Viv McLean (piano) and Craig Ogden (guitar), 22nd December 2019
They were queueing out of the doors and the Holywell Music Room was packed to the rafters for the last of this year’s coffee morning concerts. However the audience, from young to old, settled attentively to listen to the opening piece – Viv McLean’s interpretation of Chopin’s Two Nocturne in G Minor Op. 37 No. 1, which turned out to be only one nocturne. But one was enough to lower the frantic festive heartrate and sooth seasonally shredded souls. A sombre melodious bass threaded through the piece, at times teetering on the edge of melancholy and at others offset by teasing notes in the upper range. The nocturne was reminiscent of rain on a window pane until the final timbrous note echoed into silence.
This balm to the spirit was followed by the uplifting notes of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D for strings and lute – and for lute read the rhythm and melody of Craig Ogden’s consummate and exuberant guitar playing. Here in the opening allegro the strings and guitar pass the central ritornello, hoppity skippity, from light-fingered violins to precisely plucked guitar strings - humorously exploring instrumental commonality and tonal differences. In the middle section the guitar asserts itself with gentle strings led by measured guitar tones and the piece concluded with a vivacious allegro with connotations of hot summer nights and wild Spanish tarantellas.
Craig then moved into his solo section of the concert – fittingly for the season going off piste from the programme including his interpretation of Bach’s 5th Cello suite (with formidable fret fingering and persistent plucking) and concluding with a tango full of drama and fully exploiting the repertoire of his guitar playing skills with slapping, knocking and complex fretting executed with flair and precision.
The concert concluded with Saint-Saëns Septet in E flat, Op 65 played by violins, viola, cello, bass, piano and unusually, but intended by the composer, the trumpet. Apparently Saint-Saëns originally thought the inclusion of the trumpet absurd but was eventually cajoled into writing this piece, which proved to be one of his most popular. However mindful of the potentially more strident tones of the trumpet at the opening of the piece he allows the strings and piano to establish themselves before the trumpet's opening, prolonged note perfectly executed by Jon Holland. Throughout the composer is mindful of maintaining harmony and balance amongst the players, allowing different instruments to come to the fore at different times. This is evident by the piano’s opening of the third movement, establishing a rhythm which will act as counter-point to the other instruments more melodic lines throughout the movement. Finally the piece concluded with the joyously driven trumpet gavotte, with roiling bass lines from Jub and plucky staccato strings sinuously winding round the ensemble who then happily threw round notes and melodic themes.
So a typical and stirring concert to conclude this year’s Sunday morning coffee concert series. Everyone from players to the packed audience really relished the morning’s music and the musicians were greatly appreciated by an enthusiastic, foot stomping audience. I eagerly await the start of the 2020 season on 5 January with the charismatic Heath String Quartet playing Beethoven.