Day Two on Straddie dawned bright and extremely fair. And with a whole lot of music in prospect.
At 8am, breakfast was served at the concert hall … I broke my fast on a spinach and feta (obligatory combo these days) muffin, a cheese and bacon muffin, and a nice cup of tea and a chat before we all filed into the SRO hall. The back wall of the hall is glass, so you look out past the performers on to the sunshiney sea … when there’s no breeze the glass doors can even be opened, alas, not today …
The concert was Spanish themed and we started with a mixture of Spanish poetry, familiar guitar solos by Tarregas and Albéniz (Schaupp), and six of de Falla’s characteristic Spanish songs (Suite populár Española) transcribed for piano and cello (King, Hankinson). The audience, which was already tapping its feet to the guitar dissolved into hilarity as the two artists put on a veritable high-comic double act, before launching into their music, accompanied by an obbligato from a tree full of crows.
Then came the serious stuff. The heart of the concert. Francis Poulenc’s only extant Violin Sonata. Not Spanish, Monsieur Poulenc, but the connection here with Spain is that the composer dedicated the work, goodness knows why, to the bones of the writer Garcia Lorca.
Apparently, so the programme note tells us, Poulenc disliked writing for solo string: ‘the violin prima donna over piano arpeggio ..’. Well, he certainly didn’t write like that. The violin in his sonata is a prima donna only to the piano’s primo tenore and the tenore frequently takes the front stage in a genuine partnership which, I have to agree with the musician, is vastly more satisfying than the old-fashioned way.
The work encompasses a mountain of moods, beautiful melody, excitement and, if it does not showcase the players’ technique in such an obvious way as the Szymanowksi, it has all those other human qualities that the earlier piece lacks. This is a very wonderful piece of music, it was beautifully played (Smith, Hankinson), and I shall be vastly surprised if it does not walk off with the Kurt Award for the Best Item of the Straddie Festival 2017.
But it will be no walkover. If there were an Audience Prize I have a suspicion that this morning it might have gone to the cleverly-placed last item on the programme: good old Boccherini’s quintet number 4 in D major (Rowell, Smith, Henbest, King, Schaupp). After a delightful pastorale and allegro maestoso, and a touch of assai grave, Signor B launches his players into a vigorous and lively Fandango. Ball, game, set and match. You can’t do better for a finale than can-can or a fandango. And this is a super one. It brought our audience to its combined feet, cheering and bubbling with felicity. I’ve never seen so many beaming countenances heading for the ‘Way Out’.
So, back to the digs for a wee bite and breather and then … a lavish afternoon of Teutonic tones: Schubert, Schumann, Brahms …
Well, concert number three rendered nothing to the first two in glory and enjoyment. We started off with the Schubert Fantasy in F minor for piano duo (Emmerson, Hankinson), moved on to the Schumann Märchenbilder for viola and piano (Henbest, Hankinson), and finished up with Brahms’ Clarinet Trio in A Minor (Stafford, de Wit, Emmerson). All mature works, as Eric de Wit reminded us in his introduction. He also twinklingly commented on the fact that this was ‘a concert without a violin!’. Mrs de Wit is violinist and festival supremo Rachel Smith.
What can you say about three such masterpieces? Not a lot! Just that they are masterpieces and that each of them was wholly given their due. I think the audience’s favourite this time was the piano duo, which rises so effectively from its delicate and familiar little theme to great storms of passion. Mr Piano was given a through workout in all his registers. His voyage across the bay for his annual working holiday on the Island has been a ‘none shall sleep’ one.
The viola suite is full of Schumannic charm. I don’t think the ‘stories’ are meant to represent any specific fairytales which we know today, but they have a personality, each one, of its own, and – well, admission time, I have a particular affection for the viola, especially when played as it was here by Caroline Henbest. The last ‘melancolische’ one was my favourite.
When we had the clarinet teamed with the viola on Day 2, I amused myself concocting other tasty combinations. Cello and … bassoon? Double bass and euphonium? But here we had the clarinet again, this time in tandem with that creamy baritone cello. Well, you just sat back and luxuriated … right to the end of another wholly successful concert.
For the stayers amongst us, the evening brought a performance by the Joseph Tawadros Quartet. Mr T is an outstanding performer on the oud. No, not the Oxford University Dictionary. It is an Arab instrument which … well, I’ll find out today at the last concerts at Dunwich. For, for me, it was panned barramundi and chips and a bottle of Oyster Bay at Cisco’s delightful new little café, near the hall, and – while Mr Piano had his legs removed, prior to the next leg of his tour, from Lookout Point to the second date’s hall at Dunwich, I folded myself into my comfy white bed and slept very, very soundly…