Concert Reviews

From press reviews submitted to the Perthshire Advertiser by Ian Stuart-Hunter

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook - 14 January 2020

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook

The entire audience were elated and cheered to the echo as tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook ended their song recital in St John’s Kirk Perth.

As one of Britain’s foremost tenors James Gilchrist turned his attention this time to Schumann with two major cycles by Joseph von Eichendorff and Poet’ Love (Dichterliebe) to poems by Heinrich Heine.

Both German Romantic poets, their themes were nocturnal mystery and menace, the long past, reverie and rapturous soaring and disappointed love. James Gilchrist allied his wonderful voice to moving actions and expressions.

In the Eichendorff, James went from depressive, through an astonished happiness, an ideal description of a moonlit night, tears and despair, warnings – including a daring spoken final line – finally to the ecstatic Spring Night. Anna Tilbrook expressed the full range of Schumann’s important piano parts supporting and contradicting.

Next, Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, to poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, showed the composer to be a much greater setter of lyrics than often credited. Here the individual here he is happy with, indeed desirous of, his lot. VW came up with some fantastic tunes, always given vividly by both singer and accompanist.

Anna Tilbrook’s piano part has even more importance in Schumann’s Dichterliebe cycle, including holding the audience for the long piano postlude and the long appreciating pause after it.

The Heine poems were more personal, so more powerfully sung: starting ecstatic and infatuated, moving to real pain with Ich grolle nicht (Ironically - I’m not grumbling!), next self pity, harshly bitter, then ironic turning to howling hurt, illusion and disillusion, to finally consigning love, his poetry and pain to a very large coffin.

Throughout James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook brought all these myriad moods and emotions vividly to most affecting life.

Trio Orfeo - 3 December 2019

Trio Orfeo

From their first notes in the supportive acoustic of St John’s Kirk, Perth, the Trio Orfeo provided an entrancing sonic experience: the distinctive plucked colours of the harp, the dusky warmth of the viola and the human breath of the flute.

Perth Chamber Music had invited this Dutch-based group to give a concert which put together all of the best music for this rarely found line up.

They began with a transcription of Ravel’s Sonatine for piano. Who could not be charmed by the brightly innocent pastoral of the Menuet or the brilliance of the Animé finale, its animation contrasted with interludes of feeling.

The group’s Aberdeen-born flautist Angela Stone took up the deeper-toned alto flute and played with Michelle Veeheggen’s harp Takemitsu’s atmospheric Towards the Sea. Commissioned by Greenpeace for Save The Whales it began with a calmly meditative The Night. The second movement had the flute in placidly lyrical whalesong and the third movement had the glistening, graceful sparkle of the sea.

Back with three instruments, Ibert’s Two Interludes had firstly an expressive minuet, written to their strengths, then a vivid Spanish-style Allegro with Tine Janssens’ viola as smokily, throaty flamenco singer.

Bax’s Elegiac Trio of 1916 lamented friends executed in the Irish Uprising. Beginning with bardic rippling, evocative in the historic kirk’s acoustic, impassioned viola and flute soon joined in this work of noble sentiment.

The masterpiece of this line-up is Debussy’s Sonate and the performance brought out its true worth: a Pastorale projected with subtle musicality, the Interlude with Debussy evoking Rameau and Couperin and a joyously colourful Final.

Fervent applause brought an encore: Prince Charles Last View of Scotland played with affecting, simple honesty.

Brodsky Quartet - 4 November 2019

Brodsky Quartet

Following their contribution to Horsecross’s musically successful Quartet Sunday, Perth Chamber Music brought to Perth for the third time the world renowned Brodsky Quartet.

For the concert in the sympathetic acoustic of St.John’s Kirk the Quartet had chosen important works by Britten, Shostakovich and Beethoven.

Britten’s youthful Three Divertimenti began with a March: a witty piece with the Brodsky Quartet producing the indicated unusual sounds, harmonics and glissandi, with conspicuous aplomb. The waltz second movement had great freshness, especially in the solos for cello and viola. The final Burlesque was an exciting chase.

The identification of the Brodsky Quartet with Shostakovich was evident from the opening of his Quartet No.4. The consonance and conflict of the opening movement moved to a poignantly elegiac near waltz in the second. The scurrying of the scherzo turned folk-like, emphasized even more in the Klezmer sounds of the finale, the Brodsky Quartet producing the finest quartet sound.

The absolute masterpiece of composition and playing of the evening was Beethoven’s Quartet in c sharp minor Op.131. They showed themselves in deepest sympathy with Beethoven’s sublime first movement shading hesitantly into the Allegro molto vivace – Beethoven, inventive as ever, both playful and strong. Moving from the short third into the variations fourth started with the serene duetting of the two violins. The Presto brought Beethoven’s abrupt jocularity. The short sixth movement was felt and intense, before the epic final Allegro the Brodsky Quartet showing Beethoven here in great drive and impetus.

The largest audience for some time made St.John’s Kirk resound to enthusiastic applause.

Navarra and Castalian String Quartets - 6 October 2019

Navarra and Castalian String Quartets

The final concert of Quartet Day brought together both the Navarra and Castalian String Quartets in a so far unique co-operative venture by Horsecross Arts and Perth Chamber Music.

Since 1948 Perth Chamber Music has been bringing the best of professional chamber musicians to their concert series. The internationally known Brodsky Quartet and tenor James Gilchrist are among their artists this season in St John’s Kirk.

