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New music venture at Conway Hall

A new venture by Simon Callaghan (director of Conway Hall Sunday Concerts), in association with Trinity Laban & Sound Collective, got off to a good start on Tuesday.

Some thirty people attended a lively discussion session led by Tom Hammond, who explained fundamentals of nomenclature including key and pitch.

With bottles and the versatile Matt Sharp's cello we were shown the basics of sound production.

Multi-tasker pianist Heather Tomala demonstrated her perfect pitch, and in the discussion I contributed experience of my small son Simon Woolf's acquiring his perfect pitch only to find himself embarrassed when a choir rehearsing Tallis for a broadcast decided to raise the pitch to help the basses, and he had to drop out !

Zoe Freedman soprano, with Heather and Matt, bookended the evening beautifully with Purcell's Dido's Lament.

This series offers something new and those who came to the first session seemed likely to return for the rest of the course.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Do click on each of the links for some surprises!


Opening of Conway Hall Sunday Concerts Season 2011-2012

Simon Callaghan & The Barbirolli Quartet

South Place, Holborn 6.30 pm 2 October 2011

Sunday concerts have been held at South Place since 1878; their fully illustrated history is available in Frank Hawkins' book. We have attended them there for more than 50 years...

Since 2008 they have continued under their new Artistic Director, Simon Callaghan, who joined the Barbirolli Quartet to open the 2011-2002 Season. We have followed this leading British string quartet since their early days.

The Haydn Op 33/1 was exceptionally fine in this venerable venue, whose acoustics are as good as any in the Capital and better than most.

Bliss's 2nd quartet was new to us and exciting to hear, if perhaps a little overlong in the working out of some of its movements.

The Brahms piano quintet has been for me a key work ever since the days of the Busch Quartet, which I heard live. Their recording of it with Rudolf Serkin (1938) has been a "standard" reference since those early days and is only rarely surpassed - sample it on YouTube.

Callaghan had the measure of the difficult balancing in this, Brahms' final version of a work which began as a string quintet and reached its final form with some difficulty. Theirs was the most satisfying of many live performances I have heard, some of them reviewed on MP.

An ideal start to the season (which has a rival similar attraction at Kings Place); the only problem was overheard from a man in his sixties - "it's an old people's club - - -". Serious efforts should be made to attract younger people for this early evening fixture - the early starting time would allow them to go on to entertainments more to their liking, if only they could be persuaded to give "chamber music" a try...

The quality of this series has been maintained under present management, and is good for another hundred years.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Russian Chamber Music

Shostakovich: 7 Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok Op 127
Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A minor Op 50

Simon Callaghan & Linden Trio
South Place, Holborn 6.30 pm 9 October 2011

The artistic director of this series is finding himself unexpectedly busy at the keyboard, and for this concert Simon Callaghan learnt quckly two works which he'd heard but never played!

The late Shostakovich song cycle, not too well known, is introspective and sombre, with "menacing portents of Gamayun, the Prophet Bird and the terrors of The Storm" [Geoffrey Norris in a ***** recommendation of a Hyperion recording with Susan Gritton]. the first of them given too loudly by dramatic soprano Anna Dennis*, who soon settled down. Of particular interest is the division of accompaniments of the songs amongst the three players, who only come together at the end of the cycle.

I am always apprehensive of Tchaikovsky's hyper-emotional trio, long an unfavourite of mine because of its length, unsubtlety and repetitiousness, last encountered at Kings Place a year ago, given by the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio : - - Wu Quian deserves credit for coping with so demanding and strenuous a programme, but she often sounded heavy-handed and heavy-footed and I found myself continually focusing on the tasteful expertise of the string players - -.

Tonight I enjoyed that gargantuan trio more than ever before. Thomas Gould and Oliver Coates (who recently impressed in duo at the Kings Place Festival) maintained superb tone and ensemble and Simon Callaghan was as comfortable and confident with it as for Brahms last week.

PeterGrahame Woolf

*soprano Anna Dennis - - Often too shrill, often too loud, and often too emotionally cold - - [Music Web]

Brahms Op 101 Schubert No 1 & Shostakovich Op 67 Trios

London Mozart Piano Trio 13 November 2011

Sound performances of three now "standard works" in the repertoire added up to quite a heavy evening, but one well appreciated by the 60 or so regular chamber music enthusiasts who support this series.

Mark Stone suggested that folk music in Shostakovich's finale are related to his active objection to Soviet anti-semitism. The eerie high cello harmonics which begin his trio, so bizarre when it was new, still remain hazardous!