ABERDEEN CHAMBER MUSIC CONCERTS
THE SANCTUARY, QUEEN’S CROSS CHURCH
Monday 5th July 2021
It was in February 2020 that the last live performance hosted by Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts in Queen’s Cross Church took place. The Engegård Quartet presented a programme of music by Mozart, Sibelius and Grieg. Covid prompted a shut-down of further live events for some 16 months. There has been a series of online concerts. These were successful, but audiences, and more particularly performers, have been longing for the day when live performances could begin again.
On Monday 5th July, long held hopes were finally realised when violinist Gina McCormack and pianist Nigel Clayton were able to perform in front of a live audience once again, albeit with face masks for the audience and careful attention to social distancing. Limits on audience numbers enforced by Covid regulations, particularly the requirements of social distancing, meant that there had to be two separate performances, each about an hour long on Monday, one at 3pm the other at 6pm.
As Gina and Nigel took the stage, Nigel, showing obvious delight, told the audience how pleased he was to be playing in front of real live people instead of just cameras and microphones.
Monday’s concert was our first live event rounding off an otherwise limited 2020 – 2021 season for Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts.
It turned out to be a resounding success for Monday’s performers and for both the 3pm and 6pm audiences who joyfully pronounced the event an absolute delight.
Gina McCormack and Nigel Clayton had chosen the ideal programme for their return to live performance. The three works, though in their own ways different, were rich and immediately attractive in melodic content, delicious in harmonic complexity, often with surprising shades of colour. Above all, these were examples of compositional writing that demonstrated a perfect marriage between violin and piano. Added to that was the marvellous intimacy and close mutual understanding exhibited throughout all three performances by Gina and Nigel. Of course, they have been playing together since their student days.
From Gina we got delectable silkiness of violin tone, real Hollywood stuff in fact, and along with that, her obvious passion in performance. From Nigel we got dazzling pianistic excitement with well judged variety of touch from extreme gentleness to fiery piano pyrotechnics – torrents of notes at high speed or else gorgeous flowing arpeggiated passages. In simpler language they were both absolutely great, always in perfect conjunction in three works which demanded exactly that.
The concert opened with Mendelssohn’s three movement Sonata in F for violin and piano. The Sonata was never published in the composer’s lifetime and it was not until 1953 when Yehudi Menuhin published his final and so far only edition. He popularised the work which became a favorite with both performers and audiences.
The march-like opening of the first movement, Allegro vivace, was stirring. Powerful piano playing from Nigel and a rich soaring violin from Gina really got us going. The central Adagio was seductively beautiful with lovely intertwining interchanges between the instrumental voices of the two performers. In the finale, Assai vivace, Nigel’s fingers often seemed to be dancing crazily over the keys while Gina responded with enthusiastic sweeps of her bow.
Fauré’s four movement Sonata no. 1 in A Op. 13 demanded every bit as much virtuosity from the performers and today they gave it just that. The rippling piano part in the opening movement was so richly coloured and Gina responded with her smoothest and most expressive playing. The slow movement was a dream of pure delight while the Scherzo was full of dazzling excitement set against a seductive trio section. The finale was a real display of musical colour and bravado from both players.
I have left the work that was played between the two Sonatas till last because I found it particularly alluring. It was the kind of music that left me feeling “Oh my God, I wish I could have written that!” Well, I didn’t. It was the Romance for violin and piano by the American pianist and composer Amy Beach. The 3pm performance by Nigel and Gina was tremendous, but for me, the second at the 6pm concert was even better. In that performance Gina achieved a level of passion in the middle of the work that it would be difficult to surpass. Amy Beach’s writing was not only spellbinding, listening to the details of the piano part, it was also very clever indeed. In Wikipedia are written the words, “She was one of the first American composers to succeed without the benefit of European training”. No, in this piece she needed not one bit of that as far as I am concerned.
At the end of the 6pm performance, Nigel and Gina were ‘on a roll’ as it were. To celebrate that, they gave us a short encore, the Nocturne by Lili Boulanger. Another attractive piece with lovely muted violin and the gentlest of piano chords to finish.