Our members’ concert on 13th March 2017

Dear ECMC Member or friend,

Committee member Lewis Lev has unfortunately had to resign from the Committee for health reasons, and we hope he may be able to rejoin it in the future. Meanwhile, we are looking for somebody else who would be able to give a little time. If you are interested, please speak to one of us at a concert, or email. Committee members aim to come to as many concerts as possible and organise one from time to time, but we virtually never have formal meetings. Committee members’ names are in bold on your membership list.

The next concert is on March 13th , and we have three very interesting items. Do bring your own programme, which is available for download here.

The first is the Adagio and Rondo concertante, or Piano Quartet in F major, D487, by Schubert, played by Saori Howse (violin), Polly Kaufmann (viola), Helen Thomas (cello) and Siaw-Lynn Ng (piano). This was composed in 1816 and is his first composition for piano and strings, preceding the “Trout” Quintet” by three years. The ensemble of violin, viola, cello, and pianoforte had not been one of composers’ favorites; in fact, it is a somewhat ungainly ensemble, and the composer has to struggle to achieve textural and registral balance. Schubert’s approach is straightforward enough: he abandons the egalitarianism of instrumentation that by his time was an accepted aspect of chamber music and instead puts the spotlight more brightly on one of the players – the pianist – than on any of the other three. The piano is in fact so predominant, especially after we have passed through the molto legato Adagio and entered the Rondo portion, that the tendency to make the work sound like a piano concerto with a severely reduced orchestra is sometimes tough for players to avoid. While the writing of the piece was prompted by one of Schubert’s cellist friends whose sister Schubert at that time hoped to marry, it is nevertheless quite a pianistic work. It is a remarkably vital piece of music, and listeners are particularly charmed by the Rondo’s joyful energy. Curiously enough, this Rondo is actually not in rondo form at all, but is rather an abridged sonata-allegro in which there is no development section per se. The first known public performance of the quartet was on 1 November 1861, and it was not published until 1865.

Our next item is a charming work by the Swiss born French Clarinetist Jean-Xavier Lefèvre. Lefevre was a very active musican operating through the latter half of the 18th century and early 19th century. As a professor he had many famous pupils at the Paris Conservatoire, including the the renowned composer clarinettist Bernard Crusell who produced considerable repertoire for this newly and fast developing instrument. Lefevere was responsible for writing one of the first tutors for clarinet; Méthode de Clarinette (1802) which includes a set of 12 wonderful and versatile sonatas for clarinet. Virtually unknown, these sonatas contain an array of inventive writing, through a clarity of texture for the instrument which are to be enjoyed by amateur and professional clarinetists alike. Indeed as part of the tutor the sonatas were originally intended for two clarinets, though are equally valid with cello continuo, or as will be performed this evening, by Andrew Lewandowski (clarinet) and Li Lin Teo (piano) a lightly scored piano accompaniment.

Our third item, played by Julia Harris and David Smith, is a very well-known and much-loved piece. The Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano by César Franck (in full, César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck) is considered one of the finest sonatas for violin and piano ever written. It was written in 1886, when César Franck was 63, as a wedding present for the 31-year-old violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. Twenty-eight years earlier, in 1858, Franck had promised a violin sonata for Cosima von Bülow. This never appeared; it has been speculated that whatever work Franck had done on that piece was put aside, and eventually ended up in the sonata he wrote for Ysaÿe in 1886. Franck presented the work to Ysaÿe on the morning of his wedding on 26 September 1886. After a hurried rehearsal, Ysaÿe and the pianist Léontine Bordes-Pène, a wedding guest, played the Sonata to the other wedding guests. It was given its first public concert performance on 16 December of that year, at the Musée Moderne de Peinture in Brussels, with Ysaÿe and Bordes-Pène again the performers. The Sonata was the final item in a long program that started at 3 pm. When the time arrived for the Sonata, dusk had fallen and the gallery was bathed in gloom, but the gallery authorities permitted no artificial light whatsoever. Initially, it seemed the Sonata would have to be abandoned, but Ysaÿe and Bordes-Pène decided regardless to continue. In the event, they had to play the last three movements from memory in virtual darkness. Vincent d’Indy, who was present, recorded these details of the event. Ysaÿe kept the Violin Sonata in his repertoire for the next 40 years of his life. His championing of the Sonata contributed to the public recognition of Franck as a major composer. This recognition was quite belated; Franck died within four years of the Sonata’s public première, and did not have his first unqualified public success until the last year of his life. Julia and David will be performing, hopefully not in the dark, the second movement (Allegro) and fourth (Allegretto poco mosso) the famous canon, which has been described as “a magnificent example of canonic writing, simple, majestic and irresistible in its ample, beautifully wrought proportions.”

Please do come and hear these lovely pieces.