Meldelssohn at the East Neuk Festival

At the East Neuk Festival on Saturday evening was a performance of a couple of pieces by Mendelssohn, the Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49 and the Octet for Strings in E-Flat, Op. 20 (written when he was 16 years old). The performance was in the Crail Church, in the lovely small fishing village of Crail on the east coast of Scotland, which at one point boasted the largest market in Europe. The seating was comfortable (for a church) and intimate, which was a perfect setting for the music.

The first performance was of the Piano Trio by Llyr Williams on Piano, Alexander Janiczek on violin and David Watlin on Cello. The playing was of the first movement was impeccable. Mr William's command of the piano in this fairly demanding piece was evident from the outset. Mr Janiczek brought a light crisp touch to the violin part that can typically get sappy or muddy. Mr Watlin allowed the cello part to soar when necessary and yet lightly played the pizzicato portions enough to be heard yet never over powering the other parts. The performers obviously loved the music and enjoyed playing together. The final applause of a full house was loud and stormy showing their full appreciation for a job well done. The only bit that seemed to jar was during the applause when there seemed to be some one-up-man-ship as to who was last to leave the stage.

After intermission the Eroic Quartet and the Skampa Quartet played the Mendelssohn Octet. Pavel Fischer played the phenomenal 1st violin part, which was written specifically for a friend of Mendelssohn. The part is demanding and Mr Fischer played with amazing clarity and grace. The entire piece was well except for a mid portion of the fourth movement, which got a bit muddy. But if there is fault to be laid at this point it probably ought to be put on Mendelssohn as there the motif, which starts in the cellos and moves up through the various parts (7 iterations) is fairly cacophonous by the time it gets to the top. The performance was all the more amazing as the two quartets worked the piece during the week of the festival, so this performance was after limited rehearsals (amid all the other performances they were doing as part of the festival). Again, the applause showed the audiences' appreciate for the outstanding performance. The quartet probably could have taken another bow, but left the audience wanting more.

In terms of music, I must admit I am not a fan of the Piano Trio in D minor. I find the piano playing slushy and overly romantic, but then it was written as a vehicle for Mendelssohn to perform and it does show off the pianist with a massive number of flourishes. There are times, particularly in the first movement, when the piano and violin or piano and cello are playing the same melodic line (yawn). So much of the first movement felt as if it was trying to break away from the restrictions of classical writing with lots of pyrotechnics on the piano and yet, never quite gets there with the string writing. The second and third movement are better, but there is still too much predictable movement in terms of how the music progresses. To be fair, it's probably only predictable because music has come such a long way since Mendelssohn.

The Octet, however, is an amazing piece; all the more amazing in Mendelssohn wrote it at the age of 16. The melodies are wonderful with the first violin soaring over the top throughout the first and second movement to the point it was difficult not to applaud the performance at the end of the second. The third movement seemed to drag a bit in terms of direction and the fourth felt as if it was Mendelssohn was practicing all the ways he could manipulate a motif through the various parts. In doing so it became a bit formulaic and (as mentioned before) muddy. The fifth was a nice return to the feeling of the first two movements and yet, didn't end with the power as the second. So, while the performance was well done, the music didn't give the emotional release it could have.

Still, it was a wonderful evening. I had travelled up to the East Neuk Festival with 7 co-workers from Edinburgh. We headed back that evening arriving in Edinburgh at half ten. While I fully expected to sleep on the way back, exhausted from a day full of music, my mind was so active we ended up have a fairly energetic conversation the entire way home. It was a lovely day and a festival which will certainly be on my calendar for next year.


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