Two As One

Anna Blackmur and Tom Poster, MCS Feb 7th 2014The Milverton Concert Society maintained two of its proud records last Saturday. One, to provide a first class evening of musical artistry, and two, to arrange for absolutely atrocious weather for the audience. A gratifyingly large number of people came to Milverton Parish Church to hear a lovely recital by Anna Blackmur (violin) and Tom Poster (piano), two virtuoso musicians in their own right playing together to marvellous effect.

Partners in life as well as in music, Anna and Tom presented a very varied programme, starting with a seldom-played piece of Mozart, his somewhat quirky K379 sonata, which is recorded as having been composed in one hour! It is an odd work, two slow movements in G major bracketing a faster one in G minor, but it deserves to be performed more often, especially if played as well as we heard it. Anna’s rich tone and impeccable double-stopping in the opening led to a soulful melodic line soaring above equally impeccable piano arpeggios from Tom. The stormy allegro movement showed Tom’s brilliance at the keyboard to great effect. (He alluded to the conventional dominance of the piano parts in works of that period in remarks he made later. Also of course, remember that Mozart was first and foremost a virtuoso pianist, and almost certainly wrote with himself in mind).

That said, we heard a true equal partnership between the two players – their obvious constant communication paid off in the most impassioned passages, the ensemble was spot on. The last movement is a set of five variations on a simple descending theme. Just occasionally during these, I thought that the impressive sound from Milverton’s fine Yamaha was just a little over-rich for this Mozart piece. Instruments of the time would have had a lighter, more silvery tone. However, Tom and Anna did the whole work a great service by playing it so beautifully.

Tom Poster, MCS Feb 7th 2014Tom then explained to us that due to some pretty hectic travelling and intensive engagements for Anna, they felt that they had not had time to prepare the Ravel G Major Sonata adequately, and that they would only be playing the middle ‘Blues’ movement. As a substitute we heard Tom play two of Liszt’s arrangements of Schumann songs. As you might expect from Liszt, the keyboard showman, the ‘arrangements’ were somewhat lush and technically terrifying. The description ‘swathed in swirling swarms of arpeggios’ popped somewhat alliteratively into my mind. Whether or not one approves of such treatment, this was a pianistic tour de force, and Tom’s performances were sheer brilliance. Bringing us back to Ravel with a lovely rendition of the ‘Pavane pour une Enfant Defunte’ we then heard the middle movement of that composer’s 1920’s sonata. Anna’s spiky pizzicato and slithery blues phrases were beautifully played – even the somewhat savage dissonances sounded just right. There are some tempestuous passages here, the violin solo singing out over very ‘busy’ piano. Never did one player overpower the other, again the ensemble was finely controlled.

After the interval, we heard Elgar’s fine 1918 Sonata in E minor. The opening is all passion and fire, and we were pinned to our seats by the power both players brought. The glorious tune in the middle of the first movement was really moving. The second movement starts in a very bleak and stark idiom, but soon leads into more melodic territory. Both players brought real power to the build up to the impassioned climaxes, but always under control. I particularly enjoyed the hints of ‘happiness being regained’ towards the end of this movement – Anna’s almost jocular playing of the relevant phrases was just right.

The finale was two players playing as one. A rich ensemble sound right through to the final triumphant pages made this a performance to be savoured.

Finally we heard two of the Heifetz arrangements of tunes from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’. The first was ‘Bess You Is My Woman Now’, and the arrangement was obviously done to showcase Heifetz’s legendary ability to double stop (play on two strings at once). Anna’s pretty good at it too! This was followed by ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ and my only comment here is Wow! The two players were wreathed in smiles at the end of this and so were we. A delicious lollipop of an encore (Elgar’s ‘Salut d’Amour’) put the final cherry on top of the icing on the cake. Lovely playing, lovely performers, lovely evening. No more to say.