First was the Castalian Quartet in Haydn’s Quartet in F, Op.77 No.2. Compared to the earlier Op.50 Quartet this Sunday, the F Major showed the international composer: now quartets were being played in public to large audiences rather than in chambers, so this quartet sounded like the urbane, sophisticated composer of the London Symphonies. Haydn and the Castalians knew how to entertain their public. One example: in the Minuet they tossed around music from player to player, contrasted this with the warmth of the Trio and brought a smile with the stuttering return to the Minuet proper.

The Ravel Quartet from the Navarra was a century on and intentionally more colourful and subtle. Here were four master musicians individually standing out or combining in rich sonorities. The deft pizzicato and crying Trio of the Assez vif, the artfulness with which they recalled earlier movements and the torrent of sound in the Finale were both exquisite and exciting.

The work which combined both quartets and drew an audience of double the size was Mendelssohn’s Octet, a work of youthful genius. The performance here had everything: the Woosh! of its upwardly optimistic start, the fine lilt of the Andante, brilliance, repartee and delicacy in the Scherzo and verve in the energetic Finale.

It is a pity there is no natural encore to this Octet - cries of Bravo!, applause from the Gannochy Auditorium audience, many of whom were standing, and the delighted musicians themselves would have ensured it.

Arctic Winds - 6 March 2019

Arctic Winds

For the final concert in their eminently successful season in St John’s Kirk, Perth Chamber Music had engaged Arctic Winds. Happily, they brought fine playing and warm feeling with them!

The Wind Quintet only really started with the first composer on their programme: Antonín Reicha. His Quintet Op.88 No.2 was both brilliant and melodious. The virtuoso first movement showed off the abilities of all players and timbres. The urbane Minuet colourfully exploited the very different instruments. The gently pastoral Andante was indeed grazioso, with a spotlight shone on the horn. Arctic Winds were at their best in the Finale: sophisticated music with a smile.

Jim Parker’s Mississipi Five made sure each instrument had its share of limelight in the five 1920s jazz-inspired pieces: King Oliver Steps Out brassy, underscored by the stopped horn; Blues for Johnny Dods with its slinky, liquid clarinet and bassoon solo; The River Queen, imitating the paddle steamer and its witty ending; Le Tombeau de Bessie Smith, with blues singing by plangent horn, then oboe; finally – Les Animaux, amusing imitations, outlandish sounds, and great fun.

A different harmonic world was Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik: sharp, abrasive and bracing, yet with a sensitive, long-breathed heart.

Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Three Shanties were played by Arctic Winds with affection and panache. There was affecting emotion in the second and humour at the chameleon-like changes of style in the outer movements.

Finally, warmly Romantic tunes came to the fore in Ferenc Farkas’ Early Hungarian Dances. These tuneful re-creations pleased the audience in St John’s Kirk, Perth very much, so that their applause elicited an encore: Poulenc’s Novelette in C.

Duo Jacchini - 18 February 2019

Duo Jacchini

Perth Chamber Music triumphed again with the unusual and rich combination of two solo cellos for their audience in St John’s Kirk.

It did not harm that the cellists were Philip Higham, the outstanding first cello of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Kim Vaughan, founder member of the Benyounes String Quartet.

Named for the composer Jacchini, the Duo played his Sonata in C: a spirited first, an Adagio of feeling, a French Aria and a springy Minuet.

Vivaldi’s Sonata RV41 typified its composer’s style with energy and lively repartee and lyrical slow music.

Four Scots tunes from collections by Barsanti and Gunn showed lilt and heart and the golden sound of the two players together.

They brought us up to date with Sally Beamish’s original Prelude & Canon of 2005/6 based on pibroch and Scots fiddle music, moving from a gravely impressive start, though a chase canon, then a lament leading to a plangent ending.

Philip Higham was on his own for the most remarkable piece of the evening: Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite. Looking transported, he brought out the heart of Spain and its dances from his cello. It was totally compelling music making.

Five Duos from Bartók’s set of 44 had a wealth of devices in their short time, displaying folk feeling, solemnity and dance-like vigour.

It was back to the 16th century three exquisite Canzonets by Thomas Morley: an Italianate cantilena, a love song and a lively fantasia.

François Couperin’s 13th Concert from Les Goûts réunis ended the evening. Proud French movements bookended two more lyrical Italian movements.

As encore the fine sound of the two cellos, richly supported by the St John’s Kirk acoustic, sounded out again in Bartók’s Wedding Song.

Navarra String Quartet - 16 January 2019

Navarra String Quartet

Even with years of excellence from Perth Chamber Music, the Navarra String Quartet gave what must be the very finest quartet concert.

As an extra they prefaced the first work with a Bach Chorale from the Matthew Passion, given with simple eloquence and genuine musicality.

That led well into Peteris Vasks String Quartet No.4. - modern music which spoke directly to the audience in St John’s Kirk, Perth. The opening Elegy was full of feeling and played with belief as an important work by the Navarra Quartet. The opening to Toccata caught the St John’s acoustic, giving vehemence then a touch of hysteria, before at its apex turning into the calmly thoughtful Chorale with its consoling radiance and a heart-rending climax. Then, the return to aggression, and its searing abrupt close. Remarked upon by several audience members for its beauty and feeling the hypnotic Meditation with its warm second theme ended with gentle trills.

