nadsa Concert Reviews 2016 to 2018

Nadsa Concert Review List
Artist Performance Date
The Lisney Briggs Duo 16th November 2018
Chamber Philharmonic Europe 19th October 2018
Elaine Cocks and Viv McLean 21st September 2018
Lesley Hatfield and Huw Watkins 20th April 2018
Clare Hammond 16th March 2018
Arcadia String Quartet 18th February 2018
Pomegranate Piano Trio 21st January 2018
Joglaresa 17th November 2017
Chroma Chamber Ensemble 21st October 2017
Kristian Lindberg Piano 15th September 2017
The London Bridge Trio 21st April 2017
The Dante String Quartet 18th March 2017
Marco Fatichenti 19th February 2017
Gerard McChrystal and Simon Mulligan 22nd January 2017
Alessandro Ruisi and Dina Duisen 18th November 2016
Margaret Fingerhut Piano 21st October 2016
Chamber Ensemble of London 16th September 2016
Viv McLean Piano 15th April 2016
Sacconi String Quartet 19th March 2016
Northern Brass Quintet 21st February 2016
Raphael Wallfisch and John York 24th January 2016
Reviews of other performances
Current Reviews
Reviews from 2012 to 2015

The Lisney Briggs Duo
Friday 16th November 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot
Lisney Briggs Duo with sponsor Ray Avis
The Lisney Briggs Duo at the Courtenay Centre after their NADSA concert with sponsor Ray Avis of Buyrite Tyres

Piano duets are not frequently offered, and what made NADSAconcerts billing last week also rather special, was that all the programme works were originally composed as piano duets. The Lisney Briggs Duo had gathered together a collection of works that would be in the comfort zone of most people and would certainly press the nostalgia button occasionally.

Gal [1890 - 1987], Viennese by birth, had been a much performed composer of operas and symphonic works in Germany up to 1933. After fleeing to England, he finally settled in Edinburgh, and in 1947 was a founder of the Edinburgh International Festival. His works fell into relative obscurity in the latter part of the 20th century, but have had a revival in the 21st. We heard his Three Marionettes: ‘Pantalone’, ‘Colombina’ and ‘Arlecchiono’, based on the characters from the Commedia dell’arte. These being very suitable as concert openers, the show, of differing parts, had indeed begun.

Introducing the next piece, Sarah Beth Briggs told us about the concerns that Charles Burney, one of the earliest English composers of piano duets, had in the 18th century for the success of that genre: would the close proximity of hands be a problem, and how to accommodate the then fashionable hooped skirts? No such problems today with our Duo’s playing of Mozart’s Sonata for Piano, four hands, in F. The somewhat staid Adagio led to an Allegro giving us all the studied small-scale phrasing, articulation and dynamics one hopes for with Mozart. Its Andante felt stately, even sensual, but with skittish moments. The tempo was certainly upped for the spirited final Allegro, amply filling the auditorium.

Schubert, probably best known for his songs, also wrote many piano duets. We heard his Andantino Varie which had been intended as the middle section of a larger work. Much appreciated were its ripples, being executed with great delicacy.
The Dolly Suite by Faure consists of six short pieces, at least one of which is immediately familiar to most people above a certain age. Written to mark events in the life of Dolly, the first is the ‘Berceuse’, a cradle song. Only a few bars in, and one has this slight lump in the throat, and one wonders whether one is ‘sitting comfortably’, for this was the tune of BBC’s ‘Listen with Mother’. The other pieces give scope for various moods such as meandering in the garden, the nature of Ketty the pet dog, and even the drama of a Spanish dance.

Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No 2 in E minor was a great success when it was published in 1886, and has stood the test of time. James Lisney and Sarah Beth Briggs gave an intensity of dynamics and rubato that was thoroughly appropriate for this highly romantic piece.

What followed were ‘five children’s pieces’ as Ravel subtitled his Ma mere L’Oye [Mother Goose]. Particularly memorable was the third movement, giving us a touch of the orient. Also, the ‘Conversations of Beauty and the Beast’ was very effective: the audience was swathed in a smooth waltz, then juxtaposed with the menace of the beast. The ‘Fairy Garden’ indeed expanded wondrously from warm beauty to stately grandeur.

The Duo brought their programme to a close with Mozart’s Andante and Variations in G which had been written in the same year, 1786, as the Sonata played earlier. A simple theme is stated and then becomes progressively elaborated upon. Both pianists eventually shared the drama and intricacies - there being some sparkling runs - before they returned us to the original theme with calm simplicity.

The encore introduced the only transcription to their concert: an arrangement for four hands of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ from his Nutcracker ballet. A light-hearted reminder that the Festive Season is approaching!

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Chamber Philharmonic Europe
Friday 19th October 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot
The Chamber Philharmonic Europe with Michel Gershwin (Violin) and Cyrill Gussaroff (Trumpet)
The Chamber Philharmonic Europe with Michel Gershwin (Violin) and Cyrill Gussaroff (Trumpet) after their NADSA concert sponsored by Estelle McCormick at The Courtenay Centre

It’s a few years since NADSAconcerts brought such a large group of musicians to Teignbridge; and what a treat the Chamber Philharmonic Europe turned out to be. Familiar composer names peppered their programme, which was not only enjoyable but uplifting. The audience left with a spring in their step.
Seeing Vivaldi’s name made me think of The Four Seasons; how refreshing then to hear the Concerto for Strings in G minor instead. A spirited rendering of the introductory Allegro was followed by the Largo where a hint of melacholy pervaded.The final Allegro concluded the piece with Vivaldi's expected panache.

No matter what associations one has with Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor, it never fails to touch the soul. Actually it was mostly written by Remo Giazotto, who copyrighted it in 1958. Whatever the attribution, be it 18th or 20th century, the wide use of this Adagio in mainstream culture attests to its huge popularity. For all its familiarity, it is not often presented in its entirety as a concert live performance. Here, the bass pizzicato worked particularly well with the acoustic of the hall.

And, if we perhaps were in need of cheering up, we next heard Hummel’s Concerto for Trumpet. This was written as a light hearted showcase for the, then newly invented, valve trumpet. What a scintillating delight it was, in the hands of virtuoso Cyrill Gussaroff. He produced a surprisingly smooth tone with complete assurance and consistency. We had the instrument's full dynamic range coupled with amazing breath control; one could just revel in the music. An audience member was somewhat distressed to read that Cyrill was not programmed to perform in the concert’s second half!

During Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Strings in E, it was difficult not to get swept along with the lively and familiar melody and its inter-twining intricacies. The sweet and pure timbre of Michel Gershwin’s violin floated the Adagio melody before expanding into the rousing elaborations of an exuberant finale. Bach would not have heard such a romantic interpretation of his work; I suspect he would be proud to know that his composition is so versatile.

One of Faure’s most famous pieces is his Pavane for Orchestra: hugely familiar but still riveting. The warmth of the cello was immediately palpable, and the dynamics with the bass especially effective. Even the visually distracting viola player maintained the mesmerising theme. An ensemble performance that still haunts me.

Holst’s St Paul’s Suite was the last item on the programme, and an excellent choice, giving us contrasts of mood, a rousing jig and the comforting tune of Greensleeves woven across another traditional theme.

The near capacity audience was pleased that an encore was forthcoming. Cyrill Gussaroff returned with the ensemble to play a trumpet arrangement of Dinicu’s Hora stacatto. What a glorious display of virtuosity. Rapturous applause encouraged a second encore: ‘Mozart with a twist’. Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was the bread of the sandwich. Various fillings whisked past us: snippets by The Beatles, Beethoven, Delibes, Strauss, were humorously interleaved to the delight of the audience.
So nice to end the evening remembering that good music can also be fun.

2018 Back to the Index

Elaine Cocks and Viv McLean

Friday 21st September 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.
Elaine Cocks and Viv McLean after their NADSA concert with James Fox representing sponsor Rathbones Investment Management Two London based musicians gave a splendid performance for the first of NADSA concert’s 73rd series. Elaine Cocks, clarinet, displayed virtuosic dexterity which was superbly matched by the empathetic accompaniment of pianist Viv McLean. Elaine’s well constructed programme was an eclectic mix drawn from the Mozartian era to the 21st century, and included Indian Raga.

