Gwyn Williams memorial concert review


Royal Birmingham Conservatoire *****
Commemoration events so often turn out to be joyous gatherings, and this was certainly the case with this Celebration for Gwyn concert in aid of the Gwyn Williams Bursary.
Gwyn was a popular viola principal with the CBSO, and the bursary set up in his memory gives financial assistance to string students at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Louise Lansdown, Head of Strings at RBC, movingly told us how the bursary has already helped young South African students twinned with the Conservatoire, and there was certainly a generous "giving" atmosphere throughout this wonderful evening.
The programme brought young RBC musicians together with some of the finest professionals around, the latter drawn from the impressive roster of performers Gwyn's widow Stephannie has assembled over many years of organising Music Festivals at Sea for P&O Cruises.
Among those personalities is the radio announcer Nick Bailey, who was the most welcoming and charming compere for this concert in which talent from both professionals and those soon so to become came tumbling.
CBSO viola principal Christopher Yates and pianist John Wilson (he was to work hard throughout the evening) opened with a loving account of Schubert's gorgeous Arpeggione Sonata, joined next by the warm tones, floatingly phrased, of mezzo-soprano Yvonne Howard for Brahms' Two Songs for mezzo, viola and piano.
Yates and Wilson left the stage after giving a poignant account of Wilson's lovely Rosie's Song, the last piece Gwyn ever performed in public, leaving it for two RBC students, violist Yuxin Chen and pianist Yang Bai, giving a robust Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.
Quartet-in-Association with the RBC, the Behn Quartet gave a gritty, deeply engaged reading of Smetana's String Quartet no.1. Perhaps we in the audience felt a link between the composer's realisation of his own oncoming affliction and Gwyn's own experience. The Behn is a tremendous ensemble, one to listen out for, and it would be good to hear them in Janacek.
The Behns were joined by Yvonne Howard (what an unfussy display of vocal technique) and flautist Peter O'Connor for Bellini's "Casta Diva", before O'Connor and Wilson brought the house down in a scintillating Carnival of Venice by Briccialdi. Amidst all the Morecambe and Wise slapstick there was a flute virtuosity I could never have dreamed of. This was a brilliant way to end a heartwarming evening.
Christopher Morley

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