Iffley Music Festival 2017

Anna Tilbrook (piano) and Philip Dukes (viola)

Iffley Church Hall, Friday March 10th, 2017

Anna Tilbrook and Philip Dukes

Iffley Music Society warmly welcomed back the fine pianist and accompanist Anna Tlbrook to another of its Triennial Festivals. On this occasion she was accompanied by Philip Dukes, "Great Britain's most outstanding solo viola player" (The Times). Iffley was indeed privileged to host two such brilliant artists to open three days of musical excellence.

An especial pleasure of the evening lay in Philip Dukes' genial and informative comments on the works presented. He also explained the unfamiliar shape of his instrument, a viola in the shape of a viola d'amore made for him by a Japanese instrument maker in Philadelphia - surely an example of globalization in effective action. In Philip's hands it produces a beautifully rich sound and its shape provides for necessary size with improved left hand access.

For the start of this delightful evening, the contrasting moods of languorous lyricism and sprightly rondo in Schumann's Adagio and Allegro exemplified the range and command that Anna Tilbrook and Philip Dukes bring to their music-making. Anna followed with a thoughtful and sensitive performance of Schubert's Impromptu in B flat, truly a work that is ever new.

Since the extinction of the fretted six-stringed and bowed instrument for which it was written, Schubert's Arpeggione sonata has been resurrected in several guises, most commonly for the 'cello but also for saxophone, flute, double bass, and euphonium(!) as well as viola. For this reviewer, Anna and Philip have established the viola (at least if shaped like a viola d'amore) as definitive for the work in its tonal individuality and balance with the piano. A very fine performance indeed.

"Lachrymae" is Benjamin Britten in teasing mode. It presents a theme from a song of Dowland with variations but does so backwards; the theme is only revealed after the variations. Cognoscenti might be capable of constructing the theme from the variations as they accumulate or might know the Dowland anyway. Philip Dukes took pity on the audience, many of whom were hearing the work for the first time, by playing the Dowland theme as prelude; this greatly enhanced enjoyment of the piece. At first encounter, even when brilliantly played as on this occasion, it risks being deemed more intriguing than instantly attractive.

Brahms sonata op 120 (1) is another work originally conceived for another instrument (clarinet) but for which the viola is undoubtedly to be preferred. Anna and Philip gave an exemplary and echt Brahmsian performance of this quasi-symphonic work. The texture was wonderfully rich, but themes and correspondences emerged with clarity while emotion was distinguished in expression of intensity not merely volume. What superb artistry!

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