Composers featured were Devienne, Francaix, Bowen, Mayer, Poulenc and Booth.
Devienne, a composer whose main instruments were flute and bassoon, like Mozart, realised the expressive potential of the, then newly invented, clarinet. The potential was well developed in the rendition we heard of Devienne’s first Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, with an excellent balance between the instruments in a spirited nimble Allegro. Having established the instruments' equality, the piano pulled back to let the clarinet take centre stage for a beautifully sensitive Adagio. The clarinet’s acrobatics were great fun in the Rhondo.

Reflecting differing moods, Francaix’s Tema con Variationi were written to be test pieces for the Paris Conservatoire. What a kaleidoscope of sound they turned out to be in the hands of Elaine and Viv! We moved from light frothy and playful to subdued and soft, then agile and fast to jaunty. And then we came to the pensive Adagio, where their notes just seemed magically to hang in the air. The following chirpy hesitant Valza was a good preparation for the contrasts of the impressive clarinet cadenza that preceded the speedy but delicate finale.

In Elaine’s introduction to the next piece, she mentioned that one of Viv’s piano teachers had worked with the pianist composer York Bowen. The first movement of Bowen's Clarinet Sonata threw us into lush romanticism; the second was lighter and playful with hints of Facade-Waltonesque, whilst the third gave Viv a dramatic piano opening later followed by moments of melodrama and poignancy before rounding to a dramatic finale.

Another personal nugget from Elaine was that she had worked with John Mayer the composer of the Raga Music for Solo Clarinet. She related the context for each of the nine movements of what is a fusion of Western musical techniques with Hindustani music. Her playing was spellbinding: moods changing from lively and busy to brooding tranquillity and languid with an edge. Mayer’s use of silence was skillfully transmitted to us by Elaine: no mean feat.

I find it interesting that Mayer composed this Raga Music’ in 1952, with such effective use of silence, and in the same year in America John Cage composed his controversial piece 4’33’’.

Poulenc’s music is usually unpredictable to the point of clownish, and his Clarinet Sonata is no exception. We had a lively attack from both instruments, the familiar melodic theme being boldly stated. The mood changed to subdued and mournful in the ‘tristamente’ section, probably a lament for the late composer Honegger to whom this sonata was dedicated. In the achingly moving Romanza the melody softly flowed and ebbed, then an anguished shriek and a tender close. The fiery attack of the third movement transformed, via fun interludes, into an over-the-top pastiche of romantic lushness before returning as a playful and affirmative finale.

The very appreciative audience was delighted to have an encore, and something special at that. We heard an arrangement of Barry Booth’s Blue Lullaby, a commission for a concert at the British Embassy in Japan in 1997. This lullaby, using the pentatonic scale, was not only a soothing, but also an interesting, way to end the concert.

It speaks volumes of their artistry that Elaine Cocks and Viv McLean breathed life into so many unfamiliar works and contrasting styles. One can be proud that Newton Abbot provided them with a good audience.

2018 Back to the Index

Clare Hammond
Friday 16th March 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot
Clare Hammond David Austin and Mary White of Austins Department Stores

Newton Abbot had the first performance, following the London Barbican World Premier last Monday, of a new work by Edmund Finnis. It was just part of a very popular programme, extraordinarily performed, by Clare Hammond.

Haydn is usually a good concert opener, and his Fantasia in C major is perhaps more fun than most. Clare took this at a fair lick and, with effective use of change of tempos, kept us on the edge of our seats. There were bold statements and diaphanous frills; even Haydn might have been surprised by such vitality!

Clare said that Edmund Finnis and herself were both students at the Guildhall and had long wanted to realise a work together.

Since Edmund is now known as a composer of electronic to full symphonic instrumental music, one wondered how his sound palette would transfer to this, his first composition for solo piano. Certainly, in the hands of Clare, the answer must be ‘very well’. The 10 short pieces took us through a range of thoughts and feelings: smoothness that also shone; speed that ended with bass drama; a serenity with questioning dissonances; then a huge change to warm rolling phrases with a melodic line above; a delicacy that was sustained but had growth; great activity and sparkle; something chilling maybe a tad spooky; gentle falling ripples with an insistence left unresolved; a somewhat melancholic andante, and finishing with a mellow calm. I find it reassuring that when I note the given titles to each piece I can identify some commonality of experience, to the extent that I feel enriched by vicarious experience of those things unknown to me such as New York and Helsinki.

The Four Impromptus of Schubert D899 followed: familiar territory maybe, but rarely heard played quite as superbly as this. After rich full bodied moments came passages of gentle narrative and striking changes of mood, all done with nuanced phrasing. Clare possessedd an amazing skill to maintain subtlety of phrasing with such speed; she also had the delicacy of touch to make note repetition interesting! Magical runs had a momentum of their own, interspersed with drama in the second work that ended with frenzy. The third impromptu, where a melody sings out over ripples, is so well known that one might have thought oneself immune to its simplistic beauty. Clare's rendering of this masterpiece was totally engaging: another electric moment for the audience.

Our musical experience was further expanded into the lush romanticism of an early work by Scriabin, his Sonata No 2 in C sharp minor Op 19. It had all the awe and wonder one expects, plus the sympathetic use of silence: a lily so often gilded by others.

After we had embraced the grand scale of phrasing and, at times, turmoil of Beethoven’s Sonata No 30 in the first two movements, the Andante was serenity itself. This was perfectly in keeping with Clare having said that this was a very personal and deeply felt sonata of his.

Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka was the final work. It is very much a virtuoso show piece, not often heard in live performance due to its technical difficulty. However, Clare’s performance let us forget all that. We could dance, reflect, or have the most outrageous swings of emotion; her pyrotechnics just lit the auditorium.

What a privilege it was to be present at this performance.

This concert was sponsored by Estelle McCormick, and was the sixth in the series of Nadsa concerts sponsored by Austins Department Store.

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Lesley Hatfield and Huw Watkins
Friday 20th April 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot
Lesley Hatfield and Huw Watkins with concert sponsor Colin Power
Lesley Hatfield, leader of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, teamed up with Huw Watkins, of the Royal Academy of Music, to give an inspiring performance for NADSA’s final concert of the 2017/18 season.

Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for Violin and Piano was an interesting choice to open the programme. Originally composed as five songs without words, it comes as no surprise that, in particular, the violin line, standing in for the human voice, demands so much engaging expression. This Lesley Hatfield amply provided, and was superbly complemented by Huw Watkins. There was eerie subtle restraint, full crescendos, a burst of vigorous life, light jollity and wistful pianissimos that took us to the edges of our perception: a rich palette from both performers.

A rare treat followed. ‘Spring for Violin and Piano’ was composed by Huw Watkins in 2014. It was first performed in 2015 at Kings Place London by Krysia Osostowitz and Daniel Tong [previous NADSA performers] who had commissioned the work as a five minute companion piece to Beethoven’s Sonata No5. We were very privileged to hear it played by Lesley and its composer. A light touch and freshness seemed to capture the very essence of Spring; then the phrasing burgeoned to a more full bodied section from which we pulled back to the most delicate of endings: a very fitting stage-set for the more familiar Beethoven style.

Part of the joy of Spring is its anticipation and the renewal of the familiar. Colin was looking forward to hearing a live performance of one of his favourite chamber works. When we heard the opening bars of Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata we were on home territory. A sparkling melodic line was passed between the instruments in a brisk Allegro movement where the drama raised to fortes. Changes for the calm Adagio, and again for a crisp and playful Scherzo were deftly handled. Rolling phrasing and variety of moods made for their dramatic concluding Rondo.

Schumann’s 3 Romances, being so well known and loved by me, was my most challenging item of the programme. Lesley introduced it and mentioned that the word ‘Romance’ probably meant a ‘story’, which gave extra credence to the depth of these pieces. Then, how wonderful it was to be swept along by the seamless interweaving of melody and harmony of this exquisitely balanced duo’s interpretation.

