Robin Wilson (violin) Kemp English (piano)

Eileen Joyce Studio

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Is there a more beautifully appointed and positioned recital room in Perth – or Australia, for that matter – than the Eileen Joyce Studio? With its wood-panelling that covers three walls, the fourth all of glass and fronting a tree and shrub filled garden, it boasts as well an Augustus John portrait in pastels of Joyce and a number of watercolours of the great Australian musician as piano or harpsichord soloist with leading London orchestras at the Royal Festival Hall. Adding to the charm of the room are numbers of antique keyboard instruments including a chamber organ and a rare square piano. There is also a portrait in oils of Emeritus Professor Sir Frank Callaway in doctoral robes.

For all its charms, though, EJS was not an ideal venue for this recital. Despite its lid being raised only on short stick, a small baby grand piano proved annoyingly loud. But for all its substantial presence (perhaps the lid ought to have been entirely closed), it never quite overwhelmed Robin Wilson’s violin line.

The andante from Tartini’s Violin Concerto D86 was an inspired program opener, played very slowly but without losing a sense of onward momentum – a feat of real musicianship – with phrases shaped with unfailing finesse; it was like a consecration of the evening.

Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, too, gave much pleasure, music to which Wilson brought impeccable memory and, especially in the opening allegro, a line informed by a rich cantabile tone quality. Kemp English was an admirable piano partner, not least for managing to moderate keyboard sound sufficiently so as to ensure equitable internal tonal balance, no mean achievement in this lively acoustic. I particularly liked the rhythmic cut and thrust with which the scherzo was despatched.

Both the Tartini and Beethoven works were offered at so satisfying a level – clearheaded, stylistically apt and musically logical – that one looked forward with great anticipation to what was to follow. But the sure stylistic touch and choice of tempi that contributed to such splendidly musical playing in the Tartini and Beethoven works seemed largely to desert the duo in some of what was to follow.

Two pieces – Playera by Sarasate and Kreisler’s La Gitana -disappointed, the former too driven so that the inherent nobility of the music which, ideally, should border on grandeur, was almost entirely absent. Kreisler’s La Gitana, too, and Kroll’s delightful Banjo and Fiddle, that favourite encore of Heifetz, were taken at a speed too rapid to allow fine detail to be fully essayed and savoured. And Bloch’s Nigun, too, sounded overwrought at times.

Perhaps these rather intemperate presentations might have been due to the stress of the moment because on the CD which features Wilson and English, the playing of these pieces is very significantly closer to the emotional epicentre of the music.

But there was more than adequate compensation in other offerings such as the blues movement from Ravel’s Sonata for violin and piano, the violin line having about it a jazzy wail that sounded entirely right. The Meditation from Massenet’s Thais, too, was given an intensely expressive reading as was Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, the latter unfolding in a consistently meaningful way.

© Neville Cohn 2005


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