same thematic shapes whenever he imagined the sound of the clarinet.  Either way it makes for a most satisfying and tightly-knit experience.

Then the Howard Ferguson:  I have to confess (more…)

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The Cannons Scholars; Piano 4 Hands

October 29, 2007

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!

piano4handsdebussy.jpg
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.  (more…)