Review of April 13 Concert


Live Music in Congenial Surroundings: Experience the Magic: You’re All Most Welcome!

A sparkling end to our Concert Season was provided by Duality – Emma Abbate & Julian Perkins ‘four hands on one piano’, ‘Across the Pond’, European duets eliding into an American post-interval ‘program’. Emma enjoys varied roles including accompanist and chamber music, keenly advocates contemporary music and is a Professor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Julian Perkins, a Cambridge University graduate, has specialised in Baroque music and period opera. He shared with Emma introductions to the music. 

Beethoven’s piano duet Sonata was published in 1798, with two short movements. Julian found it ‘Mozartian’, but several of us remarked that the obsessive ‘dum dum di dum’, motif pointed inexorably towards the opening and first movement of the composer’s Fifth symphony opus 67. The Schubert Fantasy in F minor D.940 dates from 1828, and exists in solo and four hands versions, a magisterial tone poem of 19 minutes, dedicated to Caroline von Esterhazy, which received a commanding performance. The central ‘scherzo’ has a rhythmic vitality, suggesting the 9th ‘Great C major’ symphony, also work in progress in the composer’s hectic final year. While Julian characterised the piano writing as ‘Beethovenian’ its form and melodic character surely anticipated Liszt’s 13 orchestral tone poems, several of which had keyboard origins.

The Petite Suite, a welcome alteration to the initially announced programme, is an early keyboard work by Debussy. Dating from 1886-89, it looked back to the mid-18th century ‘fete galante’, and the art of Watteau and Fragonard. Distinctly pre-Impressionist, the suite is probably better known from Henri Busser’s elegant 1907 orchestration. The pianism was impressive, the crystalline texture of the Menuet ringing out, though the immediacy of the climaxes resulted in several of the audience seeking a gallery seat for the post-interval Americana. 

Amy Beach (nee Cheney) (1867-1944) was a pioneer female composer, born at Henniker, New Hampshire. A child prodigy, she was denied study in Europe, and studied all textbooks as an autodidact. During her marriage to Dr Beach, she was allowed to play piano at charitable concerts. Remarkably, Her Gaelic Symphony was successfully premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, the first by a female composer. After her husband’s death she toured internationally, and was in Germany at the outbreak of the Great War (WWI) in 1914.

Her childhood memories were encapsulated in Summer Dreams opus 47 (1901), six brief vignettes, with epigrammatic titles – ‘2. Robin Redbreast’; ‘5. Elfin Tarantelle’. ‘4. ‘Katy-dids’ refers to bush crickets, which were given this name because the noise they made was thought to sound like “Katy-did, Katy-didn’t” repeated over and over. The music was homespun and undemanding, with the four hands in touching distance in mid-keyboard for much of its 14 minutes. 

The final work was Souvenirs, opus 48 by Samuel Barber (1910-81), a dance suite written in 1952 to play with a friend. He remarked ,‘One might imagine a divertissement in the Palm Court of the Hotel Plaza in 1914, the epoch of the first tangos, remembered with affection, not in irony, or with tongue in cheek, but in amused tenderness’. The friend was likely the American-Italian composer Giancarlo Menotti (1911-2007), Barber’s partner for over 40 years, renowned for operas and librettist for Barber’s opera Vanessa (1958). Playing was vibrant throughout: ‘3.Pas de Deux’- a lyrical interlude followed by ‘4 Two-Step – with scintillating extreme treble; ‘6. Tango- underpinned by Rachmaninov-like ringing chords, and capped by the rip-roaring helter-skelter of ‘7-Galop’.

Souvenirs was orchestrated for the (New York) Ballet Society, at the suggestion of Lincoln Kerstein, brought to life as a thoroughly engaging potpourri with ‘Mack Sennett bathing girls, thin mustached Lotharios and a bloodthirsty vampire’ – the last for the Galop-finale. In its original form the suite bought to an end an enterprising, enjoyable concert, and our first post-lockdown 2021-22 Season.

Reminder: Letchworth Music AGM will be held at Howgills at 7.45pm on Wednesday 11th May – Agenda and Report will be circulated. 

Mervyn Miller, Letchworth Music Committee