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Jazz, Dances and Classics

by on 4 March 2019

Un Beau Soir

Jazz, Dances and Classics

by Amy Gould and David Harrod

SOS!SEN Charity Concert at United Reformed Church, Twickenham, until 2nd March

Review by Rebecca Vorley,
in association with Pearl Chang and William Ormerod

Shipwrecks and sunsets, exorcisms and mediations: this was the broad compass of Jazz, Dances and Classics, an enthralling concert by ’cellist Amy Gould and pianist David Harrod. The audience was captivated throughout the concert by the skilful performances of both musicians. The fascinating variety of pieces – from the lilting, playful La Cinquantaine by Jean Gabriel-Marie the elder and romantic jazz standard Harlem Nocturne, to the elegant Romance from The Gadfly by Shostakovich and the uplifting, carefree African Song by Abdullah Ibrahim – demonstrated the artistry of Amy and David, who complemented each other beautifully.


The programme was a harmonious mixture of the familiar and the unusual, and included several pieces of ‘programme music’ – that told a story: La Cinquantaine, literally ‘the fiftyfold’, describes the celebration of a golden wedding anniversary, with revels, dances and merry banter; the informative programme notes told how the Méditation from Massenet’s opera Thaïs represented a religious conversion from a life of depravity, and that this piece inspired Shostakovich’s Romance which followed it; The Song of the Black Swan (originally from Villa-Lobos’s 1916 tone poem Naufrágio de Kleônicos) laments the last moments of a shipwreck; Beau Soir by the teenaged Debussy describes an autumnal sunset – literal and metaphorical; the Ritual Fire Dance from Falla’s 1915 ballet El Amor Brujo at the end of the evening depicted the ever faster-whirling ritual which summons up the ghost of the dancing widow’s husband, luring it into the fire to finally exorcise it.

David displayed remarkable technical skill during the performance of Elegy op.96 by Nikolai Kapustin – a real modern discovery – and Amy showed great dexterity and skill in the excellently executed pizzicato section. The warm, melodic start to the Méditation was played with feeling, and conveyed a sense of harmony and anticipation. A listener commented that the piece was “beautiful – I was transported.”

amy's soiree-9

The largely reflective and romantic first half of the concert concluded with the vibrant jazzy harmonies and dance rhythms of Ibrahim’s African Song, a soaring ’cello melody (with pizzicato interludes) over punctuated piano interjections of fascinating (dis)chords, followed by David Popper’s Tarantella, a virtuoso showstopper for both performers.

During the interval the audience was given a short introduction by Elizabeth Wright, the charity’s co-ordinator, to the work of SOS!SEN, the locally-based national charity supported by this concert – helping children with special educational needs and disabilities, and more particularly their parents and carers, to access the help available.[Note: Support for this charity seems all the more topical following the death on 20th March 2019 of a great champion of special educational provision, Baroness Mary Warnock, CH.] 

The beautiful variety of pieces continued after the interval with Villa-Lobos’s The Song of the Black Swan – O canto do cysne negro (possibly a response to Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne, published thirty years earlier) which had a lovely rippling, soft quality: a melodious legato ’cello tune floating on an ethereal piano tone – and right at the end, was that the ship’s bell tolling distantly in the piano, as Captain Kleônicos and his crew sank beneath the waves? The double-stopped section of Étude op.8 no.11 by Scriabin was most expressive. Alexandr Scriabin seems to have been endowed with the sense of synaesthesia – the association of musical sounds with optical colour, and like a few other composers (Grétry, MacDowell, Rimsky-Korsakov) he identified particular harmonic keys with different colours. On closing the eyes, this piece in B-flat minor seemed to be redolent of deep blues and browns, flecked with gold…. or was it just the influence of the interior décor of the church and its painted organ pipes?


Perhaps the most intriguing piece was the aptly named Romance Lyrique by Kodàly: key changes conveyed an underlying sense of sadness; it was delicately played with tremendous feeling. With its graceful tune over the piano’s traditional Alberti bass (in a treble register!) it was reminiscent of Gounod’s Ave Maria after Bach. Beau Soir by Debussy (another musically colour-sensitive composer) is a transcribed setting of an early poem by his older contemporary, the writer Paul Bourget, who later visited the U.S.A. and the British Isles, and was admired by Gladstone. Similarly to The Song of the Black Swan, the ’cello provided the rose-pink sunset over rippling rivulets in the piano. At the end Amy produced a deceptively easy-sounding (but fiendishly difficult) perfectly tuned coda in thumb-position as the sun set. Outside the weather in the streets was dark, cool and wet, but in here the atmosphere was of a beautiful, warm evening in the countryside. Debussy once wrote: “There is nothing more musical than a sunset.” (He also described Wagner’s music as “a beautiful sunset that was mistaken for a dawn”).

Burlesque, op. 97 and Nearly Waltz, op. 98, two more Kapustin pieces, improvisational in style, with rhythmic challenges, were played with lively energy, and wonderful embellishments added great character: a brilliant, accomplished performance, which (yes !) nearly had us dancing in the aisles. This was followed by the virtuosic Ritual Fire Dance in which dynamic contrast provided a sense of urgency and drama. The evening concluded with an encore: Tarantella by W.H. Squire – another tuneful showpiece.

In all, today’s was an outstanding performance, received warmly by the audience, particularly following the two Tarantella pieces, which received rapturous applause. A beau soir indeed!

Rebecca Vorley
March 2019

Photography by Pat Stancliffe

From → Music, Reviews

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