Concert Review

Sarah Newbold (flute), Katherine Thomas (harp) and three members of the Maggini Quartet
Hellens Manor, Much Marcle
9 July 2010

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Musical performances live or die by the bond of communication between players and audience. And here, on a glorious July evening at Hellens Manor in the Herefordshire countryside, the bond was secure and immediate. The artists, three members of the Maggini Quartet, Sarah Newbold (flute) and Katherine Thomas (harp), relished their music-making to a degree that drew the eaves-dropping audience right into the creative process.

The opening Flute Quartet in D K285 by the 22 year old Mozart was deceptively easy on the ear – mellifluous might be the word, setting the tone for the evening. The flautist, her first task beautifully done, left the platform leaving us with young Beethoven and the violin, viola and cello. And what a world was revealed by these three players. As the final pianissimo of Beethoven’s C minor String Trio faded into silence one wondered whether there ever needed to be music that could not be expressed by a violin, a viola and a cello. All the players impressed and delighted: they knew the music and each other, but familiarity never blunted their awareness and freshness. But then came the Debussy Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp – three instruments; but there is a fourth present – silence. Is there any work in all music in which silence plays a more vital role? The sounds drift and shift, merge and coalesce, emerging from and fading back into silence often as fleeting as the sounds themselves. This was a performance of the utmost finesse and sensibility, as delicate as the writing, every colour, motion and emotion judged to perfection.

After the interval came two Mozart novelties, the first being Derek Smith’s subtle reworking of the Concerto for Flute and Harp as a quintet, with string trio replacing the orchestra. This was a totally convincing and worthwhile labour of love – though there was nothing laboured about the outcome. It was the first British performance and is an excellent addition to the chamber music repertoire, and a strong encouragement to bring this particular combination of instruments onto recital platforms more often. Derek Smith is, of course, a significant composer in his own right, much more than an arranger of other composers’ works. His work is full of intelligence, humour and wit and he puts much of himself into his Magic Flute ‘Diversion’, the second of his pieces, a very personal selection that encapsulates essential elements from Mozart’s two-hour opera in a 12-minute confection for flute and string trio.

Everything, including the programme-building, the excellent programme notes, and not forgetting the free wine and strawberries and cream in the interval, conspired to leave us believing that, in spite of all the news bulletins’ evidence to the contrary, here at least all was well in the best of all possible worlds. Some of the music was domestic in origin and intent, all of it was intimate, so we were cunningly shifted between different levels of engagement and challenge, but never left floundering out of our depth – though sometimes one was left gasping with astonishment.

Peter Williams

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