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Isabelle van Keulen & Aleksander Madzar
Blackheath Halls 17 April 2005

Debussy: Images for piano, Book I
Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major, op. 78
Prokofiev: Cinq Melodies, op 35b
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in A major (Kreutzer), op. 47

A pleasant, safe programme for Blackheath Sundays regulars, with satisfying accounts of two of the most popular standard sonatas. It was a good idea to begin by introducing on his own the modest-seeming pianist who was previously unknown to most of us, and about whom the programme notes were unrevealing.

Aleksander Madzar is Serbian born virtuoso pianist who responded positively to the acoustics of the hall and Blackheath's Bösendorfer. By searching the Web you can find that he has a substantial international career. Debussy's Images was an unusual starter and showed his command of tone colours and unassertive virtuosity. His manner is undemonstrative but he partnered Isabelle van Keulen positively, distinguishing his tonal palette with crisp articulation for Beethoven after a more romantic sound in the first half.

The Dutch born string virtuoso Isabelle van Keulen, a prominent international violinist and viola player, has a wide ranging repertoire on both instruments, and is often to be heard in concert in UK and on record. Before reading her biography I had been struck by the rich and mellow viola-like tone of her violin. From the Blackheath notes, I learnt that she is married to clarinettist Michael Collins (Blackheath Sundays last week) and is settled in this country.

That explained my puzzlement some time back when I heard them both together with the Philharmonia and wrote of Bruch's 'amiable but dull double concerto' as 'the sort of piece that might be worth an occasional airing by orchestral section leaders, but not to warrant the cost of engaging two top-flight soloists'!

There is not too much music for clarinet and viola, but I am sure the three of them could devise a good programme for us to welcome them back to Blackheath together?

Aleksander Madzar & Anthony Marwood
Wigmore Hall, London May 14, 2006

Bach Sonata in E, BWV1016
Debussy Sonata for violin and piano
Schumann Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.121

Another fine duo recital with Aleksander Madzar, who is getting better known in London, and will be back in Blackheath next month.

A full audience of Wigmore Hall connoisseurs received in silent listening and warm appreciation a programme that would have emptied a recital venue not long ago, Debussy's sonata the least unfamiliar item.

Both artists were in fine form and attentive to each other. Marwood, more often heard with the Florestan Trio, never presented himself as soloist (q.v. Susan Tomes' distressing article about duo billings and financial inequity) and responded to the different soundworld Madzar created at the piano for each composer.

Perfectly attuned to the acoustics of the hall as well to their partners, we were easily persuaded that the Bach duo sonatas deserve exposure equivalent to that of the far more popular solo partitas, and - more of a challenge - that late Schumann should not be derided and ignored. The Debussy was detailed in its impulsive volatility, and clearly had been thought through and carefully rehearsed by both artists. No encore, but we left thinking that this would be a fine CD programme; unfortunately record companies would probably judge that it wouldn't sell, more's the pity.

Aleksander Madzar returns to Blackheath Halls on his own Sunday morning 4 June with an extraordinary piano recital programme: the Diabelli Variations to start, then Ravel's Miroirs, finishing with a Haydn sonata. Let's hope that Blackheath's connoisseurs turn up in force, and that some others will be persuaded to make the journey to South-East London.


© Peter Grahame Woolf