Zoe Beyers at Church Stretton review


St Laurence's Church, Church Stretton *****

Janáček is a composer best heard with unsullied ears, especially if you're not familiar with his edgy individuality. Church Stretton Arts Festival audiences, though, are friendly, welcoming souls so paid rapt attention to the bristling energy and folk-song asides of his Violin Sonata, which Zoë Beyers chose to open her recital with pianist Philip Moore.
And when the work's hard-won romanticism emerged fully in Beyers' impeccably bowed second movement and, to an even greater extent in the heart-rending sadness of the final Adagio, with its abrupt ending (so typical of Janáček when he has no more to say), even the most dubious listener couldn't fail to be won over.
Moore's robust pianism, which from my second-row seat had occasionally sounded a little overcooked, was a perfectly judged match for Beyers in Debussy's Sonata in G minor, the 'léger' contrasts of the Intermède scintillating in their delicacy, and a Finale rich with sultry tenderness.
Prokofiev's Cinq Mélodies Op. 35 provided the nearest to light relief. But even in these slight, though richly patterned, examples of Prokofiev in melody-and-accompaniment mode (they are, after all, arrangements of songs) Beyers employed her technique as servant of the music, rather than fodder for solo display.
They made perfect ear-cleansers for the duo's glorious account of the Elgar Sonata in E minor, on every level the evening's tour-de-force. From the vibrant energy of its opening Allegro (the closing section sounded quite stunning in expressive power and technical poise), and the Romance's long-drawn phrases which framed a passionate intensity at its core, to the concluding Allegro, where sunny uplands were embraced with golden-toned warmth and a sense of finality that recalled the Second Symphony's 'spirit of delight' written just a few years earlier, I found it difficult to imagine a more persuasive performance. I certainly can't recall hearing one.
David Hart

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