Review by Harold W. Mead

Authority and Beauty

Melvyn TanIt’s a coup when a local society can boast a famous patron – Taunton Choral Society has Bryn Terfel, Amici has Elizabeth Watts and the Milverton Concert Society can be justly proud of its President, Melvyn Tan – especially when he comes to Milverton and gives a recital of the calibre and splendour of last Friday evening. The church was, as expected, packed to capacity and the audience’s expectations were fulfilled in every way. This delightful and unassuming man becomes transformed when he sits at the keyboard and he stamped his authority on every note from start to finish.

Schubert’s A Major sonata of 1819 is a delightful and uncomplicated work, starting with a lovely singing melody, and Melvyn’s beautifully articulated playing was spiced with finely judged rubato throughout. The short rising octave passage in the first movement was majestic but not overpowered as it sometimes is, and Melvyn’s expert pedalling kept every line and arpeggio crystal clear. The yearning chords in the slow movement were beautifully played and the whole thing had a lovely wistfulness. The allegro finale is light hearted, but there was also great sonority in the slightly heavier passages, and I was continually struck by just how clear the texture of the sound was throughout.

Schumann’s Op. 12 ‘Fantasiestücke’ (Phantasy Pieces) were next, and these eight short pieces are very popular with pianists and audiences alike. Based on short stories by E. T. A. Hoffman they are not ‘programme music’ as such, but there is supposed to be an element of depiction and narration, a conversation between two characters.

The first, ‘Des Abends’ was played with a limpid tone, genuinely suggesting the peaceful onset of evening, and Melvyn maintained a lovely legato line throughout. The sudden contrast of the dramatic, passionate outpouring of the second piece (‘Soaring’) was masterfully handled. I may be totally wrong in my interpretation of the third piece (‘Warum’ – ‘Why?’), but to me the constantly repeated 6-note figure in this reminded me of an insistent child repeatedly asking ‘but why?’ – an experience many of us will have had!

The grumpiness and quirkyness of ‘Whims’ was followed by really dramatic and passionate playing for the turbulence of ‘In the Night’ and I was struck by how beautifully Melvyn handled the central transition into a more consolatory section which was soon overwhelmed again by agitation. The sixth piece ‘Fable’ alternated slow and frisky tunes and the penultimate ‘Dreams’ Confusions’ had us marvelling at Melvyn’s fabulous articulation and tight control while still allowing the music to sound free and relaxed. The majestic finale with its fine march-like inner section sent us off for our mulled wine and mince pies in very good humour.

The second half was devoted to one of the pinnacles of the romantic piano repertoire, the 24 Preludes of Chopin. These are unique, even within Chopin’s output, and although they follow the pattern of Bach, in that there is a piece for each of the 24 keys, each one is totally different in length and character. This presents a significant interpretative challenge to any pianist, and Melvyn rose to it with great aplomb. In his opening remarks, he said that some of these pieces were ‘very easy’. Not to me they’re not! – but I knew what he meant. Although some of them may not present huge technical problems, that makes the task of the pianist as interpreter all the harder.

What followed was a tour de force – technical brilliance married to real musicality and sympathy with the idiom of the composer. The applause was as wild and enthusiastic as any I have heard at these Milverton events and was totally deserved. Melvyn eventually relented and gave us a lovely rendering of Liszt’s ‘Un Sospiro’ as an encore. This was a lovely end to an evening of wonderful music. Milverton Concert Society is very fortunate in its President and that good fortune was transferred to all who were present that night.

Review by Harold W. Mead

Three Stars in Concert

Brahms Horn TrioIt’s not an unusual happening in the classical music world for soloists with careers and high reputations in their own right to join with others to perform together, and this was the case in the latest concert from the enterprising Milverton Concert Society.  Built around a specific work, the Brahms Trio of 1865 for horn, piano and violin, the evening saw the collaboration of Richard Bayliss, Sam Haywood and Arisa Fujita respectively.  And what a fine evening’s music making it was.  The Brahms was the only work of the night which brought all three together, but the other combinations (perm any 2 from 3!) were all very rewarding in their own right.

