19-21 February 2010
Saturday at the BMS Chamber Music Festival in Belfast began with comfortable informality. The immensely musical Eimear McGeown, in the talented company of pianist John Paul Ekins and guitarist Jonathan Toman, gave a morning recital in the Harty Room. Eimear covered both classical and traditional flute playing and proved herself equally at home in both genres through her evocative programme. Most successful were Harty’s “In Ireland” and Theodore Antonio’s captivating “Lament for Michelle” the latter showing off Eimear’s rich tone and subtle pitch inflexions.
After lunchtime in the Great Hall, the Finnish based Meta4 opened their concert with an energised, proportioned performance of Bartok’s Fifth String Quartet. This work is so exactly written for the medium, so constantly full of interest both aurally and visually in the way that the composer shares out the musical material that it is a difficult act to follow. Meta4 treated it with youthful insight yet mature restraint but both the ensuing works by Alakotila and Sibelius paled in comparison despite the quartet’s engaging efforts.
Argentinean Nelson Goerner rounded off Saturday with an enjoyable recital which explored the folk inspirations of the piano repertoire. Although of small physical stature, Goerner packs quite a punch in his powerful pianistic technique. He was particularly adept in gradating and multi-layering the instrument’s sonorities, textures, colours and tones, creating a dynamic, multi-dimensional picture especially in Bartok’s Op.20 Improvisations and Falla’s virtuosic Fantasia Baetica. His Chopin interpretations were perhaps inflated to a scale which the music did not easily accommodate.
The recent Belfast Music Society International Festival of Chamber Music took as its theme “Folk Inspirations” and delivered on its promise of music that traces its roots to the sights and sounds of traditional cultures. In an introductory talk on the opening night, Professor Jan Smaczny illuminated the lives and music of composers throughout history who drew on native resources of the countries of their birth to illustrate their musical ideas. That evening’s recital, by Cellist Alexander Baillie and pianist James Lisney began with music by Martinu, a composer who consistently mined the musical resources of his native Czechoslovakia for his many works. His ‘Variations on a Slovak Theme’ was a perfect opening for these concerts. Next was Chopin as he isn’t often heard, a Sonata for cello in which the piano at times has anunusually subordinate role. Hearing this tuneful and emotional work left me wishing that Chopin had written more music for instruments other than the piano. This recital really came into its stride with the next piece by EJ Moeran, a very beautiful Cello Sonata that projected the occasionally strenuous quality of the folk idiom. Likewise the Schumann ‘5 Stüke im Volkston’ was a rare gem, leading through light and shade with equal intensity. Indeed intense and occasionally feverish playing was the order of the evening, with Baillie and Lisney both in top form. The encore was another delight from the pen of Moeran.
Another concert of the weekend was presented by the Meta4 String Quartet from Finland. This is a young group with a very solid grasp on their strength as interpreters of complex and monumental music. The Bartok String Quartet No. 5 is as detailed and kinetic a work as you’ll find, and apart from a slightly untidy opening, this quartet met and mastered its every challenge. The next work, a string quartet in name only by Finnish composer Timo Alakotila, was really an exposition of dance themes which somewhat resembled a hornpipe, air, slow slip jig and reel if couched in terms more familiar to an Irish audience. Delightfully, the quartet talked about the themes, and played each one ’straight’ before presenting its variation. This was a work of real personality, fascinating and entertaining. The finale of the concert was the String Quartet in D minor by Sibelius, ’Voces Intimae’. This was a thrilling performance of a remarkable work, full of nuance and intelligence, a definite highlight from a weekend full of delights. Bravo BMS presenting so many facets of the jewel that is folk-inspired music.
A short feature on the 2010 festival for the BBC Radio 3 web site
Friday 19 February 2010 at 1.10 pm
Harty Room, QUB Music Building
In association with Queen’s University School of Music and Sonic Arts, featuring final-year and postgraduate performers.
Friday 19 February 2010 at 7.15 pm
Old Staff Common Room, Lanyon Building, QUB
Professor Jan Smaczny introduces ‘Folk Inspirations’
Alexander Baillie (cello)
James Lisney (piano)
Friday 19 February 2010 at 8.00 pm
Great Hall, QUB
Tickets: £15.00 (includes programme/free parking/interval refreshments)
Martinů Variations on a Slovak theme
Chopin Sonata in G minor
Schumann Stücke im Volkston
The Baillie/Lisney Duo combines the talents of two of Britain’s finest artists. They have established a thriving international career together, achieving special notice for their recent Beethoven concerts and recordings.
