Monday 17 November 2014

Yehudi Menuhin School at Wimbledon Festival

St John's Church, Wimbledon
St John's Church, Wimbledon
Pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School at the Wimbledon International Music Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2014
Lunchtime chamber music concert by young rising stars of the future

For the first of four free lunchtime concerts by young artists at St Juhn's Church, Waterloo, as part of the Wimbledon International Music Festival, pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School performed a programme of chamber music on Friday 14 November 2014. The programme included a trio of works all written during the First World War, Janacek's Violin Sonata, Bartok's Piano Suite Op 14 and Delius's Violoncello Sonata plus a pair of works written by pupils from the school as part of the Flander Fields project.

Janacek's Violin Sonata, played by Samuel Staples (violin) and Leyla Cemiloglu (piano), was written in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. The first movement, con moto, is typical Janacek mosaic of motifs with a strong lyrical impulse. Violinist Staples played with strong sung tone and Cemiloglu's piano was full of nervous intensity, the two very much equal partners. Ballada had a lovely lyrical line from Staples, but Cemiloglu's piano had time in the spotlight too. The Allegretto had a vibrant performance from the piano with characterful violin interjections, whilst the final Adagio saw the gently expressive piano constantly interrupted by angry moments from the violin. The performance from the two young artists was remarkably assured and mature.

Bartok's Piano Suite Op. 14 was played by the Moroccan pianist Aida Lahlou. Bartok wrote it in 1916 and proudly announced that there was no folk music in the piece. The opening Allegretto was a lovely crisp dance, with a fine firmly expressive touch from Aida Lahlou and nicely rhythmic. Her wonderfully articulated Scherzo was very infectious even to the cascades of notes. The Allegro Molto was very much perpetuum mobile, with Aida Lahlu bringing real excitement to it. The final Sostenuto was gentle and atmospheric, but with unsettling hints of Bartok's night music style.

The Flanders Fields project involved a group of British school children going over to Flanders in 2013, meeting their Belgian counterparts and bringing back soil from the battlefields. This was used to create a memorial garden outside the Guards Chapel. This was recently opened by the Queen, and at the ceremory works by the children were performed. Students from the Yehudi Menuhin School took part and wrote music setting poems by Belgian school children.

The two pieces performed at the concert both involved poems which were remarkably vivid and not to say gruesome in their imagery. The young composers response to these text and to the rembering of a conflict which is now so distant was in many ways remarkable. The three composers (the first piece was a collaboration) wrote works which were intense but their passion was filtered through the cooler sacred minimalism of Arvo Part. This resulted in a fascinatingly controlled, yet deeply felt response.

The first piece No-one won was written by two young composers, Leonardo Jaffe and Misiuk Barbosa, for soprano and string quartet (Nicole Petrus Barracks soprano, Samuel Staples and Dorothea Schupelius violin, Bennet Ortmann viola, Joseph Pritchard cello). Here the descending figures in the strings were very reminiscent of Part, but effectively used to surround the almost monotone soprano part. The soprano soloist, Nicole Petrus Barracks brought a simple directness to her delivery.

The second work, by Daniel Penny, set The Happy Warrior (itself an ironic title as the poem describes the death of a soldier in graphic detail). Penny wrote his setting for two speakers, two sopranos, three strings (violin, cello and double bass) and three percussion, performed by Dorothea Schupelius, Bennet Ortmann, Nicole Petrus Barracks, Charlotte Saluste-Bridoux, Samuel Staples, Maxim Calver, Philip Nelson, Daniel Penney, Breanainn O Mathuna and Marcus Gaved) with the school's music director Malcolm Singer conducting. The two speakers simply spoke names of the fallen, culled from the war cemeteries in Flanders, the sopranos intoned the text in slow measured tones around which the strings and percussion provided atmospherics which were initially quiet, but developed really anger and drama. Whilst details of the piece might have seemed derivative, the way Penny put them together and his remarkable use of the distinctive texture of speakers, singers, string and percussion, spoke of a fascinating ear. And ultimately, the piece was rather moving.

In a concert of remarkable, mature performances the final one by the 14 year old cellist of the Delius Violoncello Sonata stood out. Accompanied by pianist Alex Mladenov, cellist Maxim Calver played the one movement work with mature concentration and real depth of passion. Delius wrote the piece for the cellist Beatrice Harrison on his return to the safety of Britain during the war. It has lots of notes, and certainly does not play itself. Maxin Calver gave us a confident and thoughtful feel for the overall shape of the piece, but also played with a depth of tone and passionate intensty which speaks for a remarkable career.
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