The Schumann Adagio for Horn and Piano is a very romantic work, and  the composer himself was pleased with his output in ‘my most fruitful year’ (1849).   Written for the relatively new valved horn, this piece abounds in large and sometimes awkward intervals for the soloist.  It was a cruel start for Richard on a rather chilly autumn evening, and although for the most part he coped amply with the demands, there were occasional fluffs and cracked notes in the Adagio movement.  The Allegro positively exploded on us with a cascade of notes, and this was a joyful performance.  The balance between the two players was generally fine, but I felt that in the slightly slower sections of the second movement, the horn was a little too subdued.  This problem disappeared in the romp of the final pages and the work rounded off splendidly.

Arisa Fujita is one third of the stunningly talented Fujita sisters trio, who have played for us in Milverton.   She and Sam played Beethoven’s Op. 96 Sonata of 1812.  In the first movement the piano seemed to have the best of the writing.  However it soon became clear that the composer knew exactly what he was doing, and what seemed like prosaic interjections by the violin were actually the ‘glue’ of the long phrases and ensured the harmonies were equally well joined up.   That said, Sam really relished the piano part and just occasionally in the first movement he was a little overpowering.  In the second movement, Arisa kept vibrato to the minimum (exactly right for music of this period) and she endowed the rather severe melody with a sad beauty.  The very determined opening of the Scherzo showed the constantly improving communication between the two players.

Brahms Horn Trio 2013 011Beethoven was a little concerned about the technical ability of the player (Pierre Rode) chosen to premiere this piece and made the finale a little less pyrotechnic than he might have done.  It’s a set of variations on a rather rustic tune, and Arisa’s rich sound over a constant stream of fluent and masterly piano playing from Sam showed these two artists to be in perfect accord with each other.  The very jolly coda was a joyous end to a fine performance.

After the interval we were treated (and that is definitely the word) to an exciting and fiery performance of the Brahms Scherzo for violin and piano taken from the so-called ‘F-A-E’ sonata composed for the violinist Joachim by three of his friends.  Sam and Arisa produced wonderful richness and sonority in the slower middle section, leading back to a demonstration of sheer power under perfect control for a virtuoso ending.

The climax of the evening was of course the Brahms Trio, and from the start the ensemble sound was lovely.  There is a feeling of spaciousness in this music, and Brahms said he got the germ of the idea for the first movement while walking in the woods.  Unlike the Schumann we heard earlier, this work was written with the unvalved ‘natural horn’ in  mind, and it was noticeable that in the spiky and rhythmically fiendish Scherzo, many of the more outlandish key changes were left to the violin and piano.  That’s not to say that Richard had it easy – it’s still a virtuoso horn part and he played it very well indeed.  The ensemble sound was consistently fine and the ending of the Scherzo was a tour de force.

The funereal opening chords of the third movement reminded us that Brahms wrote this work to commemorate the death of his mother that year.  These led into a lovely, wistful duet between violin and horn, and the later very sparse lines shared by violin and piano produced an air of real sadness.

In total contrast the finale is cheerful  and bouncy, with the horn producing what are obviously representations of hunting calls.  This is extrovert music and there was wonderful interplay between the three soloists, who produced a melded sound of great beauty and stormed along to a rousing finish.  The applause was deservedly long, and the audience were very clearly in a happy frame of mind.  Quite right too.

Review by Harold W. Mead

Milverton Magic – Again!

10 Parishes 2013Last Friday saw the start of another of the wonderful concert series presented by the Milverton Concert Society. This first concert of the 2103/14 season was also incorporated in to the ’10 Parishes Festival’, but despite the wider publicity this concert must therefore have had, the audience numbers were disappointingly low. A gentleman sitting behind me, a man whose own musical knowledge and skill are extensive, may have summed it up. ‘People should come for the music, not for big names’. Of course, Milverton does present ‘big names’ frequently but perhaps he had a point. What we heard was absolutely first class, and produced by largely local talent, but why not a packed house?

