REVIEWS: Brighton Festival

Les Chansons Instrumentales at All Saints Church, Hove, Brighton Festival

The wonderful space of All Saints church has played host during Brighton Festival to three concerts of the chamber music of French composers Poulenc and Hahn. Unfortunately, I missed the first concert so this is a review of concerts two and three.

Young South African pianist James Baillieu led a collection of young performers who brought freshness and vigour to their work. I was particularly impressed with cellist Philip Higham who brought style and intelligence to Poulanc’s Cello Sonata. The lively humour inherent in the work was brought to the fore and raised several laughs from an appreciative audience.

Poulanc’s flute sonata counterpointed the humour of the cello with the melancholy of the opening movement. 2004 Young Musician of the Year finalist Adam Walker gave voice to the introspection with sensitive phrasing, lifting his flute high above Bailieu’s evocative piano.

On the Saturday, Poulanc’s earliest surviving work Rapsodie Negre was a brutal and discordant work more evocative of early 20th Century Europe’s idea of Africa rather than a reflection of the actual music of rhythms of the continent.

Thankfully 2006 Young Musician of the Year Mark Simpson showed enormous skill with the Clarinet sonata . The Romanza movement being particularly soulful, hanging in the air of the great stone church.

This was an ambitious series of concerts by a group of highly talented young men led by Baillieu’s vibrant piano playing.

Andy Warren

The Beethoven Project – part two, The Elias String Quartet, St George’s Church, Brighton.

The Elias String Quartet are an award winning group of young musicians who have played from Carnegie Hall to the Berlin Konzerthaus and who have come to Brighton to perform nine Beethoven string quartets over three concerts in the acoustically wonderful venue of St George’s Church in Kemptown.

This second concert consisted firstly of the Quartet in D major which was Beethoven’s first quartet. Composed at the end of the 18th Century when Beethoven was still in his twenties this is a leisurely and soft work with a lyrical tone which the players brought out. Sara Bitloch and Donald Grant’s violins evoked the sweetness of the opening movement’s theme whilst Martin Savig’s viola and Marie Bitloch’s cello counterpointed with sustained chords. The vibrant and playful Presto had all the pace and energy needed to do it justice.

The Quartet in F minor (serioso) was written when Beethoven was at a particularly low ebb. His engagement had collapsed and his deafness was becoming ever more dominant. This is a powerful, compressed work, particularly the opening Allegro con brio which is a furious four minute pressure cooker. The Elias’ strict and crisp bowing came to the fore here.

Lastly the Quartet in B flat major which Elias played with the alternate final movement which was the last work Beethoven wrote before his death in 1827.This whimsical piece with its self -correcting key signatures shows all of the composer’s skill at contrapunction – still pulling the rug from under his audience to the very end.

Andy Warren