In Lisney, Baillie has found a soul mate. Time and again, the give and take between them spoke volumes about their music-making: generous; intelligent; always listening.” Independent
The Belfast Music Society used to present an annual series of chamber music concerts throughout the season. Now it telescopes nearly all of them all into one weekend festival. With the help of the BBC, the festival brings together a top class group of musicians under one theme – this year, Folk Inspirations.
Alexander Baillie (cello) and James Lisney (piano) gave the opening recital on Friday 19th February in the Great Hall at Queen’s. Martinu’s Variations on a Slovak Theme provided an arresting introduction. His strikingly unique harmonic progressions were punctuated by alternately lyrical and more rhythmical passages, a fine vehicle for Baillie and Lisney to display their worth.
Baillie produces a light but carrying tone, rich in the emotional propensities associated with this most romantic of instruments. In Chopin’s Sonata for cello, a perfect balance was struck with the piano, due to the gloriously controlled accompaniment of Lisney. How could one be surprised by the intimate musical interaction from such an established partnership as this?
If the Chopin work explored both familiar tracks and less trodden byways of the anniversary composer’s late style in a polished performance, then E.J.Moeran’s cello sonata also caught the attention through its unfamiliarity but darker hues. More a sonata in name rather than form, its subtle Irish overtones were tempered by an English romanticism fully portrayed by this dynamic duo.
Schumann provided perhaps the least challenging music of the evening but none the less enjoyable for that. A stimulating start to the BMS weekend of concerts.
As the Belfast Music Society’s 2010 International Festival of Chamber Music kicks off, an ensemble of musicians grace the stage in the beautiful and grand surroundings of Queen’s University’s Great Hall. Beneath the gaze of many of the university’s most distinguished alumni hanging on the walls, including Seamus Heaney, internationally renowned cellist Alexander Bailie joined by pianist James Lisney get the weekend off to a start with a programme of folk influenced music from Martinu, Chopin, Moeran and Robert Schumann.
The festival’s theme, folk inspirations, looks to explore the link between folk melodies and the classical world. Famously composers such as Bela Bartok and Ralph Vaughan Williams were heavily inspired by the music of their respective homelands, and used them to great effect; for Bartok it was his String Quartets and Concerto for Orchestra which perhaps display this most vividly, for Vaughan Williams it was perhaps held more on his sleeve as he unashamedly wrote works such as the English Folksong Suite, Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and of course Greensleeves.
But back to Friday evening’s programme, Bailie and Lisney begin with a performance of Martinu’s Variations on a Slovak Theme. Bohuslav Martinu is one of the most famous Czech composers, and in modern times is famous mainly for his chamber music output, writing many sonatas for instruments including flute, violin, cello, clarinet and trumpet. Alongside these, however, he had an enormous penchant for the dramatic and throughout his life wrote a staggering 15 operas, and 14 ballets, an achievement by any standard. His Variations on a Slovak Theme were written in 1959, his final year, and display a fondness for the instrument both through the technical, inventive and colorful writing as well as the fact it was one of a number of works he wrote for the cello (others include three sonatas, two concertos and other works for cello and piano). The music is distinctively eastern European, and relies heavily on the use of folk-like articulations within the composition. Martinu uses the theme effectively, utilizing the unorthodox harmonies and rhythmic jousting to full advantage, particularly in the thrilling scherzo and finale allegro movements.
Bailie certainly conjours up a feast of sounds from the cello, mirrored by a superb performance from James Lisney whose talents at the piano are as much part of the jousting as the cello. Both bring life to a piece rich with homage to folk song, and at the same time allow for the more polished characteristics of classicism to shine through.
