Hellensmusic review


Great Barn, Hellens Manor, Much Marcle ***
Some say it's haunted, but the medieval manor house at Hellens in Much Marcle, tucked away in a landscape between the Malvern Hills and the river Wye, has for several years been the location for an inspiring springtime festival, Hellensmusic, with a strong educational outreach.
Now its visionary owner Adam Munthe is expanding his property's offer to a series of concerts throughout the year, beginning this season with "Music from the Soil", a recital from violinist Elisabeth Zeuthen Schneider and pianist William Howard bringing the stamp of nationalistic folk-music to their programme.
It was difficult follow the thread at times. Beethoven certainly brought a folky feel occasionally into his music (as in the "Peasants' Merrymaking", a Breughel-like interlude in his Pastoral Symphony), but surely one can receive his G major Violin Sonata no.8 as something purely abstract, devoid of any ethnomusicology.
It was given here with an empathetic interplay between the performers and much dynamic delicacy,such as characterised Grieg's Violin Sonata no.2, whose Norwegian roots are proudly declared at the expense of formal cohesion. We are given drone basses, Hardanger-fiddlish flourishes from the violin (with an impressive multiply-stopped cadenza), and rhapsodic outpourings from both violinist and the busy pianist, but perhaps this programme was the only context in which this less than satisfactory work from one of the world's most loveable of composers could be accepted.
There seemed to be little of Norway in Svendsen's glorious little Romance, silkily-toned from Schneider, but there was a much more unselfconscious awareness of roots in Smetana's "From my Homeland", warm-hearted and richly absorbing, secure in tone and delivery.
The only real genuine earthiness came with Bartok's Six Romanian Folk Dances, drawing from Schneider assiduous articulation and colour and an exhilarating flexibility from both performers.
But this captivating account suffered from a piano-favouring balance. In this tricky acoustic, the audience sitting in a crescent in the performers' faces, the piano-lid should have been on a half-stick at the very most.
Christopher Morley

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