Milverton Magic – Again!

10 Parishes 2013Last Friday saw the start of another of the wonderful concert series presented by the Milverton Concert Society. This first concert of the 2103/14 season was also incorporated in to the ’10 Parishes Festival’, but despite the wider publicity this concert must therefore have had, the audience numbers were disappointingly low. A gentleman sitting behind me, a man whose own musical knowledge and skill are extensive, may have summed it up. ‘People should come for the music, not for big names’. Of course, Milverton does present ‘big names’ frequently but perhaps he had a point. What we heard was absolutely first class, and produced by largely local talent, but why not a packed house?

The concert was in two distinct sections – before the interval we heard the Divertimento Quartet – Lynn Carter (Oboe), Mary Eade (Violin), Andrew Gillett (Viola) and Vicky Evans (‘cello). Mozart’s famous F major Oboe Quartet showed why this group is making a name for itself. Lynn’s fine articulation and judgement of dynamics was complemented throughout by a first rate ensemble sound. Their playing was flexible yet precise – it takes great musicianship to make such a fine blend while leaving the metronome in its box. The soulful ‘keening’ of the oboe in the second movement over a solid string base was really lovely, Lynn bringing an almost vocal quality to her playing. The ‘Rondo: Allegro’ third movement was a fine end to this fine performance. A good tune, somewhat bucolic in character, and featuring an avalanche of note-packed runs and arpeggios from the oboe immaculately played, generated well-earned applause.

While Lynn got her breath back, the strings played three movements from the 5-movement C Major Serenade by Dohnanyi. They made a forthright sound in the march-like opening movement, the melody redolent of Hungarian folk music. In the second movement there was some lovely legato playing from the viola over pizzicato violin and ‘cello, and the more agitated middle section was very tightly played, before returning to the flowing tune again. Finally we heard a lovely scrunchy scherzo, with a perpetuum mobile part for the violin in the middle . The music roamed freely through many keys leading a to a final gypsy tune played with great gusto over ostinato ‘cello and viola accompaniment.

Lynn then returned and Divertimento ended their contribution with Malcolm Arnold’s 1957 Oboe Quartet. This started out with a mysterious and sinuous legato oboe melody over the strings. The tune was passed around the instruments, and although these were fragments of the tune, somehow they cohered into a stream of melody – well played.

The second movement has recurring mysterious string chords with interjections from the oboe. The music seemed to be unconnected to any formal key structure, but it didn’t sound atonal, there was tunefulness at work! Towards the end the phrases from the oboe over pizzicato strings had a Debussy-like sound, and Lynn played them beautifully.

The Rondo final has a jaunty, spiky tune which occurs four times in the movement, and the whole thing was brilliant – fine ensemble playing throughout and masterful phrasing and dynamics from the oboe. I went off for my interval drink, happily whistling the ‘spiky’ tune.

The second half featured pianist Alicia Chaffey, who played a challenging programme of Brahms, Ravel and Prokofiev. She is a highly talented young musician, just starting out on what I am sure will be a successful career.

The impassioned opening of Brahms’s Rhapsody No. 1 in B Minor told us we were in for a treat. Brahms can become rather muddied, but Alicia’s judicious use of the pedal meant that she could give the music the ‘welly’ it deserves without losing clarity. I did think that the B Major central section could have been more lyrical – the tempo and dynamics were a little foursquare, but the work came to a beautiful ending.

Ravel’s ‘Jeux d’Eau’ presents a fearsome challenge to any pianist, not just for the prodigious number of notes to be played, but the demands of tonal colour and control of dynamics. The work represents the capriciousness of water and to create this the performer is faced with cascades of arpeggios.

Alicia’s performance was stunningly good, beautifully articulated without as far as I could tell a single splashed note (sorry about the pun – no I’m not). She captured exactly what this piece is about. If I have any criticism at all, a few passages did seem a little hard-driven – more delicacy and skittishness would have made this a perfect performance.

Alicia closed her programme with Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, from 1912. I have to say that although the technical demands of the piece were met with ease, I felt that she was slightly less at home in the musical idiom. She was less ‘inside’ the music, and I wonder if the fact that she was playing from the score rather than from memory may have had this effect.

The first movement with its lovely middle theme showed her at her technical best, and the short but very demanding scherzo was also played with aplomb. The third movement couples sombre chords and tense sounding themes – Alicia’s phrasing and control of the dynamics were particularly fine here and the build up to the climax was very well done.

In the finale I loved the brilliant articulation she brought to the ‘broken’ rhythms, leading into the saucy, jazzy second theme. The finale reprise and code were first class. As I said, a great performance technically, but very slightly lacking in the human touch.

Overall this was a crackingly good evening, as I have come to expect from the Milverton Concert Society – more please.

Review by Harold W. Mead