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NESMS 40th Anniversary Piano Festival
Gina McCormack, violin
Nigel Clayton, piano
Craigiebuckler Church, Springfield Road Aberdeen
Saturday, 19 September 2015
Reviewed by Alan Cooper
As part of the Music School's 40th Anniversary Celebrations, a number of exciting recitals and masterclasses are taking place over the weekend starting on Saturday, 19th September. On Saturday evening, in the Sanctuary of Craigiebuckler Church, violinist Gina McCormack along with pianist Nigel Clayton, one of the most distinguished tutors at the School, gave a celebrity recital of truly mind blowing quality.
The two virtuoso players have worked together over many years and their musical sympathy and reciprocity shone through in everything they played together.
Is Beethoven's Sonata in D, Op.12 No.1 a piece for violin with piano accompaniment, or is it more equally balanced – a piece requiring total teamwork between piano and violin? Nigel Clayton drew our attention to this question in his introductory words at the start of the concert. The performance given by this fantastic duo answered the question coming down firmly in favour of the second alternative. Nigel Clayton's piano playing was full of clarity in the service of the most detailed expressiveness in Beethoven's music. So many touches of colour and tone came through. Every note in the runs for instance was heard cleanly and clearly. At the same time however, he took nothing away from the amazing suppleness and dazzling expression in Gina McCormack's lovely violin playing. Every note from both players sang out beautifully in the Theme and Variations of the Second Movement and the Rondo Finale was splendidly happy and exciting. Some performances could seem definitely monochromatic and two dimensional compared with this marvellous full colour 3D performance.
Gina McCormack wondered aloud whether anyone else played Fauré's Romance in B flat, Op 28. I have to confess I had never heard it before but what a wonderful work it was with Gina's silky smooth playing and Nigel adding spirit to the impassioned passages in the work.
Better still was the duo's performance of Debussy's Sonata for violin and piano. In 1889 Debussy attended the Paris Universal Exposition where he was exposed to the music of the Javanese Gamelan. The Violin Sonata was composed in 1917 so it is not impossible that the influence of the Javanese instruments could have inspired some of the piano writing in the Sonata. The piano writing in the opening Allegro vivo certainly had more than just a touch of the exotic and the mysterious about it. Combined with Gina's soaring violin the effect was absolutely magical. The beautiful second movement Intermède is marked "Fantasque et léger" and that is exactly what we got from our marvellous duo. Moments of icy brittle playing or ringing tones on the piano marked the Finale making me think of the Gamelans once again. Here, Gina's playing was smooth yet passionate. "Très animé" in fact, just as Debussy requested – an absolutely entrancing performance.
La fontaine d'Arethuse Op.30 No.1 by the Polish composer Szymanowski was inspired by a mythical story about a young maiden who is transformed into a fountain or a stream. Sparkling water effects on piano fitted the bill while the violin part was full of stunning effects, double stopping, trills harmonics and flutters. The composer himself wrote that this was, "a new utterance in violin playing, something you might call epochal". Gina had the whole thing under control in another wonderfully colourful performance.
Remarking on the final piece in the official programme Nigel said there are violin sonatas, difficult violin sonatas and then there is the Sonata in E flat by Richard Strauss. He was right. This was an absolutely amazing work and it received a fabulous performance on Saturday night. Thrilling piano playing of fully orchestral scope; huge chords, thrilling runs and sometimes playing of the utmost delicacy and transparency supported Gina's violin with its wide spanning, swooping melodies, such as no one but Richard Strauss ever wrote. A fellow student in the 1960s once said to me that Western Music ended with Richard Strauss – but what an ending! Not really true, but I understood what he meant.
What could possibly follow a performance like that? Well, the duo had something on hand as an encore. It was Fritz Kreisler's Syncopation. A great encore played with real pizzazz but possibly not in the same class as that Richard Strauss?