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Knighton and District Concert Society

Patron - Sir Robert Green-Price Bt.

President - Graham Trew MVO

Vice President - Lord Berkeley CBE


22nd  November 2015

Sam Rodwell and

Emma Smith

This young guitar duo, Emma Smith and Sam Rodwell, from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, delighted a large audience with an immaculately performed recital of mixed music.

They began with arrangements of two of Scarlatti’s single movement sonatas, originally written for the harpsichord.  These translated very well for two guitars and the ensemble playing of the crisp scales and ornaments let us know that we were in the presence of two skilled and sympathetic players.

The mixed programme introduced us to two modern pieces, Jongo by Paulo Bellinati, and Songs of the Forest by Nigel Westlake.  These introduced South American rhythms and jazz influences with percussive elements where the guitar was struck with the flat of the hand whilst playing.  The talented duo easily slipped between the classical style and the modern, even their body language highlighting the tenor of the pieces.

Two arrangements of dances from Manuel de Falla’s ballet The Three Cornered Hat, Dance of the Corregidor and Dance of the Miller, allowed the duo full rein with the exciting Spanish flamenco style of playing needed.

Emma, a native of Scotland, introduced us to a beautiful arrangement of The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond followed by an Irish slip jig, Spatter the Dew, both for solo guitar.  She finished the first half of the programme with Lough Caragh by Gary Ryan composed after a family trip to its shores near Killarney, County Kerry, which captured the atmosphere of this most tranquil of lakes.

After the interval Sam opened with two solo pieces by the composer and lute player John Dowland, Lachrimae Pavan and Fantasie No. 7.  All played from memory and after a slight lapse at the beginning of the Fantasie and a re-start he played it with wonderful dexterity and brought the house down.  These were played on what looked like a small guitar but was in fact a cross between a guitar and a ukulele which he had made by a professional guitar maker for his twenty-first birthday.  He called it a Guitalele and had a tone very similar to the lute.  He followed this with Niccolo Paganini’s Caprice 24, the well known piece written for solo violin as a study.  It comprised a theme and eleven variations and the technique needed to achieve this was awe-inspiring as Sam seemingly effortlessly gave us a masterclass of guitar playing.

Sam was then reunited with Emma for Toccata by Pierre Petit with many rapid runs and fine ensemble playing in this tricky piece.  The duo watched each other closely and the hours of practice and working together meant that they did not put a finger out of time or place. It was a joy to behold.

Sergio Assad’s Tres Cenas Brasileiras took us back to South America and its rhythms, each of the three Brasilian scenes giving us a different insight into the folk, jazz, Latin American genres.

The Duo finished their recital with Introduction and Fandango by Luigi Boccherini an arrangement of the final movement of his String Quintet Op. 40.  What a way to finish a most delightful and accomplished performance by two such personable young artistes.  The audience were reluctant to let them go and called for their return several times to receive their well-deserved accolade.

Peter Clements - Chairman

Concert Reviews 2015 - 2016 Season

Liang Shan

Piano Recital

24th January 2016

The third concert in our 2015-2016 season:

Liang was born in Songyuan, North-eastern China. Not coming from a musical family, but desperate to learn the piano, he persuaded his parents to let him have piano lessons. It soon became obvious that he had a talent that needed nurturing and his mother took him regularly on a ten hour journey to Beijing for lessons. Realising that he needed to come to Europe to further his studies he left China at the age of 18 and moved to Britain on his own and with limited knowledge of the English language, to study at the Birmingham Conservatoire and then the Royal College of music. He is currently back in Birmingham having just completed a performance diploma and embarking on a PhD.

