Iffley Music Festival 2017

Alissa Firsova (piano) and Natasha Sachsenmeier (violin)

Iffley Church Hall, Saturday March 11th, 2017

Alissa Firsova

There was a curiously tentative beginning to this second concert in the Iffley Music Society' s Triennial Festival of 2017. Both violinist and pianist seemed to be feeling their way with Schubert's sonatina No. 1, normally an unchallenging piece. But Alissa Firsova and Natasha Sachsenmeier quickly regained form in Debussy's sonata, one of the surviving three of the six sonatas for various instruments that he planned for what became the last three years of his life. This performance brought out in clarifying contrast the different elements of what was in some ways transitional music between the romantic assurance of 19th century romanticism and the fragmentation and uncertainties of the wounded world that survived the Great War. Alissa and Natasha had clearly thought hard and deeply about this stimulating and difficult work and brought it superbly to life.

Natasha Sachsenmeier

Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella provided both rest and recreation in a most attractive essay in a reassuring and melodic formulation of familiar forms but unfamiliar substance. Szymanowski is little known to today's concert-going audiences; even his once popular violin concerto is little heard these days. This is a pity since, as Alissa and Natasha revealed so well here, his music has a fascinating range and complexity.

The highlight of this concert was a breathtaking and memorable presentation of Franck's wonderful sonata in A. The cyclic structure of the score lends high-order unity to a work that has been well described as symphonic in scope. Natasha's lucid phrasing wove intricately and convincingly with the framework of Alissa's sensitive structuring of the complexly beautiful piano music. The crystalline sound patterning of this performance was surely a convincing refutation of the tale that Franck originally intended this work for the 'cello.

The concert concluded with Franz Waxman's Carmen Fantasie. This was written for the 1946 tear-jerker film "Humoresque" as a virtuoso violin exhibition piece and was presented with great brilliance by Natasha. As a musically inventive treatment of themes and moods from Bizet's opera it provided an appropriately sprightly ending to a delightful evening.

Jeremy Kelvin Smith