St Peter's Church recitals: two old friends of the Marlborough series return as an accomplished musical duo
The first recital in the new series of Brilliant Young International Musicians in Saint Peter’s Church (October 29) saw a welcome return of two old friends: John Paul Ekins, (piano) and Judith Choi Castro (violin). Both are now very experienced musicians.
‘JP’, as he is known here, continues to play as a soloist in most of the great concert halls in Europe. Judith plays both as a soloist and as a chamber musician. She works regularly with several orchestras, including the London Philharmonic and the Bournemouth Symphony. It was a pleasure to have them here again.
The programme began with one of the two Mozart sonatas for violin and piano featured in this recital. They were both written in 1778 when the young Mozart, accompanied by his mother, began an extensive European tour.
Mozart's G Major Sonata is a lovely carefree work written in a cheery key. The first movement is full of ingenuity with the instruments chasing one another up and down an octave scale - sometimes playing a third apart, bouncing the theme from one instrument to the other. The second movement is a graceful minuet, the theme first developed on the violin and then taken up by the piano.
However, the trio section, in the minor key, adds a touch of sobriety to this work. It was gracefully played, with a careful balance between the two instruments, for this is rather more than a piano sonata with violin accompaniment.
The second work - Brahms’ Sonata for Violin and Piano in D Minor - is one of three sonatas Brahms wrote between 1879 and 1887 for the celebrated violinist, Joseph Joachim.
This is a sombre and serious work - technically and emotionally much more demanding than the Mozart. It begins with a gentle opening theme, which is enveloped in waves of fierce emotion before trailing away to a peaceful conclusion. The second movement begins with a lilting melody beneath which the piano contributes rich chorale-like chords. It is technically very demanding with much double stopping while exploiting the full range of the violin’s register.
The short third movement is constructed around a halting and disjointed theme, the violin playing a beat behind the piano. The last movement is a presto, marked agitato, which it certainly was - becoming progressively more intense until it explodes in a series of ferocious chords. Throughout the work the sharp contrasts in mood were carefully and sensitively highlighted.
The recital's second half began with Mozart's more austere Sonata in E Minor. Mozart’s mother died while they were in Paris, and the young Mozart had to convey the sad news of her death to his father before making his way home to Salzburg.
It is just possible that this sonata was written after his mother’s death, accounting for the bleakness and bathos of the work. The work begins with a wonderful lyrical theme played in unison by the two instruments which is then developed over a simple bass line played in the left hand, often in octaves, giving solemnity to the movement.
This gives way to a gently plangent minuet - its theme introduced by the violin and taken up by the piano. The solemn mood lifts for a while in the trio section - with a consoling theme played with immense tenderness, before the clouds re-form in a turbulent and troubling conclusion.
The concert concluded with Cesar Frank’s mighty Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Minor. Written in 1886 it was composed for the wedding of his friend and fellow Liegois, the violinist Eugene Ysaye to Louise Bourdeau. It is claimed that the work was first performed at their wedding celebrations.
The first movement opens with a gentle and reflective theme for the violin, followed by a second theme, this time for the piano. These themes are then developed into a conversation between the two instruments.
The second movement is turbulent, beginning with some ferocious playing on the piano. There is some reprieve before the anguish returns in a series of rolling arpeggios increasing in energy until the movement comes to a sudden end.
The third movement restores an atmosphere of serenity. A ‘recitative’ played by the violin acts as a ‘once upon a time there was….’ moment, after which a wistful story unfolds to the accompaniment of cascades of notes on the piano like a rippling stream or gently falling rain.
The finale of the work is dominated by a jaunty and confident theme bounced back and forth between the two instruments, the violin following the piano’s lead a bar later. The work increases in intensity before exploding in exultant joy. What a wedding present this must have been!
I doubt very much whether that first performance would have been played with such passion and sensitivity as it was in this recital. Technically very secure, it was played with all the mutual understanding that duo music of this complexity requires. The audience was delighted.
After a moment’s thought Judith and JP restored calmness with a spontaneous performance of Massanet’s Meditation from his opera Thais. Judith played from memory while JP read the piano part from his smartphone perched precariously on the piano. Ah, the shape of things to come!
This was a wonderful evening. A rich diversity of contrasting music, both in style and emotional intensity, sensitively and confidently played by two well-matched artistes. Please come back again soon.