Review: Cambridge University Music Club

JOE CONWAY : ‘Cordelia highlighted the musical and mystical qualities of the work while delivering the bravura passages with commendable accuracy, but with a measure of modesty and restraint too.’

Cordelia Williams Dante Sonata England Glinka Lara Dodds-Ends Paul Patterson Peter Facer Phoenix Sonata rosalind ventris

11th June 8pm at West Road Concert Hall. £7/£5/£3

I felt like cheering or waving a Come On England flag at the end of Cordelia Williams' performance of Liszt's Dante Sonata on Friday night. In order to get enough purchase on the last three emphatic D major chords Cordelia had almost leapt off the stool in her enthusiasm! But the performance had not only ended triumphantly. The opening descending tritones with their evocation of dark magic, the feverish repeated note theme with its suggestion of Dante's Inferno, and the voluptuous second subject which hints at better things, were all brilliantly characterised. 

In a brief introductory chat Cordelia had told the audience at West Road that she was on a mission to emphasis the sonata's deeper qualities rather than its showy side. So there was no steely-fingered virtuosity and no revelling in pianistic pyrotechnics for their own sake. Instead Cordelia highlighted the musical and mystical qualities of the work while delivering the bravura passages with commendable accuracy, but with a measure of modesty and restraint too. And yet fantastically successful though the sonata was, I must confess that her playing of Beethoven's Six Bagatelles was in some ways even more breathtaking. The beauty of right hand tone, the balance between the parts, and the delicate shading in the opening movement were phenomenal – and that was just the first eight bars! But then I guess I could happily listen to Cordelia Williams' playing for hours . . .

I feel much the same about the stunning viola playing of Rosalind Ventris who performed a substantial set to end the programme that Cordelia had begun. Her swift and precise bowing is a joy to watch, and her left hand delivers meticulous intonation that's a pleasure to listen to. In a rare viola sonata by Glinka she was partnered at the piano by Lara Dodds-Eden and effortlessly conveyed the early romantic spirit of the music. Much of the writing is relatively high but there were occasional opportunities for Rosie's rich and vibrant C-string tone.

Hindemith's Viola Sonata No 1 may well have surprised people who'd not heard it before. Written in 1919 a few years before the young composer delved into neo-classicism, it starts with one of the most gorgeous tunes ever written for the instrument and is heavy with the perfumed influences of Wagner and Debussy. Only in some slightly pawky fugal writing in the finale is there anything that foreshadows the later Hindemith. But it's clear that the composer had already begun his life-long love affair with the viola's incomparable sound.

Placed between the two Shakespearean heroines on the programme (oops, sorry girls!) was yet another brilliant young musician and recent Cambridge graduate, oboist Peter Facer. His excellent contribution to the programme began with two ravishing Schumann song transcriptions. Peter's purity of tone, superb intonation, and delicate phrasing more than made up for the lack of words and a human voice. Together with pianist Alison Procter he then gave a scintillating performance of Paul Patterson's Phoenix Sonata. This attractive and accessible three movement piece is highly demanding for both players especially in its athletic outer movements. The slow movement, with its appealing inflexions of eastern folk music, provided some respite, and offered opportunities for more sustained playing.

This was a fabulous showcase concert but was also a slightly sad occasion in one sense, as it was the last ever gig to be presented by the Cambridge University Music Club. Founded in 1889 CUMC has a hugely proud history, and it's good to report that this isn't so much the end as a new beginning. In fact next term when the club is incorporated into CUMS it will step up its activities considerably. Watch this space.