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Bachtrack - ★★★★ IMS Prussia Cove Livens Up the Chamber Music Crowd in Cornwall

Drawing an end to a season of vigorous study under some of the world's leading maestri, the International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove presented their penultimate concert in Truro School Chapel with a steadfast sense of achievement that derived from the fruit of labour combined with an eternal passion for music.

Dina Duisen was the first to lift the programme off as she swept onto the stage with a commanding presence, toying with Haydn's Piano Sonata in F major. Exuding a joyous sense of playfulness, her ability to sustain mathematical passages with rhythmic precision was excellent, and her interpretation of the Adagio was lyrically succinct. I was also struck by Duisen's dynamic versatility which gifted her to shift from tone to tone smoothly and without discord. The structure of the hall made for an empowering use of sound, and the piano rang with a rich and harmonically delicious tone which filled the hall beautifully.

Yet to what extent the acoustics would fulfil the aural scope was not revealed until the first two movements of Ligeti's Sonata for Solo Viola were carried on the bow of Chaim Steller. Cavernous and grainy, expansive and penetrative, the tone of the viola filled the chapel with something distinctly mystical and vivifying, before gasping into an eerie, scratchy pianissimo in the high register which conjured up the chaotic and tranquil impression of an all-engulfing snowstorm. Playing on the human senses, it was a focus which seemed to transcend the conventional musical experience and instead create a realm in which one transports the self into a concentrated mode.

A sense of euphoria was brought around by Schumann's brooding Cello Concerto in A minor, whose three movements teemed with resonances of the Romantic psyche which Schumann paints so darkly. Cellists Brook Speltz and Joris van den Berg matched one another in both harmonic, tonal, and rhythmic relation, and vibrant accompanist Simon Parkin transformed his piano in a multitude of orchestral colours that soared from grandiose to contemplative. Though having two cellists perform the work might have displaced the focus of the audience, it served to bring added colour to each movement and a heightened individualistic aura to each cadenza.

A refreshing and revitalizing change in programme occurred after intermission with one movement from Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for Viola and Piano, performed by violist Grégoire Vecchioni and Gretel Dowdeswell on piano. With tinges of Sibelius and Vaughan Williams, Renaissance-style dances with French impressionism, the work became a map of imagination, travelled well by the two soloists. Then the exciting Hepplewhite Piano Trio with Amy Littlewood on violin, Hetti Price on cello, and Fan Yu on piano launched into Shostakovich's Piano Trio no. 1, exhibiting a gracious but fun-loving rapport amongst themselves which edified all the varying characteristics of the piece. Blending deliciously, the trio leapt into cat-like pizzicatos, thunderous footsteps, and dissonant descents that swirled into Rachmaninov-like lyricism, revealing an architecture of music which has become such a token of Shostakovich's signature sound. As with the performers before them, they displayed a maturity that represented years of dedicated work but not at the expense of an evergreen enthusiasm; they masqueraded their territory with a vigour that was uncompromising. Strikingly more contemporary, violinist Lisa Romain and pianist Emese Mali took the stage with the Violin Concerto by Berg, in which the former's quiet reserve tackled the atonal strains with an uncanny tenseness. If Romain exposed a slight nervousness during her moment under the spotlight then it was needless, for her execution of the piece was crisp and intuitive, albeit slightly subdued in gesture.

My ear felt relieved, however, to break away from the contemporary for the final piece of the evening: the third and fourth movements of Mendelssohn's Cello Sonata no. 2 with Bingxia Lu on cello and Simon Parkin returning to the piano. With this final tribute to Romanticism, I listened to a Mendelssohn that contained that occasional surge of melancholic sweetness that entices one to his piano repertoire, along with the melodically pleasing allegro passages that are unquestionably classical in texture, illuminating a spectrum of sound that the venue complemented magnificently. A musician who is equally convincing as both classicist and romanticist, Lu knew when to pull the reins in and when to unleash them, with Parkin electrifying the hall with his usual colourful demeanour. It was a brilliant close to an evening which revived the spirit of solo and chamber music, demonstrating that the art of the great masters is very much alive with a legacy that is promised a long-lasting future.

Read the review at Bachtrack

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