The 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.
Silbury at Night - David InshawThe Wessex Places exhibition at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes is precisely the right space for new works by four artists David Inshaw, Ray Ward, Robert Pountney and David Gunning. Many of the works are for sale - mostly as artist's prints.
They all bring into the museum archaeological survivors that will never find a place in a museum. They are, of course, too big. But close by the gallery you can see artefects found in or near these larger sites - work of extreme delicacy to contrast with some of these massive avchievements.
They are also monuments from our distant past that need the context of their landscapes - ancient and modern. And depiction of landscape has long been a cherished and characteristic feature of British art.
Central to these artists is the Wessex inheritance of megaliths: Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill and, last but by no means least, the Marlborough Mound which is now known to be 'Silbury's Little Sister.'
David Inshaw is the well local known artist who first came to the public's attention in 1973 with his painting The Badminton Game - now in The Tate Gallery. He came to Devizes in 1971 and formed a group of artists which became known as The Brotherhood of Ruralists. He left the Group in 1983 and after some years in the Welsh borders, he returned to Devizes in 1995.
He works mainly on large oils, etchings and drawings. In this exhibition David Inshaw is showing some startling views of Silbury.
His etching Silbury Sunrise is a representation of the mound and a rising sun that verges on the abstract. It is almost as though it comes from a field notebook - hurriedly capturing the essence of the view complete with a jotted tree framing the right side of the view. Regrettably it is not for sale.
The etching Silbury at Night, which appears on the poster for the exhibition, is rich with atmosphere. The semi-darkened moon looks as though Inshaw may have captured an eclipse in progress. And the familiar Silbury outline contrasts dramatically with the natural shapes of nearby trees.
Ray Ward has lived in Wiltshire for thirty years. He graduated in fine art from Trent Polytechnic in 1983 and has supported his artistic life with a series of jobs - including work as an art technician at Marlborough College. And his work for this exhibition gives us several new and often surprising glimpses of the Marlborough Mound - on College property and now known to be the same age as Silbury Hill.
Marlborough Mount - Ray WardRay Ward works in in a variety of disciplines including drawing, painting and performance: "Last year I was asked to do some drawings for a book about Silbury Hill and thereafter the hill and its counterpart in Marlborough have infiltrated my thinking and have become markers not merely in the landscape but also in my personal history."
"The feeling that that they've always been there while everything around them has changed gives these mysterious man-made structures an occasionally comic but always prescient mystique."
One of Ray Ward's computer drawings printed onto archival rice paper shows the Marlborough Mound standing alone with bits of the College's Norwood Hall and Chapel peeping in from the side - trying their best to impose something a bit more modern on the tree-covered mound.
His Silbury Hill 009 shows the ancient man-made mound in the foreground against a broad, even rolling, Wiltshire landscape. It shows with great ease the extraordinary scale of this 'Hill'.
If you thought you had seen Silbury Hill from just about every angle, in every weather, under every possible sky, from both sides of the A4 and from Avebury itself, you will get a very pleasant surprise from Ward's Silbury Hill 160 (Behind the trees.) A very different view - with gentle colours of nearby vegetation.
Robert Pountney concentrates on the landscapes of Dorset. But in this exhibition he has a wonderfully evocative charcoal drawing of Avebury. It features one standing stone dwarfed by heavy, rolling clouds of the kind that might well have frightened or at the very least worried the men and women who built Avebury.
"The predominant use of chiaroscuro in my drawings is intended to help dramatise the relationship between past and present, the seen and the unseen in prehistoric landscapes..."
As if to prove his point we have his charcoal drawing of Rawlsbury Camp under a starlit sky. The camp is on a promontory of Bulbarrow Hill just west of Blandford Forum. Not much of the five acre Iron Age fort is left, but seeing its rounded remains under the same star light as its Iron Age defenders saw it, does bring out that relationship between past and present.
David Gunning is represented by some of his depictions of Stonehenge and many other megaliths. Throughout his life, Stonehenge, Avebury and other major Wiltshire sites, have captivated and fascinated him: "This new set of work reflects my continued passion and admiration for the megalithic builders who have left us such a magical heritage to reflect upon."
One of Gunning's really eye-catching works is Many Megaliths an imposing assemblage of sixty small etchings lined up on a giclee print in four ranks showing megaliths from all over the British Isles. They come in so many different shapes and landscapes that you begin to wonder how the ancients' skills were spread around.
Another of his works is a small etching Silbury Hill, Avebury - dated June 2015. This is a narrow picture putting Silbury into its present day agricultural landscape with a post and wire fence in front of the ancient structure.
