Monday, 16 September 2013

Kings Place Festival: a final helping

Kings Place during the festival
Kings Place during the festival
For our final visit to the Kings Place Festival on Sunday 16 September, we experienced an eclectic selection of activities from the lively programme. There were recitals by the Brodsky String Quartet, and by soprano Ruby Hughes and guitarist Christoph Denoth in the concert hall, on the free stages there were the Tempest Flute Trio and the Buzztones, the morris dancers the Belles of London were unfortunately forced indoors by the weather and we only managed to catch the Romany Diamonds warming up, we also explored some of the other goodies on offer taking in a chocolate tasting and a talk by Artemis Cooper.

We started with a terrific set from The Buzztones, an eight-man a-cappella group who sang lively modern arrangements of a variety of material. Then the Tempest Flute Trio, three young flautists who played a variety of remarkable repertoire ranging from Debussy and Bach to Duke Ellington.

The Brodsky String Quartet (Daniel Rowland, Ian Bolton, Paul Cassidy and Jacqueline Thomas) performed in Hall One, presenting a programme simply entitled America, which encompassed music by Copland, Barber and Dvorak. They started with Copland's Two Pieces for string quartet. The first movement opened with the fascinating texture of just two violins and viola, in slow, evocative material. Joined by the cello, the result was rather bitter-sweet, but with definitely a feel of Copland and the wide open spaces in the intervals used. Most of the movement seemed to be based round a single four note motif, and Copland developed it from the singing bitter-sweetness of the opening into something rather complex and dissonant. Powerful stuff indeed. The second movement was lively and well wrought, rather quirky but the polyphonic textures and bitonal feel ensured that the work was not just a crowd pleaser.

Samuel Barber's String Quartet, Op 11 is best known perhaps as the source of Barber's famous Adagio. The work opens with a Molto Allegro which the quartet started in a muscular and bold way, though the strenuous first subject was contrasted with a quieter and touching second one. The movement was impulsive and restless, some notable dramatic gestures. The Adagio followed, the players giving it quite a light, fleet but intense feel, far less portentous than in the version for multiple strings, here the players' magical control and sheer beauty of tone counted for much. Finally, Barber brings back the opening movement's material, in abbreviated form bringing the work to a bold end.

The concert finished with Dvorak's String Quartet, Op 96 American which the composer wrote whilst he was in America. The opening Allegro was played with sweet toned vibrancy and vivid attention to detail, with the players bouncing ideas off each other. There were explosive moments and tender moments, but what struck me most was the rhythmic intensity and vitality of their playing, something which was common to all the piece in the programme.

The gorgeous Lento movement saw Daniel Rowland's violin and Jacqueline Thomas's cello trading vibrantly expressive solos. As the movement developed each player had his or her moment, and we were treated to a series of lovely textures as the whole movement sang with melancholy passion. The Molto Vivace was all incisive brightness, strongly emphasised rhythms and vivid contrast. The finale was fast and vivid, again with a notable rhythmic intensity, but combined with sweetness of tone and a powerful onward momentum.

The group completed a generous programme of vividly involving music making with an encore, a lively and brilliantly realised Hoe-Down from Copland's Rodeo.

Whilst I was in the concert hall, D. had an illuminating chocolate tasting with the chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud, who had travelled from Belgium specially for the event.  After this, Artemis Cooper talked about her completion of Patrick Leigh Fermor's The Broken Road.

Finally we heard soprano Ruby Hughes and guitarist Christoph Denoth in recital. The two had worked together before in a radio broadcast, but this was their first collaboration in recital. They started with a group of Dowland lute songs. Their first song, Come again sweet love displayed all the virtues of their performance, with Hughes's quite vibrant voice complemented by Denoth's strong accompaniment. Hughes sang with a superb feeling of line and a lovely attention to the words. The results were quite large scale, concert renditions rather than intimate lute songs, but very communicative and involving.

And expressively intense account of Flow my tears was notable for a great beauty of line. In darkness let me dwell added to this a strong feeling for the words. No English words were printed in the programme and we didn't need them at all. Again, in I saw my Lady weep I liked the way Hughes stretched the song's long lines out. Finally, a more lively piece, Can she excuse my wrongs which was notably for the rhythmic intensity, though here Hughes did not quite manage the clarity needed in the rather tongue twisting words.

Denoth then played a pair of solos by Dowland. The shoemaker's wife, a gentle dance with some nifty finger work and the rather delicate Fantasia.

Next came a group of four night songs by Schubert. In a short introduction Hughes mentioned how she'd been rather taken with Schubert's habit sitting in bed composing songs with his guitar. Indeed, in all four the guitar accompaniment worked well though the lighter feel to the guitar meant that the accompaniments were less weighty than on the piano. This made Die Nacht rather more intimate, in a fluidly flowing performance with a lovely relaxed feeling to the phrasing Wanderers Nachtlied was again rather intimate, in a rather touching performance that brought out the song's great beauty. The serenade-like accompaniment was rather highlighted in Standchen making a highly pleasing combination of voice and guitar. Finally Nachtstuck started rather darkly but developed into a lovely serenade with Hughes spinning gorgeous long lines over Denoth's moving accompaniment.

For the final group we moved to Spain. First a brilliant account by Denoth of Isaac Albeniz's Asturias (Leyenda) a piano solo which many guitarists have transcribed for their instrument. Denoth played his own arrangement, demonstrating great control and lovely even fingerwork, making a very dramatic and rather evocative performance.

Hughes then sang four Manuel de Falla's 7 Canciones Popolares, languidly elegant performances where the accompaniment seemed made for the guitar. First El Pano Moruno which was nicely seductive with just the right amount of edge to the voice. Then the hypnotic accompaniment to Asturiana was complemented by Hughes' lovely spun line.

Next Denoth played De Falla's Homenaje pour le tombeau de Debussy, an evocative, mysterious and rather dark piece. Finally two more of De Falla's popular songs, Nana simple beautiful and moving, and Jota seductive and fascinating.

This was a generous programme and in her introduction Hughes suggested that it was the beginning of a collaboration between the two artists. I very much hope to see them again.

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