Perhaps a title does help make a chamber music concert sound more intriguing than do opus numbers and Richard Saxel’s label for the Concert Series event on October 8th was aptly evocative. To drive from London to Grappenhall (near Warrington) the route is not normally via Cranleigh, but the Concert Series audience were privileged to be the meat in the sandwich of three concerts by Richard and two world-renowned musicians: Roger Montgomery (whose recent cd of the Mozart horn concertos is one of the finest ever made); and Susanne Stanzeleit, a violinist known for tackling rarer and challenging repertoire with consummate artistry.
Roger Montgomery introduced the Beethoven horn sonata in exactly the right tone for an audience that included Cranleigh’s music scholars: not dumbing down but not overdoing the detail, and briefly illustrating some of the sounds the dedicatee Punto would have made on the pre-valve horn. He played from memory and benefited from a pianist who has a deep affinity with all Beethoven’s keyboard writing. For once this sounded like major Beethoven rather than a novelty item.
Susanne Stanzeleit introduced the Poulenc violin sonata with an eloquent tribute to its dedicatee Ginette Neveu, who died tragically young, and she explained how the composer rewrote the last movement as a ‘Presto Tragico’ in her memory. This piece needs a violinist not afraid to be acerbic as well as sweet-toned and who can get inside what is not just an idiom but an idiolect, as well as convey the work’s stature. Her pizzicato and then Ravelian arco conveyed beautifully the Lorca quotation used as an epigraph to the slow movement (dedicated to the playwright’s memory). This properly bitter-sweet performance reminded me that all recordings, however fine, are in the past tense; only live music is in the present tense.
Richard Saxel is that rare pianist who has no problem in coming out of the shadows of accompaniment into the light of solo performance and, after a light-hearted introduction, he gave us the posthumously published Nocturne in c minor by Chopin, which both musically and anecdotally fitted the ‘Ghosts and Shadows’ theme. I will add for those web-site readers who have not absorbed the fact, that Richard has now been awarded the status of Steinway Artist, and to see the company of names he keeps on that roster (from Argerich and Ashkenazy to Zacharias and Zimerman) is to be reminded of how fortunate we are to have his concerts at Cranleigh and how lucky the pupils to be taught by him.
The trio combined in the final but central work, the Brahms Trio op 40. The players really brought out the poignancy of Brahms quoting from a song about a child and its mother in the trio section of the scherzo and linked this mood to the harrowing slow movement, composed as a requiem for Brahms’s own mother. After this the hunting rondo lifted the spirits and we could delight in the considerable virtuosity and truly integrated chamber music-making of these three great musicians.