Monday, 15 September 2014

Kings Place Festival: Classical Works, Folk Roots

Matthew Barley - © Nick White
Matthew Barley - © Nick White
Schumann, Tsintsadze, Janacek, Bartok; Matthew Barley, Vanessa Benelli Mosel; Kings Place Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 13 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Survey of folk-influenced works for cello and piano in a vivid recital

My second visit to the Kings Place Festival on Saturday 13 September centred on a recital by cellist Matthew Barley and pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell, Classical Works: Folk Roots, in which the two explored the influence of folk music on Western Classical music with pieces by Schumann, Tsintsadze, Janacek and Bartok. But I also managed to catch the six man a capella vocal ensemble the Queen's Six.

Vanessa Benelli Mosell - photo credit Roberto Masotti
Vanessa Benelli Mosell
photo credit Roberto Masotti
Matthew Barley and Vanessa Benelli Mosell started with Schumann's Adagio and Allegro Op.70, written in 1849 originally for horn and piano, but the composer suggested violin and cello alternatives and the work has understandably become a staple in cellists repertoires. In his programme note Barley described it as one of his all time favourite cello and piano pieces. Barley brought a lovely lyric singing line to the Adagio (which Schumann originally titled Romance). His tone was beautifully rich, warm and expressively mellow both in the Adagio and in the vigorous Allegro Benelli Mosell supported with strong yet tender playing on the piano.

Also dating from 1849 and written for cello and piano, Schumann's Five Pieces in Folk Style Op.102 show Schumann letting his hair down a bit and writing in a simpler, more direct style. The first, marked mit humor was a bit Hungarian and rather fun, though the pieces are more complex than their folk title implies. Langsam had a long spun-out melody with darkly romantic moments. Nicht schnell  again had a singing cello line but here with rather intense comments from the piano. Nicht zu rasch had vigorously martial moments and developed into a complex movement with some pretty nifty fingerwork from Barley. Finally the dark and romantically impulsive Stark und markiert.

The Georgian composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze (1925 - 1991) is not well known in the west. In his spoken introduction Barley talked of how Tsintsadze mixed folk tunes from his native Georgia with Western classical forms and that the name Five Pieces on Folk Themes was a nod to the Schumann work. Tsintsadze wrote it in 1950, when he was studying at the Moscow Conservatory, and it was commissioned by the Russian cellist Daniil Shafran.

The first movement, Villain's Song on a Carriage had a soulful solo cello opening, as the piano joined the piece became slow yet evocative, building up to some big romantic moments. Tchonguri featured a highly rhythmic pizzicato cello part with no piano accompaniment; an infectious yet tricky piece. Sachidao use what seemed to be a foreign scale, which very evocatively developed into a lively dance becoming something of a Georgian ho-down. Nana was a lovely soft lullaby, with a delicate piano accompaniment. Finally Dance Tune was fast and furious. Tsintzadze;s pieces were a lovely discovery, perhaps quite old fashioned for their period (1950) but quite substantial pieces and evocatively engaging in their use of Georgian folk tunes.

Janacek's use of folk song was entirely different. As Barley explained, Janacek notated conversations he overheard, to use as his musical material and his style involves repetition rather then conventional structural development. Janacek's Pohadka (Fairy Tale) dates from 1910 and consists of three movements inspired by scenes from a Russian folk tale. The three movements were each highly idiomatic in Janacek's distinctive manner, made up of a collage of fragments which changed style and mood in a moment. The mysterious and rather dramatic opening movement evoked moments in The Cunning Little Vixen whilst the performers gave the delicate textures of the second movement a strong sense of dramatic narrative with Barley's cello bringing a whole range of colours into the music. Barley and Benelli Mosell made the final movement vigorous impulsive and it evaporated delightfully at the end. Through the Janacek, Benelli Mosell's piano was very much an equal partner to Barley's cello with the two bringing Janacek's music vividly to life.

Finally Bartok's Roumanian Folk Dances. In them Bartok lies somewhere between Schumann and Janacek, in that Bartok does snot develop the material. Each short movement being little more than a statement of the material. But in performances as enthralling and vivid as these, duration was irrelevant.

Jo cu bata was vigorously rhythmic and richly coloured, Braul had a lovely rhythmic snap to it with Barley giving the cello a mellow seductive timbre. Pe-loc was played high on the cello, making it mysterious and haunting but still with some lovely rhythmic details. Poarga romaneasca was vigorous with a feeling of a ho-down again. The final Maruntel was taken at quite a tempo and made a fine conclusion.

This was a highly satisfying concert as Barley and Benelli Mosell made  strong and vivid partnership bringing the varied programme to life and illuminating the fascinating thread of folk-music running through the music.

Before the main event I caught the Queen's Six, six young song men from St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle (Daniel Brittain, Timothy Carleston, Nicholas Madden, Dominic Bland, Andrew Thompson and Simon Whiteley). They performed a mixture of early motets and close-harmony, singing with style and a nice sense of legato line. Their repertoire was quite varied, with Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit sandwiched between Thomas Tallis's O Sacrum Convivium and Robert Parsons' Ave Maria but it worked. The sound system did not really do them justice, but they were giving out demo CD's and I went home listening to it and had to stop myself from joining in with California dreamin'. Definitely a group to watch.

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