nadsa concert Reviews

Artist Performance Date
Peter Donohoe Piano 20 September 2019
Divertimento String Quartet with Judith Hall 13th April 2019
Petrof Piano Trio 15th March 2019
Martin James Bartlett (Piano) 17th February 2019
The Fitzwilliam String Quartet with Anna Tilbrook 20th January 2019
Reviews of earlier performances
Reviews from 2016 to 2018
Reviews from 2012 to 2015

Peter Donohoe
20th September 2019

Peter Donohoe at the piano with John and Svetlana Pike stood nearby
Peter Donohoe after his NADSA concert at the Courtenay Centre with John and Svetlana Pike representing sponsors the C & M Pike Trust

Nadsa concerts were lucky to get Peter Donohoe, between his international schedule, to open their 2019/20 season of concerts at Newton Abbot. His programme spanned the periods of music composed for harpsichord, to impressionism, and was all the more interesting for containing some less frequently performed works. The concert had a capacity audience including the Mayor of Newton Abbot and his wife.

Peter’s launch into Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 9 was spirited and nuanced in both tempo and touch. The Andante took on a different life, being almost conversational, whereas the more technically demanding Rondo was fast and vivacious.

The audience was probably aware that Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata is not well known. However, it was good that Peter shared with us some knowledge from his considerable experience both as an international performer and competition judge. He told us that this piece used to be set as a ‘required piece’ in piano competitions, but that now it is rarely heard, even in Russia. Maybe it has something to do with its enigmatic ending.

However prepared one may have been for an ‘enigmatic ending’, there is perhaps little one could have done to prepare for the startling hammered and insistent chords which opened the first movement. Drama abounded, not least in that there were contrasting lyrical sections even before the Andante second movement where the mood became more meditative. The following Scherzo lightened us with speed and delicacy. The Finale was fast, even frenetic, with dramatic contrasts, and yes, the ending was undeniably odd.

Peter related how Haydn has been overshadowed by Mozart, and that, of the 52 Sonatas Haydn wrote, Peter maintains this Keyboard Sonata No. 31 in A flat, is one of the 4 best. He took the first movement at considerable speed, with rubato and nuanced touch. It left me wondering how he would have played that if it had been marked just Allegro instead of Allegro moderato! The Adagio, by contrast, was sedate and pensive with at times a little cantabile and a sustained lushness that would never have been possible on a harpsichord. I guess Haydn would have approved. The Finale Presto was licence indeed for fast fun.

Ravel, Peter said, was greatly affected by World War I, and he reckons that there is a deep sadness pervading all five of his Miroirs suite [anticipatory, since this suite was published in 1906 well before the outbreak of WWI in 1914]. Ravel had given a title to each of the five pieces. In spite of superficial appearances of ‘Morning song of the Jester’, Peter reminded us about Pagliacci, that he was a sad clown, and that this is possibly the saddest piece of the suite. However, he said, ‘The Valley of Bells’ is best.

‘Night Moths’ was characterised by bursts of energy and flight in swirls of frenetic darting, whereas ‘Sad Birds’ was memorable for plaintive calls. ‘A Boat on the Ocean’ gave us expanding ripples, swelling phrases and crashing waves. And then came the most virtuosic piece ‘Morning song of the Jester’. If one were not blinded by the drama of keeping it all in the air, interludes of doubt and edge were there. How strange to end a concert with ‘The Valley of Bells’, sombre and disconcertingly effective.

We were given an encore “to lighten the mood”, and who would have thought that a little piece by Tchaikovsky would do that. A concert full of surprises.

Peter Donohoe stayed after the concert to sign CDs, more of which were purchased than at any other NADSA concert. Obviously this was an occasion people wanted to remember.

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Divertimento String Quartet with Judith Hall
13th April 2019
Flautist Judith Hall with the Divertimento String Quartet
Flautist Judith Hall with the Divertimento String Quartet and Teignmouth Mayor, Cllr June Green and Newton Abbot Mayor, Cllr Ken Purchase with his wife Dulcie

For the seventh, and final, concert of their 73 rd season, Newton Abbot and District Society of Arts left their home base in Newton Abbot’s Courtenay Centre to present a concert in Teignmouth Community School’s Performing Arts Centre, by five professional musicians who reside in South Devon. This was on Saturday 13 th April – an unseasonably chilly night. The school, being closed for half term, was unheated. But the chill was soon dissipated by the warm glow generated by the appreciative audience.