Liang started his programme with the J.S.Bach French Suite No. 5 BWV 816, a set of seven dance movements – Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gavotte, Bouree, Loure and Gigue.  This was delightfully played with the complexity of the ornaments crisply achieved.  One just sat back and became immersed in the musicality of the performance.  As Liang said in the programme notes that he supplied, from Bach’s first biographer Philipp Spitta, “The hearer goes away with a sense of pleasant excitement”.  Liang then explained that we were moving from the Baroque Period to late Romanticism for the Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2, Op. 36 to contrast how piano music had developed. This sonata demonstrates in abundance those qualities of Rachmaninov’s art that make his music permanently appealing, valuable and great.  The sonata in three joined movements offers a rhapsodic outpouring, both lyrical and challenging, for listener and performer.  To quote a reviewer I have just read online, “While its impeccable musical logic may be demonstrated, its impact – in the hands of a great pianist – is compellingly visceral”.  How true.  One member of our audience, on her first visit to the Concert Society, said afterwards, “The Rachmaninov moved me to tears”.

After the interval Liang played another sonata, this time by Schubert, his Sonata in G, D894.  This again showed a completely different style of piano writing in sonata form.  Very gentle, mainly slow and peaceful, with melodies that were immediately obvious and often repeated.  The English pianist and Schubert specialist Imogen Cooper described this as “one of the rare completely serene sonatas that he wrote.  Of course, as ever with him, there are contrasting passages which become stormy and a little bit dark, but overall the mood is one of peace and luminosity”.  Liang’s virtuosity made every nuance clear and did justice to this long piece.

Liang’s final piece was an arrangement by the young Leonard Bernstein of Aaron Copland’s orchestral work “El Salon Mexico”. This was an amazing fiery, fiendishly difficult blend of competing rhythms, fast repeated notes and chords that tested the soloist to the limit.  It was brilliantly played and well deserved the ovation that it received at the end.

All in all Liang presented us with a programme that challenged and educated us superbly.  We all left in awe of his mastery of the instrument.  Many of our regular audience members have commented that they have never heard our piano sound better.  I think it is the quality and skill of the pianist that made the difference.

Peter Clements - Chairman

Astaria String Quartet

Sunday 28th February

What an afternoon! Our audience left St.Edward's Church Hall on Sunday afternoon buzzing in the afterglow of a superb concert by the Astaria String Quartet.  They last performed for our Society in October 2007 and it will certainly not be another nine years before they are invited back again.

The Quartet led by Shulah Oliver, with Kelly McCusker, violin 2, Kate Bickerdike, viola and Sean Gilde, cello played Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Schubert.

Mendelssohn's Quartet, Op. 13 No. 2 in A minor uses a motif from a song he wrote, "Isteswahr?" (Is it true?).  Shulah explained this in her excellent introduction, read the words, and then proceeded to sing the song accompanied by the three remaining members.  We were then able to hear how the motif kept recurring through the whole quartet.  What a superb way of including us in the process and drawing us closer in to the music making.  The Astaria Quartet were totally committed and their non-verbal communication was amazing, from the very first notes we knew we were in safe hands.  Every change of mood, every change of speed and dynamics, every plucked note, all were there and one could just sit back and wallow in the sheer musicality of the playing.

Dvorak's "Cypresses" is an arrangement of his song cycle of the same name, settings of twelve love poems.  Later in his career he revisited the cycle and decided to reform the songs as twelve short pieces for string quartet.  Of these we heard the first four, each introduced by Shulah with a reading of the original poem, which set the mood for each section. These were in effect, miniature tone poems capturing the essence of, but delightful even without knowing, the original song.  In fact the poems made love seem a very anguished and depressing place to be and certainly not to be involved in lightly!  Unlike the music.

After the interval we heard Schubert's String Quartet D. 804 "Rosamunde" in A minor.  Shulah introduced this work by setting the scene of Schubert's health and mental state at the time of its composition.  This included reading a desperate and bitter letter he wrote to his friend about how he would never fulfil all his hopes and ambitions and how depressed he was at the time. But out of despair emerged a thing of enduring beauty in this quartet.  The quartet is so named as the theme Schubert chose for the slow movement he had written in 1823 as part of the incidental music for the play "Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus" by Helmina von Chezy.  The quartet moves from a sad opening in A minor, through the gentle entr'acte music of the second movement, finally reaching a positive, hopeful and joyous conclusion in the fourth movement almost as if Schubert has come to terms with his lot and is ready to move on, taking us with him.

