Sunday 19 August 2018

EIF 2018 - Ringstad and Meier at the Queen's Hall, or, A Refreshingly Diverse Programme

After three years when post-1945 classical music has been conspicuous by its thin representation in Festival programming, after the transformative work of Jonathan Mills, this year has seen a slight up-tick. It's also seen something of a return to the Mills practice of encouraging mixed programmes which I think, by their number, did help to build up an audience willing to risk the occasional new work as opposed to when I first started attending the Festival, when such a work in a programme was usually guaranteed to drastically reduce the audience, even for major visiting orchestras.

On paper, and despite the more unusual instrumental soloist (viola as opposed to the more regular piano or violin) I'd have hoped to see a larger audience for this programme - given the inclusion of crowd pleasers like Tartini's Devil's Trill and and Ysaye's Caprice d'apres l'Etude en forme de valse de Saint-Saens. But it was a stronger audience than might have been seen for a programme with a world premiere in the McMaster era.

We were treated to an absolute feast of viola playing from Eivind Ringstad, accompanied by pianist David Meier. Ringstad had all the technical skill and the presentational panache to bring off the highly virtuosic aspects of pieces like the Tartini and the Ysaye. But it never felt like empty showing off - rather there was an electricity to it, also a sense of fun. Nor did Ringstad lack emotion - drawing a rich, feeling tone in the more introspective movements - most notably the Fantasia of Franck's Violin Sonata, or the Schubert Ave Maria.

Peder Barratt-Due, whose Correspondances was given its world premiere at the end of the first half, was a composer new to me. At first I wasn't convinced. In the opening section the piano thumped away with disjointed rumblings replied to by snatched notes from the viola - this felt repetitive and lacked a sense of shape and direction. But as the piece developed it drew me in with some beautiful fragments of melody which allowed the viola to sing, and some interesting playing with the possibilities of the instrument at its highest sounds.

Overall, this was a scintillating morning recital, and one of the highlights of this year's Festival. It will be available to listen again via the BBC website for the next few weeks so is well worth catching up with if you missed it.

Housekeeping note: This concert overran by about 20 minutes. Obviously the world premiere was longer than expected, but I suggest it would be helpful to audiences generally if the Festival adopted what is increasingly normal practice elsewhere (see the Proms and Aldeburgh for a start) and gave the length of pieces where they are known in the brochure and programme.

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