The exquisite sound of the Navarra Quartet continued in the Ravel. The opening movement of this quartet was supple and lyrical, showing the Navarra’s great sensitivity and absolute mastery of string colour. The not over-rushed Pizzicato movement had telling vigour and verve. Their playing of the Trio was a subtly limpid oasis. The slow movement had remarkable soft playing with colour and technical perfection entirely at the service of the music. From first note to last the finale was vivid excitement.

Schubert’s epic G Major Quartet filled the second half, further revealing the fineness of the Navarra Quartet: from strength in declamation to the ethereal decoration from the Leader, from intimate moments to shattering power it was the revelation of a masterpiece. The relatively quick Andante, led by fantastic cello playing, had absolutely superb sound and devastating counter passages. Their Scherzo was less demonic, more airy and songlike than some, with a glimpse-of-happiness Trio. The Finale was astounding: this vast Rondo bobbed and wheeled along with unstoppable energy – until, of course, Schubert’s final cadence.

Maxwell String Quartet - 4 December 2018

Maxwell String Quartet

It was a very welcome return for the Maxwell String Quartet as guests of Perth Chamber Music in a new venue: the Joan Knight Studio of Perth Theatre.

The Maxwells started with a performance of Haydn which revealed the depth and humour of this composer. Their Op.71 No.3 was an outgoing piece, personable and witty from its second note. I say second because the Quartet obviously appreciated Haydn’s joke of the loud, unsettling, detached first chord. The Andante had a wide-eyed innocence, making the most of the variation where the cello drops out and the other three get higher and higher. Their Minuet was lively, with a touch of ornamentation from Leader Colin Scobie in the return. The fourth movement’s Vivace went with a real swing, full of musical delight.

Mendelssohn’s early Quartet in a minor had a tender start with the most ardent and refined Allegro. The Adagio revealed the Maxwells warmth and affection in a heart-wrenching climax. The Intermezzo is a gem and was played to perfection by the Maxwell Quartet, who then plunged immediately into the drama of the impulsive, passionate finale, before reconciling all, recalling to piece’s opening.

The Schubert d minor Quartet was every bit as dramatic as the work’s nickname implied: Death and the Maiden. The sheer sound of the Quartet was amazing in the breathless roller coaster of the first movement. Each player having a chance to shine, they told the vivid stories of the Andante con moto variations, moving to cataclysm then an ending so ethereal. Pressure was on again in the Scherzo, the only relaxed period of any duration coming in their airy Trio. Their precision in the Tarentella-based Presto was unnerving and amazing, the truly exciting coda hurtling to its end.

The Maxwell String Quartet showed their passion for Scots music in two notable pieces: first after the Haydn in the soulful lament Glen Lyon, then as an encore Neil Gow’s Drunk at Night, Dry in the Morning.

Pomegranate Piano Trio - 16 November 2018

Pomegranate Piano Trio

The Pomegranate Piano Trio were heard as part of Perth Chamber Music’s season in the fantastic acoustic and comfort of the historic St John’s Kirk, Perth. This trio of musicians have played to acclaim in venues as distant as Vienna and Hong Kong.

Clara Schumann, piano virtuoso wife of Robert Schumann, revealed her own mettle in the immediately engaging Trio in g minor. More Intermezzo than Scherzo the second movement was refreshing with a demurely amusing Trio. The Andante was a waltz-like Song without Words including a more chivalrously dramatic centre and a plangent return from Rebecca Hepplewhite’s cello. The Finale was an ably constructed Allegretto of lyrical charm, through fugato to bouyant conclusion.

The Pomegranate Piano Trio played the masterpiece of Ravel’s Trio with intensity and sparkle: its insinuating magic clear from the intriguing first notes. The Trio’s playing revealed the work’s depth of feeling and very different sound. New colours came brightly to the fore in the works Scherzo, called Pantoum, with wildness in its trio. The Passacaille slow movement traced its strength and nobility, rising to a climax and falling back again into the depths of the piano. As labeled, the finale was lively and spirited its last pages a torrent of brilliant rippling sunshine.

Beethoven’s Archduke Piano Trio opened with confidence, power and ease. Every note sounded so right in their performance of the first movement with its irresistible recapitulation. Lightness and fun began the Scherzo, contrasting with a dark mystery at the start of its Trio. The Variations saw Beethoven in far-seeing celestial mode, both decoratively entertaining and deeply satisfying. Beethoven’s almost cheeky Finale had a humorous start, with pianist Andrew West’s expression of glee at the start of the madcap Presto coda something to remember.

Raphael Wallfisch and John York - 1 October 2018

Raphael Wallfisch

In spite of the cold wet weather, the nicely heated historic St John’s Kirk had a good, attentive audience for Perth Chamber Music’s first concert of the season 2018-2019. The draw on this occasion was the internationally famed duo of Raphael Wallfisch, cello and John York, piano.

Playing partners for 35 years this was the first night of their tour of Scotland and it began in finely expressive style with a poised reading of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata. Perfectly attuned to each other, the first movement of this richly Romantic work ended in a profoundly affecting, desolate coda. The short slow movement was given with lyrically plangent feeling, before the more openly entertaining, later extravert, final rondo.

