Monday, 18 December 2017

Compelling concert in unusual setting

THE West Wycombe Chamber Music Festival, in its fourth year under the artistic direction of Wycombe-born Lawrence Power, one of the world’s foremost viola players, has not only cut an amazing path through the small ensemble repertoire but has done so in the most unusual of places, at the summit of West Wycombe Hill.

The musical territory navigated over these two of the festival’s four concerts was eclectic and full of surprises.

It began with the haunting Phantasy String Quartet by Vaughan Williams, with a gorgeous opening viola solo played beautifully by Lawrence and some perfectly crafted transitions, exemplified by Paul Watkins’ electric entry to the fugue. It was paired with Ravel’s Piano Trio (1914), whose masterful first movement was brilliantly performed.

The Spanish-flavoured second movement stood out as a massive tour de force, while the third movement included a lovely violin/cello duet, reminiscent of Vaughan Williams. The piano playing throughout was demonic, particularly in the fourth movement, its ending nothing short of explosive.

Could it get any better than this? We were soon to find out in Chausson’s Concerto for Piano, Violin and String Quartet, Op 21, led by Lawrence, violin, and pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips. While César Franck’s influence was apparent and the thematic material somewhat limited, what Chausson achieved with its development and what the players did with the interpretation took it to an altogether higher plane, prompting rapturous applause from a captivated audience. Saturday’s closing concert was no less compelling. It opened with a little known Concerto for 4 Solo Violins in G Major by Telemann, with the two violists switching to fiddle to make up the quartet. Complex, dynamic and full of colour, this was music ahead of its time.

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