The concert was in two distinct sections – before the interval we heard the Divertimento Quartet – Lynn Carter (Oboe), Mary Eade (Violin), Andrew Gillett (Viola) and Vicky Evans (‘cello). Mozart’s famous F major Oboe Quartet showed why this group is making a name for itself. Lynn’s fine articulation and judgement of dynamics was complemented throughout by a first rate ensemble sound. Their playing was flexible yet precise – it takes great musicianship to make such a fine blend while leaving the metronome in its box. The soulful ‘keening’ of the oboe in the second movement over a solid string base was really lovely, Lynn bringing an almost vocal quality to her playing. The ‘Rondo: Allegro’ third movement was a fine end to this fine performance. A good tune, somewhat bucolic in character, and featuring an avalanche of note-packed runs and arpeggios from the oboe immaculately played, generated well-earned applause.

While Lynn got her breath back, the strings played three movements from the 5-movement C Major Serenade by Dohnanyi. They made a forthright sound in the march-like opening movement, the melody redolent of Hungarian folk music. In the second movement there was some lovely legato playing from the viola over pizzicato violin and ‘cello, and the more agitated middle section was very tightly played, before returning to the flowing tune again. Finally we heard a lovely scrunchy scherzo, with a perpetuum mobile part for the violin in the middle . The music roamed freely through many keys leading a to a final gypsy tune played with great gusto over ostinato ‘cello and viola accompaniment.

Lynn then returned and Divertimento ended their contribution with Malcolm Arnold’s 1957 Oboe Quartet. This started out with a mysterious and sinuous legato oboe melody over the strings. The tune was passed around the instruments, and although these were fragments of the tune, somehow they cohered into a stream of melody – well played.

The second movement has recurring mysterious string chords with interjections from the oboe. The music seemed to be unconnected to any formal key structure, but it didn’t sound atonal, there was tunefulness at work! Towards the end the phrases from the oboe over pizzicato strings had a Debussy-like sound, and Lynn played them beautifully.

The Rondo final has a jaunty, spiky tune which occurs four times in the movement, and the whole thing was brilliant – fine ensemble playing throughout and masterful phrasing and dynamics from the oboe. I went off for my interval drink, happily whistling the ‘spiky’ tune.

The second half featured pianist Alicia Chaffey, who played a challenging programme of Brahms, Ravel and Prokofiev. She is a highly talented young musician, just starting out on what I am sure will be a successful career.

The impassioned opening of Brahms’s Rhapsody No. 1 in B Minor told us we were in for a treat. Brahms can become rather muddied, but Alicia’s judicious use of the pedal meant that she could give the music the ‘welly’ it deserves without losing clarity. I did think that the B Major central section could have been more lyrical – the tempo and dynamics were a little foursquare, but the work came to a beautiful ending.

Ravel’s ‘Jeux d’Eau’ presents a fearsome challenge to any pianist, not just for the prodigious number of notes to be played, but the demands of tonal colour and control of dynamics. The work represents the capriciousness of water and to create this the performer is faced with cascades of arpeggios.

Alicia’s performance was stunningly good, beautifully articulated without as far as I could tell a single splashed note (sorry about the pun – no I’m not). She captured exactly what this piece is about. If I have any criticism at all, a few passages did seem a little hard-driven – more delicacy and skittishness would have made this a perfect performance.

Alicia closed her programme with Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, from 1912. I have to say that although the technical demands of the piece were met with ease, I felt that she was slightly less at home in the musical idiom. She was less ‘inside’ the music, and I wonder if the fact that she was playing from the score rather than from memory may have had this effect.

The first movement with its lovely middle theme showed her at her technical best, and the short but very demanding scherzo was also played with aplomb. The third movement couples sombre chords and tense sounding themes – Alicia’s phrasing and control of the dynamics were particularly fine here and the build up to the climax was very well done.

In the finale I loved the brilliant articulation she brought to the ‘broken’ rhythms, leading into the saucy, jazzy second theme. The finale reprise and code were first class. As I said, a great performance technically, but very slightly lacking in the human touch.

Overall this was a crackingly good evening, as I have come to expect from the Milverton Concert Society – more please.

