There are many things that I love about running musical Soirées at Breinton. Arranging brilliant music in an intimate setting where the musicians are only within an arm's reach is definitely a pleasure (even if you must elbow your neighbours to secure your space). Sharing it with like-minded members who are as enthusiastic about music as I am is even better. And, at the end of an evening's performance, there is no better feeling than saying good-bye to our appreciative audience when they have clearly enjoyed the experience. After violinist Callum Smart and pianist Gordon Back's Soirée, there were many of these merrily overjoyed people. One called me the next day to say that it was absolutely spellbinding; another one said that she had ordered a CD of the Franck Sonata as she loved it so much; one went on to do some reading on Danny Boy, the ballad set to Londonderry Air, played in the recital; and some immediately bought tickets for our next October Soirée! All of them are proof of the wonder of the duo's performance. Oh, I mustn't forget that I am also deeply satisfied when our musicians leave happily saying they have enjoyed performing for us and commenting highly on our enthusiastic audience.
Amazingly, this young violinist performed the entire recital from memory - he always does. Callum does not even carry his scores around just to check; it is all in his head.
Callum's choice to start the recital was two movements from Bach's Sonata in G minor for solo violin. I absolutely adore this piece but I also know it is notoriously difficult! However, despite the technical challenge (which Callum never showed), it was gorgeous. We heard lovely chords and sharply defined intonation, and the soaring sounds filled in the room. No broken sounds or tight squeakiness which unfortunately is often heard with the allegro. During the interval, one guest said that he wanted to listen to the rest of the movements too. I agreed!
I must admit that the Prokofiev Sonata No. 1 is not everyone's cup of tea. It is dark, grave and depressing, reflecting the Soviet era of the composer's time. It's definitely not the kind of lyrical and romantic music you'd listen to for relaxation with a glass of wine in your hand. In fact, Gordon warned us that we would need a drink in the interval after! This piece can be exhausting and mentally draining for performers and listeners, but without doubt is dynamic and exciting. Prior to performing, Gordon explained that the first and fourth movements have a passage expressing a whirlwind passing through a graveyard. Surely, the slithering violin scales together with gently and spookily played piano chords were nothing other than that. Gordon also explained that the powerful second movement was based on the machines in a factory from the Soviet era. This was a great piece of information; if you listened with this little knowledge in the back of your head, then the seemingly unpleasant sounds were no longer random notes thrown in by the composer, but immediately became more meaningful. The power from both the instruments was outrageous. The third movement, as if giving the audience a moment to rest and breathe, was lyrical. With the musicians' passionate and intense involvement with their instruments, this Prokofiev's Sonata was definitely a concert experience which one could feel not just hear.
Now after the interval, we were ready for Franck's Sonata in A Major. I would give 10 out of 10 to this performance; I just loved the way it was played, it was beautifully fluent with overflowing emotion. Based on his solid technical skills, Callum explored and built artistic flavour. Sweetness and bitterness, tranquil and thunderous moments were all apparent. Skilful vibratos, effective bow work and connection with the strings all contributed to create such expressive sounds. Prior to playing this piece, Callum's comment was, "this Sonata was composed and dedicated to the violinist YsaÃ¿e. It is about the different stages of marriage". Coming from the mouth of an innocent looking 17-year-old, it made the audience laugh!
After the climax of the Franck Sonata, came the most memorable moments of the evening – a selection of well-chosen short pieces. They were like musical jewels. Londonderry Air, a beautiful arrangement by Kreisler, was breath-taking. Such influential music, it brought warmth and a nostalgic inner feeling. On top of the tear-bringing violin melody, the piano part was also absolutely gorgeous, and the way Gordon played it was unforgettable – in fact I'm still playing it in my head! This was followed by La Gitana, another Kreisler piece, Brahms's Contemplation, arranged by Heifez, and The Old Refrain by Kreisler. We all wished that the duo would continue playing for the rest of the night.
- Bach: Adagio and Fuga from Sonata No. 1 in G minor for solo violin
- Prokofiev: Sonata No. 1 in F minor
- Franck: Sonata in A major
- Kreisler: Londonderry Air
- Kreisler: La Gitana
- Brahms: Contemplation (arr. Heifez)
- Kreisler: The Old Refrain