Friday 26th March
Martino Tirimo came to Kelso in the middle of an ambitious programme in London,
Hereford, Athens and elsewhere to play all the works of Chopin in a ten concert cycle
of programmes. He arrived in Kelso, having had enthusiastic reviews for the first of
his London concerts, to play an all Chopin programme for us. For anyone familiar
only with the lighter side of Chopin’s music – the often played waltzes and mazurkas
for example – this concert would have come as something of a revelation. Martino
approaches the music in a very direct and unaffected way. He presents the music
as it is written with strength and simplicity with the aim of finding the composers
intentions rather than as sometimes happens, building a fantasy world of the pianist’s
The programme opened with a shock of deeply felt emotion in the three poetic
Nocturnes Op15 whose mood of disturbed tranquillity heralded the wide gamut of
feeling that ran through the rest of the programme. These were not light and playful
works but contained some of Chopin’s most profound musical statements. The
Etudes Op25 which followed the Nocturnes were not simply brilliant exercises in
pianism but presented deeper musical problems that Martino found and explained
The first half ended with the great Barcarolle, the last masterpiece that Chopin wrote
which weaves the rolling rhythms of the Gondoliers song into the beautiful melody
taking you on a journey that is far more than a boat ride but contains all the joy and
sadness of life, and the ecstatic climax concludes with two octave chords like a brutal
awakening from a lover’s dream, or, more pessimistically the ending of a beautiful
life. He was not a writer of programmatic music, but one wonders what was in his
The second half contained two short preludes, one of which, put together from
sketches may have been having it’s first performance in Scotland. Then we had the
great Preludes , written at the age of 29, which are often regarded , for their variety
and range of expression and technical difficulty as Chopin’s finest contribution to
music, wonderfully played by Martino Tirimo. He ended with an encore of a waltz,
more familiar and lyrical than his main concert pieces which left us realising that
there was a whole other side to Chopin’s work that was still to explore.
Throughout the concert none of the works were allowed to become ‘show pieces’, they were played with firmness and directness but still at all times the elegance and pathos of the works was allowed to shine through. The performance was received very warmly by an audience that Martino described afterwards as ‘very special indeed. Such stillness
and alertness one rarely encounters’. That, I daresay, was some reflection of the
quality of his playing.
Gina McCormack and Nigel Clayton
Friday March 5th 2010-03-10
Gina McCormack and Nigel Clayton made their second appearance at Kelso as a
duo, on March 6th, their last appearance 8 years ago. It was a scintillating concert
with finely balanced parts for piano and violin played by two very accomplished
performers. They started with a single movement Sonatensatz by Brahms, a
lively opener to the second piece, the sonata in F major by Mendelssohn, a work
of beautifully crafted interplay between the violin and piano, at times almost a
competition between the two instruments. It is a very elegant piece where the
individuality of the two roles is never subsumed by the energy or virtuosity of the
playing. In the beautiful slow movement as in the last scherzo it always retains its
lightness of touch.
This was followed by Britten’s Suite Op.6 which is an early work strongly influenced
by the atonal Second Viennese School. Like the Mendelssohn this is a very carefully
constructed piece, in which the sounds are often fragile and played on the highest
notes of the violin, and is much more self consciously abstract than the Mendelssohn.
Nevertheless the severe demands on the violinist in particular never intrude on the
musicality of the work especially in the expert hands of Gina and Nigel . At the end
of the work the abstraction gives way to an almost sentimental Viennese waltz tune
which makes a strange and haunting appearance.
The last work was Faure’s Sonata in A Op.13, a richer and longer piece than the
others, again with adventurous harmony for its time, but intense and romantic in
it’s feeling. Technically this concert was very demanding on the musicians to give
a clear reading of the composer’s intentions and Gina McCormack’s and Nigel
Clayton’s reading of the music was masterful, unassuming but perfectly placed.