Ravel’s Sonata No.2 was the last work on the programme. The three movements were very different from each other. The Allegretto first movement was somewhat enigmatic with an Impressionist feel that somehow had lost its way, the movement fading into pianissimo. The second, Blues: Moderato, indeed was bluesy, but also sported incongruous moments of light-hearted piano backing. Pizzicato and syncopation added to the jazzy style: its volume becoming loud and emphatic. The movement ended, retreating into the bluesy mode. It was reassuring to be guided through Ravel’s musical journey by such skilled musicians, but more was yet to come. The finale, Perpetuum mobile: Allegro, developed into a hugely virtuosic performance. What a gasp!

Lesley and Huw were called back for an encore. Aware that Schubert is a favourite composer of Colin Power [sponsor of the concert and president of NADSA], they played the delightful Scherzo from Schubert’s Sonata No 4 in A major.

This concert was the seventh in the series of Nadsa concerts also sponsored by Austins Department Store.

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Arcadia String Quartet Review

Sunday 18th February 3.00pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.

Arcadia String Quartet after their NADSA concert at The Courtenay Centre

Transylvanian magic landed in Newton last Sunday: magic because the audience was so spellbound by the Romanian muscians

As soon as the Arcadia Quartet were playing the first few bars of Haydn’s ‘Joke’ Quartet I felt there was something sonorously different. There was a warm balanced tone and also beautifully resonant pianissimos. The Scherzo gave us the jollity and the expressive light heartedness one expects of Haydn. Arcadia’s credentials now firmly established, we came to the Largo sostenuto and a complete change of mood: for me a slight frisson in that I felt a surreal edge to this movement’s pomposity. And as any comedian knows, one must establish credibility before a joke will work. The Arcadia’s poise and timing worked a treat in the finale.

To programme Borodin’s ‘This is My Beloved’ quartet after Haydn’s ‘Joke’ seemed rather a risk too close to the hackneyed. However the Arcadia transported us well clear of the commonplace. Mercifully, we were spared excessive use of vibrato. Instead we delighted in their clarity of tone, sensitivity of dynamics and pianissimos to die for! Perhaps it is the fact that this quartet has travelled together so extensively through the concert halls of the world that they play so effectively as one. There was no need of physical flamboyance or affectation; the music arose from the group. It felt somewhat of a relief to be free of the, admittedly engaging and visually exciting, experience of a live performance of a string quartet where the melodic line is thrown around as a ‘pass-the-parcel’ exercise. The Arcadia transcended this; their music was all.

The second half of the concert was Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C minor ‘Dresden’, something I should admit is not in my comfort zone. However, what a huge difference performers can make to the perception of a piece of music. The intensity of emotion was overwhelming whether in a lament of despair, hauntingly eerie passages, or the startling shrieks of the ‘Psycho-like’ episode. The final movement left the audience numb. Eventually applause started, then grew and persisted until the Arcadia gave us an encore. The viola player said that they would leave us with a more cheerful mood of a Folk Bagatelle. What a masterpiece of planning that was, and how amazingly versatile the Arcadia Quartet is.

Not only are the Arcadia stunning musicians [their sustained notes of enduring purity will stay with me], but they are also technically innovative. All their instruments had ZMT Tailpieces, which may, at least in part, account for my initial feeling that the sound quality of this Quartet was different from anything I had heard before.

ZMT Tailpiece fitted to a Double Bass
ZMT Tailpiece fitted to a Double Bass

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Pomegranate Piano Trio

Sunday 21st January 3.00pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.

Pomegranate Piano Trio with sponsor-representatives John and Svetlana Pike for the Claude and Margaret Pike Trust

Pomegranate Piano Trio after their NADSA concert at The Courtenay Centre with sponsor-representatives John and Svetlana Pike for the Claude and Margaret Pike Trust

A progression of styles and composers from the 18th and 19th centuries was The Pomegranate Piano Trios’ programme for their Nadsa concert last Sunday afternoon. We experienced the keyboard centred style of Haydn, the full bodied Beethoven, and the unleashed emotion of Smetana.

Haydn is usually fun, and this rendering of his Trio in E flat Hob XV29 was great. Pianist, Andrew West, led with a light and spirited touch, his phrasing adapting superbly to the more soulful andantino second movement and the concluding presto allemande. Fun indeed.

Next, breaking with chronology, we heard Smetana’s Trio in G minor Op15. This was written in 1855, immediately after the death, from scarlet fever, of his four year old eldest daughter. Its first performance in Prague was not well received, and we owe it to Liszt that this piece was subsequently played in Germany and Austria, and is now accepted as Smentana’s first masterpiece. Fenella Barton, violin, gave us a bold entry to a movement that was full of drama and emotional grief. The second movement, recollections of times past, was the whole gamut from joy and drama (tinged with melancholy and lament) to grief; but never in this performance lapsing into sentimentality: a fine line to tread. The triumphal finale was memorable, not least for Rebecca Hepplewhite’s warm rich and sensitive cello line: a huge contrast to the presto movement’s frequent frenetic episodes. This was a superb portrayal of the contrasts of grief that many of us know so well. The audience was rapt.

After the interval we returned to hear the ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio in B flat Op.97. It was with this grand work of statuesque proportions that Beethoven lifted the piano trio-form to a near symphonic status. The four movements allowed Pomegranate to display a great range of skills, from heart-touching in the third movement to breathtaking excitement in the finale. How fortunate we were to hear a live performance of the ‘Archduke’; an experience Beethoven’s deafness made impossible for him to have. It was again a near capacity audience for the fourth in the series of Nadsa concerts sponsored by Austins Department Store.

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Friday 17th November 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Joglaresa with Ray Avis of sponsor Buyrite Tyres

Joglaresa after their NADSA concert at The Courtenay Centre with Ray Avis of sponsor Buyrite Tyres

Joglaresa was something different. Their instruments were basically medieval, their voices ranged from Moorish, through folk, to modern classical, and their clothes likewise defied categorisation. The unifying threads were superb musicianship and emotional intensity.

The first number was a great scene-setter. The Fidel led, soon joined by percussion and drums, then vocals by Belinda Sykes and Angela Hicks who also played bagpipes and harp respectively. The manuscript for this came from the Convent of Las Huelgas in C14th Spain, and is a cheeky mixing of the ‘Good Word’ [of God] and ‘Good Wine’.

Belinda introduced us to the 5 stringed Fidel, with a flatter arch [than the violin] for droning; the Dulcimer, a Graeco- Roman name for an instrument traditionally played across Asia and Europe; the Darbuka [Tablah], with origins in BCE Babylonia and now mostly associated with Arabic and south Asian music; and the simple Mediaeval harp having no pedals or levers, so re-tuning is required for a change of key. Of course the gutted Fidel also needed frequent re-tuning, which was occurring as Belinda described to us that her single reeded bagpipes were basically an inside-out sheep. We really were shaken out of our familiar comfort zones and transported to a multi-ethnic experience in both time and geography.

The programme was titled ‘The Enchantress of Seville’, but no majoring on Carmen here, more exploring how, post the fall of Rome, the Iberian Moorish civilisation had greatly influenced subsequent western cultures.The verse-form [strophic] song was invented in Moorish Andalusia and the text was Arabic. With the expulsion, by the Christians, of the Sephardic Jews from Spain in the late C15th the Andalusian musical folk-culture spread via the Ottoman Empire from Morocco to the Balkans.

A traditional Judeo-Spanish song from Morocco, ‘Al pasar por Sevilla’ found Belinda relating the poignant narrative of a man losing a potential wife and finding a sister. Belinda’s charisma which flowed through the eyes to her fingertips passed to May Robertson’s Fidel. May’s Fidel also gave us heart-rending emotion in the song, by Wallada bint al-Mustakfi of Cordoba [d.1091], of the plight of a maiden for whom no man is worthy.

