Review: Violin and Piano Recital at Kettle’s Yard

JOE CONWAY : ‘A stray sunbeam drifted down through the skylight gilding her violin. Catherine’s eyes glanced heavenwards and the sublime semiquavers got underway.’

Bartok Catherine Myerscough Cesar Franck Gavotte Kettle's Yard Stephen Gutman

28th May 1.10pm at Kettle's Yard. Free

Bela Bartok

This lunchtime recital by Catherine Myerscough and Stephen Gutman reminded me of a famous literary quote. 'Off to violin-land, where all is sweetness, and delicacy, and harmony.' Of course this can only be a part of the story, as any classical concert inevitably includes a wide range of emotions, not just pretty ones. But arriving in the cool laid-back atmosphere of Kettle's Yard and listening to this delightful recital I certainly got the feeling of escaping to a better, more civilised world. So, yeah, see what you mean, Sherlock!

Catherine is a music graduate from Robinson who's currently studying at the Guildhall in London, where Stephen teaches. Together they played two substantial but contrasted works for violin and piano, both of them classics of the repertoire but both just a little off the beaten track.

The concert started however with the first three movements of Bach's E major Partita for violin solo. A slight figure wearing the ubiquitous black of classical concerts, Catherine stood poised to play this glorious music which means so much to fiddle-players. As it happened, a stray sunbeam drifted down through the skylight gilding her violin. Catherine's eyes glanced heavenwards and the sublime semiquavers got underway.

There was neatness and precision in her playing and crystal clear phrasing, with the music pulled about a bit to emphasis its shape. There were lovely echo effects in the Prelude, tuneful double-stopping in the Loure, and perfectly managed split chords in the funky Gavotte. But it was Catherine's floaty bowing which was really spectacular and a joy to watch, and which more than made up for the occasional tiny glitch.

Bartok's First Rhapsody made a brilliant contrast to the Bach and brought Stephen Gutman to the piano to play a fiendish accompaniment with confident mastery and an impeccable piano technique. This Rhapsody and its companion piece are two of Bartok's most attractive works, where the composer's long researches into East European folk music bore spectacular fruit. His aim was to create a kind of rough and ready village band sound and this performance by Catherine and Stephen succeeded admirably. Conveying the showy virtuosity of the gypsy-fiddling tradition at the same time as the poignant soulfulness which haunts so much Hungarian music. 

Exchanging the odd look, and thoughtfully waiting for each other at crucial moments, the two players kept their cool even in Bartok's most challenging and demanding writing. Much the same could be said about their performance of Gabriel Fauré's beautiful Violin Sonata No 1 which ended the programme. Not as well known as the César Franck Sonata, it nevertheless inhabits a very similar sound world, with its long dreamy tunes, fruity harmony, and sublimated passion. Yet Fauré's piece has a delicacy and modesty all of its own and which really suited Catherine's playing. It also has a kind of built-in encore in its refreshing and joyful scherzo.

An enthusiast in the audience almost committed the unforgivable sin of applauding after this bubbly second movement. Of course in Sherlock's day and age they just clapped when they felt like it!