Carducci String Quartet
Sunday 14th February 2010
‘Among the finest of the current exceptional crop of young British based quartets’
was how the Guardian newspaper described the Carducci Quartet who came to
Kelso to play for the Kelso Music Society on Sunday afternoon. And so they proved
to be, and the music society has seen a number of these prodigies in the last few
years. Their playing was as a single unit, beautifully shaped and controlled, elegant
but assured and very precise. They played three works by Haydn, EJ Moeran and
The three works were linked by folk themes. Haydn’s music is always full of playful
lyricism and occasional surprises and in ‘The Joke’ quartet he enjoys in the scherzo
particularly the atmosphere of the country dance. Similarly Moeran in his quartet
exploits the folk tunes of Ireland, which, as first violinist Matthew Denton pointed
out, could be seen as more Scottish than Irish in its origins. The piece had a warmth
and softness to it, however, that was essentially Irish. Moeran lived his life between
England where he was born and Ireland where he died. He was a drinking companion
of Peter Warlock and Arnold Bax. For the Carduccis, half Irish, half English, the
work seemed especially pertinent. Where the folk tunes of Moeran and Haydn had
been optimistic, in the slow movement of Beethoven’s first Rasumovsky quartet,
in the tune based on Russian folk music, the mood is more sombre, but there is a
lightness and energy to the work as a whole that was beautifully explained by the
And ‘The Joke’? At the end of the last movement of Haydns quartet the movement
appears to end, the bows go up in the air, the audience claps – and then they start
again with several more false endings before the final conclusion. It gets them every
The Dunedin Consort
Friday 20th November
Ancient met modern in the Dunedin Consort’s concert on Friday last at Kelso
Music Society in a very entertaining programme. The well-known Edinburgh
based group consisted of five singers under the leadership and direction of Susan
Hamilton. In the first half they sang William Byrd’s famous 16th century Mass
for Five Voices which was interspersed with some Scottish Renaissance motets
which lent a secular edge to the liturgy of the Mass. The strangeness of the motet
by Robert Carver anticipated very effectively the second half which provided a
wide range of part songs from the nineteenth century, with works by Sterndale
Bennett and Arthur Sullivan – a beautifully mournful song – to four elegantly
crafted part songs by Thea Musgrave, a very distinguished Scottish composer, on
a lover’s progress freeing himself from ‘love’s snare’, with words by Sir Thomas
Wyatt. Debussy followed, some wonderfully evocative settings to words by
Charles d’Orleans about love and youth and the seasons. And then the Dunedins
performed a series of songs written for them by Paul Mottram on the various
characters who had successfully or unsuccessfully tried to cross the Niagara
Falls on a tight rope, to fall over them in a barrel, to dive into them, and to swim
across them. They were 6 poems by John Greening each one given a different
construction and each one providing a very individual, amusing and evocative
commentary on the perilous escapades.
The singing, as ever with the Dunedins, was of the very highest order and
they made perfect sense of the poetry of the songs. The Byrd Mass could have
benefited from a more resonant acoustic than the school hall now offers since its
summer refurbishment but it was interesting to see how closely the modern part
song form relates to its 16th century precedents
We wish the Dunedins success with their imminent recording of the Bach B
minor Mass and hope it reaches the exalted heights of their previous recordings.
The Anton Stadler Trio
Friday October 23rd
Kelso Music Society were given a remarkable concert on Friday last by three of
Britain’s leading musicians, Janet Hilton, clarinet, Robin Ireland, viola, and Sarah
Beth Briggs, piano. Three pieces by Mozart, Schumann and Bruch were written
for that unusual combination of instruments. Mozart was the first to experiment
with the combination in his beautiful ‘Kegelstatt Trio’ and the other composers
followed, realising the extraordinary possibilities of having three such individual
voices playing together. As Robin Ireland pointed out each voice has to play both
as soloist and member of the group so the music moves continually from player to
player. What made the music so magical was the extraordinary musicality of each of
the players. Their sensitivity towards and understanding of the music gave the sense
of a conversation between three deeply involved people exploring their relationships
in differences and common ground.
The trios were complemented by three well contrasted solo/accompanied works, a
meditative and melancolic ‘Lachrymae’ for viola and piano by Benjamin Britten,
based on Dowland’s music, which positively sang off Robin Ireland’s three
hundred year old Amati viola; Leonard Bernstein’s lively and melodic sonata for
clarinet and piano with hints throughout of West Side Story which Janet Hilton
executed with wit, elegance and energy; and three ‘Character pieces’ for piano by
Benjamin Britten, written by Britten when he was seventeen and given their world
premiere by Sarah Beth Briggs when she was the same age. Two gentle studies
were followed by a storming and difficult final ‘personality’, beautifully played.
Doric String Quartet
Thursday 8th October.
Kelso Music Society opened their seasonal account on Thursday with an outstanding
concert given by one of Britain’s finest young quartets, now establishing a firm
international reputation as far afield as Japan, Israel and all over Europe - the Doric
They played three very powerful pieces by Mozart (K421), Prokofiev (Quartet No.2)
and Mendelssohn (his beautiful Op.44 No.3), a very well balanced programme,
opening with the richly shaped and elegantly contrasted Mozart whose dynamics the
Dorics exploited to the full, and followed, in the first half, by a strongly rhythmic
quartet by Prokofiev which leant heavily on the driving rhythms and tunes from
Russian folk music. In the second half they played probably Mendelssohn’s finest
quartet full of wistful melodies, lively, energetic and witty. The playing of the Dorics
gave every sign of having been very carefully worked out and the music was executed
with great strength, precision and intelligence.
In the afternoon they had visited Edenside Primary School and played for nearly an
hour to a hall full of very well behaved and enthusiastic 7 to 9 year olds who paid
very close attention and responded afterwards with some very good questions and
answers. Two of their audience came to the concert in the evening and even won a
CD in the raffle. It is hoped that more contacts of this sort will be made with other
schools in the future. Some of the finest players in the world are coming to Kelso
Music Society and it is important that some at least can reach a wider and younger
audience than that simply provided at the Music Society. This workshop was funded
through Enterprise Music Scotland by the Cavatina Chamber Music Trust, a trust
specialising in bringing live chamber music to schools.
