St Peter's Church recital: really brilliant, young, international musicians - with a touch of daringThe second recital in the eighth series of Brilliant Young International Musicians at St Peter's Church brought together Timon Staehler, a German student in his second year at Marlborough College's sixth form, and three friends from Berlin.
The quartet certainly ticked all the boxes of the series title - Timon Staehler (piano) is eighteen and in his second year at the College on a music scholarship. Katja Maderer (voice and violin) is twenty. Sophie Kiening (viola) and Clara Eglhuber (cello) are nineteen. Young, international and as the audience attested, absolutely brilliant.
The four first met in 2018 at the German Youth Music Academy in Trossingen where they had been invited to take part in the annual chamber music course for national prize winners of the German youth music competition. They have performed together twice - this was their first concert in England.
Timon Staehler had devised an adventurous programme under the title Motifs of Anticipation and Remembrance: Schumann in the context of his Time. He told the audience that Schumann had too often been 'discarded' as lightweight and they wanted to put him back where he belonged as one of the greats.
So the programme would explore parts of the 'intricate web of connections [that] exists between Schumann and Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn.' Timon Staehler began this journey with Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 27 in E-minor.
The first part is marked 'With liveliness and with feeling and expression throughout' and the second 'Not too fast and conveyed in a very singing manner'. A member of the audience told me it seemed as though Timon was exploring every note and phrase - and each got special attention as if he was discovering them anew. The audience loved it - could the evening get any better?
The first part of the concert ended with Schumann's song cycle Frauen-Liebe und Leben [A woman's love and life] - nine poems by Adelbert von Chamisso describing the course of a woman's love for the man she adores. With Timon Staehler playing the piano, it was sung by Katja Maderer.
This was daring programming. Singing without a score, Katja Maderer produced a truly outstanding performance. She has a beautiful and assured voice that switched perfectly and easily between the required quiet and stronger emotions of the cycle.
Schumann gives the piano a full duet part with some great and appealing melodies. Timon Staehler and Katja Maderer appeared totally in control and in sync with the emotions of the poems.
Timon's programme notes remarked that "The gender conventions informing Chamisso's cycle may appear problematic in our day..." A man's view of female love that seemed not quite in step with 'Me Too' guidelines was about to launch a debate on gender politics when we were called to order for the second part of this amazing programme.
It was, after all, the exquisite singing and the sympathetic playing that mattered.
The second part opened with Timon Staehler playing Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C- minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier (Part I). He had told us he was taking a 'daring' departure with this work - adding some 'slight inflections'.
What we heard took this early eighteenth century piece to the very edge of jazz rhythms and back again. Timon Staehler gave us a really stimulating rendering that brought out the improvised character of the prelude and playful nature of the fugue.
This was followed by Mendelssohn's Andante and Rondo capriccioso. Schumann, Timon told us, was a great defender of Mendelssohn - even giving Liszt a good shaking when he dared to belittle one of the great composers of his day.
This was a very appealing work played with verve and careful attention to its changing colours. To revert briefly to the Schumann song cycle, it was good to note that the piece was first played by Delphine von Schauroth - to whom Mendelssohn was once intending to propose. An intention that came to nought.
The finale brought the quartet together for Schumann's Piano Quartet in E-flat major. This was a very complex quartet with strong parts for all four instruments - especially for the cello and viola.
The four musicians played with assurance and clarity - and for players taking to the stage in St Peter's for the first time, they were impeccably balanced. The close of this dramatic work brought many in the audience to their feet - not something that happens every day in Marlborough.
Let us hope that before he leaves the College - perhaps for the Royal College of Music where he already studies under Professor Norma Fisher - Timon Staehler will be able to bring his friends back to Marlborough for another concert.
The next recital in this series will be on Sunday, 1 March 2020 with violinist Johanna Röhrig (also from Germany) and British pianist and tenor Cameron Richardson -Eames. Their programme will include works by Ysaye, Dvorak and Ravel.