St Mary’s Church
October 11 2020
Review: William Ruff
Live classical music returns to Nottingham with a programme of imagination and charm
Nottingham may have had the worst Covid figures in the country this weekend but it also rekindled the fire of live musical performance to lift the pall of gloom and despondency.
Harpist Eleanor Turner and cellist Clare O’Connell, presented a concert as part of the Nottingham Chamber Music Festival to a small, socially-distanced but highly enthusiastic audience in St Mary’s Church. Although they called their programme Old World, New World it would all have been new – with the possible exception of a short Bach Sarabande – even to the ears of the most seasoned concert-goers. Either the pieces had been newly liberated from the depths of the cultural museum (how well do you know your Giovanni Battista Pescetti, for instance?) or the arrangements were so fresh and new that it was if one was hearing them for the first time. Their playing throughout reflected their personal rapport: warm, responsive, almost telepathic in their communication of fine detail.
And they included a World Premiere, Psalmus by Beatrice Nicholas, a piece inspired by a massive medieval book called the Wollaton Antiphonal and developing a plainsong theme to be found within its pages. This was mystical, joyful, enraptured, prayerful music, the embodiment in sound of devotional images found within the pages of the book. And it was beautifully written for the combination of harp and cello.
The concert ranged far and wide in time and space. Digital technology met 13th century dance in the opening piece by Alfonso X El Sabio to produce some delicious timbres and rhythms. There were two Tarantellas on the programme, appropriate in these worrying times of ours as the dance was supposed to have magic healing properties (originally recommended for those who had been bitten by tarantulas). The Sonata by Pescetti may have been intended for a keyboard instrument but it worked perfectly for harp, especially effective in the soft/loud echo passages.
They ended with more recent pieces. As well Psalmus, there was Piazzolla’s darkly Latin Soledad, Ariel Ramirez’ tenderly delicate Alfonsina y el mar and harpist Eleanor Turner’s own composition, a Christmas present written for her mother Valerie. Inspired by the north-east of Scotland and its geese, seals and fish, this was music steeped in natural beauty as well as being full of charm and affection.
The soaring vaults of St Mary’s Church may not make it an obvious choice for intimate chamber music but this programme worked well in acoustics which allowed both harp and cello to gleam and glow. It was all a reminder of how things used to be: the spontaneity of live musical performance and the spell that weaves over an audience.