AS part of the Shaftesbury Chamber Music Series’ sixth season, founder and series director Ruth Rogers (violin) was joined yesterday afternoon by Katharine Gowers (violin), Adrian Brendel (cello) and Charles Owen (piano).
Together these musicians form the Plush Ensemble. The Series always promises to present musicians of the highest calibre and all four come with impressive track records. Ruth Rogers herself is recognised as one of the most gifted young violinists in Britain, while the Gramophone Magazine describes Katharine Gowers’ playing as sensitive and atmospheric and justifiably talks of Charles Owen as one of the foremost British pianists of his generation. Adrian Brendel, too, is widely regarded as one of our most versatile and original cellists. How lucky we are to be able to see and hear performers such as these on our own doorstep.
The programme opened with Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello (Opus 7) written in 1914. It is not a work I know and so, for me, the score itself as well as the actual performance was full of surprises and delights. Kodaly wrote the piece following one of his many excursions into the Hungarian countryside collecting folk music much in the same way as Vaughan Williams and others did in the UK. But this Duo is not a suite of folk tunes; rather the melodies (the opening melody was certainly pentatonic), the frequent dance-like rhythms and the unexpected harmonies showed just how thoroughly Kodaly had assimilated his native country’s folk styles into his own individual voice. The interplay between cello and violin (in this case Katharine Gowers) was as much a pleasure to watch as it was to listen to.
There was a real air of mischievousness about it that, I am sure, captivated us all. The constant tossing of the tunes between the two instruments, together with the frequent use of pizzicato, generally in the accompaniment, was absolutely enchanting. Also effective were those occasions when the cello played higher than the violin and when both instruments were playing together in unison. The clarity of Katharine Gowers’ and Adrian Brendel’s playing was particularly impressive at such moments as it was in the many delicate pianissimo passages which were perfectly controlled and breathtakingly beautiful.
The second work of the afternoon was Gabriel Fauré’s Sonata in A for violin and piano (Opus 13). Considered by many authorities to be one of his three early masterworks, this was written in 1876 when the composer, then a relatively young man, was a pupil of Saint-Saens. Here Ruth Rogers’ rich, full toned violin did full justice to the melodies, which unfolded one after the other, her glorious playing a perfect counterpart to Charles Owen’s brilliant and intricate piano accompaniment. The performance was one of real warmth and passion; moments of great tenderness in the second movement (andante) contrasted wonderfully with the lively humour and dazzling semiquavers of the third (allegro vivo) – the performance even promoted chuckles from the audience – before the work reached its jubilant conclusion in the final allegro quasi presto. Saint-Saens wrote of the premiere: a magic floats above everything, encompassing the whole work. The same could well have been said about yesterday’s performance.
The final work, and the best known of the three, was Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major (D898) written in 1828 for which Katharine Gowers returned to the platform. It is, as musicologist William Mann wrote, a blissfully happy work, rich in cheerful melody. True to form, yesterday’s performance was unfailingly fresh and sunny. This was ensemble music at its very best and as near to perfection as one is likely to get. The vigorous first movement (allegro moderato) with its constantly varying textures was thrilling while the peaceful second (andante un poco mosso), the most chromatic of the four, showed the ensemble to be in perfect control, the musicians clearly getting every bit as much pleasure from their own music-making as they were giving their audience. The scherzo that followed, an allegro, was filled with sparkling, delicate humour while the final movement, a rondo (allegro vivace), with its sudden changes in dynamics, was played with complete assurance and led joyfully to the work’s flamboyant conclusion. Wonderful!
The final concert in the sixth Shaftesbury Chamber Music Series which features the Aquinas Piano Trio is on 21st June. Details from Juliet Rogers (01747 852789).