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REVIEW: St Peter's Church recitals: a brilliant young pianist is joined by a brilliant young violinist

The Choi-Fox DuoThe Choi-Fox DuoOn a cold November night these two young musicians provided us with a feast of lovely music: Harry Nowakowski-Fox (piano) and Judith Choi-Castro (violin) - who perform and record as the Choi-Fox Duo.

The first half of this recital in the was devoted entirely to piano works played by Harry. He began with JS Bach’s Partita No2 in C Minor, very well known to the St Peter's Church audience. The work begins with an opening sinfonia, which has three very different sections.  We were treated to a very formal almost solemn grave section, which gives way to a lovely gentle andante before finishing with a two-part fugue in which Harry showed  a thorough mastery  of Bach’s familiar counterpart.  

Then follow a series of dance movements, all very varied in speed and in mood.  However it is in the last two movements, the rondeaux and finally the capriccio, where all the excitement lies.  Technically demanding, Harry sailed through these movements at a cracking tempo, the notes just pouring from his finger tips.

The Chopin Barcarolle in F Sharp Major which followed is a very different piece. A barcarolle is based on the rhythm and mood of the ‘barcarola’, a song sung by Venetian gondoliers, and a source of inspiration to many nineteenth century composers.  This one is lovely.

Harry articulated the rippling arpeggios which were reminiscent of sunlight on the waters of the Grand Canal, and poured much expression into the main theme, which is unmistakably Italian in its form.

The great Piano Sonata no 21 in C major, the ‘Waldstein’, was a complete contrast. Here is one of Beethoven’s finest piano works. Two thunderous outer movements are separated by a short and reflective adagio. Harry played with huge confidence, mastering the bravado that this work demands, but, at the same time, highlighting the moments of quiet contemplation found therein.

The second half saw Harry back at the piano to accompany Judith in two well-established works for piano and violin duo. The first of these was Beethoven’s wonderful Violin Sonata in F Major which, thanks to its sunny and joyous character has been known as the ‘Spring’ sonata.  

Its ‘uncomplicated’ light-heartedness makes a good contrast with the powerful Waldstein which had preceded it.  You can’t help but smile from the first moment of this work. Judith gave us a very personal rendering, highlighting the sometimes very intimate ‘conversation’ between the violin and the piano. This was joy both to watch and to hear.

The concert finished with a violin sonata in F Major written in 1838 by a young and buoyant Mendelssohn.  It is more complex than the Beethoven, and requires more attention from both the performer and the listener.  There are serene moments where the elegant melodies are reminiscent of the Songs Without Words. These were played with great eloquence. However, it is the ‘dash for the finish’, the assai vivace, with its long and breathless passages of joyous fast notes passed from one instrument to the other that was memorable.

Played with youthful bravado, this was a worthy end to the concert. Perhaps, though, Saint Peter’s church is not an ideal acoustic for the violin and there were times when the balance between the two instruments was not good, and the quiet intimacy of the instrument was drowned out by the piano.  Nevertheless this concert was recognised by many as one of the very best in these recent series of recitals by young musicians.

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