11-13 February 2005
Instead of spreading a programme of concerts throughout the year, the Belfast Music Society has concentrated its activities for this season in a weekend International Festival of Chamber Music. Now in its 40th year, the Nash Ensemble has performed the Schubert Octet often enough, but one hasn’t always heard its players enjoying the bucolic rhythms of the scherzo to this extent, or relishing the work’s full sonorities with such obvious pleasure. The friendly acoustics of the Harty Room at Queen’s University helped.
The Nash Ensemble sometimes plays arrangements of orchestral works, and while, for example, the arrangements made by Schönberg and his pupils for his private performing society have a documentary interest, one usually comes away feeling that the composer knew best when he scored the original for full orchestra. The version of Till Eulenspiegel for violin, double bass, flute, clarinet and horn worked, however, because the very idea has a certain Eulenspiegel-like effrontery, and various small recompositions encourage the belief that the otherwise unknown arranger, one “Hasselohrl”, is a pseudonym for Strauss himself.
On the following evening the start of Matthias Goerne’s recital was delayed, and then Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte was interrupted when the singer objected because a door at the back of the hall had been left open. Quite right, too. Goerne’s involvement in the music he sings is total, and there can be no breach in the charmed circle into which he draws his listeners.
His exceptionally beautiful baritone commands a wide compass and an astonishing range of tone and expression, which brought insights into every song in Schubert’s Schwanengesang. Goerne’s ordering of this posthumous collection added the beautiful Herbst, discovered later, and omitted Die Taubenpost – which, however, made an apposite encore.
Alexander Schmalcz was an ideal partner and the University’s Great Hall a suitable intimate and resonant venue.
It’s an equally friendly venue for strings, as was shown in the concert by The Lindsays which ended the festival. This group is not shy of emotional commitment either, although in grappling with the music’s essence, the niceties of tone production can be sacrificed perhaps too readily, as in the lst movement of Janácek’s Kreutzer Sonata quartet or the Grosse Fuge finale of Beethoven’s Op 130. But the gypsy finale of Haydn’s Op 76 No 5 Quartet had plenty of spirit and there was depth of expression, and beauty of tone, in the slow movement of the Haydn and the Cavatina of the Beethoven. Sadly, this was probably our last chance to hear this veteran ensemble which is retiring, as a quartet, in July this year.
Festival shines through miserable winter
The Belfast Music Society International Festival of Chamber Music gave music lovers a day to remember on Saturday, presenting two contrasting recitalists in very different settings.
In the afternoon, Xuefei Yang took to the stage of the Harty Room and played a long and demanding programme of works for solo guitar. She had a memory slip during the second of two Scarlatti sonatas which began the programme, but from the second piece on, Yang was more assured and we began to get a truer sense of her artistry. She spoke quietly to the audience about the music and charmed everyone with her modest manner.
Saturday’s recital in the Great Hall at Queen’s was an altogether different concert which got off to a tense start, delayed to allow last minute re-tuning of the piano. Eventually baritone Matthias Goerner did appear and begin, only to stop early on and demand that a door at the back of the hall be closed. Certainly, he was right to ask this, but his annoyance was slow to dissipate and it made for an uneasy first half. He sang Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte and then Schubert’s Schwannengesang, which was divided between the two halves of the convert. Goerne is a compelling physical presence on stage, moving and looking around a lot and often singing towards the pianist Alexander Schmalcz, whose playing was responsive and secure. Goerne’s voice is, as they say, to die for. His vocal quality is liquid and even, with a tone that has rightly been compared to velvet. He has tendency to sing sharp occasionally at moments of high emotion in the music and his German is less clearly articulated than one might expect. However, given his sublime voice, just about everything can be forgiven. His approach to lieder is certainly memorable and the voice is clearly destined for great things.
Bravo to the BMS for bringing us all of the concerts in this Festival and brightening the wet and windy last days of winter.
The Nash Ensemble
Friday 11th February, 8.00pm, Harty Room, QUB
Mozart Horn Quintet in E flat, K 407
R Strauss Till Eulenspiegel
Schubert Octet in F, Op 166
Heart and soul makes it all Nash and easy on the ear
The world-renowned Nash Ensemble performed in the Harty Room at Queen’s on Friday night to a very appreciative capacity crowd.
This was the opening concert of the Belfast Music Society’s International Festival of Chamber Music, which took place over the weekend.
Friday’s concert began with a quintet by Mozart scored for horn, violin, two violas and cello.
The presence of a pair of violas in a quintet is quite unusual and gave a mellow centre to the sound.
It provided a good foundation for what has been called a chamber concerto for horn.