Later, Louise Anna Duggan’s Dulcimer gave us exquisite moments of delicacy, whereas Louise on Riq interacting with Guy Schalom’s Darbuka was frisson-time. Guy, in an instrumental number, was scintillating and as part of the ensemble both supportive and effectively mesmeric. Given the sensual undertones of many of the songs, Angel Hicks, both with purity of voice and harp, gave a celestial balance that was entirely appropriate for songs in praise of the Virgin Mary. Versatility was abundant, and no more so than exhibited by Belinda who ranged from soothing softness in ‘Una matika de ruda’ to strident volume in ‘A kasar el rey salia’. Her seemingly natural ability to use yodel techniques and quarter tones through melismatic phrases and ethnic ornamentation was a privilege to experience.

A near capacity audience’s applause was rewarded with an encore. I am sure that Joglaresa will now have an even greater following.

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Chroma Chamber Ensemble

Saturday 21st October 7.30pm at The Arts Centre, Teignmouth

David Le Page, Clare O’Connell and Eleanor Turner

Jetted back from Shanghai, Eleanor Turner [harpist] joined David Le Page [violinist], and cellist Clare O’Connell [a founder member of Chroma] for their NADSA concert.

We plunged in at the deep end with Ibert’s Trio, written in 1944 for his harpist daughter. This was the programme’s most modern piece, and for me the most challenging, but what an assemblage of delights. Immediately the three instruments seemed to have their own lively themes, but then the soothing harp changed the mood and allowed the cello to introduce a melodic line that interplayed with the violin. The second movement held a sustained, more introspective, mood with glorious harmonies between the strings. The final movement was bright and mischievous.

Ibert’s trio was probably written to showcase his harpist daughter; Eleanor treated us to a fine display of supportive ripples, spirited interjections and sparkling glissandi.

Debussy wrote ‘Deux Romances’ for soprano and piano; Ronchini arranged them for cello and harp. The cello is often mentioned as a close match to the human voice, and this arrangement by Ronchini could well be quoted to illustrate the point. What a beautiful combination: Clare’s cello with the harp. With such warm tones, interplay of parts and heartfelt edge, who needed words.

Saint-Saens’ Fantaisie for violin and harp was written as a duo, and the two instruments complemented each other superbly. From quite humble beginnings the dynamics grew and grew, whilst the interplay between the instruments became finer. The violin had particularly impressive virtuosic episodes contrasting so well with the calm conclusion.

Two Romances by Saint-Saens followed the interval. Neither Romance in F Op 36 nor in D Op 51 was written for these instruments, so we heard arrangements for cello and harp. I am sure Saint-Saens would have approved whole-heartedly with both the arrangement and the performance we heard. Clare’s cello captured all the plaintive haunting feel of the horn for which Op 36 was originally written and wove beautifully with the supporting harp. One felt it strange that such elegant simplicity should be so moving.

Henriette Renie [1875 - 1956] is little known except in harpist circles; judging by her Trio for violin, cello and harp, this is unjust. The first movement, with romantic melodic lines, transported us to the 19th Century. A lively Scherzo followed which led to a poignantly melancholic third movement where David Le Page’s violin took us to another plane. A rich mix of themes in the finale had an exhilarating coda with a flourish of harp arpeggios.

The audience was very appreciative of the performance, recompense indeed for turning out on such a stormy night.

Chroma Chamber Ensemble had not only given us the rare opportunity to hear an unusual grouping of instruments but also a programme of French music seldom offered on the concert circuits. I look forward to similar opportunities from them in the future.

Chroma Chamber Ensemble after their NADSA concert at The Performing Arts Centre, Teignmouth

This NADSA concert, sponsored by Rathbones Investment Management, was part of the series sponsored by Austins Department Store.

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Kristian Lindberg Piano

Friday 15th September 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.

Kristian Lindberg after his concert at The Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot with sponsor Albert Blackwell

Kristian Lindberg made a triumphant return to the professional concert scene after his traumatic encounter with a Portuguese Man of War less than a year ago.

Last November, in India, he was stung by a huge jellyfish [Portuguese Man of War]. One hospital recommended amputation of his right arm! Another hospital carried out major surgery, saving the arm. In February 2017 he had more surgery. The question was whether his career had been destroyed and would he ever play the piano again. Convalescence, Kristian said, was then aided by Mozart’s ‘Variations on a Minuet by Duport’ which had brought life back to his fingers. From gentle and simple beginnings, this work developed for us into a full-bodied demonstration of mastery of the keyboard with subtlety of phrasing and precision. Mozart wrote the variations to impress the King of Prussia; Kristian’s rendering certainly impressed us.

The rest of the programme - Grieg, Rachmaninov and Chopin - saw us firmly in the Romantic style.

Kristian, a compatriot of Grieg, gave us a very well chosen selection of five of Grieg’s ‘Lyric Pieces’. ‘Butterfly’ was taken at speed, but retained delicacy and fragility with smooth runs, swirls and darting angles. ‘Solitary Traveller’ brought an arresting change of mood to forlornness and melancholy which was quickly shaken off by the bright and lively ‘Brooklet’. Quite how Kristian then got the same piano to bathe us in the warm lullaby of ‘At the Cradle’ was little short of a miracle. The last, more varied piece, ‘Homeward’ took us to a very positive conclusion.

The selection of Rachmaninov Preludes had all the drama one could expect from decibels to delicacy! Kristian also had the restraint to give us superb languid wistful sections and moving crescendos. A brief bright and cheerful piece was followed by a meditative one whose narrative was compulsively maintained. This Rachmaninov section ended with Prelude No. 5 in G minor: so well known, and dazzlingly performed.

After the interval, the programme consisted of Chopin’s 24 Preludes: no diversity of composer, but an amazing diversity of styles and moods. These Preludes were published as a single work and were greatly influenced by Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ publication. Indeed Chopin’s 24 Preludes are similarly in each major and minor key. That of course was Chopin’s contribution as composer; what the performer brings to that music, some of which is extremely well known, is another question. One fears one is very likely to be disappointed. No such happening here. There was an increasing sense of awe and wonder as each Prelude took on its own identity, and one’s personal treasures had to accommodate to this being the definitive perfomance experience. The capacity audience was enthralled and gave Kristian a standing ovation.

Kristian Lindberg currently lives in Totnes, though his international performances span the major prestigious venues in the USA, Europe and Japan. This NADSA concert was the first in a series of concerts sponsored by Austin's Department Store. I hope NADSA concerts will be able to bring Kristian back to Newton Abbot in the not too distant future.

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The London Bridge Trio

Friday 21st April 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.

The London Bridge Trio after their concert at The Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot, with sponsor Ray Avis of Buyrite Tyres
The London Bridge Trio after their concert at The Courtenay Centre Newton Abbot, with sponsor Ray Avis of Buyrite Tyres

NADSA’s series of concerts ended the season with a programme that concentrated on the popular period of the mid 19th century. The London Bridge Trio, known for their nuanced performances focused on contextual associations, brought this Romantic period to life.

Quite unusually, there were only two composer surnames on the programme: Schumann and Mendelssohn, but this belies the situation where we were invited to appreciate the styles of both Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara. In the 19th century, Clara, as an international pianist, was more famous than her composer husband. She, however, was also a composer, but family commitments and the time constraints of her performing career were probably the reason for her relatively small number of published compositions.

All the works performed at the concert were written between the years 1845-1849, and their juxtaposition invited us to compare the more introspective style of the Schumanns with the comparatively securely flamboyant style of Mendelssohn: three musical geniuses differently influenced by their environment.

First we heard Three Fantasy Pieces, Op 73, by Robert Schumann. These pieces were originally conceived for clarinet and piano, but we heard the version for cello and piano. They were intended to be played sequentially, and with minimal breaks between each, which had the effect of enhancing their very different moods. The mellow tones of Kate Gould’s cello were complimented superbly by Daniel Tong’s sensitive phrasing in the opening piece. In the lighter flowing narrative of the second piece, the mood changed. We had interesting dialogue between the instruments, and a pianissimo that contrasted well with the emphatic fortes and energy of the last piece.

