A Necessary Winter Warmer for the Ilkley Concert Club
There are some pleasingly malicious stories of critics filing reviews of concerts that it later turns out they didn’t attend. I have no wish to join that dishonourable company, so let me state at the outset (as Poo Bah plaintively said when accused by the Mikado of mistakenly beheading the Heir Apparent) ‘I wasn’t there.’ And neither were very many others, in fact only one third of the expected full-house audience made it to the Hall. Severe snow in the wider locality prevented the rest, including me from attending. However colleagues of mine who are astute musicians were able to get there and so with the help of my ‘spies’ I can give some account of the event.
Fortunately the seven artists, coming up from London managed to arrive safely at the venue (in one case after a journey of nine hours). One after-effect of their draining journey was doubtless the rather subdued reading of the Françaix Quintet, but as the evening progressed their playing brightened noticeably. Hugh Watkins is a Welsh composer whose music, although clearly of our time is very approachable. Sally Pryce gave the first performance of his idiomatic Suite for Harp in 2006 and has since made it very much her own as her virtuosic performance demonstrated.
Falla’s Suite Populaire was played by Nicholas Bootiman (viola) with full Iberian ardour, ably supported by the harp, which often captured its Flamenco spirit better than the original piano part. In Debussy’s elusive Trio the viola and harp were joined by Nick Cartledge (flute). This is tricky music to bring off, seemingly episodic and evanescent in character; fragile and delicate in texture. Its composer remarked ‘I don’t know whether it should move us to laughter, or to tears, or both’. This performance brought out that ambiguity so well.
The Roussel Serenade has a more bracing French accent. The well-balanced playing projected its astringent harmonies and quirky rhythms with a delightful sense of fun. The Weber Introduction, Theme and Variations is a virtuoso piece for clarinet with string quartet. Sarah Williamson’s fearless performance showed her brilliant clarinet technique in the progressively accelerating music, but also demonstrated wonderful delicacy and tone in the pianissimos and the adagio variation.
The cunningly devised programme having just given us a rest from harp tone, ended with Ravel’s Introduction & Allegro. This is really a one-movement harp concerto in which the composer exploits all the tonal possibilities of the instrument, a real work-out for the soloist, and for the supporting players too. The performance brought a colourful evening to a triumphant conclusion. The weather-depleted audience left the King’s Hall feeling well pleased with their evening’s entertainment and grateful to the players for their heroic journey.