The Review: A classic case of talent JOE MCAVOY
Summer Music, Paxton House, Berwick-upon-Tweed, July 14-24 With the arts scene in the central belt currently in its pre-festival lull, hundreds of people have been heading south, to Berwickupon-Tweed, for their fix. For the past 10 days this picturesque, rather sleepy spot has been transformed into a thriving cultural metropolis.
Classical music fans from throughout the UK dust off their picnic hampers for the Summer Music Festival at Paxton House. Now in its 10th year, it features high-quality chamber groups and soloists from across the globe. This year’s line-up included artists from Tokyo, Denmark, London and Vienna among others. Instantly recognisable names included the violinist Jack Liebeck, the prize-winning Bronte String Quartet and the Scots soprano Catriona Holt. The varied programme featured works by Debussy, Dvorak, Janacek and Haydn, whose music is brought to life within the magical setting of the John Adam-designed Palladian house, with its lush grounds beside the River Tweed. An estimated 1,800 people will have passed through the land during the festival for the daily chamber recitals and a diverse programme of events including an art exhibition, Music and Movement — which features a visual retrospective to celebrate the festival’s 10th anniversary — and an inaugural spectacle, Prom-on-the-lawn. Though the festival has always brought Europe’s finest and most established artists just north of the border, it has remained dedicated to giving emerging talent the rare opportunity to perform in a chamber setting. Tuesday night was devoted to a young musicians’ platform concert. The performers gathered in the sumptuous picture gallery, the largest private gallery of any Scottish country house, adorned with superb paintings by Henry Raeburn and Joshua Reynolds. A daunting venue, you might think, for young hopefuls to showcase their talents. But the musicians, mostly creamed from Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, showed no signs of nerves, and put on a polished performance at this near-capacity concert. The night got off to a confident start with 23-year-old Neil Wilson delivering a masterly execution of the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz’s Suite Espanola for guitar. He also excelled on the difficult Sevilla, an atmospheric sketch subtly evoking the cadences of the region’s dance and folk
delivering a masterly execution of the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz’s Suite Espanola for guitar. He also excelled on the difficult Sevilla, an atmospheric sketch subtly evoking the cadences of the region’s dance and folk traditions, which he handled with due delicacy. It was a fitting introduction from Wilson, who next accompanied Naomi Berrill for Radames Gnatalli’s Sonata for cello and guitar. The sonata had a contemporary and upbeat edge, infused with a jazz sensibility that hinted at the composer’s Brazilian roots. A measure of any good festival is that you should encounter something quite unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. For me, this was it. Berrill was ably joined by the pianist Ancute Nite in Schumann’s mood piece Fantasiestücke. It was to be the highlight of the evening: watching Berrill crouched over the cello, her slender arms trembling as she tried to contain its sublime tonal power, was like watching a matador tame a beast. Near the end of the piece, I caught a glimpse of what looked like trainers under her evening dress — fitting, really, as on the whole youthful energy prevailed over the masters throughout the evening. The rest of the recital saw an eclectic mix of Debussy’s swirling, dream-like Suite for Piano and a robust vision of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 8 by the Ragazze String Quartet. The Summer Music festival finishes today, but there is just time to dust off that picnic basket and head down to the Borders.