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Musical Lunch | Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert | 17 March 2011

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Posted by The Spotlight on Friday 18th of March 2011
Broadcast 31 March, 1pm
Jerwood Hall, LSO St.Luke’s

Robert Schumann: Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Minor
Gyorgy Kurtag: selections from Signs, Games and Messages and Kafka Fragments
Cesar Franck: Violin and Piano sonata in A major

Patricia Kopatshinckaja violin
Polina Leschenko piano

If you're reading this at lunchbreak, I have a message for you. You could be stepping away from your computer, laptop, generic hand-held device, whatever. The world of Classical Music has the answer to your prayers for something to put a smile on your face with a whole afternoon still to execute.

What to do on a Thursday lunchtime? It’s that time of the week when we feel ourselves grinding oh-so-slowly towards a Friday halt. Methods of refreshing the mind come in few more satisfying forms than lunchtime concerts. These, Radio 3 and LSO St Luke’s can provide. Handily located just next to Old Street, it is the kind of venue that you’re unlikely to have difficulty locating – for a start, imaginative lighting has given the converted church what is possibly the only purple steeple in London. If the venue made us look, the concert made us listen. The high ceiling, ancient columns and futuristic tree-shaped support structures placed the audience for a similarly striking mix of ancient and new in the concert’s musical architecture.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja approached Robert Schumann’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Minor, eight gregarious selections from Gyorgy Kurtag’s Signs, Games and Messages and Kafka Fragments and Cesar Franck’s honeyed Violin and Piano sonata in A major like three violinists inhabiting the same body. Characteristic pout and smile present and correct, she delivered these three moody pieces with rustic, stroppy and often beautiful playing. Polina Leschenko stepped into the breach to replace Mihaela Ursuleasa - so adept was she that we would never have noticed.

No-one could accuse Kopatchinskaja of lacking energy or, indeed, versatility. This was a lunch-hour marked by lively contrasts and some pretty vigorous shaking of hair, instruments and bodies. The only irritation was the technical impurity of Kopatchinskaja’s bowing technique, which resulted in a skating tone at piano (quiet) times; too rough at the edges for the concert’s more Romantic moments. The opening piece was not the finest of the concert. The Schumman is a restless work, very much in keeping with the composer’s unsettled, angst-ridden temperament. Kopatchinskaja’s very physical playing felt rather forced throughout the tempestuous and richly varied three movements, as if trying to understand the complexity of character suggested in the juxtaposed playful and haunting themes of the Allegretto in particular.

Then came the Gyorgy Kurtág montage. Instinctive cheeky energy appeared from nowhere with a spark of brilliance.If you’re not familiar with Kurtág – you’re not alone. The Hungarian composer writes extraordinary modern music, influenced by Bartòk and Webern, with a chamber specialism. He still gives master-classes, although now 85 years old. His modern microcosms of expression break rules of performance and composition and are astounding to watch. Eight individual pieces from Signs, Games and Messages and Kafka Fragments were strung together into a bewildering melée of sounds in which Kopatchinskaja used her voice to converse with her instrument as if talking to it in a primal language. On-stage alone this time, she sometimes played her fiddle like a guitar, sometimes even struck out loud, brash noises which were clear allusions to moments of personal significance for Kurtág’.

With the rules nicely broken, it was time for the grand finale with Leschenko back at the piano. César Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major has the capacity to be at least charming and at most glorious – who could forget Julia Fisher’s seminal performance in a lunchtime Prom in August 2010. After her boldness with the Kurtág, Kopatshinckaja changed tack again. She seemed to have been waiting for the Franck like a familiar friend, and they got on famously. The famous final, fourth Allegretto poco mosso movement showed that this violinist can do Romantic as well as she can do avant garde. A shame this was not evident in the Schumann but nonetheless an impressive effort and a stunning end to the concert.

Lunchtime is an hour which always flies by – the acid test for a lunchtime concert is if you leave wishing it had been a full, conventional two hours. On this occasion I definitely wanted more. Luckily the restaurant downstairs was on hand to console with coffee and cake.

For details of next week’s concerts, go to >>>


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