Review by Harold W. Mead

In The Presence of Greatness

Julia-HwangThe Milverton Concert Society has built up an enviable record of presenting the finest available in terms of musical performers and performances.  Usually these come from established artistes, and we are very fortunate that the Society has a wonderful knack of attracting ‘star’ performers for our delight.  Last Friday however we were entertained by a selection of musicians who are just starting out on their careers (some at a VERY early stage!) but the result was still one of excellence and enjoyment.

We are indeed fortunate that there are dedicated and enthusiastic teachers out there, who willingly give of their time and communicate their love of music and performance to their charges.  I confess I had never heard of ‘The Little Blue Weasels’ until this evening, but now I’m glad I have.  Over a dozen strong, these wonderful children, under the direction of Lisa Tustian and John Young, wowed us with confident, accomplished and funny renditions of two musical classics (well, they are now) ‘One Meat Ball’ and ‘Ocean Commotion’.  The latter, with appropriate depictions of the rolling sea and one of its more frightening denizens, gave us a totally different view of the shark, and made us feel almost sorry for ‘Jaws’ and his kin.  Musically the Blue Weasels were spot on both rhythmically and in pitch and were a real credit to their mentors.  The evening started with ‘Blow Weasel’, a quartet of wind players who are in fact Lisa’s four talented sons – after a fanfare (composed by Lisa) we heard very creditable performances of Faure’s ‘Pavane’ and the jaunty ‘Wallace and Gromit’ theme – well played.

Nat Jenkins, a piano pupil of John Young, then played a Bach prelude, Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ theme and two pieces by contemporary composers – he was obviously rather nervous, but he coped admirably with the demands of the music and public performance.

The Taunton Young Musician competition has revealed some truly magnificent local talent and two of its stars were on display this evening.  Oliver Kelham has a truly lovely tenor voice, with a wonderful ability to ‘float’ the beginnings of his musical phrases.  His singing of ‘Comfort Ye’ and ‘Ev’ry Valley’ from ‘Messiah’ was accomplished and confident, and full of musicality and his own joy in music making.  His articulation of the words was exemplary as was his breath control.  Two songs by Roger Quilter showed us that Oliver promises to be a great interpreter of the English song repertoire – his fine control of dynamics and his expression of the emotions in the songs, show that he already has a musical maturity well beyond his physical years.

The world of opera should also be open to him  – his performance of Donizetti’s ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ captured the heartfelt hopelessness of the love-stricken Nemorino and was  a fine end to his session.  Yes, there were a couple of noticeable pitch lapses, in the Handel and the Donizetti, but they did not detract from a spell-binding performance.  (He will be singing Alfredo in Somerset Opera’s July presentation of ‘Die Fledermaus’ – well worth an outing).

Weng Soong Tee won the 2012 Taunton Young Musician contest and it’s easy to see why.  The musical world is revelling in an upsurge of brilliantly talented young musicians from the Far East, and this young man is a worthy member of that wave.

The maestoso opening of Rachmaninov’s G Minor Prelude was masterly – precise, brilliant and heroic.  His posture at the keyboard was erect, almost military and evoked the wonderful control of the rhythms and the dynamics which he was displaying.  The varying tone colour (inherent in so much of Rachmaninov) was fully exploited in this performance and I loved every note.

A more contrasting piece than Ravel’s 1901 ‘Jeux D’Eau’ would be hard to imagine, full of musical impressionism and wild leaps of rhythm and harmony.  Ravel headed the score with a quote from Henri de Régnier ‘This is the River God laughing as the water tickles him . . .’

The music, like water, is full of caprice, and Weng’s performance matched its moods to the full.  Sometimes limpid, sometimes playful, we heard cascades, thundering surf, fountains, trickling streams with not a single splashed note from the pianist (sorry for that!)  This was a fully professional and masterly pianist at work and it was privilege to hear him.

‘Follow that’ I muttered to myself, and by golly the 17-year old final performer of the evening did just that, and in spades.  In 2012 Julia Hwang reached the string final of the BBC Young Musician competition, having previously won 6 varied competitions since 2006.  She is preparing for her A-level exams and studies violin with Professor Itzhak Rashkovsky at the RCM in London.

