30 January – 1 February 2009
Audience reaction to the weekend:
“Warmest congratulations… for an enormously successful weekend”
“Another enterprising weekend of world-class music making”
“It was a joy from start to finish…a who’s who of the present day Schubert performers”
“A wonderful three days of music which I am sure left all who were there uplifted”
Friday 30 January 2009 – Harty Room, QUB Music Building, 1.10 pm
Presented in association with Queen’s University School of Music and Sonic Arts, featuring final-year and
Friday 30 January 2009 – Great Hall, QUB, 8.00 pm
£15.00 (includes programme/free parking/interval refreshments)
Programme to include:
Schubert Notturno in Eb major D897
Mendelssohn Piano trio in C minor Op 66
Schubert Piano trio in Bb major D 898
The Trio Wanderer’s choice of name pays homage to Schubert and, more widely, to German Romanticism. Acclaimed for its extraordinarily sensitive style, for the almost telepathic understanding the musicians have for one another and for technical mastery, the Trio Wanderer is one of the world’s foremost chamber ensembles.
Vincent Coq piano
Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabedian violin
Raphael Pidoux cello
Friday evening’s concert with the Trio Wanderer was a great way to set up all of the music that followed it this weekend. Their Mendelssohn and Schubert programme was full of the qualities of the Schubertiad, and their level of artistry set a very high standard. Trio playing is among the most demanding of chamber music making, with each instrument fulfilling the full requirements of its range and capabilities. Among the Wanderer’s musicians, pianist Vincent Coq is an understated wunderkind, capable of fireworks and seemingly effortless strings of pearly notes. Gloriously hyphenated Jean-Marc Philips-Varjabedian and Raphael Pidoux are equal masters of their craft, playing in a manner so blended, you would think their violin and cello were one instrument. The Great Hall projects sound up towards the beautiful vaulted ceiling, and what comes across is occasionally blurred and weighted towards the piano. That said, the Trio Wanderer’s interpretations are pristine and more easily measured by their clarity of style and approach. Schubert’s mastery of melody was safe in their hands, a golden tribute to a composer whose rich and priceless legacy was so ably examined in this weekend’s Belfast Music Society feast of the best in chamber music.
Coffee Concert: “Sing Schubert!”
Saturday 31 January 2009 – Harty Room, QUB
Coffee from 11.00 am. Concert starts 11.30 sharp. £5.00
The culmination of a short masterclass series with renowned mezzo Colette McGahon, in which promising young singers sing a selection of Schubert songs accompanied by Gail Evans and Daniel O’Neill.
Generously supported by the Esme Mitchell Trust.
To the young performers
“What a wealth of promising talent was displayed by the young performers”
The songs of composer Franz Schubert are an important part of the repertoire of singers of all ages. This was proven this past weekend at the Belfast Music Society’s International Festival of Chamber Music during two concerts devoted to the art of singing. On Saturday morning, young participants in a series of master classes with mezzo-soprano Colette McGahon gave a song recital of some of Schubert’s best-known works. In some ways these songs, though found in the repertoires of singers of all age the world over are ideally suited to performance by young singers. Schubert himself was a young man when he wrote his songs. Indeed he was young when writing all of his music, having lived only to age 31. There’s great drama and emotion in the songs, and each of the young singers put this across very effectively, clearly understanding the German texts and the story behind the notes.
At times, I could have wished for clearer diction. German is a language of hard endings and slender vowels. I couldn’t help but feel that if these texts had been in English, the singers would have been more meticulous about d’s and t’s. However, there was great beauty in the voices, and for the most part, wonderful control. University-level singers Sarah Richmond and Maeve Duddy showed special poise and promise.
Melvyn Tan piano
Saturday 31 January 2009 – Great Hall, QUB, 1.30 pm
£12.00 (includes programme/free parking)
Schubert G major Sonata D894
Debussy Suite Bergamasque
Born in Singapore and living in London since 1978, Melvyn Tan began his studies at the Yehudi Menuhin School, where his teachers included Vlado Perlemuter, Nadia Boulanger and Marcel Ciampi. At the Royal College of Music he studied both piano and harpsichord. Intrigued by the sound of early keyboards he soon focused his attention on the fortepiano, rapidly building a formidable international reputation for his groundbreaking performances.
