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25th May, 2022

Folk tunes capture the imagination in stirring concert

THE CHAMBER  music of Beethoven featured heavily around a much anticipated performance of a Robert Simpson rarity in a concert which turned out to be about neither.

All three musicians are world-renowned in their own right and together represent something of an all-star trio. Beethoven’s two contributions – first a cello sonata and, finishing the programme the Gassenhauer Trio, provided ample opportunity for such virtuosi to display their brilliance while also underlining how well they play together, a combination that takes obvious skill and abundant compassion.

Sandwiched between was the rarely-heard Trio by Leamington-born Robert Simpson. Demanding a very high level of concentration this single-movement work manages to present the trio as three people having a conversation, then an argument before – through stuttering phrases interspersed by silence – as three individuals utterly lost to one another. Like all Simpson’s works presented in recent concerts it intrigues and challenges to the extent where you have to hope that being played by such vaunted musicians must boost his music higher up the programme list.

But if this thoroughly compelling concert was about anything it was about folk music; what it means to the people who play it and the people who are stirred by hearing it.

Emma Johnson’s recital of Vaughan Williams’ six folk song studies was delightful. It’s hard to imagine anything more English. Each tune has been gathered and lovingly polished without too much embellishment as if to ensure there could not be a more direct link to the cheerfully bucolic national identity the composer sought.

Folk songs and tunes have long had a profound effect on composers keen to establish some sort of grounded authenticity. They serve to indicate the music is both from somewhere and about somewhere. The represent history and solidarity.

And so it was perhaps the highlight of this fine evening that the trio chose to adjust the programme to include a selection of music from Ukraine and that folk songs of that nation should feature.

We were offered three stirring cello sketches by Gliere played with such tenderness by Raphael Wallfisch, a haunting piano piece by the now-exiled Valentin Sylvestrov chosen and delivered movingly by John Lenehan and Emma Johnson’s own transcriptions of two Ukrainian songs she has been listening to of late. All were played with evident emotion and all will linger long in the memory of those who were lucky enough to hear them.

There’s plenty more music to enjoy in the coming months with full details at leamingtonmusic.org

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