Their second piece, Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G minor, is almost a polarized view of the ensemble through the eyes of a composer synonymous with clarity and grace. Frederik Chopin is arguably the greatest composer of the instrument, the piano that is, the cello he had a little more trouble with. The piece follows a fairly standard structure for a sonata, both instruments passing themes, melodies and phrases while at the same time allowing for some beautiful lyrical and harmonically interesting passages. There are, however, no definitive moments in the piece which hang in the air to astound, rather it is an essay on Chopin’s ability as a composer to write for the ensemble. Taking that into account, though, it must be said that the slow Largo movement is certainly a highlight of the work, and balances the cello’s deep and rich lower registers, with its sweet and sonorous upper range. Bailie’s interpretation of the music is suitably restrained, I think too much passion is perhaps not befitting of Chopin, whose music relies on just that, the music to provide the emotional and uplifting moments. Both players partnership on stage is seamless and certainly both show an awareness of the dialogue between their instruments.
After the interval we were treated to a rare performance of Moeran’s Cello Sonata. A composer, perhaps not heard of as much as others, Ernest Moeran’s music is deeply influenced by the music of both his maternal and paternal countries, namely England and Ireland, although the latter seems to have permeated more. This is also perhaps the reason why much of his music is lost in translation as his own distinctive and personal style is melded together by the folk influence resulting in music which, in its day, was regarded as non individualistic. All things considered, however, the Cello Sonata is a work which quintessentially sums up Moeran’s style, and shows a keen ear for the instrument (not surprising considering he was married to a cellist!). The work is crafted in a rather unorthodox style to that of a normal sonata; the movements have a fantasia feel to them, taking the music into different directions and perhaps not developing themes or melodies in the traditional way. Harmonically there is much chromaticism tinged with a romanticism reminiscent of impressionist music- Debussy and Ravel can certainly be heard in the piano’s part, but the cello has its own flavours, exploiting much of instrument’s character including pizzicato and double stopping techniques, providing a rich casket of colours to an already ‘exotic’-sounding piece. Both Bailie and Lisney enjoy this work, both players having their own voices in a work which has been described as “serious and clouded” due to the polarization of both instrument’s roles within the work. They have to work as individuals while at the same time find common musical ground in order for the piece to become a complete performance.
Robert Schumann’s 5 Stücke im Volkston (Five Pieces in a Folk Style) is one of those works that makes you smile. Full of inventive and whimsical musical sarcasm, the work is more of an essay on social parody than a serious contemplation of folk music. You can almost see Schumann sitting at the piano with a wry smile on his face as he pokes fun at musical conventions (courtly dances etc.) through coupling them with a folky style. The music is farcical, fun and at times lyrically archaic, but above all it is an excellent chamber work, with both cello and piano entering into little musical conversations and dialogues. T
To finish Bailie and Lisney perform another work by Moeran, his Prelude for Cello and Piano, the work Bailie claims he used to woo his then wife to be. The piece is certainly one for the heart strings, and has a meditative style evoking Irish landscapes. A beautiful tribute to his paternal homeland, and a fitting end to a fantastic evening of music from two outstanding players.
Saturday 20 February 2010
Coffee from 10.30 am
Concert Starts 11.00 am sharp
Harty Room, QUB
Tickets: £5.00 (Free to students)
One of Northern Ireland’s most versatile young musicians, Eimear McGeown is as comfortable in traditional Irish music as in classical concert music.
Recent winner of the ‘Best Performer’ prize at Sir James Galway’s 2009 Masterclasses in Switzerland, Eimear is also a previous Young Musician of the Year at the Clandeboye Festival with Camerata Ireland, as well as twice all-Ireland champion in Traditional Flute.
Eimear makes a welcome return to the BMS with a mixture of Irish and Classical music, accompanied by friends John Paul Ekins and Jonathan Toman.
Meta4 String Quartet
Saturday 20 February 2010 at 1.30 pm
Great Hall, QUB
Tickets: £12.00 (includes programme and free parking)
Bartók String Quartet no 5
Ata Kotila New Work
Sibelius String Quartet in D minor, Op 56 (‘Voces Intimae’)
Antti Tikkanen Violin
Minna Pensola Violin
Atte Kilpeläinen Viola
Tomas Djupsjöbacka Cello
The young Finnish string quartet Meta4 has been selected as a BBC New Generation Artist for two years starting in September 2008. Formed in 2001, the quartet won First Prizes at both the International Shostakovich Quartet Competition in Moscow and at the International Joseph Haydn Chamber Music Competition in Vienna only a few years later.
