The season at Hatchlands Park opened after months of enforced silence with an recital from Milena Simovic on her Testore viola from 1740 and Vitaly Pisarenko on a 1864 Steinway Grand Piano ,New York.
The piano was from the extraordinary Cobbe collection of instruments housed in the splendid surrounds of Hatchland Park in Surrey.In the same room there was even Liszt’s upright piano and an Erard grand too . Elgars piano and the Broadwood that Chopin had used on his last tour in England was in the room next door.
I have been to many concerts in their beautiful music room but always solo keyboard recitals on the various historic intruments from this remarkable collection.Infact Vitaly Pisarenko had given a few years ago a solo recital on the same Steinway that he played today.
This however was the first time that I have been able to listen to a duo recital in these beautiful surroundings and it was quite a revelation.
“It could not be better than that ” was just one of the many similar comments from the small audience allowed to attend on this occasion.Due to the distancing regulations instead of the usual 80 people in these drawing room midday concerts there were allowed only 20.However the genial Alec Cobbe and his faithful collaborators are recording the concerts and they will be available for future listening to a much larger audience on their website.
Alec Cobbe with Milena Simovic
Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata opened this short programme and it is the only substantial composition for the arpeggione (which was essentially a bowed guitar) which remains extant today. It was probably commissioned by Schubert’s friend Vincenz Schuster, who was a virtuoso of the arpeggione, an instrument which had been invented only the previous year. By the time the sonata was published posthumously in 1871 the enthusiasm for the novelty of the arpeggione had long since vanished, together with the instrument itself.Today, the piece is heard almost exclusively in transcriptions for cello / viola and piano.
It was the sheer passion of Milena’s viola that took me by surprise today as the cello of Jaqueline Du Pré had years ago.Sir John Barbirolli famously said “If you don’t play with passion in your youth what do you pare off in old age”.Sadly with Jaqueline Du Pré we were never to know.
One is so used to Schubert’s intrumental works being played with a lyrical restraint that it is refreshing to hear the burning intensity behind the seemingly simple notes.Imperceptable breaths and slight inflections just like the greatest of lieder singers brought the music to life so vividly and with such personality.Here was a beautiful young lady with something to say and with the technical means and control to convey it and involve all those around her.After the opening Allegro moderato there was the stillness of the Adagio where the melodic line soared into the heights to dissolve so magically into the opening of the final Allegretto.This was played with a true lyrical abandon and the throbbing heartbeat from Vitaly’s left hand together with the restrained beauty of the melodic line in the opening Allegro moderato were things to cherish.It was though Milena’s viola that captivated us with all the heartfelt abandon that is rarely apparent to lesser souls in the multi faceted canvas that Schubert in his short life was to bequeath.The magical music box in Vitaly’s sensitive hands with the gently modulated pizzicato from Milena was indeed one of those sublime,seemless moments that Schubert keeps up his sleeve and that can take one’s breath away.
Brahms Sonata in F minor op 120 n.1 was the second work on the programme.As with the Schubert it was left to Vitaly’s poetic artistry to open the Allegro appasionato with a disarming simplicity before being united with Milena in sumptuous sounds and rhythmic urgency. Filling this hallowed hall before the touching lyricism of the sostenuto ed espressivo and the magical ending to this movement.A true dialogue between the two players with some magical colours from this historic instrument of 1864 even though it lacks the luminosity and projection of the later Steinway pianos.The Andante was beautifully shaped and the glorious pastoral lyricism of the Allegretto grazioso gave a magical respite from the burning intensity of the outer movements.Some truly atmospheric playing from the piano in the trio section created a magical contrast to the almost orchestral lyricism of the outer sections.The vivace final movement burst in with extreme urgency and the trascendental technical command from both players created an energy that was quite exhilarating as it brought this masterpiece to an exciting conclusion.
It was again Vitaly with the deep brooding opening notes of Enescu’s Concertstuck that created the atmosphere of this extraordinary hommage to his Romanian homeland.It was commissioned in 1906 by Gabriel Fauré for the internal competition of the Paris Conservatoire, of which George Enescu was a jury member between the years 1904-1910.A very early work designed to show off the technical and interpretative skill of the players.Alternating fantastic colours and technical brilliance for both players with all the fantasy of the Romanian folk world.It brought this midday concert to a truly exhilarating end and bodes well for the series that once again will fill Hatchlands with live music making . “On wings of song” indeed!