Brahms’ Cello Sonata No.1 had a boldly impassioned start, played with great warmth. John York’s tone at the Brodmann grand brought a silvery lyricism to the third theme. The second movement Minuet was as dainty as the ensuing Finale was heroic, starting with a stern fugue, before a more openly smiling, still energetic second theme. An accelerating coda ended the piece in the highest of spirits.

Explaining their longstanding, rewarding connection with Scottish composers, Raphael Wallfisch and John York played James MacMillan’s Kiss on Wood. With sonorous chords and a deeply felt melody it was a piece which resonated in the superb St John’s Kirk acoustic: Raphael Wallfisch’s cello rose higher and higher in benediction before dying away on the piano with repeated very high notes.

This glorious pair made the final work a real experience: it was Chopin’s Cello Sonata treated with the stature it merits. With subtle rubato of deep insight the grand first movement was impressive. The Scherzo had both power and elegance, its Trio an attractive Romantic surge. Through beauty of tone and phrasing the slow movement lingered in the mind and the Finale was played with élan and bravura. The succulent Viennese waltz of Pierrot’s Tanzlied (Dance Song) from Korngold’s opera Die Tote Stadt was an encore received with pleasure.

The Schubert Ensemble - 7 March 2018

The Schubert Ensemble

To crown their season in St John’s Kirk, Perth Chamber Music had engaged the internationally-known Schubert Ensemble. Having given memorable concerts in Perth over a number of seasons, this was to be their final tour after 35 years on the concert platform.

They began with Mozart’s Piano Quartet No.2 in E Flat. In an engaging performance they showed their affection for the work. After the genial opening movement, the Larghetto had an intimate, the lyrical line. The Finale had the wit and sparkle of a piano concerto.

Simon Blendis, violin, introduced Charlotte Bray’s Zustände (states or conditions) as the Schubert Ensemble’s 49th commission. In its 11 minutes it evokes ice photographed on the composer’s recent trip to Greenland. First, brittle, splintering ice depicted almost onomatopoeically. Next, a lone iceberg, rising from low cello, though viola, with shuddering harmonies. Finally the ice field in varied sounds and energies before sharp angular sounds quieted to the end.

The final piece was Chausson’s strong and attractive Piano Quartet in A Major Op.30. The first movement was rhapsodic and tempestuous yet with charm in its various sections. The Très calme second movement was Romantic song, opened by the rich viola sound of Douglas Peterson. The third movement had the hypnotic sway of a gentle dance before the darker and more dramatic Finale. Here, to good effect, Chausson recalled themes from previous movements: the cascading opening and the heartfelt viola tune led to a richly splendid ending.

Recalled many times with enthusiastic applause, the Schubert Ensemble affectingly played their own instrumental arrangement of Richard Strauss’ song Morgen.

Cavendish Winds - 19 February 2018

Cavendish Winds

Perth Chamber Music received a fantastic concert in St John’s Kirk, Perth from the accomplished Cavendish Winds. The five players of this wind quintet, in response to the acclaim from the audience, praised the clarity with warmth of the venue.

Franz Danzi’s pioneering Quintet in g minor began the evening. Danzi had written the piece giving each instrument its fair share and the Cavendish Winds were strong both in blend and in outstanding individual character.

Malcolm Arnold’s Three Shanties were a brilliant tour de force for the Quintet: wit and humour, turning the well known tunes into a tango, a waltz and a rumba, and genuine pathos in the slow central movement.

Piazzolla’s Libertango had aggression and passion in its tumultuous start and was truly, as their introduction said, excitement leading up to the interval.

György Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles were a colourful start to the second half. Cavendish Winds again had remarkable polish and sound, each of the five instruments superbly and characterfully played.

Their final piece was/is probably the greatest piece written for five wind instruments: Nielsen’s Wind Quintet. The Cavendish Winds were each adept at lending their technical strengths to individual characters portrayed. Innocence and quirkiness held together the span of the first movement. The duets were beautifully done in the rustic Minuet, the horn showing a linking poise. In the final variations the group had both a brilliant combined scherzo and striking individual contributions.

It was a magnificent piece superbly performed and a most impressive end to their concert as heartily applauded by the audience in St John’s Kirk.

Sinopia String Quartet - 17 January 2018

Sinopia String Quartet

Yet again Perth Chamber Music had chosen real winners in inviting the Sinopia String Quartet to give their first concert of the New Year in St John’s Kirk, Perth.

For each of the four very different composers the Sinopia Quartet unerringly chose the right atmosphere and character.

The Sinopia began with Haydn’s famous Emperor Quartet, Op.76 No.3 in C Major. Here they seized on Haydn’s wit and companionability, giving the ideal conversation of a quartet. The development was beautifully paced and the Hungarian episode suitably wild. Haydn’s noble tune, later annexed as the German national anthem, was finely played each member of the quartet having the tune in turn and adding to the fine decoration. First violin, Gabi Mass, and cello, Laura Sergeant, gave bounce and fun to the Minuet by their articulation. The Sinopia were equally good at the more serious tone of the Trio. Their drama and excitement in the Finale gave expression to Haydn’s drive.

The Schubert Quartet Movement in c minor D703 was even finer: deeply personal and intensely emotional. The dramatic, spooky start contrasted repeatedly with passages of lyrical beauty.

Frank Bridge’s Three Idylls were finely done. They consistently brought out Bridge’s mastery of quartet sonority: passionately expressive playing leading to whimsy in the first, the second capricious, the third fast and lighthearted, the quartet’s deft bowing a delight here.