They have just been made Resident Quartet at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival. Their repertoire encompasses works from Haydn to the most avant-garde pieces, and they are also strongly involved in the interpretation of Scandinavian works.
“Meta4 was outstanding. Its performance of Sibelius’s only mature string quartet, written aged 43 and one of the greatest string quartets ever written, was breathtaking and authoritative – monumental.” Classical Source
Nelson Goerner (piano)
Saturday 20 February 2010 at 8.00 pm
Great Hall, QUB
Tickets: £20.00 (includes programme, free parking, interval refreshments)
Bartók Improvisations on Hungarian folksongs
Aguirre Gato; Huella
de Falla Fantasia Baetica
Liszt Rhapsody no 6
Chopin Polonaise op 44 in F sharp minor, 4 Mazurkas op 41, Polonaise Fantaisie op 61
Born in 1969 in San Pedro, Argentina, Nelson Goerner has established himself as one of the foremost pianists of his generation. He was awarded First Prize in the Franz Liszt Competition in Buenos Aires in 1986. This led to a scholarship to work with Maria Tipo at the Geneva Conservatoire, and in 1990 Nelson Goerner won the First Prize at the Geneva Competition.
“He seems incapable of giving a routine performance of even the most overplayed repertoire – yet there is not even the merest hint of gimmickry in his performances. What makes his playing so special is its combination of glorious depth and richness of tone with fine musical intelligence…” Guardian
Neil Martin: ‘Circling the Square’
Sunday 20 February 2010
Coffee from 10.30 am
(with time to tour the hotel)
Concert Starts 11.30 am sharp
Radisson Blu Hotel, Belfast
Tickets: £5.00 (Free to students)
Neil Martin is an established figure on the Northern Ireland music scene, as composer, classical cellist and traditional uillean pipes player, and he has forged an international reputation as a musician who can cross these boundaries with ease.
Aside from the concerts at the Great Hall at Queen’s University, the Belfast Music Society have also programme a selection of “Coffee Concerts” featuring the best in local talent from across the province to complement their programme of Folk Inspirations. On Sunday morning one such event held at the Radission Blu Hotel at the Gasworks in Belfast offered up a morning of musical exploration hosted and facilitated by composer and musician Neil Martin. Joining him was an ensemble of musicians from Northern Ireland playing violin, cello, oboe, flute, piano and harp.
Martin’s career has seen him perform music both on the classical stage as a concert Cellist as well as a traditional musician performing Uilleann Pipes and whistle, performing with such internationally renowned musicians and orchestras as the London Symphony Orchestra, Bryn Terfel and the London Philharmonic. As a composer his work has been performed by the Ulster Orchestra, chamber ensembles and film and TV soundtracks. Along with the musicians at the Radisson, he explains the important link between folk music and the classical world, and how for him personally one is the extension of the other, a place were both worlds can meet. One such exploration was a recent concert in Belfast in 2007 of his large scale work for choir and orchestra, Ossa, written for the anniversary of the Flight of the Earls performed by the Ulster Orchestra and Belfast Philharmonic Choir. Heavily influenced by Irish folk music, the piece is also quintessentially classical in style, and is a homage to both musical traditions.
Through looking at traditional Irish music, and its various styles including the use of sean-nos or “old-style” performance of creating a uniquely individual and personal articulation of a melody, he explains that the creation of new music is possible, and this is one way in which a new work can be formed from an older style. The morning took the form of a workshop as Martin takes the musicians through two works, one new and one old, shaping their performances both as an ensemble as well as individuals. Throughout the Autumn and Winter both composer and musicians have been working together towards the creation of the new work premiered informally at the event.
Martin’s new work is really a homage or ‘planxty’ to the traditional roots he is looking to explore, effectively displayed in an example where he calls upon classical violinist Stephen Cullen to play a short passage from one of the pieces, which is then followed by a more traditionally decorated rendition of the same passage by traditional violinists Rosie Ferguson and Seighean Darryl. The differences are certainly there, but so to is the original, and this distilled example is then taken to the fore when the perform both the new old works together at the end.
The event is a fantastic example of nurturing the musical heritage we have, and certainly reinforces the Belfast Music Society’s theme throughout the weekend. Hopefully in the future we will see many more events like this which looks to open up and develop new ways of thinking both about contemporary composition as well as collaboration between local musicians.