She opened with an impassioned performance of Beethoven’s 1803 Violin Sonata No. 8 in G (dedicated to Tsar Nicholas of Russia).  Her articulation was impeccable – the double-stopping in the lyrical second movement was superb.  I’ve heard many professional performers produce what can only be described as ‘harmonic compromises’ when they double-stop, but Julia’s intonation was faultless.  The ‘perpetuum mobile’ last movement was full of joy and lightness, and she deserved her prolonged applause.

Next we heard Rachmaninov’s 1894 Romance in F minor, one of his ‘Morceaux de Salon’ and Julia exploited the totally Russian romantic lushness of the piece to perfection – again, fantastic double-stopping and a gloriously impassioned performance.

When she announced that her final piece would be Ravel’s ‘Tzigane’ my jaw dropped – this has to be one of the most fiendishly difficult pieces in the entire violin solo repertoire.  The aforesaid inferior maxillary bone almost hit the floor during her performance – until Friday night my favourite performance of this piece was on a CD by the incomparable Anne-Sophie Mutter.  Not any more – Julia’s playing was the best I have ever heard, the wickedly difficult arco/pizzicato arpeggios tossed off with supreme ease.  Vibrato on the harmonics?  Virtually nobody can do that properly, but Julia did, and they were bang in tune too.

This was an evening of the finest music making – a member of the audience, a lady whose knowledge and appreciation of music has my highest regard, said that she felt she ‘was in the presence of greatness’.  I couldn’t agree more, and not just from the solo performers.  Oliver and Julia benefitted hugely from the support of very fine accompaniment – Pam Collins played for Oliver with style, precision and true musicality.  James Drinkwater’s contribution to Julia’s playing was of the highest order – here is a musician to treasure, a true partner at the highest level of musicianship.

I left the concert with my mind in a whirl – I was drained and elated at the same time.  Yes, greatness was present, and I thank the Milverton Concert Society most profoundly.
Review by Harold W. Mead


ivana_gavric_highres_01The programme organisers of the Milverton Concert Society have a deserved reputation for picking winners, often from among the rising generation of British musicians; and the concert on 22 March at Milverton Parish Church showed that they have not lost their touch. Pianist Ivana Gavric, nominated Newcomer of the Year 2011 by BBC Music Magazine following her Wigmore Hall debut, delighted an enthusiastic audience with a well-chosen programme which revealed the qualities both of the artist and of the piano recently acquired by the Society.

Two of the challenges facing any pianist are, first, to make a percussive instrument sustain an extended melody, and second, to conjure a variety of tone colours, from velvety smoothness to sparkling brilliance. In both, Ms Gavric excelled. She began her recital with Maurice Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales – a kaleidoscopic, and enigmatic, series of moods and images conveyed in Ravel’s uniquely subtle and piquant harmonic language, and interpreted on this occasion with great delicacy.

Then we heard Franz Schubert’s A minor Sonata, a sunny and youthful work full of characteristic sudden key changes and unexpected melodic gestures. In the affecting slow movement, effectively a song without words, Ms Gavric really made the piano sing.

Her gift for projecting extended melody was demonstrated even more clearly in Three Petrarch Sonnets by Franz Liszt – transcriptions by the composer of his own songs. Here the rhapsodic, originally vocal, lines on the theme of unrequited love tend to predominate, although the fiery virtuosic outbursts so typical of Liszt were also delivered with seemingly effortless confidence.

The evening concluded with three Lyric Pieces, and an early Sonata, by Edvard Grieg. Ms Gavric explained that after a year concentrating on the music of Janacek, she is now focussing on the Norwegian composer: and she proved an eloquent advocate of this sometimes unfairly neglected music. Technically demanding, alternately tempestuous and appealing, it was given an assured and convincing performance – at least one member of the audience will wish to explore further!