But the master performance of the evening was Dvorak’s Quartet in F, Op.96 known as the American. Character was spot on with more soloistic sections both beautifully performed and integrated into the whole. In the Lento all four parts masterfully combined to a profoundly affecting reading. A Scherzo, gentler than some, brought its sad episode to the fore. The Finale was a joyous romp. The meaningful articulation of all four musicians brought out the emotion of the slower section, whilst the Leader convinced in the exuberance of her more soloistic role.

Jess Gillam and Jonathan Fisher - 5 December 2017

Jess Gillam and Jonathan Fisher

Perth Chamber Music’s extending boundaries concert given in the historic St John’s Kirk was a saxophone and piano recital by Jess Gillam and pianist Jonathan Fisher.

Jess Gillam was first to win the woodwind section of the BBC Young Magician of the Year and gave an exciting televised BBC Prom 2017.

Iturralde’s Pequena Czarda was a modern day Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody: a serious introduction, then folk inspired tunes with dazzlingly dexterous fingerwork.

Dave Heath’s The Celtic expressed returning to London after living in Fife. The titles tell it: Ceilidh, slow, then the whirl of the dance. In Lament for Collessie Jess Gillam was wonderfully communicative. Lastly the cheekily pert Cooper of Clapham.

Ethereal, regretful and lyrical Michael Nyman’s If… impressed in its feeling. Bartók’s Folk Songs from Csik were lyrical, lamenting then spiky and bragging. Wall’s Elegy for Trane showed the instrument’s reflective side. A virtuoso arrangement by John Harle, Jess Gillam’s mentor, of Chick Corea’s Children’s Songs closed the first half: undoubtedly here an engaging musician with astounding technique.

Turning to the alto sax, using of the acoustic of St John’s Kirk, Jess Gillam began solo and offstage with Debussy’s Syrinx, followed immediately by Ravel’s sultry Pièce en forme de Habañera. In the most seductive mellow register Jess Gillam and Jonathan Fisher then played the jazz standard Deep Purple.

John Williams’ Escapades were eclipsed by Milhaud’s Braziliera and the first movement of Phil Woods Sonata. Communication, pleasure and personality were all engaged here.

Acceding to whoops, bravos and prolonged applause Jess Gillam’s encore was Ellington’s In Sentimental Mood.

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook - 14 November 2017

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook

November’s concert for Perth Chamber Music in the historic St John’s Kirk was not only a supreme musical event, but also a most moving one emotionally.

It was Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (Winter’s Journey) given by the very best of Britain’s art song performers: James Gilchrist, tenor and Anna Tilbrook, piano.

Winterreise is the interior monologue of a young man who has set out to find his way in the world and runs away from his rejection in a love affair. He trudging through a cold, snowy, damp landscape he sees as an extension of himself and his own troubles: I moved in as a stranger and I’m moving out as one. The girl spoke of love, her mother even of marriage. From shrugging at disappointment, he descends through despair to delusion.

From the first song we heard anger and desperation in his fine tenor voice, poignantly seconded by Anna Tilbrook in Schubert’s spare, amazingly evocative piano part.

The acoustic of St John’s Kirk, Perth was just right and rang to his voice, the tenor range limning the youth’s vulnerability. James Gilchrist moved his audience though bitterness, to desperation, to nostalgia, to howls pain. Delusion sets in as he trudges on, even a cemetery rejects him, until he ends up with the hurdy-gurdy man. Am I like you? No-one wants you or your tunes, even dogs growl at you. Are you the one to sing my woe?

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook vividly brought all these emotions to the Perth Chamber Music audience. Their magnificent performance received much applause, admiring and cathartic.

Aurea and Gildas String Quartets - 3 April 2017

Aurea and Gildas String Quartets

Perth Chamber Music crowned what has been a truly first class season celebrating their 400th concert with a programme in St John’s Kirk, Perth which combined the talents of the Aurea and the Gildas String Quartets.

First came the Introduction for String Sextet to Strauss’ final opera Capriccio. The group’s playing had warmth and sensitivity, balancing clarity with blend in the calmer sections and bringing passionate drama to the faster.

With a change of violinists, Korngold’s rarely heard Sextet Op.10 received a rich performance which made clear the complexity and harmonies of this master work. The players revealed the 19 year old’s genius, receiving applause at the end of the first movement. Their sound for the Adagio went from seductive and tender to almost orchestral in impact. Equally they were as at home in the sophisticated Intermezzo, an over-the-top waltz, as they were with the buoyant wit and good humour of the Finale.

In the second half the two Quartets combined for Mendelssohn’s Octet Op.20. Given this performance by the Gildas and Aurea Quartets it is quite possible to believe that is the most brilliant work, ever. They had the right élan for the opening Allegro. Qualified moderato it had panache and mobility without seeming in the least rushed. Violas and cellos showed fine tone in the Andante, revealing Mendelssohn’s deeper emotions, whilst the ethereal end displayed beauty of tone from all eight musicians. Precision of detail made the Scherzo seem light and fast, whilst their Finale astonished with its wit, verve and energy. Achieving, understandably, huge applause.

Maxwell String Quartet - 9 December 2016

Maxwell String Quartet

The members of the Maxwell String Quartet were supreme in all aspects in their concert in St John’s Kirk for Perth Chamber Music.