Mark Wilde (tenor)
David Owen Norris (piano)
Sunday 21 February 2010 at 3.00 pm
Great Hall, QUB
Tickets: £15.00 (includes programme, free parking, interval refreshments)
Programme to include:
Vaughan Williams On Wenlock Edge
Britten Who are these Children?
Schubert Selected lieder from Die Schöne Müllerin
Schumann Selected lieder from Dichterliebe
Mark Wilde was born in Scotland and was a chorister at Dundee Cathedral. He went on to study at the University of East Anglia and the Royal College of Music. In 2000 Mark made his Glyndebourne debut as Ferrando in Così fan Tutte . He has performed with English National Opera, Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Opera North, Birmingham Opera Company, City of Birmingham Opera, WNO, and at the BBC Proms.
David Owen Norris is one of the most innovative and brilliant pianists of our generation and the pianist of choice for many world-class singers.
After a weekend of recitals dedicated to folk inspirations and influences, Mark Wilde and David Owen Norris present a programme in a similar vein, but with influences a little closer to home. To begin with, Schubert’s Die schone Mullerin presents a rather solmen and pastoral setting of the poetry of Müller, taken from Poems from the posthumous papers of a wandering horn-player. He wrote the work during a period of great personal angst, in 1823, but this does not translate fully into the music. Rather, the music is much more reflective in nature, a far cry from the turmoil the composer must surely have been experiencing in the wake of being diagnosed with syphilis.
Mark Wilde’s interpretation of the songs is also suitably somber, and gives a clear and ascetically pure sound which works well with David Owen Norris intuitive performance on the piano. Both men get to the heart of the music well, and challenge the listener with a dramatic portrayal of Schumann’s wandering lonely heart.
To follow, it was almost a certainty that in a weekend where folk music was so important that we would at some point be treated to one of Vaughan Williams’ works, and here it is- On Wenlock Edge. Often performed with String Quartet as well as piano, the piece is settings of poems by A E Houseman from his collection A Shropshire Lad. The music contains much of Vaughan Williams’ pastoral style, but not yet fully formed perhaps. At this stage in his life he is still influenced by the impressionist world, in particular Ravel with whom he spent time studying with in Paris. But his homeland does make appearances in flavoring the music, and the piece is certainly a triumph. Again Wilde and Owen Norris create the atmosphere Vaughan Williams is looking to bring to life, the English countryside, and Wilde’s tender approach to much of the music also conjures up a sense of ‘sonic’ nostalgia for a bygone time.
After the Interval we are treated to perhaps one of Britten’s lesser known works “Who are these Children?”, the title being inspired by a wartime photograph of children watching a hunt through a devastated village. Britten was a composer who for the most part wore his heart on his sleeve; and although his music is at times harsh to the ear, this is juxtaposed with a firm grasp of the English musical tradition, as well as great technical control over the harmony and the instruments for which he is writing. The piece could perhaps be seen in line with other works by Britten, particularly his War Requiem. The tone of the music is grave and sincere, almost an essay on the emotional hardships of war and their effect on society, in particular through the eyes of a child. The piece is in some ways like a twisted lullaby, indeed movements are named such as Nightmare and Bedtime allude to a more innocent time. The work also calls for the tenor to use a Scottish dialect, and this is handled well by Wilde, as is the tumultuous piano part performed by Owen Norris with precise technical flair.
To end we go back to a similar world inhabited by Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin; Robert Schumann’s Lieder from Dichertliebe sees another tortured soul wrestling with his love interests and inner turmoil, written at a time when the composer was wooing his beloved Clara. Sixteen songs in all, we hear the final seven in this recital. The songs are much more dramatic and direct than Schubert’s, and encompass perhaps a much more emotional palette. The Old Angry Songs, the finale of the work, is a beautiful and heart wrenching work, with a fantastic performance by both men, particularly in the closing bars of the work where Owen Norris manages to achieve a stillness and calmness after the journey they have been on.
An excellent performance by both men, even more so when we consider that Mark Wilde had to stand in at the last minute for Tenor Philip Langridge. The afternoon is certainly one of the festival’s great successes, an excellent tribute to Peter Pears, and a fine way to end off the weekend in style.