Reviews from the Fringe and International Festivals
William Ford | 22 AUG 2019
[Continued from Part One of Mr. Ford’s travel triptych.]
Maxim Emelyanychev and principals of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra presented a concert at The Queen’s Hall, which is a church converted for concerts, and formally opened by the Queen in 1979. Critics and Edinburghers alike praise the hall for its acoustic properties. The balconies are horseshoe-shaped and extend around three of the four walls. The auditorium has a 900-seat capacity. The floor seats appear to be the old pews and are extraordinarily uncomfortable, although they do have pads to add a bit of comfort.
The columns that support the balcony obstruct the view of several of the seats. The program began with Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, Op 70, performed by Alec Frank-Gemmill, horn, and Mr. Emelyanychev on piano. This infrequently heard work is probably infrequently heard for good reason. It is not one of Schumann’s best and the two instruments really don’t intersect all that well.
This performance was marred by horn intonation issues, although those problems ameliorated as the piece wore on. Next was Brahms’ Trio in A minor for clarinet, cello and piano, Op 114. Maximiliano Martin, clarinet, Phillip Higham, cellp, and Mr. Emelyanychev played skillfully but I had a growing sense that I was hearing three soloists and not an ensemble. I suspect that this is due to the acoustical space, which is dry and does not provide much sonic blending for the instruments. The hall provides clarity and loudness but not much warmth.
The final work was Dohnanyi’s Sextet in C major for piano, clarinet, horn, violin, viola and cello, Op 37. The already listed performers were joined by Benjamin Marquise Gilmore (violin) and Fiona Winning (viola). This performance was notable by a very loud horn; Mr. Frank-Gemmill did not seem to appreciate how the sound of his instrument was reinforced by the rear wall of the stage. When the horn was not playing, the other instruments sounded quite fine, but the horn‘s entrance took the acoustic air out of everyone else. The Queen’s Hall may be loved and admired, but could it be a case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”?
As part of the Fringe, the Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) sponsored a series of breakfast, after lunch and tea time recitals. The ROSL is a not-for-profit private members’ organization, dedicated to championing international friendship and understanding, in part, by helping artists and musicians across the Commonwealth connect, collaborate and create. The ROSL recitals were held at the posh Royal Scots Club’s Princess Royal Suite. The room had a stage set up at the front of the audience; it was raised about 18 inches from the floor. In spite of this essentially being a hotel meeting room the acoustics were pleasant.
Pianist Jonathan Ferrucci performed “Chopin after Lunch.” Well, actually, a Faure piece began the program, his Theme and Variations in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 73. Mr. Ferrucci is a young prize-winning pianist who is elegant when playing, leaving the pianistic histrionics to others. The Faure is not often heard but is beautiful and simple. This was a very well-played and musical performance.
Then, Mr. Ferrucci played all 24 of Chopin’s 1838-39 Preludes, Op 28, with each being written in a different one of the twenty-four keys. Each is a stand-alone piece, and the composer did not intend them to be introductory, as we take the meaning of “Prelude” today. Once the preludes begin, it is a simple matter to switch one’s cognition to reverie-mode and be swept away with the marvelous intertwining of music and complete mastery of the piano. Mr. Ferrucci is quite accomplished and thoroughly musical.
ROSL sponsored “Rachmaninov after Lunch,” featuring soprano Helen Sherman, pianist Charis Hanning, and violinist Roberto Ruisi. Ms. Sherman has a page length resume in the program pamphlet. She is Australian and has made her mark there and in the United Kingdom.
The program began with Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, from his 14 songs. Concert audiences are probably most familiar with the orchestral version, which is lush and romantic. Here, the soprano sings one long “Ahhhh,” with piano accompaniment. Ms. Sherman has a very big sound, which at times seemed to overwhelm the room.
This was followed by two songs from the composer’s 6 Songs, Op 4. The first was No. 4 “Oh, Never Sing to Me again” and the second was No. 5 “the Harvest of Sorrow.” These are grim, desolate songs that, while beautiful, seemed to have a soporific effect on the audience, compounded by the post-lunch timing.
Then Mr. Ruisi and Ms. Hanning performed the 1888 Strauss’ Violin Sonata in E-flat major, Op 18. A technically challenging work for both the violin and the piano, it was given a very strong performance here. The final work was Strauss’ 1905 Rückert-Lieder, based on the poems written by Fredrich Rückert. Five were performed from the Universal Edition. These are achingly beautiful songs, especially “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.” Ms. Sherman was impressive and Ms. Hanning provided sensitive accompaniment.
ROSL also presented “Debussy at Teatime,” With flutist Emma Halnan and pianist Dominic Degavino. Both UK-trained Ms. Halnan and Mr. Degavino are multi-prize winning performers who demonstrated remarkable skill and mastery during this recital.
Poulenc’s 1957 Flute Sonata was a rousing way to begin the program, with its jazzy inspirations and musings. This was followed one of Saint-Saens last compositions, the life Romance in D-flat major, Op. 37. Its gentle music, full of rich melody and sweet lyricism. Ms. Degavino produces a marvelous sound from the flute, and while performing, she makes eye contact with members of the audience, which gave the performance added intimacy.
Following was Debussy’s 1903 Estampes, performed by Mr. Degavino, who dispatched the three movement work with skill and musicality. He seemed particularly adept at the subtle use of the sustaining pedal, lending a light coloring to his interpretation. Ms. Halnan followed with a distinguished performance of Debussy’s 1913 Syrinx, characterized by a rich tone and spot-on intonation. Again her ability to connect with the audience was captivating.
The final work was Chaminade’s 1902 Flute Concertino, Op. 107. This one-movement piece is a cornerstone of the flute repertory (as is the Syrinx), and both artists were superb. This recital was one wonderful way of enjoying tea in the late afternoon.
[Continues in Part Three.]
William Ford is an avid classical music fan and a clinical psychologist based in Atlanta. His reviews and interviews can most frequently be found online at Bachtrack and www.atlantamusiccritic.com