Friday 4 April 2014

Rhinegold Live: Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber

Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, and Pam Chowhan at Conway Hall; photo credit Melanie Spanswick
Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, and Pam Chowhan at Conway Hall
photo credit Melanie Spanswick
Rhinegold Live is a new venture from the publishers of Classical Music Magazine. It is a concert series taking place at Conway Hall, all tickets are free (you have to register at the Rhinegold Live website) and entrance includes a glass of wine. The concerts last an hour with a Q & A with the artists afterwards. It all seemed a little good to be true, so I went along to Conway Hall on 3 April to the opening event of the season.

Each concert is selected by the editor of one of the magazines in the opening concert was Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, with pianist Pam Chowhan, in their cello duet programme, A Tale of Two Cellos. Subsequent concerts include Andrew Litton playing transcriptions of Oscar Peterson (2/6), Charles Owen in Bach's Partitas for piano (9/9) and a song recital from soprano Mary Bevan and pianist Richard Peirson (10/11).

The Lloyd Webbers played not on the stage but on a raised platform just in front of the audience, the aim being to bring them closer to their listeners. The whole set-up including the glass of wine before-hand successfully generating a relaxed  atmosphere and the events are well supported by local Bloomsbury businesses. Julian Lloyd Webber introduced each item giving a bit of background and why it was selected. All were arrangements, mainly taken from vocal duets.

Anton Rubenstein's The Angel had a sentimental charm redeemed by the delight of hearing the two cellos played together. John Ireland's salon-esque song In Summer Woods would have had me guessing as to its composer. Rachminov's The waves are dreaming had an interestingly evocative piano part with singing cellos over. There was a singing beauty to the prelude from The Gadfly by Shostakovich but it seemed to lack the sardonic edge we expect from this composer.

They then played two movements from a Vivaldi Concerto in E minor originally for cello and bassoon. Jiaxin played the busy bassoon part, bad enough on the modern cello it must be fiendish on a period bassoon.

Astor Piazolla's The Little Beggar Boy was a delightful, sentimental waltz. Saint-Saens lovely Ave Maria had the familiar texture of long solo lines over an arpeggiated piano part. Roger Quilter's Greensleeves  was an unfamiliar take on the tune, whilst his Summer Sunset  again had singing cellos over arpeggiated piano albeit with very different harmonies to Saint-Saens. Dvorak's The Harvesters, which comes from a volume of Moravian folk tunes for vocal duet, was a perky Czech delight. Julian Lloyd Webber rather ironically dedicated Purcell's Lost is my Quiet to anyone who has young children. The piece had two interweaving cello lines in a melancholy manner.  

Moon Silver by Julian Lloyd Webber's father William was originally a children's song about a magic boat. They followed this with a piece by Julian's brother Andrew, the famous Pie Jesu from his Requiem (written the year of William Lloyd Webber's death). Joseph Barnby's Sweet and Loww as originally a part song. Delightful in its way, it did have something about it.  Finally Arvo Part's Estonia Lullaby which was charming but not at all like the Part we know.

The concert was well received and the audience was treated to an encore, the Everley Brothers All I have to do is dream.  I have to confess that overall I found the programme lacking in body, I would have liked some pieces with a bit more grit and some longer pieces. Each individual one was a great delight and all were finely played but they did feel like a series of encores.

Throughout the concert, Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber were well supported by pianist Pam Chowhan whose background includes playing with the heavy metal vampyre band Symphony of Pain (besides being Head of Planning in the Artistic Programming Dept at the South Bank Centre).

During the Q and A afterwards Julian Lloyd Webber talked about how the Tale of Two Cellos project had come about partly because people kept suggesting ludicrous projects to the couple and having played arrangements of vocal duets together for another project Julian and Jiaxin decided to explore this repertoire. Though having recorded a disc, Julian Lloyd Webber said that they were unlikely to produce a second disc but were perhaps interested in someone writing something for them.

Regarding playing and rehearsing with his wife, he commented that 'because you are married to each other you can be ruder to each other'

Rhinegold Live is an intriguing project and one which, I think, will develop. The planned concerts for the remainder this year are all certainly well worth investigating. Further information from the Rhinegold Live website.

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