From the opening of Haydn’s Sunrise Quartet, Op.76 No.4, you heard their anticipation of fun to come: the accuracy of their repartee, the smiles between the players, going exactly where the music takes them.

Prokofiev’s Quartet No.2 was an eye-opener. Their performance sprang to life, full of variety, vigour and lyricism. Their research into the Kabardinian themes Prokofiev had been given proved a wellspring of atmosphere and feeling. They revealed the various moods of Prokofiev’s clever and sophisticated writing.

Stravinsky’s Three Pieces were brilliantly characterized. The Maxwell put over the humour of Eccentrique in musical terms, without distorting the piece. Their work had led to an interpretation of the final piece as a nocturne in which their tone convinced.

Most major was their reading of Beethoven’s Quartet in E Flat Op.127. From the depth of succulent chording which started the work to their joy in the fourth movement their superb technique was entirely at the service of the music.

Recognized as such by the Perth audience, they recalled them repeatedly and had the bonus of three Irish tunes played without printed music.

Aurea String Quartet - 11 March 2016

Aurea String Quartet

Perth Chamber Music had yet again obtained artists of the highest quality for their final concert this season. They were the relatively young Aurea String Quartet and as in their name the performances were golden.

They had that glorious quartet sound, making all the right musical points in Haydn’s Quartet Op.64 No.6: sound as four good friends companionably together.

Beethoven’s Quartet in C minor Op.18 No.4 came next. Again their style brought out the composers strengths. The chase of the Finale was so well articulated that it allowed them reserve for a coda that went like a whirlwind.

They were equally at home in Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No.1, making the most of the famous Andante cantabile, huge feeling but no mawkishness. Then bringing the evening to a fantastically rewarding close of almost orchestral presence, St John’s Kirk, Perth resounding with applause.

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook - 15 January 2016

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook

Perth Chamber Music burnished their reputation for quality in the exceptional recital given by tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook.

Classics of song in English George Butterworth’s Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad of 1911 formed the short first half. Time and again James Gilchrist struck the perfect tone, both in melody and meaning for these songs of loss, experience and nostalgia – given extra poignancy in that Butterworth perished himself in action on the Somme.

The larger though equally major piece was Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. As he cogently explained these twenty songs formed a Romantic round of life. From the opening vigour of the piano part, through urgency and elation, disappointment and anger, to frozen despair and final consolation this true partnership drew you deeply and affectingly into the songs.

Passacaglia Baroque Ensemble - 30 November 2015

Passacaglia Baroque Ensemble

Be it their previous concert with the Brodsky String Quartet, this one with the Ensemble Passacaglia, or their next one with tenor James Gilchrist, Perth Chamber Music major on quality.

It was an unfailing pleasure to hear the unusual instruments of this Baroque group in the acoustic of St John’s Kirk and each of the gifted musicians enthusiastically and charmingly introducing their instruments.

Called The Grand Tour we visited early 18th century Europe in the finest style: ceremonial yet gracious Handel, scientific Bach, sliding over to France for one of Telemann’s Paris Quartets, revealing the person in viola da gamba composer Marin Marais, with courtly charm in a François Couperin Concert Royal, then up to Scotland for Italian Geminiani’s A Treatise of Good Taste and finishing with the only well-known piece, Bach’s version of a Vivaldi Concerto. Fascinating music, superb playing.

Brodsky Quartet - 11 November 2015

Brodsky Quartet

Second in their season in St John’s Kirk, Perth Chamber Music had invited the world famous Brodsky String Quartet.

Springing into vivid life from the first notes they began with Borodin’s Scherzo: the outer sections bubbling excitement, the trio expressively sung.

A totally different sound world they then gave Beethoven’s Quartet in E Flat Op.74. Quartet sound is special and theirs was well nigh perfect: unique sound per player, yet even more when combined. We soon learnt why this quartet is nicknamed The Harp and heard the fabulous sound of the musical tag which follows.

Again complete masters of a different expressive world, the Brodsky with Shostakovich’s Quartet No.5 bowled over the large audience in St John’s with its depth of feeling and its elegance, tense rhythms and searing climaxes. It was truly a concert to reach for superlatives.

The Schubert Ensemble - 6 October 2015

The Schubert Ensemble

In their extremely successful season opener in St John’s Kirk, Perth Chamber Music had invited the internationally famed recordings artists the Schubert Ensemble for a programme of piano quartets.

They began with Huw Watkins, their most frequently performed commission. Its short single movement used economy and transformation continuing the grand tradition.

Clarity, affection and enthusiasm characterized their performance of Schumann’s E Flat Quartet. Throughout they were good at the passion and the elation of this tuneful piece.

The grandest of works ended their concert before a large appreciative audience in the fine acoustic of St John’s Kirk, Perth: Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1. This g minor was grand and epic, majestic and exciting in the wild Hungarian finale.

After tumultuous applause first violin announced ‘a nice, quiet encore’: Schumann’s Canon for Pedal Piano No.4, its generous melody decorated on return.

Chloë Hanslip and Danny Driver - 9 March 2015

ChloŽ Hanslip and Danny Driver

Perth Chamber Music gave their final concert of this season in St John’s Kirk, Perth in the very finest style. Their guests were international concert artists Chloë Hanslip, violin and Danny Driver, piano. They began with James MacMillan’s A Different World. With both standing out as great personalities this evocative and atmospheric work was destroyed at the end in the brutal pounding of the piano.