The first half of the concert featured Australian born, internationally recognised flautist, Judith Hall with three members of the Totnes based Divertimento String Quartet. They played three flute quartets – each with an engaging verbal introduction. First up was Mozart’s Quartet in D introduced by violist Andrew Gillet. He explained that Mozart’s aversion to the flute was due to the fact that, in his day, it was difficult to play a flute in tune. No problem on that score when the flute is in the hands of Judith Hall. She gave a masterly performance in this concerto-like piece, ably supported by the strings. The second piece was rather different – Rossini’s first flute quartet – in which each stringed instrument had a share of the limelight.

In introducing it, lead violinist, Mary Eade emphasized that Rossini was but twelve years of age when he composed this, and a further five similar pieces, in a three day period for a group of friends to play during a holiday. Since Rossini himself had played the violin part, Mary Eade was happy (tongue in cheek) to refer to the programme note which pointed out that the virtuosic nature of the violin part indicated that the twelve year old Rossini was not just a gifted composer, he was also no mean violinist! And, like the mature Rossini we know, this earliest of his works brought a smile to ones face and warmed the coldest of hearts. Flautist Judith Hall then adopted an appropriately more serious tone in introducing Hommage à Chopin by Sir Andrzej Panufnik – a serious work written for a serious occasion.

She recalled that since being invited, by the BBC, to be the soloist in a performance of this work for flute and string orchestra she had always loved it, and when she started collaborating with the Divertimento String Quartet, she felt that it should be possible to adapt the piece for flute quartet. So she contacted the late composer’s daughter, Roxanna Panufnik, now a successful composer herself,who agreed and produced the version played in Teignmouth. If anything, without the weight of a full string orchestra, the music was even more potent in its poignancy though, to some in the audience, the modernist dissonance featured in the work produced a somewhat chilling effect.

But all was sweetness and warmth in the second half when the Divertimento String quartet (second violinist Lindsay Braga having replaced flautist, Judith Hall) played Bruch’s first string quartet. As the new girl on the block, Lindsay introduced this rarely played work by the composer of one of the most popular of violin concertos. With richly sonorous melodies and warm harmonies this was music to bring the concert to a most contented close. Dedicated to the memory of Anne Sellars, a long-standing member of NADSA Concerts who died last year, this concert was attended by Teignmouth Mayor, Cllr June Green and Newton Abbot Mayor, Ken Purchase with his wife Dulcie.

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Petrof Piano Trio
15th March 2019

Petrof Piano Trio and Jan Schulmeister Jnr. after their NADSA concert with David Austin and Mary White representing the sponsor Austins Department Store

An amazing surprise greeted the Nadsa audience last Friday evening. The concert didn’t start as the printed programme suggested; instead we had Jan Schulmeister Jnr [son of the trio’s violinist and pianist] playing us Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 13. He was fearless with sensitivity and spirit. I felt I was watching a young Mozart phenomenon, but perhaps Chopin would be a more relevant comparison. Initial feelings of patronising the young lad soon evaporated, to be replaced with the thought: ‘How do you follow that?’

The Petrof Piano Trio had magic of their own. It was very heartening to see that they had the confidence to play the rest of the concert with the piano-lid partially down, resulting in excellent balance amongst the instruments. Their goal was sound quality rather than visually accepted tradition.

The trio started their concert with Janacek’s String Quartet No 1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’; but, as a piano trio, they played a transcription written especially for them. The Petrof Trio had already given its world premiere in Prague, their capital city, in 2014. The ‘Kreutzer’ name comes from a Tolstoy novella in which his married heroine played Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with a dashing violinist. She was carried away with the music’s passion and was killed by her jealously fantasising husband. This scenario inspired Janacek, in 1908, to write a piano trio, apparently empathising with Tolstoy’s heroine. The manuscript of this work has been lost. In 1923, Janacek returned to this theme and produced the String Quartet.

