Danger, Passion and Lyricism at the British Piano Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bridge, Howells, Holbrooke, Bowen: Students of Birmingham Conservatoire with Ronald Woodley (bass clarinet), Susanne Stanzeleit (violin), Daniel Roberts (violin), Dorothea Vogel (viola), Andrew Fuller (cello),  British Piano Festival 2015, Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham, 15.6.2015 (RB)

Frank Bridge:Three Sketches for piano; Elegy for cello and piano; Two Pieces for viola and piano
Joseph Holbrooke: Ballade for Bass Clarinet and Piano
Herbert Howells: Clarinet Sonata
York Bowen: Toccata for piano; Quintet for Bass Clarinet and Strings


The second concert in this Festival stayed faithful to its British origins but with the Bowen Quintet showing some flexibility in relation to the piano.

Jiali Wang presented with utter security and imagination a totally enjoyable set of three Bridge Sketches in which Rosemary was outstanding. The latter proves again to be an explosive piece rather than a slender drawing-room bloom – Rachmaninov rather than MacDowell. The cellist Thieres Brandini in the Bridge Elegy and Lydia Handy in Bridge’s Two Pieces each had their ‘dangerous corners’ and both tended to shine in the faster and more impassioned music. Violist Handy (of the distinguished Handy string playing family, I wonder) laid into the Allegro Appassionata as if it was a concerto movement.

After sterling work from pianist Boya Yang as accompanist we returned to Jiali Wang, this time with Ronald Woodley for the otherwise unheard – in recent years – Holbrooke Ballade. This turns out to be a melodious and almost Rachmaninovian piece, understated but very lyrical. We have heard music of this ingratiating type from Holbrooke in his op. 27 Clarinet Quintet. After this came a gripping and utterly masterly performance of the Howells’ Clarinet Sonata. Luke English (clarinet) and David Quigley (piano) put not a foot wrong. Not only did they each deliver technical security but they created a true performance. I stopped scribbling notes when I realised that my eyes were welling up. Howells’ psychological pilgrimage is through a green realm in which dark rural pools or nightmare contrasts with the happy rustle of leaves. There’s a golden future for these two musicians. Orchestra managements and concert promoters should be standing in line. For me these two musicians stand out for golden musical qualities as much as the saxophonist Jess Gillam whom I heard in the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto last year in Worthing.

Sebastian Suhardi Jiang played the powerful Bowen Toccata and was the only musician that evening who did so without music. This s a stormy and pretty much relentless piece – more Prokofiev than Moeran. Bowen again for the last work: the Quintet for bass clarinet. This is a lyrical piece without the nightmare aspects of the Howells. It’s fully English pastoral in mood, breathy and with echoes of both the Ravel String Quartet and of the writing for strings in Warlock’s The Curlew. It has an undramatic dreamy mien as if inspired by Alain Fournier’s novel Le Grand Meaulnes.

It was good to see and hear all of these musicians, but Mr Woodley who made a little presentation before the Holbrooke is someone who I will look out for again. It was nice also to see Susanne Stanzeleit who has done so much for British music as leader of the string quartet.

Rob Barnett

Leave a Comment