Clara Schumann’s piano trio was written whilst she was pregnant with her fourth child and unable to give performance tours. It is the only chamber music she wrote. The Allegro movement’s romantic melodic themes were given substance by the piano and cello, whereas the Scherzo contrastingly was mostly light and dancey. The piano led us into the Andante third movement which surely had a hint of the Chopinesque about it. As the movement progressed, the rich tones of the cello splendidly filled the hall. The fourth movement gave us a sample of fugal form before a very satisfyingly solid finale. A combination of composition and performance led me to appreciate the diversity of content where no theme is self-indulgently over-worked, and one is left wanting more.

Mendelssohn’s piano trio No. 2 in C minor is somewhat of a virtuoso work. The ‘Allegro espressivo con fuoco’ of the first movement sets the scene with swirling patterns on the keyboard, frenzied sections and contrasting peaceful interludes: the transitions being acutely handled by the players. The piano introduction of the Andante was indeed a calming walk, later with the warmth of the cello to embrace us. All changed with the Scherzo which had the tension and excitement of a car chase, but with no crash! The finale was the stuff of melodic fireworks with the violin of David Adams emerging from beautiful pianissimos to dramatic fortes. The London Bridge Trio did both Mendelssohn and the audience proud.

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The Dante String Quartet

Saturday 18th March 7.30pm at The Performing Arts Centre, Teignmouth.

The Dante String Quartet after their concert at The Performing Arts Centre Teignmouth, with representatives of sponsors Austins Department Store and the C and M Pike Trust

The Dante String Quartet brought another touch of international excellence to our area at the 6th and penultimate Nadsaconcert of the season. Their programme ranged from Mendelssohn and Dvorak to Beethoven and Janacek, so something to inspire and stimulate us all.

Mendelssohn's Capriccio in E minor Op 81/3 was a delightful opening. The mellifluous tones of the first violin, bathed with the supporting strings, made for an emotively limpid Andante barcarolle, whereas in the following Allegro there were bursts of vitality in what was a glittering fugue.

The selection from Dvorak's Cypresses took us to another place again. Based on a song cycle written when Dvorak was mending his broken heart, they are romantic and lyrical: and the performance was truly beautiful. Moods varied from wistful to moderately lively, with the timbre of the viola feeling appropriate for this very emotional offering. How refreshing to be impressed with the quartet's delicacy of pianissimos, delivered without the embarrassment of visual affectation.

And then we came to Janacek's String Quartet No 2 'Intimate Letters'. At the age of 63 Janacek met Kamila Stosslova who was 25 and, though both were married, he fell madly in love with her. He wrote over 700 letters to her, and she inspired him to write several operas and this String Quartet. The Dante's rendering of this work left one in no doubt that this was not serene love, but involved tension and sudden changes of mood. Their gentle pianissimos gave great poignancy to sections that contrasted with the tension and turmoil of others.

The first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet No 13 was electrically handled as the coordination of the Dante ushered us melodically through changes of texture and tempo. The Presto was suitably mercurial, and had its few moments of bluster which contrasted with the following Andante where restrained elegance came to the fore. In the rhythmically dance-like fourth movement, its melody became delightfully elaborated before a somewhat de-constructed finale; a fitting preparation for what followed.

The Cavatina, described as the 'emotional heart' of the work, is reported to have moved Beethoven to tears. In the hands of the Dante it was heart-rendingly effective. Oscar Perks, the second violinist, had introduced us to this 13th Quartet and had said that we would be hearing the revised version of the 6th movement. It maybe better not to have been told that the final movement we were about to hear was not the composer's intention. Beethoven had composed a momentous, ground-breaking fugue to complete his quartet, but performers at that time could grapple with neither the physicality nor sheer creativity of the material. One feels that Beethoven took a hint from Rossini here and gave the public what they asked for, rather than his original monumental support for the Cavatina. Our Dante's finale was thus delightfully frothy and affirmative, and just the way to end a popular concert.

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Marco Fatichenti

Sunday 19th February 3.00pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Marco Fatichenti after his concert at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot with Isobel Yandle and Joanna Williams of sponsor solicitors Wollen Michelmore

There was a real classical buzz at the Courtney Centre last Sunday. Marco Fatichenti's recital of romantic and impressionist composers charged the audience with enthusiasm and awe.

His direct approach to Debussy's Masques shimmered and sparkled; then was movingly languorous. There was no doubt that the stage was set for drama, or life.

What better vehicle to expand this theme than Schumann's Carnaval? This frequently performed work is demanding of versatility and virtuosity: characteristics we expect as normal from a NADSA concert. However, this performance transcended normality. At times the speed was breathtaking, but the dynamic structure still shone. In poignant moments the intensity was palpable. I found myself thinking that musicality took precedence over time signatures or indeed any printed notation. We were sharing an experience directly through a musical performance. As a member of the audience put it [herself a pianist of some standing], she had not come across such a combination of technical skill and control of colour for many years. She also loved his lack of affectation and flamboyance.

After the interval, we returned to Debussy with three preludes from Book 2: 'Mists' was portrayed as rolling and swirling ripples with the abrupt interjection of high treble and low bass notes; 'The Wine Gate' was Spanish heat and habanera; and 'Odine' was compulsively lyrical.

Marco gave us an introduction to his next two pieces which were by Granados. He asked us whether we thought a score was the ultimate truth, and told us that composers often improvised when playing their own compositions; and Granados was a great improviser. So perhaps a performance could aim to be what the composer might have done. This, being part of his doctoral researches, heightened our feelings of being at the cutting edge. The titles of the two movements that we subsequently heard from Granados' Goyescas are almost self-explanatory of the experience: 'The Maiden and the Nightingale', - intensely romantic; and 'Epilogue, The Ghost's Serenade'.

The programme's final pieces were Chopin's Berceuse, and Scherzo No 2. Both are familiar, and suffice it to say that Marco's performance of these works illustrated why they are so popular.

The audience demanded an encore; Debussy's 'Fireworks' with their explosive dazzle and sparkle was rather more than anyone could have expected.

The exuberance generated was long lasting. The audience, whose ages ranged from 9 to 90, and some of whom had travelled 100 miles for this performance, were reluctant to let him leave. This was Marco Fatichenti's first concert for NADSA, and I, and I'm sure many others, hope that he will be returning before too long.


Please have a look at Marco's website to learn more about him, and find out where he's performing.

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Gerard McChrystal and Simon Mulligan

Sunday 22nd January 3.00pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Estelle McCormick, Simon Mulligan with his first music teacher and Gerard McChrystal Estelle McCormick [sponsor], Simon Mulligan with his first music teacher and Gerard McChrystal after their concert at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Simon Mulligan jetted across from New York last Friday and met up with Gerard McChrystal from Trinity Laban Conservatoire London, to give a concert for NADSA last Sunday. Their pianist and saxophonist skills melded superbly in a repertoire that was as eclectic as it was dazzling.

They chose to play with a backdrop of glass which gave a bright acoustic to the Courtenay Centre: the saxophone resonating the whole space even in low pianissimos. Rather than being a duo, they performed as one, and I felt no need to watch one or other of them and wonder in some voyeuristic way as to which was 'leading' now, and for how long, as I so often feel particularly with Jazz performances. This was inspirational excellence for the audience.

We started with Bach's sonata in E minor for violin and continuo; so immediately we had to make the adjustment of saxophone standing in for a violin, and a piano for harpsichord and viol de gamba. The combination worked well. The rendering was rather more romantic than could have been achieved in Bach's day; indeed Bach might have been envious.

The very familiar work by Bozza, Aria for Alto Sax & Piano, followed and mesmerised the audience. The smooth legato line was beautifully held with dynamics that took us to soft pianissimos.

Gerard changed to the sopranino sax for Vinci's Adagio & Allegro from Sonata 1 for clarinet & piano: also a huge change in style with a madrigal feel to the Adagio and sheer brilliance and virtuosity in the Allegro.

Maintaining the theme of variety and contrasts, we then heard Massenet's Meditation from Thais: so familiar and romantic, and wonderful when played like this.

