BELLISSIMA BRASS!

bella_trombaOn a rather damp and grey Saturday, Milverton Concert Society brightened things up for a pleasingly large audience with the latest offering in their imaginative 2011/2012 series. The music was provided by ‘Bella Tromba’, four highly talented brass players, whose professional music credentials make for impressive reading. These four young ladies have been playing together for eight years since their student days at the Royal Academy. Their stated goal is to raise awareness of the trumpet’s potential, to seek out old forgotten music and to prompt the composition of new music for their instruments.

The variety of the programme they presented was in itself impressive – the music ranged from the middle of the 16th century to a work written this year and premiered at the concert in the presence of the composer! Interestingly one of the instruments used was a bass trumpet, dating from the early 19th century and its timbre underpinned the harmonies in a unique way.

The playing was at all times highly skilled and professional, but there were some works which came off better than others. The Jacobean pieces (Byrd, Gibbons and Bull) did sound a little bass heavy and slightly ponderous – originally of course they would have been played on ‘natural’ trumpets without valves, which make a lighter, more spirited sound. It was the later works which sat more comfortably with the modern instruments and technique – Kopen’s 1977 ‘Music for 4 Trumpets’ was a tour de force, the 2nd movement played with great agility. The 3rd movement with the muted trumpets exploring strange intervals and unusual harmonies was hauntingly beautiful and the gallop of the last movement showed the quartet’s ensemble playing at its best. There were slight hesitancies in the premiere of Helena Gascoyne’s Quartet No. 1, but this new work was well worth hearing.

The concert ended with blues and swing, from Miles Davis (where the quartet managed to sound very free while actually being very controlled) and a 2011 piece by Paul Robinson which called for and got some very enthusiastic audience participation. This was a most enjoyable concert, and the Society are to be congratulated for bringing such fine talent to our ears.

Review by Harold W. Mead

STUNNING ARTISTRY

bacchus_trioThree established young stars of the British musical firmament delighted the Milverton Concert Society on 20 January in St Michael’s Church with a performance of a quality not often heard even in the world’s most prestigious concert venues.

The Bacchus Trio (Thomas Gould – violin;  James Barralet – cello; Alasdair Beatson – piano) all pursue flourishing solo and recording careers; but their decision in 2009 to form a Trio can now be seen to have been inspired, enabling three acute, sensitive and complementary musical intelligences to work together in perfect synergy.

The concert opened with Beethoven’s Trio in C minor – a key with special significance for Beethoven (think of the 5th Symphony) redolent of storm and tempest, contrasting with rays of sunshine in the related key of E flat major. From the outset – a pianissimo, exquisitely phrased statement of the first theme – the ear was captivated by the constantly shifting moods of the music, as well as by the impeccable precision and delicacy of the playing.

The next work in an intriguingly contrasted programme was Liszt’s own arrangement of one of his ‘Years of Pligrimage’ piano pieces – “Obermann’s Valley’. As Thomas Gould said in his introduction, Liszt wrote well – albeit rarely – for strings, understanding their virtuosic and expressive potential; the piece, prefaced by literary questions about the human personality and nature, runs the gamut of emotion from brooding solemnity to exultation. The Bacchus Trio delivered an interpretation full of youthful vigour and passion, the two strings in particular developing rich, warm and sensuous tone.

Brahms’  B major Trio, an early work composed at a time of emotional strain and revised 40 years later, begins with a memorable, soaring Romantic melody; from here until the barnstorming final pages we heard a version of the work which, while lacking nothing in expressiveness – especially in the stillness of the slow movement – was characterised by an almost classical poise, eschewing any hint of the overblown grandiloquence to which some Brahms interpreters are tempted….

A scintillating climax to the evening was provided by James Barralet’s arrangement of Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brillante (originally for cello and piano).  This unashamed showpiece gave all instruments the chance to shine, but special tribute must be paid to the extraordinary delicacy, fluency and grace of the piano playing of Alasdair Beatson.

Thanks are due to Milverton Concert Society for making such a memorable musical experience available to a local audience – and, it must be said, for acquiring a new piano of such quality. The next concert – Bella Tromba, an all girl brass quartet with a lively programme for all the family – is on 18 February at 1200 at St Michael’s.

Review by Andrew Carter

MASTERFUL PERFORMANCE

melvyn_guyMembers of Milverton Concert Society enjoyed a special treat at St Michael’s Church on 23 September when their distinguished Honorary President, pianist Melvyn Tan, and the brilliant young cellist, Guy Johnston, performed an enthralling programme of masterpieces from the 19th century.

Beethoven’s Sonata in C, spare and impressionistic in its ground-breaking style, received an interpretation full of finesse and delicacy, with radiant cello tone. From the very first notes – a solo cello tune – the ear was captivated by Beethoven’s ability to generate intense emotion with economy of means. Two pieces by the young Rachmaninov combined soaring melodies with dramatic piano writing, giving a foretaste of the virtuoso composer’s later works. The second piece, Danse Orientale, recalled the fascination with Central Asia and beyond of many Russian composers of the period, such as Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. Mendelssohn’s D major Sonata, imbued with cheerfulness and good humour, exploited the capacity of the cello for both passionate, sustained melody and technical virtuosity, while the piano part was full of the glittering cascades of notes which, in so much of this composer’s work, have been the delight – and terror – of generations of pianists. Both artists surmounted the challenges with nonchalant ease and infectious enjoyment. Particularly noticeable was the skill with which Mendelssohn used the cello – an instrument which usually supplies the bass – both to underpin the piano part and to sing out as a soloist in its own right. But perhaps the highlight of the evening was the D Major Sonata by Anton Rubinstein, a famous pianist who wanted – judging by this work, with justice – to be remembered as a composer. Full of tenderness, passion and charm, it offered a fascinating stylistic contrast. The final movement recalled the sparkling effervescence of Mendelssohn (whom Rubinstein met on several occasions), whereas the slow movement, both heartfelt and tinged with melancholy, clearly looks forward to the music of Tchaikovsky.

To play chamber music successfully requires not only mastery of one’s instrument but also the ability to relate instinctively and sympathetically to the other musician. In the case of cello and piano there is a special challenge in that the low register of the cello can be overwhelmed by the piano, and great care and skill is needed to avoid this. In all these respects Melvyn Tan and Guy Johnston produced music-making of the highest order. The near capacity audience responded with stormy applause.