Review: James Clark and Jonathan Aasgaard, Buxton, Pavilion Arts Centre

Clark_Aasgaard_5583dee0d2b22There isn’t that much music written for violin and cello duos – and some of what we heard in this recital was originally written for two violins. On this evidence the lack of repertoire is a great shame.

This hour-long programme of 20th century music by European composers was rich and varied; intense yet light. Much of the music was very difficult to play but never difficult to listen to.

Reinhold Glière was born in Kiev and wrote some monumental music but his Op 39 Eight pieces for Violin and Cello is of a very different order. James Clark (violin) and Jonathan Aasgaard (cello) played four of the eight pieces but chose those that displayed the range of possibilities for their two instruments. The opening piece was elegiac; what followed was variously skipping, dance-like, romantic, folky and frantic. As Jim Clark said, in introducing the music, Glière is in some ways a romantic, old-fashioned sort of composer, easy on the ear but ready to push at boundaries.

Jonathan explained how he had transcribed the cello parts for the nine duos by Béla Bartók which were originally written for two violins. These were based on folk tunes collected by Bartók in his native Hungary. Some were fragments that hung in the air, others rushed and chased but all were absorbing.

Jonathan then introduced a piece composed by a Norwegian friend and compatriot Henning Kraggerud. The two studied music together (Henning is an acclaimed violinist) and have played the five-movement Variation Suite. It lasts barely five minutes, the fourth movement is entirely pizzicato, and manages to convey a sense of being outdoors walking and running. It was played with energy and humour.

This brought us to the ‘meat’ of the programme – Zoltán Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello, Op 7. Kodály was a great friend of fellow-Hungarian Bartók, of course, and also an ethnomusicologist – the two of them having collected hundreds of folk tunes and songs. Jim Clark explained that this was the oldest piece in the concert, having been composed in 1914 but went unperformed for some years. He also described it “as the most exciting music for cello and violin. Full of fireworks, but also languid with luscious melodies.” It included some of the quietest music you will ever hear but was also tense and dramatic.

The recital was the concluding performance of the three-part Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra residency in Buxton. We have heard world-class musicians playing great music. It has been a privilege – and one that we hope to have again in 2016.

Keith Savage