HELLENSMUSIC Much Marcle May 16 and 17 by Christopher Morley
Written in a 1000-year-old haunted house...
From its founding in 2013, the vibrant Hellensmusic festival has established a homely, charming but purposeful character all its own. Though centring on the medieval manor house set in idyllic surroundings, there are no country-house pretensions pandering to the hoorays. Instead there is a well-structured determination to involve local schoolchildren, students from many of the UK's great Conservatoires, and seasoned professionals from some of Europe's finest orchestras in a week of high-powered music-making.
Each year the festival adds an element, this time including an additional concert in the adjacent, equally historic St Bartholomew's Church, and featuring the bandoneon, an exotic instrument probably never heard in the venue before. A cross between the accordion and the concertina, it has a remarkable ability to subsitute for an organ in religious and baroque works, and Omar Massa, enthralled us in music by Frescobaldi and Bach.
He drew tones ranging from the wheedling and caressing to the austere (as in a Bach Little Organ fugue, magisterially delivered), and supplied continuo to Hellens stalwarts Markus Daunert, so expressively virtuosic in a Corelli violin sonata, and cellist Bruno Delepelaire bringing varied colouring and attack to a Vivaldi sonata.
But it is for the Argentinian tango that the bandoneon is most renowned, and in a sequence of works by the great Astor Piazzolla the trio, joined for one number by festival co-director and violist Mate Szucs, metaphorically raised the roof in Massa's brilliant arrangements which brought verve, louche sadness, wit and spectacle to these wonderful creations. Adios Nonino was particularly memorable with its mix of flaring masculinity and deep, painful melancholy.
Mate's colleague co-director, Christian Blackshaw, gave his annual piano recital in the church next evening, with a revealing journey through three sonatas composed within a span of 40 years.
There is no fuss in Blackshaw's performances. He just sits at the piano (a bravely unflappable Steinway here) and quietly gets on with the business of applying his probing musical intelligence and consummate technique to the matter in hand, and with no prolonged gaps between movements.
To Mozart's profound F major Sonata K533/494 he brought a crispness of attack which inevitably evoked the contemporaneous fortepiano, and an ability to sustain the music's purposeful contrapuntal lines. And then, in the huge culture-shock which is Beethoven's E major Sonata Op. 109, he emphasised the music's improvisatory quality, melding its many ideas into a complex unity, and concluding with a set of variations which seemed stellar in his outreaching.
Blackshaw brought us back to earth with Schubert's late C minor Sonata, controlling its drama atmospherically within the now twilit church, and allowing its cascade of notes to tumble without any display of extroversion. But not even Blackshaw could dispel the suspicion that Schubert had an arrangement with his publishers to be paid by the quaver.