Melvyn Tan at the BMS
by Philip Hammond
It’s early Saturday afternoon. Outside, it’s cold and grey. Inside the Great Hall at Queen’s University, Melvyn Tan adjusts his piano stool and sits surprisingly low at the piano. He is a last minute replacement for the advertised but indisposed artist.
Tan’s intimate interpretations of Schubert transform the atmosphere into one of warmth and colour with an invitingly soft, gentle melancholy. He reveals the subtlety of Schubert’s melodic genius, unerringly suffused and surrounded by the delicate pianistic transcriptions of Liszt. He captures the eloquent but delicate lyricism of Schubert’s rather sad G major Sonata D894, never overstating the rich fortes or understating the piercing pianos. There’s nothing harsh about his playing, nothing jarring or coarse.
Tan skirts perhaps on the edges of anaemia in his approach. Although he has a full scale Model D Steinway at his disposal, he judges his context neatly and succinctly and doesn’t give in to any hint of virtuosity or grandiosity. He draws us into a world of classical restraint through his attention to detail , through his understanding of the importance of shaping each phrase carefully and naturally.
In Debussy’s early Suite Bergamasque, Tan shows the composer’s links with another less rushed, less spectacle-based existence. This was no-nonsense playing, no gimmicks, no showing off, sympathetic but unsentimental.
Rather like the pianist himself – refined, delicate, rather slight – this concert presented its contents in a precise, engaging fashion. Tan’s enjoyable performance refreshed and affirmed rather than energised and invigorated.
An amount of drama confronted the BMS organisers this weekend with news that Saturday afternoon’s advertised piano recitalist, Nelson Goerner was ill and unable to come to Belfast. In the event, a remarkable replacement, Melvin Tan, was found and his performance was musically engaging and fascinatingly focussed. Playing from music, though hardly referring to it, he performed Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs, a Schubert sonata and the Debussy Suite Bergamasque. He has a way of making the piano sound like a completely different instrument, depending on what he‘s playing, and is clearly a listening as well as performing musician. The Schubert songs were beautifully projected and the Sonata in G Major wonderfully orchestrated. In a more relaxed vein, the Debussy was a warm study of light and shade, and Tan’s Viennese Schubert encore a perfect way to finish.
Wihan String Quartet and Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Saturday 31 January 2009 – Great Hall, QUB, 8.00 pm
£20.00 (includes programme/free parking/interval refreshments)
Leos Cepicky violin
Jan Schulmeister violin
Jiri Zigmund viola
Ales Kasprik cello
Schubert Quartettsatz in C minor D 703
Mozart String Quartet K421
Smetana String Quartet no 2
Schubert String Quintet in C major for 2 violins, viola and 2 cellos D 956
String and piano music featured prominently in the Belfast Music Society’s International Festival of Chamber Music this past weekend, with standout performances from internationally acclaimed artists. The Wihan String Quartet are a globe-trotting Czech ensemble known for their championship of music by composers from their native land. In a long and demanding programme on Saturday evening, they demonstrated their robust and meticulous approach to music connected by a sense of moodiness and power.
Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C minor set a dramatic tone for the evening, carried on by Mozart’s turbulent String Quartet in D minor and another Quartet in D minor by Smetana. In the second half they were joined by Rafael Walfisch for Schubert’s magnificent String Quintet in C, a powerhouse of chamber music entirely in keeping with this Festival’s Schubertian theme. The Wihan have a characteristically lush sound and the confidence of their more than twenty three years playing together as an ensemble.
Raphael Wallfisch Masterclass
Masterclass on Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata.
Sunday 1 February at 11.30 am – Harty Room, QUB Music Building. £5.00
Raphael Wallfisch is committed to and passionate about teaching, and devotes a significant amount of his time to this activity. He is professor of cello at the Zürich Winterthur Konservatorium in Switzerland, and at the Royal College of Music in London.
The Harty Room in the School of Music, QUB was the setting for the Master Class and Recital given by Raphael Wallfisch on Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata. An interested group of cello enthusiasts and supporters gathered as David McCann and David Sloan gave performances of the 1st and 2nd movements of the sonata respectively.
A Master Class is basically a public lesson; the master has to have a real interest in teaching, with quick judgement of the student’s character and ability so that the audience see results. Raphael had this ability and with it a sense of humour and a love for the piece itself giving us a tremendously enjoyable session. Such value at £5!
