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Bax Legend for viola and piano (1929)
Bridge Short pieces
York Bowen Sonata No.2 in F (1911)

Matthew Jones viola Michael Hampton piano

St John's Smith Square, London 8 May 2008 at 1pm

Dedicated to raising awareness of the depth and quality of the solo viola and piano repertoire in overlooked music (much of it British and inspired by the pioneering work of Lionel Tertis), this distinguished and indefatigable touring duo returned to St John's with an intriguing and unfashionable programme.

We were not given the dates of The Bridge Duo's selection; their eponymous composer was a violist, but wrote little for his instrument. Instead, we were given between the main works a few viola arrangements from what can be characterised as charming early salon pieces. The Bax Legend is expansive and for the most part dark hued, a work of romantic escapism.

Edwin York Bowen's music is enjoying a small revival. In my earlier decades the music library shelves had substantial holdings of his sonatas for piano and various other instruments. He was a formidable pianist and they are difficult. Thse for viola exploited the techniques developed by Tertis, especially by extending the upper register. No 2 proved to be expansive, developing to the full material which itself was not particularly notable. It was dated chamber music which would not have held our attention for long on radio or disc, but made for an engrossing hour heard live.

Both are expert musicians, Matthew Jones notable especially for his ability to spin long pianissimo lines. Michael Hampton is an attentive partner, achieving clarity and perfect balance to support the viola, always watchful to ensure perfect rhythmic accord. Today's audience, scattered in the vast expanse of St John's, looked small and lunch time recitalists would do well to invite their listeners to move nearer to create closer rapport.

Long passed are the days when the BBC's Monday lunchtime concerts at SJSS attracted large audiences (q.v. Itzhak Perlman in Bach there during 1977 on the recently reviewed Allegro Films DVD).

The Thursday series no longer seems to attract many workers from the nearby offices, and I was far from the oldest listener at St John's. The music was warmly received, everyone was content, and the hour made for a memorable oasis in the City's midday bustle on a hot day when most people were taking their lunch breaks out of doors. During the rest of the day, I spent time reviewing CDs of ground breaking music by Ives and Varese representing similar periods, worlds away from the prevailing English complacency...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Alice & Martin Neary in lunchtime recital at St John's