Hastings Philharmonic (Chamber Ensemble) perform Schubert, Dohnanyi and Brahms with polish and verve

Christ Church St Leonards-on-sea, Saturday 1st December 2018

By Andrew Myers

If, like me, you have fallen into the habit of listening to classical music almost exclusively in recorded form, it can be an anxiety-inducing experience going to see a live concert. Modern editing and production techniques have trained listeners to expect unattainable levels of perfection. Will the strings be in tune? Will the interpretation match that of the Penguin Guide’s top recommendation? Will there be – horror of horrors – any mistakes??

Hastings Philharmonic (Piano Quartet)
PICTURE: Peter Mould @artypharty

I should not have worried – within moments of Aysen Ulucan (violin), Chian Lim (viola) and Richard Harwood (cello) putting bow to string, it was clear that this was going to be music making of a very high standard indeed.

This should, of course, come as absolutely no surprise to anyone. Hastings has a long and distinguished tradition of classical music performance, and all the players this evening have impressive pedigrees, performing at national and international levels.

The first piece, Schubert’s String Trio in B-flat major, D. 471, was delivered with lightness and grace. Seeing a live performance is a great visual reminder of the way chamber music is a conversation between the instruments. The precision of the ensemble playing was seemingly telepathic.

The trio produced a perfectly blended and polished sound, the magnificent surroundings of Christ Church St Leonards providing just the right level of light reverb.

I was about to berate the audience around me for committing the cardinal sin of clapping after the first movement, when I realised the piece was over  – Schubert only completed one movement, something I would have known had I read the excellent programme notes more attentively. I am, however, noticing a bit of a pattern with this Franz Schubert guy leaving things unfinished.

The second piece – Dohnanyi’s Serenade for String Trio – was new to me, and this spirited performance was a wonderful way to discover the work. Hats off to the trio for programming  lesser-known repertoire. The players negotiated the often extreme contrasts in the piece effortlessly. The extraordinary Scherzo in particular was played with great vitality.

After the interval, the trio was joined by a local legend, pianist Frances Rayner, for Brahms’ Piano quartet in G minor. This was a performance of vigour and direction, and the exuberant finale almost had people dancing in the aisles.

Which brings me onto the question of audience. The concert wasn’t badly attended by any means, but such a high level of musicianship deserves to be heard by an even wider audience. The Hastings Philharmonic is certainly not alone in having to wrestle with the problem of attracting new listeners to classical music – they’re doing their bit by offering free tickets to under 18s. There is fantastic music on our doorstep, so if you are a classical music fan in Hastings, spread the word!

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