Varied Virtues

Varied Virtues - Elder Hall, Sunday February 21

Review by Stephen Whittington

A program of relatively unknown works and a superb line-up of musicians lifted this concert well beyond the run-of-the-mill.

We all love the 'Archduke', but we don't want to hear it and other familiar pieces all the time. Beethoven's quirky Variations on an Original Theme showed what the precocious young composer could do with what seems to be an unpromising theme. As he was to convincing demonstrate later in the Diabelli Variations, it is not so much the material that matters but what you can do with it. After this lively and engaging start, we plunged into a dark and dramatic set of variations on a Finnish folksong by the underrated Ferruccio Busoni, a genius who spoke numerous languages and corresponded with James Joyce and Albert Einstein. Cellist Timo-Veikko Valve was on home ground with this work, which seems intent on exploring the darkness of the Nordic soul. The demanding piano part was expertly handled by Kathy Selby, matching the high intensity of Valve's cello.

Violinist Andrew Haveron had a lot of notes to deal with in Schubert's Fantasy in C major, a strange piece which, as Haveron revealed in his introduction, has attracted as much critical scorn as it has praise. Its excesses could be considered part of its charm, while its loose structure is in the spirit of an improvisation. Haveron and Selby captured its varying moods, sudden changes and oddities beautifully, while dispatching its notey effusions with the utmost efficiency.

After interval came Arensky's infrequently heard and utterly charming Piano Trio. Delightful, very Russian themes, outbursts of passion, quicksilver runs and fistfuls of notes all tumble over one another with never a dull moment, leaving no possibility of boredom for players or audience. The performance was once again of the highest order, bringing a very satisfying afternoon of music to a perfect conclusion.

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