Friday 16 January 2009
Comfortable after the holiday season and still with the left-overs of Christmas and Hogmanay hanging in the air, a packed audience at the Kelso Music Society was treated to a joyous evening of music by, by Kelso standards, a large ensemble of eight exceptional players, the London Concertante. They comprised a string quartet with double bass, clarinet, horn and bassoon. They started the evening with a short and lively arrangement for five instruments of Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel and then played a wonderfully witty and atmospheric octet by the French composer Jean Francaix, written in 1972 but timeless in its conception. It was evocative, playfull, it had moments of jazz and the Viennese waltz. One moment you were dancing, the next music was drifting nostalgically through a half open door, soft and muted. And it was written as a hommage to the final piece of the evening, Schubert’s glorious Octet. The same pattern emerges in the Schubert where energetic rhythmic episodes are followed by wistful, yearning, darker passages. Written when he was suffering from a venereal disease, the work seems to reflect his attempt to reconcile his suffering with the beauty of the world outside and in his past.
The playing was beautiful, especially in the wind section where the control of horn, bassoon and clarinet was magical. Just to show that they had another string to their bow the London Concertante played two encores; at the end of the first half an ethereal slow tango written by the Argentinian composer Piazzola, and then they whacked the audience at the end with wild gypsy rhythms in a piece written by their first violin, Adam Summerhayes. A heart warming evening all round.
Friday 27 March 2009
Benjamin Frith gave Kelso Music Society a storming end to their season on Friday, finishing with Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata, the greatest of his sonatas and one of the most powerful and demanding pieces in the repertoire. As a youthful prodigy Ben learnt this very difficult piece at the age of 19 and has been playing it for over 30 years. He is one of the finest exponents of this repertoire in the UK and it made a fitting conclusion to a very beautiful programme of works. The Hammerklavier sonata was not the only piece that was difficult to play. The 18th century Scarlatti sonatas that started the evening are notoriously technically demanding and the sonata by the Ayrshire composer, James Macmillan, was a tour de force. However it is a mark of the extraordinary ability of Benjamin Frith that he was able to make light of the fiendish playing problems to produce performances that were very moving and deeply thoughtful.
Schumann’s Kinderszenen – ‘Scenes from Childhood’ – provided a reflective episode in the programme. Written for his would-be wife Clara Wieck, they describe a series of 12 childhood memories and, although harmonically quite complex, were designed to be relatively easy to play. The treatment of each episode is each quite distinct in character but Ben was able to link them together so that they flowed into each other as they might in a dream.
This was a truly magical evening of great music and some of the finest piano playing we are ever likely to hear at the Kelso Music Society.
The Marais Wind Ensemble with Alexander Taylor, Piano
Friday 6 March 2009
At Kelso music Society we are continually trying to address the problem of an aging audience and trying to encourage young people to listen to a kind of music that is becoming increasingly unfamiliar to them. We had invited the Marais Ensemble, a group of five wind instruments and a piano, to come and play for us and we knew from the time they came before, three years ago, that they were not only superb instrumentalists, but also great communicators. Enterprise Music Scotland, who fund performers’ workshops in the schools through music societies in Scotland, seized on the opportunity and Broomlands Primary school were offered the opportunity of two full morning workshops with these wonderful musicians.
The workshops were led by the horn player, Tim Jackson, a composer himself, and the children were asked to write a poem around the idea of Beauty and the Beast, the theme of a movement from Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite which the Marais were playing at their evening concert. They then had to compose a short piece of music on this theme, using their own tunes and different sounds, some vocal, some instrumental. Before the main concert in the evening they played their pieces first in front of Broomlands and then in front of an audience in the High School.
The remarkable skill with which the musicians handled the children was matched only by the discipline, imagination and concentration that the children gave to the two mornings’ work. Tim, who has run these workshops many times, said that he had never experienced such good pupils. They understood the importance of silence in preparing music, they gave everything and produced an outstanding piece of musical invention at the end of the day. Several of the children insisted on staying for the first half of the main concert and, as I was sitting behind some of them, I could observe from their reactions that they were relating what they had learned in the workshops to other parts of the music.
The musicians were deeply moved by the response they had engendered realising that, in a crowded curriculum, children are not exposed to music as much as they should be. Full marks to Gillian McKenzie, the head teacher, for organising the time and space for the children to take advantage of the very special experience that these musicians had to offer. To say this was an educational triumph would be understating the case. It was an impressive recommendation of her school.
The children’s concert was followed by the main concert with a programme of Beethoven, Ravel, Hindemith and Thuile. The pieces – as ever with this group – were introduced in an entertaining and informative way and played superbly. The Thuile piece, of which few had heard, was something of a revelation, rich and romantic after the style of Brahms. The whole evening was a thoroughly heart warming occasion.