Dinicu's Hora Staccato jolted us into the realms of gypsy spirit and speed, and then the first half of the concert was concluded with Borne's Fantasie Brillante on Themes from Bizet's Carmen. What a show-case piece this proved to be. There was excellent use of rubato and delicate pianissimos, but the sultry foreboding of the piano's introduction for the Habanera was deliciously disturbing. And then the saxophone took on the named role, and it seemed the chorus and the orchestra too. Only Gerard's stratospheric level of musicality and virtuosity could hold that together.

Pascal's Sonatine gave us a flavour of French Impressionism bringing us into the Modern musical era.

Schumann's Romance in A minor then took us back into the 19 century with a plaintive wistful melody and aching balance between piano and saxophone.

Our first contemporary composer of the evening was Nigel Wood. Simon and Gerard started his Man-Mou very delicately, but then expanded it into lush tuneful territory. This gave way to an up-beat syncopated jazzy section, the work later returning to the original theme. The piano was here again a full equal to the saxophone.

We then stayed in the 20th century with Valse Marilyn by Wiedoeft. Composed in 1927, it starts with a hugely evocative waltz, but the rubato became exaggerated until the bursts of speed, life and then extraordinarily sustained notes made this pastiche great fun, for both audience and performers alike!

Phil Woods' first movement of his Sonata for Alto Sax & Piano was next, and here we were taken from quiet beginnings to an intense and vigorous jazz interlude. Our second contemporary composer was Simon Mulligan himself, playing his own Sassafras. This piano solo started with great delicacy, then a hint of West-side Story, a lot of syncopation, and frothy intricate variations in jazzy honky-tonk style. A tasty morsel indeed.

Gerard described Pedro Iturraide's Pequena Czardas as 'Spanish Klezmer' this was their grand finale. The well known piece served such a variety of saxophone notes: creamy and lingering, light legato runs and precision staccato, not to mention a superb glissando. The piano shone in a solo introduction to a returning theme, and the saxophone cadenza even had percussive elements; above all the performance had a rousing spirit. A definitive experience.

This concert was special for Simon and Gerard too because in the audience was Simon's first piano teacher [from age 4], and it was through her that he had met Gerard. After relatively brief emotional exchanges, Simon had to leave for Heathrow and New York. Gerard gave a workshop for the children of Canada Hill School the following day, before returning to London. I hope it won't be many years before they are in Newton Abbot again.

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Alessandro Ruisi and Dina Duisen

Friday 18th November 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Alessandro Ruisi and Dina Duisen after their concert at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Alessandro Ruisi made a strong entry to Bach's Chaconne; but a few bars later a string broke!

Well these things do happen. He left the stage to replace the string. Unexpectedly taking centre stage, Dina Duisen the pianist said she would play a piece that mimicked the sound of the Dombra, a two stringed instrument of Kazakhstan, her country of origin. A surprise, not programmed, very different: but amazing. This 'Legend of the Dombra' by N.Mendypalier should perhaps be a required audition piece for any aspiring pianist. Its repetitive nature, quite minimalist in form, needs a hugely sensitive differential touch to give it enduring phrasing and direction towards an emergent melody. Dina's performance was spellbinding; one felt her soul was in it, and it won the audience's heart.

Alessandro returned unabashed to give an intense performance of the Bach. He produced beautiful tone, and his technical skill of stopping and phrasing allowed Bach's genius to shine. No small credit should be paid to Schumann [who arranged this piano version] and Dina for allowing the violin to soar.

Alessandro introduced the next work, Beethoven's Sonata for violin and piano No 3, as 'early Beethoven'. The same performers, a different composer and we had a totally different experience. This was a duo with interplay from the first few bars: definitely Haydnesque and fun. The Adagio, however, had a serene lyricism with legato lines that were a wonder of sensitive pianissimos.

Alessandro, after his experience in a previous concert, said that Lutoslawski's Subito for violin and piano should come with a 'Public Health warning'. Not difficult to see why. The dramatic forte violin entrance of a downward run was arresting, and the novel abrupt twists and turns did not stop there. Lutoslawski described musical composition as 'fishing for souls' well, in this 'Subito' he certainly cast the net widely. We were shot from lyrical dreams to nightmares, and from sublimely poignant moments to 'Tom & Gerry' humour. A kaleidoscope brilliantly executed.

With Dvorak's 4 Romantic Pieces and Schumann's Violin Sonata No 1, Alessandro and Dina gave us yet more contrasts. Within the framework of melodic simplicity, Dvorak and our performers took us through a wide range of emotions. But, on turning to Schumann, we had a drama and a richness which they maintained, even through the delicate Allegretto, to a frenzied finale.

An enthusiastic audience was rewarded with an encore, Paganini's Cantabile. This was another triumph, not only of programme planning, but also of a duo playing superbly as one. I hope they return to Newton Abbot: definitely names to follow.

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Margaret Fingerhut Piano
Friday 21st October 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.

Margaret Fingerhut at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot, after her concert sponsored by Rathbones Investment Management

International concert pianist and Professor of Piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Margaret Fingerhut, gave the second in the series of NADSA concerts last Friday. It was a concert of two halves, or as Margaret introduced it, '…. a tale of two cities, Vienna and St Petersburg'.

We started with fun. Haydn usually is fun, but his Fantasia in C is especially so, even described by Haydn himself in 1789 as 'in a humorous mood'. Playful themes were introduced and developed, and quirky pauses superbly held, by Margaret. Not only was it fun audibly, but also visually, since themes passed from treble to bass, had hands crossing too. One feels compelled to say that the sparkling of the playing out-shone the sequins worn!

Staying in Vienna for our second piece, Margaret turned to Schubert’s piano Sonata in B flat which he completed in 1828 just a few weeks before his death. This was a total change of mood. There were ethereal moments, palpable pauses, sensitively menacing rumbles, angelic phrases and repeated notes played with great differential sensitivity that held us through the warmly melancholic extensive first movement. The sombre pianissimos for the theme at the beginning and ending of the second movement, and repeated notes, menacing without monotony, were just gut-wrenching. The following Scherzo movement was light relief, if not quite Haydn's fun. The final movement was relatively joyful with a defiant forte and an emphatic presto finale. Margaret had led us superbly through a great emotional journey.

For the second half of Margaret's recital we were with 'The Mighty Handful', a group of composers under the influence of Balakirev, living in St Petersburg in the 19th century.
From Borodin we had two pieces 'In the Monastery' and 'Scherzo in A flat'. The monastery scene was conjured from heavy bell tolls giving way to an ordered procession that crescendoed probably towards an altar: hugely atmospheric. The Scherzo is a romp, the rhythms and melodies being akin to peasant dances.
With Rimsky-Korsakov's 'A Little Song', we were reminded of Russia's Eastern influences by oriental intervals and harmonies.
We then had three pieces by Mussorgsky. The first, 'In the Village', started small and simple but grew to majestic size, then plodding rhythms gave way to lightness and rubato that made the peasant dances compulsive. The second of Mussorgsky's pieces was 'Teardrop': very Chopinesque and empathetically performed. 'First Punishment' was the last in this group, and conveyed a great agitation, anger and turmoil.
The next of 'The Mighty Handful' composers' works we heard was from Cui, probably the least well known. The first of his preludes we heard [from a series of 25 modelled on Chopin] was light and simple: contrasting with the drama and grandeur of the second.
Balakirev had a strong influence on many composers in St Petersburg: for example he made Tchaikovsky rewrite the Romeo and Juliet Overture to a third version. Such confidence enabled him to transcribe Glinka's 'The Lark' from orchestral score to solo piano. Again, there seemed to be the influence of Chopin and a bold use of the range of the keyboard with a rendition of fluttering that was truly feather-delicate.
Our final piece, by Balakirev, was his toccata in C sharp minor. It started with a delicate up-tempo tune that soon crescendoed and developed into a virtuoso dramatic climax.