Next, the largest, greatest work: Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A Major “Kreutzer”. After the impressive double stopping of the start both artists struck sparks in the exciting Allegro. Contrary-wise the Andante variations were co-operative serenity, the two artists deeply attuned in the music. The Tarentella had amazing verve and excitement.

Hugh Wood’s Poem started the second half using serial technique in an unsettling melody which used conventional gestures and ended in a Debussy-like fineness high on both instruments.

Messiaen’s Theme and Variations too achieved a performance which moved convincingly and with clarity through its various emotional sections.

Chloë Hanslip and Danny Driver ended their recital with a performance of Poulenc’s Violin Sonata which showed depth, humanity and gaiety. The first movement had vividly impassioned playing and lyrical repose. The Intermezzo contrasted the violin’s smouldering and a bittersweet song with amazing double-stopping. The forceful start to the Finale continued in brilliant chase-style, before turning with a piano bang to the tragic, angry end. Well appreciated, superb performances of very different pieces.

Rubens String Quartet - 17 February 2015

Rubens String Quartet

Even amongst Perth Chamber Music’s highly successful series the concert given by the Rubens String Quartet must rank as exceptional.

The Quartet began with a contemporary piece by Dutch composer Joey Roukens based on a motet by Josquin Desprez. And David Sang, given the split composing date of 1500/2009 hovered timelessly in the stone vaults of Perth’s historic St John’s Kirk. The Rubens Quartet played with refinement and class.

Another rarity was a very early Haydn Quartet: Op.1 No.3 in D Major. The Adagio start to this five movement work linked up nicely with And David Sang. A bouncy Menuetto followed, the players’ smiles showing their delight, before the lightening Presto of the Scherzo and a sturdier second Menuetto and the helter skelter fun of the Presto Finale.

The Rubens Quartet identified immediately with the very different sound world of Janacek’s Quartet No.1 After Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata. Each player gave their all in this emotionally hyper vivid work. Their sul ponticello playing was particularly graphic as were their unisons which shot out into the nave with force. Against the mournful melody of the leader, the scratched sound of the viola and second violin had a daring jangling. The cello start to the last movement moved with sadness before the climax, mocked by vicious pizzicato, descended into the misery of the end. Not a nice work, but done to the life by the members of this quartet.

Excellent though the concert had been, the performance of Brahms’ Quartet No.2 in the second half surpassed it by its real love allied with the technical ability to make the piece speak. The Rubens Quartet stole in with refinement and warmth before relaxing to grace with the second theme. Everything dovetailed beautifully: emotion and construction perfect allies. The development had truly fine playing, drawing inexorably, magnificently to end the movement. In the Andante feeling again was exactly right with the lyrical sensitivity of Leader Sarah Kapustin, and the Hungarian passages done with proud passion. All through they really knew what they were doing: musically telling grace, then coruscating detail in Brahms’ Quasi Minuetto then a Finale to cap it all with a perfect appreciation of Brahms’ genius.

Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet - 12 January 2015

Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet

The sound of four saxophones combined can whisper with the subtlety of a string quartet or be garishly raucous. The Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet came to St John’s Kirk, Perth with playing that radiated quality and musicality and which covered the full gamut. A gentle but vivid introduction for the Perth Chamber Music audience was three movements from Grieg’s Suite From Holberg’s Time. As the music required they were nimble and puckish, lyrical and reflective.

In Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango they were fast and lively in Bordel 1900 and sentimental, though moving to brusque and back in, Café 1930.

Paul Patterson’s Diversions Op.32 covered a favourite British topic, the weather, in terms of the wind. Gusty showed the exciting sound of the four saxes at speed. Blowing Blue had references to blues music. A real audience pleaser was the humorous Sea Breeze where motifs from Rule Britannia formed fragmentary variations, flashing past and blown away almost before you had registered them. Its cheeky ending deliberately caught out a few audience members – myself amongst them!

The noble sounding Variations on a Gavotte by Rameau were in the form of variations.

Before the Interval came Iota, written by their baritone player John Rittipo-Moore. This calmly refined multi-media piece with visuals, fronds black and white, which moved calmly across the screen, and discreet sound engineering, had much positive comment from audience members.

The Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet were in their element in an arrangement of Gershwin’s Three Preludes: rhythmic and decisive for the first, a keening undertow of blues for the second and bright and sassy for the third.

Another real discovery with beautifully expressive playing was the Andantino of Debussy’s Quartet. Ten minutes of perfect music.

Alto player Guy Passey was anguished in the tune to Michael Nyman’s punchy Song for Tony No.1; Barbara Thompson’s Quartet No.3 moved from the serene to the rhythmic and back again before adding extra rhythm with tapping keys in Carnival and Country Ayre, which finally faded away. The Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet stood and moved around for the final piece Will Gregory’s Hoe Down. In response to the enthusiastic audience they gave an encore “something sweet to go home”: Piazzolla’s Tango Oblivion.

Daniel’s Beard - 8 December 2014

Daniel’s Beard

Perth Chamber Music’s December concert was given by flexible chamber group Daniel’s Beard. Their name comes from Daniel Cottier who designed their concert home in Glasgow: a picture there of him possesses a luxuriantly full Victorian beard.

Sounding absolutely superb in the historic setting of St John’s Kirk, Perth, Sonia Cromarty began the evening with a thoroughly understood, stylish reading of J.S.Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major BWV1007. The rolling sound of the Prélude richly filled the acoustic. She showed eloquence and understanding of the dance basis of the other movements.