David McCann (studying under Gregor Horsch in Manchester) gave a convincing and very accurate performance of the 1st movement, but when Raphael started to talk about tempo and asked for it a little faster, the difference in character was remarkable. It danced and sparkled more and, as the master said, some of the technical difficulties were easier at a faster tempo. I would have liked to have heard the whole performance again at this speed, it had delicious possibilities! David was quick at picking up suggestions of fingering and bowing and asked many questions. One could see he was very keen to make every use of this wonderful opportunity.
Raphael was generous with his time and obviously wanted to give David as much help and encouragement as possible, one could see he appreciated David’s talent. He told us that when he knows he has a performance of this piece coming up he uses scales and arpeggios as a major part of his preparation. With a final flourish on the last two pizzicato chords it was time to move onto the 2nd movement with the 2nd David.
Dave Sloan (studying under Robert Irvine in Glasgow) started the Adagio with a delightful piano and terrific bow control. Raphael, complimenting him on the performance afterwards, said: ‘All that slow bow practice was worth it!’ Indeed the 2nd movement requires so much control, rising up over the repetitive quavers of the piano accompaniment. There are all sorts of different colours to explore as the melody soars into the high registers and plumbs the depths of the lower strings, it is truly one of Schubert’s great instrumental songs. Dave demonstrated technical prowess and musicianship as the cello sang its way through.
Raphael suggested tips for the forte-pianos and ornaments which Dave picked up easily and he asked him to make greater use of those wonderfully long fingers to reduce shifting positions. Again one could see Raphael appreciated Dave’s abilities and potential.
So now our appetites were now truly whetted for the Master’s performance. I have to say I was not disappointed. From the moment the 1760 Gennaro Gagliano cello purred into action in the Master’s hands I was spell bound. No wonder Raphael is in such demand all over the world as a performer and teacher! If you weren’t there you really missed a treat.
Congratulations to Cathal Breslin who complimented the whole proceedings on the piano with great sensitivity, but most of all my thanks to the BMS for a wonderful feast of Chamber Music over the whole weekend. Well done to all concerned.
Christianne Stotijn (mezzo soprano)
Joseph Breinl (piano)
Sunday 1 February 2009 – Great Hall, QUB, 3.00 pm
£15.00 (includes programme/free parking/interval refreshments)
Schubert Songs on texts by Mayrhofer
Grieg 6 Lieder op. 48
Schubert Selected songs, including Nachtstück, Nacht und Träume, and Erlkönig
Songs on Sunday at the BMS
by Philip Hammond
If Schubert had never written anything else, he would still have a prime place in musical history for his songs. The range and wealth of invention in the piano parts alone were beautifully highlighted in the excellent playing by Joseph Breinl at the closing concert of the Schubert festival successfully promoted by the Belfast Music Society. Breinl’s absorbed and absorbing approach to the constantly varying accompaniments – accompaniments in name only – and his precise clarity of technique were the highlights of this concert.
It’s not an easy task to programme most of an afternoon recital from the six hundred or so Schubert songs at your disposal. The total of fifteen chosen in the two sets sung by Dutch mezzo soprano Christianne Stotijn tended to concentrate on the darker side of the repertoire. Maybe it was this thematic restraint which left me feeling that I hadn’t really experienced all the colours which may have been available from her voice.
Schubert’s friend Mayrhofer provided the poetry for the first set in this recital – all similar in emotional terms and eliciting attractively rich sound from the singer but one which varied little from song to song. The second Schubert set was equally depressing, for want of a better description, and there was scant characterisation or melodramatic detail in the soloist’s vocal timbre.
The intervening Grieg songs and the two encores by the same composer offered some light relief in an interestingly worthy but otherwise vocally unidimensional recital.
On Sunday afternoon, Dutch mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn sang a very full programme of songs by Schubert and Grieg, with pianist Joseph Breinl. Its hard to imagine a more perfect partnership, Breinl’s grasp of the mood of the songs matched to Stotijn’s soaring voice and clarity of interpretation. Hers is a powerful voice, even in tone from top to bottom, with a considerable range. The reverberation in the Great Hall was a little too much at times and the piano tended to swamp the voice in louder passages, but the resultant tension was well managed and became part of the interpretation. As the recital progressed, Stotijn’s delivery warmed and grew in expression. She has a way of making an audience listen to the music, even when the song has ended, drawing us fully into the moment.