There was a terrific level of communication between the players – lots of eye contact and body language which made for near-perfect ensemble. They played with spirit and most engagingly, heart.
The piece that followed, Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel describes the adventures of the eponymous medieval hero and does this with considerable wit.
This is a demanding, virtuoso work that condenses the more familiar full orchestra version into a chamber piece.
The last work of the evening was Schubert’s Octet in F, scored for a full quartet of strings plus double bass, horn, bassoon and clarinet.
Although symphonic in scale, the Nashes were able to emphasise the chamber quality of the piece with skilful dynamic shading. Each musician is a soloist at various points in this work and each equally knew when to pull back into the instrumental texture.
There were fewer smiles passing between the performers and perhaps less heart in the interpretation, but it was stunningly executed and musically well-judged.
It was great to hear such an accomplished and starry group, and their performance set a wonderfully high standard for the rest of the BMS Chamber Music Festival.
Xue Fei Yang
Saturday 12th February, 1.00pm, Harty Room, QUB
Included music by:
Sor, Tarrega, Scarlatti, Albeniz
The Lindsays – A Masterclass
Saturday 12th February, 2.30pm, Harty Room, QUB
Some of Northern Ireland’s up and coming string players were put through their paces by some of the finest string players in the world.
The following musicians
Belfast High School Quartet (leader Vicky Schmidt)
St Malachi’s String Quartet
CBSM Heagney Quartet
QUB Piano Trio
Violin Lisa Perry (QUB)
Violin Michael Trainor
Violin Ronan McManus (St Malachy’s College)
Violin Rebecca Kelly
Viola Barbara Untiedt (MCB)
Viola Richard Gibson (Grosvenor Grammar School)
Viola Marion McCrickard
Cello David Sloan (CBSM)
Cello David McCann (Rathmore G.S.)
Matthias Goerne with Alexander Schmalcz
Saturday 12th February, 8.00pm, Great Hall, QUB
Beethoven An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 (To the distant beloved)
Schubert Schwanengesang, D 957
(Final songs: serenades and songs of love and loss)
Lieder at its best
Matthias Goerne and the members of the Belfast Music Society will not forget each other for some time to come. The great baritone’s recital on Saturday night stuttered into motion beset with gremlins; a problem with the tuning of the piano caused a considerable delay at the outset and Goerne, mean and menacing, interrupted the first song of Beethoven’s Op.98 to demand the complete attention of the door staff.
But after the first tense half-hour a somewhat shell-shocked audience was treated to an all-powerful display of lieder at its animated and involving best. Goerne’s presence is immediate and gripping. He has the expressive range, in stance, manner and delivery, of a Shakespearean actor and the musical ability of a true master.
The voice is beautiful, but not superficially so; the clear-toned clarity and depth serves the delivery of poetry and is a powerful tool in Goerne’s search for the perfect union of drama, music and text. The two parts of the recital, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte and Schubert’s Schwanengesang, were each delivered in vibrant colour and stunning detail, the emotional backdrops intense and demanding.
The second half of the programme – comprising the six overwhelming, desolate Heine settings – had its own external adversary. But even the harsh Belfast wind that rattled the windows of the Great Hall was tamed by Goerne and Schubert as they brought the audience to a sudden, soul-searching stop
Sunday 13th February, 3.00pm, Great Hall, QUB
Haydn String Quartet, Op 76, No 5
Janacek String Quartet, No 1
Beethoven String Quartets Op 130 & Op 133
Like today’s quality newspapers the Belfast Music Society’s annual programme has become compact.
Packaged as An International Festival of Chamber Music, this three day event included four outstanding recitals and a master class in QUB’s Harty Room and Great Hall.
The response has been positive: ticket sales have been healthy (although it is a shame that Belfast can’t provide a sell-out in even these small venues for artists of this quality) and the audience also seems to have a more youthful countenance.
The music-making over the weekend has been exceptional, and to complete the festival the Lindsay Quartet delivered a programme of old favourites Beethoven, Haydn and Janacek – played with a commitment and a polished turn of phrase which has won these players such a dedicated following over the years. Strangely, it was Janacek’s Quartet No. 1 (The Kreutzer Sonata) that seems to have aged badly, its dramatic leit motifs and gestures appearing obvious and dated. Not so the two German masters. Haydn’s Quartet Op 76 No. 5 bristled with beautiful detail and textural depth and the recital really took flight as the group moved on to late Beethoven and the Quartet Op 130 which was reacquainted with its original finale the Grosse Fugue (published as op 133).
This amazing, challenging movement has to be seen in concert to be believed, the physical demand on the players is considerable, and the Lindsays were equal to the challenge, taking the audience on a journey through music still has the power to shock.