The Astaria Quartet were superb throughout the whole programme, were a delight to watch and an even greater delight to listen to as they carried us with them through a memorable concert.

Needless to say they were well rewarded by the audience's reaction and ovation at the end.

Peter Clements - Chairman





At the piano

Sunday 10th April

The final recital in our 2015/2016 season took place in St Edward’s Church Hall, given by cellist Rebecca McNaught accompanied by pianist Jacob Rainbow.

Rebecca began the recital with three movements, Prelude, Sarabande and Gigue from the first of the six suites that J S Bach wrote for the solo cello, this one in G major BWV 1007.  These suites are considered by many to be the most challenging in the solo repertoire and from the first notes Rebecca showed us her complete mastery of the instrument. What a treat to sit back and listen to all the emotions Bach wrote into these movements so beautifully conveyed back to us in the present, two hundred years later.  Visually as well as aurally, Rebecca lived the emotions she was playing from the almost etude-like Prelude, through the graceful Sarabande to the joyous runs and leaps of the gigue.  Wonderful; the audience was enchanted from the start.

Rebecca was then joined by her accompanist, Jacob Rainbow for the Chopin Sonata for Piano and Cello in G minor Op. 65.  This was not a cello sonata accompanied by the piano, rather it was a work for two formidable soloists; a challenging work for both soloists, admirably executed, both intense and thrilling.  The non-verbal communication between Rebecca and Jacob was superb.  It takes a special quality to be a good accompanist and Jacob had it in abundance.

This was my first encounter with this work and I must hear it again. I was particularly enchanted by the third movement, Largo, which was so beautiful and had I not been informed in Rebecca’s programme notes, I would not have thought it by Chopin.  All four movements gave prominence to the piano, as is to be expected from Chopin, so it was very important that the pianist was capable of the demands.  Jacob was more than that, he was brilliant and well deserved his shared ovation at the end.

After the interval Rebecca introduced a mixed selection of accompanied pieces which highlighted the instrument and the versatility of the performers.  She started with two slow, serious pieces; Élégie by Faure followed by Grave by Lutoslawski written in 1981.

The Faure Élégie was originally intended to be the slow movement of a cello sonata, which was never written. As suggested by the title it reflects the sadness of a death remembered, although there is a central section that suggests hope, before returning to a quiet reflective ending.  In Lutslowski’s words

“I wrote Grave for the cello and piano to honour the memory of Stefan Jarocinski.  As known, he devoted a great part of his activity to Debussy’s music, so I considered it appropriate to use the first four notes from Pelleas et Melisande at the beginning of my piece, the four notes becoming the point of departure for the melody in the cello part.  The composition takes the form of metamorphoses, in the course of which – as in my Funeral Music – the rhythmic values undergo a gradual breakup, which create the illusion of ever faster tempo.  Before the very end of the composition, the four notes from Pelleas return.”

Rebecca explained that the time signature of the piece changed in virtually every bar which called for absolute precision and confidence between both cello and piano players.  Faultless.  We, the audience, were also challenged by the modernity of the work but the overall impression was most enjoyable.  Congratulations to Rebecca and Jacob for introducing us to something new!

Then back to familiar territory with the Vivaldi Sonata in A minor RV 43 in typical four movement form - slow, fast, slow, fast.  The slow movements provided Rebecca ample opportunity to display her undoubted talent for communicating emotions, whilst the fast movements allowed her to impress us with her technical skills, all most sympathetically accompanied by Jacob.  Uplifting.

We were then treated to the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano Op.18.  This was another conversation between the two instruments and another chance for us to marvel at the way soloist and accompanist worked as one, aware of every nuance in each other’s playing.  This was a typical rich piece of Rachmaninoff romanticism, all very lush and compelling.

Finally a fiery Spanish piece, Requiebros by Cassado – a pupil of the legendary cellist Pablo Casals. This was the perfect way to end the recital and indeed, the season.  We saw the flamenco cellist at her most beguiling, flashing eyes, toss of the head, flirting with the audience and the accompanist.  Little wonder that the audience left both performers in no doubt as to how much they had enjoyed the whole afternoon.

Peter Clements - Chairman