Right from the opening chords, one is plunged into tension and feelings of anguished passion. But Janacek’s swings of emotion can be abrupt and episodically unpredictable, resulting in a challenge for performers to give unity to the work. The Petrof Trio rivitingly held our emotional attention through its turbulent narrative to a sensitive calm. And how did the Piano Trio version compare with the String Quartet? For my part, I found the piano version more acceptable in that the taut sound of strings-only, in Janacek’s hands, winding up the tension, is all but unbearable. I just want it to stop! Whereas, with the very different timbre of the piano, my empathy for the complex situation was engaged, as was my huge admiration for Martina Schulmeisterova for so adeptly mirroring the strings. A memorable performance.

Rachmaninov’s Trio Elegiaque in G minor is, as the name suggests, a mournful piece. However, our route to the final funeral march was one of achingly beautiful melodic lines seamlessly passed between the instruments. The theme of melancholy waxed and waned, and was eventually put to rest in an intense quiet.

Dvorak’s Piano Trio No 2 in G minor opens with two emphatic chords; from then the Petrof Trio breathed life into every phrase of the Allegro. The piano and cello introducing the Largo movement, immediately set the scene for a plaintive meditative mood that was superbly developed. The Scherzo was energised, and heralded another metamorphosis into a generally light, bright fun movement with interlude surprises. Further emphatic chords introduced the more complex final Allegro movement that ultimately almost invited us to dance the polka!

You could have heard a pin drop when the large and enthusiastic audience were given an encore of Massenet’s Thais Meditation. In the hands of Jan Schulmeister and his violin, the experience was sublime, with Martina Schulmeisterova and Kamil Zvak on cello somehow enabling one to forget that an orchestra wasn’t present. Magic indeed.
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Martin James Bartlett (Piano)
Sunday 17th February
Martin James Bartlett NADSA concerts with John and Svetlana Pike
Martin James Bartlett after his recital for NADSA concerts with John and Svetlana Pike representing the sponsor C & M Pike Trust

Nadsa concerts achieved another coup this month by bringing Martin James Bartlett to Newton Abbot’s Courtenay Centre. His programme was largely based on a soon-to-be-released CD, the theme of which is Love and Death, a great challenge you might have thought for one so relatively young. But Martin, winner of the BBC young musician of the year competition, and memorable Proms performer, easily encompassed this breadth of interpretation.
Another aspect of the programme, which is remarkable, is that it contained so many very familiar pieces. We all have our pre-conceived ‘gold standards’ for familiar music, which means the performer has to work that much harder to win our hearts. And it was hearts, particularly in the first half, that this concert was all about.

The majority of Bach’s compositions were for use in church, and Busoni’s arrangement of Choral Prelude BWV 639 is part of that output. As the opening piece of the concert, we were enveloped by a structure of security and serenity. Next was Myra Hess’ ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ arrangement from Bach’s Cantata 147, so well known that I feared ‘Oh, that hackneyed tune again’. But somehow I was carried along with a sparkling melodic line that flowed to a satisfying conclusion.

Two pieces from Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op 15 followed. Neither is technically demanding. However, to evoke the nostalgia of childhood memories from such beautiful simplicity, particularly in the familiar Traumerei, is a rare skill that Martin possesses.

The three Petrarch Sonnets 47, 104 and 123 by Liszt were riveting. As an expression of unrequited love, we had tumult, pulling back to calm pianissimos and contrasting grandiose statements with the most delicate of filigree. A rich tapestry of love was there. Liszt’s Liebestraum is so well known, one wondered what Martin could do with it. The answer was that he ‘just lived the music’, making even the diminuendos come to life.

Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s Widmung closed the concert’s first half; and what a way to go. Martin did not allow Liszt’s flamboyance to overshadow Schumann’s song. The melodic line grew and shone: his emphatic declaration of love. Just inspirational!

