Lunchtime Series: Callum Smart, Richard Uttley,7th.February 2019

Every season it seems to have been the very admirable intention of the Lunchtime Series on at least one or two occasions to introduce young artists who are beginning to establish a considerable reputation for themselves and each time it has, almost without exception, rapidly become clear why the invitation had been made . This season we have been introduced to the pianist Clare Hammond and here she was followed by the violinist Callum Smart and pianist Richard Uttley playing as a duo. They did not disappoint and it rapidly became plain that they were first rate artists.

In the first work they played , Beethoven’s Violin Sonata Op 30, No.3 their combined sound was finely robust, both pianist and violinist delivering all of the energy and thrust of the opening movement . The violinist was clearly playing on a fine sounding instrument with a particularly rich bass and the pianist certainly brought out much of what the Museum piano is capable of, and one can say that with the memory over the years of the number of  great pianists who have played on this instrument. The duo’s  playing throughout  the first movement had an exhilarating vitality , and conveyed very much that even in this good humoured  work the composer’s characteristic ruggedness is still present.  The middle movement had some real eloquence, the violin sang and particularly memorable were some of the moments for the piano which emerged as music with real inwardness in this largely bright and cheerful work.

The last movement saw a return to the ebullience of the first and displayed very much the virtues noted there . Here the virtuosity of the players came fully to the fore. However, as at times in the first movement, perhaps slightly more lightness of touch might have succeeded in levitating things rather more, which in turn might have converted rough high spirits into wit. I have heard performances of this work which at times have been like watching a game with a shuttlecock, between  two players who are trying  to keep it in the air as long as possible. This performance was perhaps rather more earth bound than that.

There followed a performance of a late Schubert work, Fantasy in C for violin and piano.D934. Here I was at something of a disadvantage in that I had never heard this work before and first reactions are rarely very reliable. In general I am in thrall to this composer’s late works, welcoming eagerly what Schumann, when speaking in another context, described as the Schubertian  ‘heavenly length’. However, here the programme had informed one that at the first performance in Vienna the hall gradually emptied and my first reaction was to think how typical of the Viennese at their conservative worst. Alas, in the event I found the length to be rather less than celestial and even thought rather shockingly that I might have joined the exodus. I certainly was not inclined to blame the playing which seemed very much responsive to the composer’s world. There was real  warmth  and affection in sound and phrasing and moments of lyricism that suggested the composer at his unique best . However, perhaps when, as the programme suggested, it was one of works where the composer was accommodating his music to public taste, the result even in a Schubert may not have been that inspired.

What followed certainly was. The Argentinean composer Ginastera has hitherto been but a name to me, unlike his pupil Piazzolla. However, exactly 30 years ago on a working trip to Argentina  I had an unforgettable week- end riding on the Pampas and these memories came to the surface and perhaps made me highly susceptible to the wonderfully red-blooded music  of Pampeana No.1,Op 16 . Whatever, last month we had the Doric performing a Bartok quartet and the folk music element in that seemed replicated here to dramatic effect. It was performed with bravura passion and fittingly brought the concert to a rousing finish. We shall look forward to hearing these artists again.