Holywell Music Room, 2nd March 2008

Wandering past a posterboard for the Holywell Music Room coffee concerts it is easy to feel a twinge of jealous admiration for the pro-active types who forego their Sunday morning torpor for a fix of culture and caffeine. The anxiety is quickly soothed, however, with comforting convictions of this breed’s rarity. How very unnerving then, on one’s first ever venture to this kind of concert, to encounter a room filled with audience members, as it was at last Sunday’s recital featuring violinist Thomas Gould and John Reid on the piano.

On occasions like these an aura of expectation builds and the resulting pressure on the performer can be a little overwhelming, particularly in the amphitheatre-like set up of the Holywell Music Room. From the kick off into Franz Schubert’s Fantasy in C, however, Gould and Reid delivered the goods with finesse. Gould leapt into the piece, communicating an electric spark to the audience whilst maintaining a clarity and smoothness of tone. At the same time, Reid’s sensitively judged rubato and articulation allowed the audience time to soak up every ounce of the highly expressive performance. Equally in the third movement, Gould’s light finger work and buoyancy was matched by Reid’s cascading ripples across the keys.

Their rendition of Karol Szymanowski’s Mythes, Op 30 was possibly even more captivating. The ethereal world of the Greek myths was vividly portrayed by both performers. Reid’s dynamic variety alone was enough to create a narrative in its own right while Gould flicked between the gritty earthiness of the lower strings, and unearthly harmonics, skated out with a touch so delicate that his fingers seemed instead to float, cloud-like, above the surface of the string. This dream-like sense otherworldly was dispelled as Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke brought the audience back to their senses. The lyricism of the first two movements was enhanced by Gould’s finely nuanced vibrato and the dialogue between the two: The transfer of the line from piano to violin and vice versa was seamlessly accomplished. The two came together in the last movement with a sharp injection of vigour which gathered up momentum as they hurtled towards the resounding final cadence.

Such an energetic performance, Sunday morning or not, is bound to have anyone skipping down the steps of the Holywell Music Room.”

by Hannah Nepil

The next coffee concert at the Holywell music room is next Sunday, March 9th, at 11.15am, and will feature the Chamber Players performing works by Arensky and Tchaikovsky (tickets available from Tickets Oxford 01865 305305).