To Lewes by car to attend first concert of new season at the Nicholas Yonge Society. This chamber music society is now in its 56th season and deserves to be more widely known by all music lovers in the area. For an annual subscription of £60 you get five concerts by some of the foremost names in chamber music, as a glance at the past artists section of their website will show.
However no music sounds at its best if the listener has an empty stomach, so Mrs. M.A.E and I repaired to the Symposium wine bar (****) near Lewes Station, a regular haunt of ours when in Lewes. I can recommend the meat and cheese platter with cured ham, pork loin and chorizo and a selection of four different cheeses. We also had bowl of hummus which comes with a basket of nicely chewy artisan bread, together with small dishes of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. One of the pleasures of Symposium is that it is also a wine shop and those eating in can choose any of the bottles on offer for a small corkage fee. As I was driving I was restricted to wine by the glass, but there is always an interesting selection of these on the chalkboard.
The Nicholas Yonge concerts take place in the slightly bleak hall of Sussex Downs College though the acoustics are good. The programme (£1) is excellent value as it contains some of the best programme notes to be found anywhere. They are written by NYS Chairman Chris Darwin. As an illustration of the standard of the artists that perform there we were honoured by the presence of Israeli Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch, comprising Hagai Shaham (violin), Arnon Erez (piano), and Raphael Wallfisch (‘cello). All three are internationally renowned solo performers. They got together in 2009 to form a Trio of great authority and exhilarating technique. Because of their undisputed abilities as soloists it Is, quite rightly, impossible to discern who is leading at any one time. Quite clearly this is a partnership of equals.
They began with Ernest Bloch’s Three Nocturnes of 1924. In the wrong hand these pieces can seem very muddled and lacking in melodic character. Here each was a miniature masterpiece. The Andante is very impressionistic. The Andante quieto, though written in America, has elements of the café music Bloch must have heard while growing up in Geneva. The final Tempestoso lived up to its name having real drive and sounding like something modern the Kronos Quartet might play.
The first half ended with Beethoven’s Piano Trio in G, Opus 1 No 2.of 1793/5, soon after the young genius moved to Vienna from Bonn. Though it is an early work it has many of the hallmarks that made Beethoven such a revolutionary composer. It is in four movements rather than the usual three and they are all on a larger scale. The ‘cello, due to improvements in piano technology, no longer has to enrich the bass line and can take a leading role. The piece is so full of ideas that its composer commented “I wondered at my folly in collecting into a single work materials enough for twenty”. The piece suited the wonderful Trio S.E.W to perfection. Highlights included their precise but sensitive phrasing in the almost Mozartian second movement, and the enjoyment they showed in the almost jokey start to the third, soon to be followed by rich galumphing ‘cello note. The witty Presto finale reminded me of music to accompany the finish of a horse race on the silent screen.
“Follow that” one might remark, and follow it they did with Dvorak’s fiendishly difficult Piano Trio No. 3 of 1883. We were in safe hands in this very varied piece which is by turns handsome, noble, robust, romantic and tuneful, and it moves on to a strident dance theme based on a Czech Furiant. Towards the end earlier themes are recalled before a furious dash to the finish. An ovation followed.
Of course an encore was expected and this great trio of musicians sent us home happy with the Presto from Haydn’s C Major Trio. Can there be better value in the world of classical music than this?