Ms Gavric is already a mature artist and a natural performer; her engaging and informative introductions to each piece lent welcome informality to the concert. Hers is a name to watch!
Review by Andrew Carter


Blossoms 2009_08_04_Band_RAW_010It’s the time of year when Christmas concerts abound and, let’s face it, some are better than others. Perfection is rare, but Milverton Concert Society’s presentation of the ‘Blossom Street’ choir’s ‘Sing Holy Babe’ last Friday came very, very close. ‘Blossom Street’ originated at York University where many of the members were music students (Blossom Street is in York) and moved to London in 2007.

The twelve singers, three in each part and directed by their founder Hilary Campbell, wowed their audience with a candle-lit Christmas evening to remember. The unaccompanied programme was wide ranging – songs from the 16th to the 21st century, from Mexico to Russia were all presented with sheer professionalism and beauty of sound.

Each singer’s voice was obviously of solo quality, yet the blend and ensemble were perfect, the balance across the whole range from deepest bass to top soprano just right. It takes a great deal of hard work to achieve this quality, and it was obvious from the outset that Hilary Campbell is in complete control of every aspect. Her conducting was brilliant, both hands communicating tempo and phrasing, dynamics and interpretation in a wonderful way. And yet her singers weren’t robots, following a computer program – they sounded relaxed, happy and flexible and were visibly enjoying every note they sang.

In an evening full of musical highlights, a few gems shone even more brilliantly. ‘Silent Night’ opened the second half, the singers scattered to all points of the church. The ensemble was still perfect; we all felt we were inside the sound, and no ‘surround sound’ technology could have matched the beauty of what we heard. Rachmaninov’s famous ‘Bogoroditse Devo’ from the Vespers was gorgeously done, the basses’ sound being truly Russian. Of the modern Christmas songs it was a pleasure to hear a selection of Peter Gritton’s arrangements. These are both beautiful and fiendish, but ‘Blossom Street’ made light of the harmonic pitfalls.

A big feature of the evening was a strong emphasis on English composers, and we heard lovely contributions from Finzi and Warlock, Campkin and Pott, and arrangements by Willcocks. Everything about this evening was a delight – the mulled wine and mince pies really hit the spot, the audience were made to feel welcome by the Society members and the whole ambience was complemented by the glorious music. Again, a triumph for Milverton Concert Society – keep it up, we love it!

Review by Harold Mead

Musical Perfection

fujita_trioPerhaps the poor weather kept some away, but those who were in Milverton Church for the Concert Society’s November concert were utterly enthralled last Friday. The Fujita sisters Megumi (piano), Arisa (violin) and Honoka (‘cello) played three masterpieces from three composers, all from memory and with stunning virtuosity. The ensemble playing was immaculate – every entry was spot on, every chord was bang in tune and the balance between the three instruments was as perfect as the music demanded.

And yet this was no sterile, metronomic perfection as you might get from a MIDI file. There was colour in the sound, beautiful phrasing, exciting dynamics and above all sheer beauty of tone from all three players. The communication between them was almost supernatural – it seemed as if all three instruments had combined into one.

Mozart’s C Major Trio (K548, 1788) may not be one of his most profound works but the Fujitas made it sound very worthwhile. The piano has the best of this work, and Megumi’s brilliant articulation was a joy to listen to, beautifully supported by the other two voices.

Clara Schumann’s lovely G Minor Trio (1846) is her greatest achievement and it was given a magnificent performance. The gentle Scherzo sounded playful, the Andante was heart-rendingly moving and the Allegretto finale brought some of the finest and most dramatic chamber playing I have ever heard. Time and time again I marvelled at the paradox of three separate lines each played with total clarity yet combining into a perfect ensemble sound.

The evening ended with Beethoven’s superb ‘Archduke’ trio, and the sisters’ performance was stunning. The fiendish pizzicato sections in the first movement were played with a precision better than any recording I’ve listened to – each note from violin and ‘cello was together to the millisecond, even during a fierce accelerando. From beginning to end this was an ‘Archduke’ to be revelled in and I felt priviliged to be there.

A lovely bonus was the encore of the ‘Allegretto’ by Frank Bridge.

Congratulations to the Milverton Concert Society for bringing such musical riches to our county; long may they continue. A full church would have been preferable, but it is very difficult to get the message out to the largest possible potential audience, and rain doesn’t help!