The second half brought us distinctly nearer death, whether sombre with dissonance in Granados, Wagner’s only ultimate beyond passion, or Prokofiev’s brutality of war.
The audience was engaged with anecdotes regarding contexts of compositions and composers, none more so than that Granados had died in 1916 from drowning. Returning from New York his ship was torpedoed and he jumped overboard to save his drowning wife. He had just performed ‘El amor y la muerte’ or The Ballad of Love and Death. This piece of improvisational style gave us forte passions and poignant delicacy that indeed plumbed sombre depths.

Most of us are probably familiar with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde-Liebestod as a full operatic extravaganza. Liszt’s transcription for piano would seem to be attempting the impossible. I’m still of the opinion that Liszt was only partly successful. However, whilst still having an orchestra in my head, Martin’s surging crescendos and tender diminuendos brought me out in goose pimples. Bravo.

After Wagner’s ‘desired death in love’ we came to Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No 7, written in World War II. Here we faced death in the hugely different context of militaristic violence. We also experienced sections of introspection and the insistence of a tolling bell. The final tumultuous movement with its superb virtuosity and drama, brought rousing acclamation from the packed audience.

With his polished technique, passion, pianissimos, and audience rapport, Martin really has got it all.

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The Fitzwilliam String Quartet with Anna Tilbrook on piano
Sunday 20th January 3.00pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot
The Fitzwilliam String Quartet with Anna Tilbrook next to sponsor Veronica Chambers
The Fitzwilliam String Quartet with Anna Tilbrook next to sponsor Veronica Chambers

Two big names combined for Nadsa’s January concert: the Fitzwilliam Quartet with its 50 years of international reputation, and Anna Tilbrook, whose CV of musical collaborations reads like a Who’s Who of the classical world. Both have renowned discographies.

Expectations of the packed audience were undoubtedly running high, and were fulfilled in no short measure.

The rendering of their opening piece, Glazunov’s first Novelette, was spirited, rhythmic and delicate, which appropriately brought to mind a guitar and Spain. A languorous middle section kept us enthralled before we returned to a spirited and colourful conclusion. Glazunov’s third Novelette followed. The Fitzwilliam played warmly as one. A melancholic thread emerged, and was serenely passed around the quartet, and there were pianissimos to die for: an electrifying atmosphere. Even with a capacity audience, it took a few moments for the spell to be broken and applause to erupt.

Suk’s Meditation on an Old Bohemian Chorale brought a change of style; a plaintive theme was well established before impassioned conflict broke out with deep-felt anguish, and, at last, a somewhat comforting resolution.

And then Anna Tilbrook joined the Fitzwilliams for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.12. This option, to set a piano and a string quartet as a concerto, was a deliberate ploy by Mozart to make the score more saleable for Viennese drawing-room performances. So, the fact that it worked well is a credit to both Mozart and our performers. The Allegro’s instrumental introduction was light, even playful. That of the Andante was more sedate: very fitting for the subsequent piano’s more pensive line. However, the overarching glory of the performance was the warm sensitive balance between the instruments and their micro and macro phrasing. This made Mozart come alive. In Anna’s cadenzas, we not only had a beautifully sensitive touch, but also instinctive use of silence. No affectation here, just superb musical interpretation.

For those who thought they knew Elgar, his Quintet for Piano and Strings Op 84, might have come as a bit of a shock. Familiarity with Elgar’s song ‘Owls’ [1907] would enlighten one that his range of style stretches a million miles from Pomp and Circumstance. Even in the first movement [Moderato-Allegro] of this Quintet, written just after the first World War, we have ‘ghostly stuff’ [Elgar’s own words], episodes of melodrama and schmaltz, and a theme of rippling delicacy. Giving us no place to rest, the Fitzwilliam and Anna played as one, and held us breathless in the pauses. Without over-familiarity, the Adagio presses all those buttons of heart-rending romanticism that Elgar does so well. From a poignant introduction we later built to high drama, then returned to a calm tranquillity. The Andante-Allegro revisited a variety of previous themes before building to an affirmative grand finale.
There was no encore, despite enthusiastic applause. On reflection, I felt ‘how do you follow that?’; anything added might feel sacrilegious!

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