It seemed strangely ironic, yet wonderful, that Margaret Fingerhut's programme of compositions from 'The Mighty Handful' who were very concerned with the 'Russian-ness' of their music, left me greatly impressed with their sheer diversity. So good to be treated to much loved familiar fare wonderfully presented, and then led to less familiar territory by inspired hands.

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Chamber Ensemble of London
Friday 16th September 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Peter Fisher [left] and Andrew Wilson [composer, right] with the Chamber Ensemble of London, after their concert at The Cournenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Newton Abbot and District's concert season got off to a cracking start last Friday. The Chamber Ensemble of London [CEOL] braved storm delays on rail, and road diversions to give a concert with a strong west country flavour. Their programme included pieces from Richard Mudge, living and composing in Bideford in 1749; Clive Jenkins, who is alive and well and composing in the South Hams; and Andrew Wilson, for 22 years composing at Tavistock. In 2015 he became director of studies at the National College of Music, London.

It was the splendid full bodied resonance of the Ensemble filling the Courtenay Centre that caught the imagination via the sedate but rhythmic first movement of Mudge' s Concerto Grosso  No 5. Energy and spirit followed in the second movement, returning to a more restrained dance, but with great expressive contrasts, in the third. The finale of great vitality unexpectedly ended with a diminuendo.

Jenkins' Pastorale [inspired by the South Hams] and Allegro [inspired by Dartmoor ponies]had Peter Fisher taking the lead to a blend of rich melodic, and sometimes poignantly discordant, themes in the Pastorale; whereas in the Allegro jaunty, frisky mood changes gave way to a galloping tempo.

For those of us not greatly familiar with the Theorbo, which was about to take centre stage again, Dorothy Linell gave us a brief introduction including its use as a continuo instrument. Peter Fisher memorably added that 'if one spent 80 years with the theorbo, 60 years of them would have been spent tuning it!'

Giles Farnaby's Seven Pieces for String 0rchestra [arr Bantock] are short, and provided the Ensemble with another opportunity to paint cameo mood changes with music. 'A Toye' was delightfully melodic and contained, and set the Elizabethan scene. During his 'Dreame' a somnolent melody wafted over us - evidently Giles' dream was a pleasant one. Edgy conceit, rest, chirpy humour and a sober almost mournful 'Maske' were created before a surprisingly jaunty 'Tower Hill'.

Elgar's Serenade in E minor for Strings, Op. 20, brought the first half of the concert to a sumptuous conclusion. The Ensemble were at one with the music: sensitive phrasing and dynamics just flowed, with vibrato being judiciously used to produce that damp-eye /lump-in-the-throat feeling. Rich lush tones filled the hall.

Andrew Wilson then gave a short talk regarding his work The Tavy Dances. He stressed the elements of time - dawn to night - and place - River Tavy Head to Double Waters. The CEOL, who gave this work its World Premier in April this year, are fair steeped in it.
The 'Entree' takes us to a place where small melodic lines get hesitantly lost in discords, and a five-in-the-bar rhythm leads to small expansions and then a diminuendo to silence. Anyone who has investigated Dartmoor's river heads would have empathy with this mood. The 'Bourree' is confident and youthful with highs and lows, and a dancy rhythm that sparkles: Tavy Cleave. 'Siciliana' is subdued, and has the heaviness of a summer's afternoon in meadowland with a hint of the wistful or menacing dark waters: remembrance of times past at the ruined Tavistock Abbey. 'Round Dance' has the swirling energy of two rivers climactically merging together at night.
This work, being so championed by the CEOL, will surely enter the list of significant tone poems.

John Ireland's 'Cavatina' swept us into a lushly romantic phase, though it did seem nearer 'da capo' in structure than Cavatina. We certainly knew where we were with the Bagatelle: in lighter more playful mood.

Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony for Strings starts with a 'Boisterous Bourree', and the CEOL's rendering certainly did its introduction full justice - though calming later for melodic developments. The well known 'Playful Pizzicato' movement was rendered as fresh as ever. The 'Sentimental Saraband' had many changes of texture, but overwhelmingly it is laden with emotion. 'Frolicsome Finale' is well named. It started dramatically, was lively and tuneful, and left us in very good heart.

We were thankfully given an encore, a Peter Fisher composition in the style of Paganini: variations on Widecombe Fair. Not only did we get virtuoso violin playing, we also had whistling winds thrown in; it was great fun.

How refreshing to have glorious works of Elgar and Britten in the same concert as those of less well know composers and not feel that one overshadows the others. Excellent programming and delightful execution. A memorable start to NADSA's season of concerts.

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Viv McLean Piano
Friday 15th April 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot

Viv McLean with John Pike of The C & M Pike Trust
Viv McLean after his Nadsa concert recital at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot, with John Pike of sponsors the C & M Pike Trust

Viv McLean's piano recital brought Nadsa concerts' season to a close with a distinctive and vital rendering of some much loved favourites, and a rare chance to hear the Beethoven's Diabelli variations.

The programme, quite unusually arranged in reverse chronological order, opened with Debussy's Estampes. The first of these three pieces, 'Pagodes', was delivered with a strong security that extended to lively and minute phrasing. The Javanese tonal influence, which Debussy had heard at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889, was crystal clear. 'La soiree dans Grenade', the second of this trilogy, again took us away from our classical norms of rhythms and harmonies, but this time the influence was Moorish. Viv seemed to give each note almost individual accenting, a level of sensitivity that made for an authentic Spanish feel [even though Debussy had scarcely set foot in Spain, let alone Andalusia]. Kingsteignton is twinned with Orbec: and it was a storm in Debussy's garden in Orbec that 'Jardins sous la pluie', the final piece of Estampes, describes. Viv certainly gave us a torrent of fast and furious notes, but also some swirls of wind and almost pensive lulls. The Debussy section ended with what is probably the best know of his works, Clair de Lune. There was no need of limiting one's expectations since Viv produced a sumptuously sensitive performance, whilst steering clear of the depths of sentimentality.

Chopin's Nocturne in E flat Op 9/2 is also very well known, with a melodic line singing out from a soft accompaniment. It was here that I was surprised to hear Viv make this, almost hackneyed work, sound fresh and new by the use of rubatos in unfamiliar places. Brave man to make this his own.

He then played Ballade No 3 Op 47 which was followed by Nocturne in C sharp minor, a very subdued piece during which the delicacy of phrases, that knew their goal, held us close. The Chopin section ended with Ballade No 1 which took us back and forth from haunting melodies through stormy transitions to a dramatic virtuoso ending.

The one work that followed the interval was the Diabelli variations by Beethoven; 33 variations in all. The waltz, on which the variations are based, is very ordinary, however it is considered remarkable that Beethoven produced such a significant work from such a small base. We certainly experienced a considerable range of emotions and the audience was very appreciative of Viv's tour de force.

We were given an encore: a Chopin Mazurka. It was exceptionally beautifully played, and a masterpiece of programming. We went away with nerve endings tingling.

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Sacconi String Quartet
Saturday 19th March 7.30pm at the Performing Arts Centre, Teignmouth
Sacconi String Quartet after their Nadsa concert at the Performing Arts Centre Teignmouth, with Joanna Williams of sponsors Wollen Michelmore Solicitors.
Sacconi String Quartet after their Nadsa concert at the Performing Arts Centre Teignmouth, with Joanna Williams of sponsors Wollen Michelmore Solicitors.

The Sacconi String Quartet brought more than a breath of fresh air to Mozart and Schubert: they brought energising vitality that gave the music captivating drama. Mozart's 'Hoffmeister' String Quartet is a very popular work and too easily slips into the category of pleasant background muzak; but here the first unison note of the Allegretto movement caught our attention with an eerie perfection of pitch. What followed was a feast of lightness of of touch, delicacy of small and large scale phrasing, a unity between players, and a delightfully clean pure sound. Added to which, the Sacconi gave this Mozart a strength and depth that is often lacking in more blandly familiar renderings. The Menuetto's great spirit and firm rhythm definitely danced. A complete mood change was ushered in with the Adagio: basically 'legato with feeling'. Sensitive crescendos, diminuendos, rubatos and a hint of vibrato made for a beautiful lyricism. The cracking pace of the Allegro, with its swirls, took us to an energetic finale.