Wessex Places: the exhibition is open until 2 January 2016. The Museum is open: Monday - Saturday 10-5, Sundays and Bank Holidays 12-4. But it will close for Christmas from December 20-28.
Top row: Left - David Inshaw with the curator and his Silbury Sunrise. Right - Ray Ward with one of his views of the Marlborough Mound. Bottom row: Left - David Gunning. Right - Robert Pountney with his charcoal drawing of Avebury. [Photo courtesy Wiltshire Museum]
Mai Charissa Tran-Ringrose at the time of her first Marlborough recital...The new season of recitals at Saint Peter’s church began (October 25) with a return visit to Marlborough by Mai Charissa Tran-Ringrose who first came to play for the Brandt Group Brilliant Young Pianists series three years ago. Mai Charissa was then aged 16, and now, aged 19, she is an undergraduate reading languages at Trinity College Cambridge.
In her short career as a pianist Mai Charissa won, aged 13, first prize in Thailand’s National Piano Competition for Young Pianists. At the same age she achieved the Diploma (with Distinction) of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, and a year later she was awarded its Licentiate. She has also been awarded the equivalent qualification in France: the Diploma d’Etudes Musicales.
The first half of her programme was devoted entirely to Beethoven - just two works, both in very sombre minor keys. First came the 32 Variations in C Minor. These toy variations, lasting in some cases but a few seconds each, were based on a simple eight-bar melody. There was a rich kaleidoscope of temperament in a very short time, some tempestuous, others placid, all rushing past the listener until Beethoven finally pauses for breath with the last dramatic and demanding variation. Mai-Charissa demonstrated not only her technical skills but also her ability to interpret each of these variations individually.
Beethoven's Sonata 17 in D minor followed - another work in a dark key. It begins with a remarkable first movement, with a series of tempo changes that leaves the listener wondering what Beethoven was planning. The movement remains one of huge variations in mood: the fast sections are almost manic in intensity.
The second movement has a steady and persistent rhythm, the repeated chords in the bass creating the atmosphere of a funeral march. Relief finally arrives in the rippling and gentle allegretto movement, but even here the movement ends quietly with a profoundly melancholic theme which completes this troubling sonata.
We heard some technical skill here and Mai Charissa wrung from the work the dramatic mood changes and all-embracing sense of anguish which the work conveys.
Most of the second half was devoted to Chopin. Mai Chairissa began with two of Chopin’s Nocturnes, E Minor and B flat Minor - a form Chopin popularised. After the tempestuous Beethoven these were a good deal more calming. They are lyrical and wistful and very elegantly played.
...and more recentlyThese were followed by Chopin’s Ballade in F Minor - another musical form which Chopin popularised. The name might suggest that there is a specific textual underlay; the telling of a story. There are pronounced shifts in mood, reflective passages which then lead into lighter dance-like moments, before ending in a dramatic and virtuosic outburst. Mai Charissa highlighted these mood changes in such a way that we could build up our own ‘ballad’ from the music.
The Chopin experience was briefly broken with the miniature ‘Smyrna’ which Edward Elgar had written in 1905 which visiting the eastern Mediterranean. This lovely work is very atmospheric, and the ‘colour and movement’ which Elgar describes is bedded deep in the left hand where there are traces of eastern harmonies and rhythms.
Finally the recital's grande finale: Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante - two wildly differing works which are frequently paired for their dramatic contrast. The Andante is gentle and has a very familiar lullaby feel to it - in complete contrast to the fireworks of the Grande Polonaise.
Yet another musical form popularised by Chopin, the ‘polonaise’ is loosely based on the rhythms of an energetic traditional Polish dance. This Polonaise, the most ambitious Chopin wrote, is joyful, full of wild rhythms and a sense of bravura leading towards a dramatic climax of arpeggios stretching the pianist to the limit, arms stretching the length of the keyboard and hands lost in an avalanche of notes.
What a performance! It was technically very good indeed and the appreciative audience greeted its conclusion with rapturous applause.
For a young pianist of but nineteen years Mai Charissa shows a very mature technical command of the piano. Perhaps her playing as yet, reflects too little of her own personality. Furthermore she should learn to engage more with her audience. However these are early days. After she completes her studies at Cambridge she plans to become an accountant. Nevertheless, let us hope that she will continue to play, for without her the world of music would be all the poorer.
For dcetails about future recitals in the series go to the MBG website - or follow our What's On Calendar.