The audience, which should have been larger considering the quality of all Perth Chamber Music’s concerts, next heard a perceptive reading of Brahms Horn Trio. Above the excellent music making Andy Saunders had brought along a French 19th century natural horn and demonstrated the difference in sound between it and the modern valve horn. The opening movement had warmth and feeling for Brahms’ lyricism, especially from violinist Rachel Smith. The chunky, hunting Scherzo had noble horn calls and athletic pianism from Lynda Cochrane. The Adagio showed grief, a total contrast to the energy and buoyancy of the Allegro con brio Finale.

Franz Schreker’s Der Wind is a tiny ballet in which Maximiliano Martín’s peerless clarinet joined the other four. The Wind was gentle at first, blew a little harder, had a moment of force then relaxed to a languid waltz, became more animated, then with a shudder, calmed with a clarinet folksong. Delicate sonorities abounded, Lynda Cochrane having a particularly full role at the piano.

All five were again present for Vaughan Williams’ very early Quintet in D Major of 1898. It was colourful, enjoyable fun, but hardly recognizable as VW: Brahms rushing the fences in the first movement, interest and ideas tumbling over each other. The Intermezzo was very French, particularly the ballet-style music of the Trio. The Andantino was again obsessed with Brahms, but with the odd VW touch. In the Allegro molto finale the atmosphere of a sea shanty was not far off. Brilliantly and entertainingly played it was appreciated with lengthy applause by the Perth Chamber Music Audience.

Atalanta Piano Quartet - 12 November 2014

Atalanta Piano Quartet

The Atalanta Piano Quartet in their concert for Perth Chamber Music in St John’s Kirk, Perth had elegance and musicality.

Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in E Flat Op.16 began. The Atalanta Piano Quartet started loftily before turning to the finely fluent Allegro. The Andante cantabile emphasized the lyrical, while all four delighted the audience in the fun of the final rondo.

Schumann’s Piano Quartet Op.47 emerged as a truly great work. Excitingly dynamic in the first movement, they were elegant in the Scherzo. They reached an apogee in the love song of the slow movement. Their concluding Vivace combined the exciting and the lyrical.

Martin Butler’s Sequenza Notturna of 2003 had an atmospheric start with high piano treble and string harmonics. After intentionally improvisational night sounds, the piece’s activity was raised before ending with a return to opening material. It was a piece which held together, moving musically into a more argued, central, declamatory section.

A warmly emotional performance of Fauré’s Piano Quartet in c minor Op.15 ended the programme. The difference in sound world was apparent from its opening, urgent first theme. The light touch of the Scherzo was excellent, its pizzicato contrasting with the sound with mutes in the Trio. The grave start to the Adagio began a movement of concentration and emotional power, the ensemble having a finely judged sound. The final Allegro molto had a leaping energy which went from stormy agitation to an optimistic final surge.

For each of the works the Perth audience responded with enthusiasm, as was only due for such fine playing.

Castalian String Quartet - 10 October 2014

Castalian String Quartet

As the extremely successful season opener in St John’s Kirk, Perth Chamber Music had invited the Castalian String Quartet. Within a few bars of Mozart’s Quartet in B Flat K589 it was apparent that this group had that quality which defines a great string quartet: togetherness which went way beyond just four musicians of technical ability playing in time.

Seated closer together than many, there was a flexibility and an immediacy to their inter-reactions. With the most beautiful playing the first movement seemed to float out effortlessly and rightly. This was not to deny a taut development. Written for the cello playing Friedrich Wilhelm II the Larghetto started with Christopher Graves’ cello, then Charlotte Bonneton’s viola, in a duet of timeless serenity. The Castalians gave Mozart’s Minuet a sophisticated, elevated reading, contrasting with the busyness of the extended Trio. Mozart the opera composer came through in the feel of the Finale with its perfectly timed little flourishes. Quartet Leader Sini Simonen was superb in her decorated line as the work moved towards its slightly regretful end.

The Castalian were equally revealing in the very different sound world of Ravel’s only Quartet. Their technique and care as to precise chord colouring and weighting brought out nostalgia and refinement. The pizzicato tour de force of the second movement’s dance moved vertiginously on. The trio with mutes had several teasing almost-returns before actually doing so. Again with mutes their interpretation of the Très lent slow movement had the motto with great tenderness and also particularly fine playing from Daniel Roberts’ second violin and the viola. The Finale embodied vigour with exciting flashes of colour. The Castalians showed their passionate involvement and placed the references to earlier moments perfectly.

The final great quartet of the evening was Schubert’s in d minor known as Death and the Maiden. The abrupt summons to attention and the pause caught the acoustic of St John’s Kirk perfectly. The drama of the opening and the supple fineness of the second theme were superb: tension and lyricism in balance. The coda brought first excitement then desolation. The version of the Schubert song which gives the quartet its nickname was exceptionally well done, both dynamic and elastic. Each of the Quartet’s members shone in the variations. The viscerally tense rhythmic tugging of the demonic Scherzo contrasted with the heavenly repose of the Trio. The Castalians’ precision in the hurtling Ride to the Abyss of the Finale allowed them to feel fast, but also give full value to lyrical moments. The even faster coda to the movement brought joyful exhilaration.

For earlier reviews, please browse the archive.