Review by Harold Mead


cottetFresh from his success as Second Prizewinner at the prestigious Leeds International Competition, Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel, with cellist Lionel Cottet, delighted the enthusiastic members of Milverton Concert Society at the opening concert of the 2012/13 season in Milverton Church on 5 October.

The programme opened with Beethoven’s youthful Sonata in G minor, a work full of expressive innovation and moods shifting from ominous anticipation to sunny nonchalance. It received a performance of extreme sensitivity, delicacy and virtuosity – ‘too fast’, thought this reviewer before recalling that the composer was scarcely older than the 25-year old performers: this was young men’s music, interpreted appropriately.

There followed some transcriptions of well-known Schubert songs. These too were exquisitely played, with the cello delivering the extended vocal lines with glowing tone, and more exceptional piano playing, especially in the fiendishly difficult ‘Erlkönig’. Yet the concept of transcribing familiar songs somehow failed to convince, however beautiful the result; without the words, some of the musical gestures are difficult to understand.

After the interval, Louis Schwizgebel played an item from his prize-winning programme – Haydn’s Sonata in C, in which the composer indulged his fascination with newly-discovered English pianos with writing that was technically and musically ground-breaking – and challenging. Schwizgebel offered an impeccable performance, full of subtlety and wit, each note delivered with crystalline clarity.

Finally, we heard Brahms’ Sonata in E minor – one of the towering heights of the repertoire for cello and piano, notorious for the difficulty of achieving balance between the two instruments. On this occasion there was no problem – the cello of Lional Cottet predominated, singing out with dramatic power and lyrical intensity. Louis Schwizgebel chose to keep the lid of the piano half-closed, and played with the delicacy and finesse which are clearly his hallmark; but one listener at least felt that a more muscular, Romantic tone was needed. The performance was different from Brahms as usually played, but musically coherent and intriguing, and compelled the listener to re-consider.

As an encore, the audience was treated to the slow movement from Chopin’s Cello Sonata, which brought the evening to a rapt and radiant close.

Footstamping, whoops and cheers are not always heard at concerts of chamber music: on this occasion they were amply justified and deserved.

Review by Andrew Carter


polmear_ambache_agutterDefine happiness – not easy.  Pursue happiness – we all do it.  Achieve happiness – maybe.  All of which may or not be relevant to the smiles on the faces of the audience last week at the Milverton Concert Society’s superb evening of music and words in the company of Jenny Agutter, Diana Ambache (piano) and Jeremy Polmear (oboe etc).  ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ is an eclectic collection of readings, poems and musical items loosely related to the theme of happiness, and presented in a way which could not fail to generate the aforesaid emotion even if only temporarily.

Jenny Agutter’s poised and wonderfully varied readings produced everything from wry smiles to belly-laughs, as she ranged from Epicurus to John Betjeman, Shakespeare to Roger McGough, Huxley to Gyles Brandreth.  Her range of accents and ability to project the emotions behind the words showed why she is so loved and respected in the theatrical world and we enjoyed every word.

Music has always been a great stimulus to and expression of the vast range of human emotions from the tragic to the comic, and we were treated to an astonishing banquet of virtuosically played items to complement the spoken words.  Husband and wife team Diana Ambache and Jeremy Polmear enthralled and truly entertained us with thoughtful and introspective Bach and Mozart, exuberant Cole Porter and Offenbach and some absolutely stunning playing throughout.  I still don’t understand how wind players do ‘circular breathing’, but Jeremy’s brilliant playing of Lalliet’s variations on ‘The Carnival of Venice’ was a jaw-dropping demonstration.  He and Diana are musicians both of the highest technical calibre and interpretative skill, and these were performances to relish.

This wasn’t just an evening of words and music; it was an evening of sheer enjoyment, involvement of performers and audience, and sociableness.  It made us happy –  which of course was the whole point and substance of the event.  Thank you performers and thank you Milverton Concert Society – you hit the bullseye with this one.

Review by Harold W. Mead