The programme's 'filling' between our staples of Mozart and Schubert, was the work 'Servant'[1992] by the Cornish extant composer Graham Fitkin. Its bold attack I found almost an assault of the senses, but the persistent rhythmic intensity gave way to well held changes of mood, some of sublime melancholy. It was good to hear Fitkin give the viola a melodic lead, and to experience the tension maintained by the quartet, playing as one, through huge dynamic contrasts. And then there was the first violin's pianissimo to die for! The rhythmic intensity returned to hurl us to the end of this exciting piece.

Schubert's String Quartet No 15, his last, was written when he knew he was terminally ill. It is a monumental innovative work packed with tension, anguish and not a little pathos. The first Allegro movement soon presented us with a mix of major and minor chords and extensive use of tremolo with dramatic dynamics that, with some pizzicato, were very unsettling. The Andante, whilst also having changes of mood with outbursts of agitated tremolo, was notable for its plaintive cello line where some vibrato was used to excellent effect. The lighter, but still edgy with tremolo, Scherzo had a calmer section allowing melodic lines to sing out. The final Allegro was delivered with great spirit, the Sacconi throwing themselves into a demonic rendering; a quasi-tarantella kept the death drama with us to the end.

This was a superb concert both for programme structure and its performance. The Sacconi String Quartet are certainly worth following.

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Northern Brass Quintet
Sunday 21st February 3.00pm at the Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.
Northern Brass Quintet after their Nadsa concert, with sponsor Ray Avis of Buyrite Tyres
Northern Brass Quintet after their Nadsa concert, with sponsor Ray Avis of Buyrite Tyres

The opening number of Northern Brass dispelled preconceived ideas of what a Brass concert would be. Gone were our expectations of bombastic brass. Instead we delighted in the technical agility and lightness of touch that Bach's Little Fugue in G minor demands. The interweaving threads of Bach are so much easier to appreciate in a transcription where different timbres are there to help us. This was an enjoyable rendering of a well deserved staple from the classical brass quintet repertoire.

Ewald's Brass Quintet No1 has quite a different origin. A cellist in a string quartet in the 19th Century, Ewald was the first person to compose music specifically for brass quintets. The sombre mood of the Moderato was introduced by the tuba, and, although other instruments later took us to chirpier sections, the movement's closing mood was subdued. The second movement opened with a quietly melodic Adagio; this was followed by a light and intricately rhythmic Allegro, and we were returned to the melodic theme for the closing Adagio: a rounded movement well executed. The Allegro Moderato had an altogether brighter feel, with engaged responding phrases, and a final accelerando and crescendo that left us in no doubt that we were firmly in Romantic territory.

The Battle Suite by Scheidt provided The Northern Brass with another opportunity to demonstrate their musical versatility. The Galliard Battaglia was taken at an impressive, spirited pace, contrasting greatly with the smooth lines of the Courant Dolorosa lament. The Canzon Bergamasque had variety, within which rally calls were passed around, before the work ended in a mood of triumphalism.

Kat Curlett [trumpeter] encouraged us to ignore the outrage and pathos of Bizet's Carmen, by frivolously introducing the French horn player as Carmen [rose in wig], trumpeter as Don Jose [military hat], trombonist as Escamillo [tricorn and cape] and tuba player as The Bull [with horns and a tail]. Very pleasing to hear their Toreador Song had a light touch too!

It seems that Kamen's Quintet has become a 'standard work' for Brass quintets, and deservedly so. We were very fortunate to hear, live, Northern Brass' rendering of this romantic wistful piece.

And then we had Gershwin's three Preludes: a sandwich of one slow movement between two fast. The latter were exhilarating, not just owing to the tempo adopted, but also to the intricacy of the syncopated rhythms. At the slow movement, the trumpets took mutes, and we were transported to a sultry bluesy mood, slowly expanding with mutes off, then back to bluesy.

Next, Sondheim's 'Send in the Clowns' featured Kat Curlett on flugelhorn that proved to be an excellent substitution for the human voice: a memorable performance with a suitably empathetic backing.

A selection from Bernstein's West Side Story rounded off the programme. The welcome lack of sickly sentimentality in 'Tonight', and good spirits throughout, made for a strong finale.
Their encore, 'I got Rhythm', concluded a thoroughly enjoyable concert.
How good to see that Nadsa concerts provides opportunities to young and emerging groups. Who knows where this ensemble will be in ten years time?

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Raphael Wallfisch and John York
Sunday 24th January 3.00pm at the Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.

John York (piano) and Raphael Wallfisch (cello) after their Nadsa concert, with David Austin, his daughter and Mary White: sponsored by Austins Department Store
John York (piano) and Raphael Wallfisch (cello) after their Nadsa concert, with David Austin, his daughter and Mary White: sponsored by Austins Department Store

Raphael Wallfisch and John York performed at Newton Abbot's Courtenay Centre last Sunday, reaffirming nadsa's position as the premier promoter of a season of chamber music concerts in the South West.

The capacity audience doubtless had high expectations for the performance of these internationally and critically acclaimed performers: they were not to be disappointed.

It's difficult to know why some performances can be singled out as something special, but when the artists have supreme greatness they exude an embracing confidence. Raphael and John had no need for flamboyant gestures or exaggerated rubati, our connection with the composer felt immediate.

The light hearted and lyrical way the concert started was with Schumann's Funf Stucke im Volkston, the first piece being lively and dancelike, with the occasional humorous plods. How the contrast with the second piece [Langsam] was so perfectly achieved was remarkable. Of course the phrasing was longer and the tempo slower; but it almost seemed as though they were playing different instruments! The mellow tones of the cello flowed through beautiful melodic lines and the ebb and flow balance with the piano was exquisite without being saccharine. Subsequent character pieces took us to interesting and varied romantic themes, then bold and joyous, and ended with a mixture of delicacy and strength.

And then we had Brahms Sonata for Cello and Piano in D. However many renderings or times one had heard this work previously, this was a moment to treasure. The first movement was sublime. Emphatic chords of the second movement seemed to challenge the romantic sentimental style however, this was soon reasserted by the development of new melodic themes. The third moment had the delicate business of a rain theme, as well as a continuation of the second movement's theme and tantalising hints of the first movement, which are achingly heart-rending in that they never do fully return. Both Schumann and this duo left us wanting more.

Raphael in his introduction after the interval congratulated NADSA for promoting such successful concerts and said “long may it continue”: sentiments echoed by many.

Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No 4 in C [from his late period] opened with an Andante that in the hands of Wallfisch and York was a smooth balanced dream. The Allegro vivace burst forth upon us and continued to challenge the senses with wild changes of dynamics. The sombre Adagio gave way to hints of the previous Andante dream, and then the spirits were lifted by a demanding but playful variety in the Allegro vivace.

The final work was Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for Cello and Piano which tied for first place [with Ernest Bloch] in a 1919 competition. Not surprisingly it is an interesting work both regarding its composition and its requirement for virtuosity. The opening immediately put me in mind of Vaughan Williams; but Rebecca Clarke was soon ploughing her own, more tempestuous, furrow. In this first Impetuoso movement impressionism seemed never far away whereas in the Vivace I found myself recalling Stravinsky whilst scarcely being conscious that wondrous technical feats were being performed on both piano and cello. The concluding Adagio has a lyrical theme that was given a moving intensity before a crescendo climax and a gentle return to lyricism and an intense even abrupt ending. A wonderful introduction to an unfamiliar remarkable work.

The audience were spellbound, but erupted into applause which was rewarded by an encore. John York said that after “all that” we probably would like something calming, and they played an early work by Rachmaninov, a prelude for Cello and piano. Indeed it was calming.

We all knew that Raphael Wallfisch and John York's natural habitat is the heady world of the international musical stage. It was very heartening to experience their performance at our provincial venue at Newton Abbot and eagerly look forward to a return visit.

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