REVIEW: Amy Harman, Brighton.

Amy Harman
Amy Harman

Coffee Concert – Trio of Amy Harman (bassoon), Olivier Stankiewicz (oboe), Tom Poster (piano) at The Attenborough Centre, Sussex University Campus

Couperin Suite: Ritratto dell’amore (Portrait of Love, Royal Concert No 9 in E major; 1724); Dutilleux, Sonata for Oboe & Piano (1947); Saint-Saens, Sonata for Bassoon & Oboe Op 168 (1921); Schumann, Three Romances for Oboe & Piano Op 94 (1849); Jolivet, Sonatine for Oboe & Bassoon (1963); Poulenc, Trio for Oboe, Bassoon & Piano FP43 (1926).

You hear more audience chuckles in a wind concert than a strings one. True, on Sunday’s evidence and other Coffee Concerts gone before. Wind music listeners have more fun. Fact, ditto. Do wind players have more fun, too? Quite probably.

It’s in the music written for the instruments over the centuries, and the Coffee Concerts audience is learning that smiling and laughter in the concert room is good for you. More string quartet fans are slowly getting themselves along to the wind concerts. The benefits are plain. Spring was in all steps emerging from the Attenborough Centre into a November chill after being amused and delighted by Amy Harman (principal bassoon with the Philharmonia Orchestra , Frenchman Olivier Stankiewicz (principal oboe with The London Symphony Orchestra) and the ubiquitous pianist Tom Poster. It was their debut together anywhere.

Composers seem to turn to strings first when serious or sad. If they are clever enough, with wide enough musical personalities even to consider it, they incline towards winds when they want to entertain, be playful as well as tuneful and lyrical, share their sense of humour, and get out their colouring box. Some composers, of course, can write in all moods in either instrumental form. This is all generalisation, I know. But it’s the greater feat to make wind instruments carry serious sentiment convincingly without the help of strings alongside to place the wind sound in the easier context.

We learned on Sunday, for instance, that this was natural with just winds alone to such a friendly composer like Henri Dutilleux, who made it to 98 years old, and André Jolivet, whose 1963 piece was the most recently composed we heard performed. It was exciting. Harman and Stankiewicz combined so adeptly to rhythm, alertly to nuance and timbre, so brilliantly to the wit, agility and vitality within.

Hearing the Jolivet’s conversational and quippy writing, I was glad this kind of work stands a chance of surviving from the 60s era when so much music, like the abundance of concrete in building expansion, seems to have deserved oblivion, having made it so easy for The Beatles to clean up.

One thing impressed on the audience after the Dutilleux was the sheer feat of top-rate woodwind playing, in this instance the demands on the lungs to control and articulate an oboe. We could hear Stankiewicz retrieving his breath after the movements (Wind players have more puff. Fact).

A recent new young audience member from the University who plays double bass told me on Sunday the Saint-Saens Sonata for Bassoon & Piano is a favourite . . . a string player of the new generation thumbing-up a wind piece. Harman assured us it was a masterwork for her instrument because Saint-Saens shows how thoroughly he understood it. She also told how six years earlier the composer reportedly railed at what he heard to be Stravinsky’s abomination of the bassoon in its opening solo to The Rite of Spring. That was the second performance and Saint-Saens wasn’t Russian.

When Schumann wanted to give his wife Clara a loving Christmas present, he decided an oboe would do the best job he could dream up. In his Three Romances it was an oboe d’amore if ever there was one in the beautifully sensitive hands of Stankiewicz. Schumann likewise knew what he was doing and programme notes writer Guy Richardson on Sunday informed us that Schumann’s fears were founded that his publisher would seek to make money through alternative arrangements of the Romances by casting the oboe part out of character on the violin or clarinet.

Poster arguably had the role requiring most preparation, as a pianist walking along many different musical paths. He possesses an immaculate versatility, not to mention adaptability, and Schumann and Saint-Saens, front-line piano composers, were both his spotlight and reward.

Harman, Stankiewicz and Poster discarded the 1994 trio by Jean Francaix as their programme-closer and instead switched from the beginning to the end their wonderfully cheeky and alive account of the Francis Poulenc Trio. They opened instead with Francois Couperin’s illuminatingly special 9th Portrait of Love, from his set of 10 Concerts called The Accumulated Flavours.

This 9th Concert is a suite of eight dances, each a warming illustration of intimate Baroque and our trio were in delicate period mode. A trio then would likely have been of flute or recorder, viola de gamba and harpsichord. The titles were these: Charm, Enjoyment, Grace, Je ne sais Quoi, Vivacity, Noble Pride, Sweetness, and . . . wait for it . . . Etcetera.

Didn’t I say wind players have more fun?

Have you spotted the odd composer out? (Schumann is German. Deducing by the other five, might it be that those who have the most fun are the French?)

Richard Amey

This was the first of the Coffee Concert Series in the 400-seater Attenborough Centre until late 2018 while the Corn Exchange is re-cast as a new performing space. Parking is free, there is rail to Falmer Station opposite Sussex University Campus or the No 25 bus between Brighton city centre and the University (Sports Centre stop).

The Dome’s Andrew Comben announced that Coffee Concert audience favourites and season’s brochure cover stars Heath Quartet are to lose 2nd violinist Cerys Jones, who is leaving.

She has children, lives in Cardiff, and Heath are increasingly in touring demand. We will remember the exciting whole she created with Oliver Heath, Gary Pomeroy and Chris Murray, her outwardly warm commitment when playing the music and the greeting audience – and her edgy image she brought to the Heath’s recent photoshoots.

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