The programme that violist Lawrence Power and pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips presented us this evening was something we had never experienced before. The unique theme was the tombeau (that is, a musical composition commemorating the death of a notable individual), carried throughout from one composer’s homage to another. The first half, a full one-hour of flawless continuity, began with a Prelude by Couperin, passed onto Ravel’s Menuet from Tombeau de Couperin, then to Arthur Benjamin’s Tombeau de Ravel. The music crossed over four centuries, with different styles, different sentiments, different sound-making. Stravinsky’s solo piano piece Tombeau de Debussy made a little scenery change, then we continued on to the poem Debussy by Garcia Lorca (recited by Lawrence) and Erik Satie’s Petit Melodies. Then Poulenc’s wonderful Violin Sonata to complete the first half. We enjoyed lots of sudden direction and mood changes while the instrumentalists took fierce command together or over each other in turn. But above all this, there was a true sense of leaning and singing towards each other, and towards the audience.
In the second half, we heard the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, arranged for viola obligato by York Bowen. What an awesomely haunting, shudderingly beautiful composition, and performed to express exactly that. This was the type of performance that stops you in a timeless state, where you could imagine being immersed in the serene, hazy moonlight. Then, the finale was the humongous Shostakovich Viola Sonata. Wobbly, quirky and characteristic, it certainly carried on the homage theme in the last movement, Adagio, in the memory of Beethoven.
A programme of this complexity must have been challenging for both the performers, and the audience too! They pulled it off, to lead us and guide us, not letting out a single dull moment. I can go on about little details, such as Lawrence’s warm tone of the lower register notes, or Simon’s skillful accompaniment to compliment his partner, or the impeccable partnership which must have been nurtured through many years of experience. However, there was more to it than that – the evening was a perfect package, consisting of diverse musical elements, sounds and messages, and the excellent performers who delivered them. It was intensely engaging, intellectually entertaining, thought provoking and stimulating. If this is not inspiring, I don’t know what is.