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Revolutionary Violin - disciples and friends of Viotti

Baillot Chant des Litanies
Viotti Ranz des Vaches, Fugue
Mendelssohn Sonata Op 4, Fugue (1827)
Rode Air Varié
Catalani/Rode Air Varié
Sappho Overture; Quartet Op 48 No 1
Cherubini Souvenir de Baillot

Aaron Shorr, Peter Sheppard Skærved
Kreutzer Quartet, April Fredrick and students.

Royal Academy of Music, London, 22 June 2009

An absorbing exploration of unfamiliar territory, this was the culmination of a year-long project associated with the addition of Viotti's Stradivari to the Royal Academy's Collection, with an exhibition there currently on show.

Esoteric stuff for a non-specialist, but Peter Sheppard Skærved was our enthusing guide in taking us through the links between the items performed and telling the story, with April Frederick readng topical extracts from correspondence of the time, and impressing as vocalist in Catalani's virtuosic Variations on Rode's Air Varié...

We heard from Peter Sheppard & Aaron Shorr how violin solos with piano accompaniment emerged from the earlier piano solos accompanied by violin (a pity though that it is not possible to use in concert suitable period pianos from the Academy's precious collection, which have to be maintained in strictly monitored conditions). Of the little known composers represented, a strong case was made for Reicha in a string quartet played by the Kreutzer String Quartet.

There had been a previous concert in the project June 2008 at Wilton's Music Hall, where the Kreutzers hold a residency - q.v. The Kreutzers at Wilton's:

The Revolutionary Violin, an evening of delights which Peter Sheppard Skærved devised around the Paris musical scene of the time, even had a piece by the not-inconsiderable composer Marie Antoinette.

The more solid fare was a brace of quartets by Reicha and the miracle-teenager Arriaga, who died at nineteen. Both rewarded closest attention, and exemplified the spirit of the time in the equal interplay of the four musicians - Peter SS evoked the influences of Viotti on his disciples, and that of J.J. Rouseau to be found in the pastoral movements which he was surprised to discover figuring in each work in the programme.

This delightfully balanced concert will be remembered for a first sighting of Stephanie Beck, a charismatic young RAM graduate harpist of exceptional musicianship who shared the platform with a gentler than oft-times Peter SS, sitting placidly beside her to accompany rare duo pieces (and even turn her pages). Afterwards, in Spohr's violin/harp sonata, they demonstrated the emergent democracy in music, noted above. The harp repertoire of the time actually anticipated that equality in piano/violin duos which were still, until a little later, dominated by the piano accompanied on the violin, as in Beethoven's earlier sonatas...

Hopefully some of this music, most of it new to the majority of listeners, will find its way onto disc, and including PSS's fascinating wide ranging socio-/musicological commentaries with which he regaled us; links within links, too much to take in easily.
The music itself all sounded quite magical in the Wilton's acoustic, with the faint sound of an occasional passing train not disturbing at all. The happy informality of these concerts was enhanced by the players joining us in the auditorium to listen whilst their colleagues played. - -

Peter Grahame Woolf