In concert – Benjamin Baker and Daniel Lebhardt @ St James’s Piccadilly, London


Benjamin Baker (violin, above), Daniel Lebhardt (piano), St James’s Church, Piccadilly, 18 January 2016

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

Britten – Suite for violin and piano, Op.6 (1934-35)

Elgar – Sonata for violin and piano in E minor, Op.82 (1918)

Violinist Benjamin Baker and pianist Daniel Lebhardt are both promising musicians in their twenties, and here they performed an attractive pairing of the young Britten and the ageing Elgar. This was part of the Richard Carne Trust Series, a lunchtime concert given in the generously lit, spacious surrounds of St James’s Piccadilly, a fine Christopher Wren church.

Britten was a relatively serious child, and although the Suite for violin and piano is an early work, completed in his early twenties, it has the mark of a composer already sure of himself in form, melody and writing for the violin. Britten still has fun through a number of dance forms, though, and after a bold as brass introduction Baker and Lebhardt strode confidently through a March, well balanced and intuitively finding the flexibility in Britten’s rhythms.

This togetherness was even more apparent in a dramatic Moto perpetuo, a nervy piece of writing, but this fraught mood dissipated in the bell-like chords with which Lebhardt began the Lullaby. Finally the Waltz, a brazen but very enjoyable affair where the performers could perhaps have been more exuberant, but where they took some very tasteful liberties with the rhythm, as Britten instructs in the score.

Elgar’s Violin Sonata was a different story, darkly passionate in the intial outpouring of feeling in its first movement but contrasted with a ghostly quieter section that even on a cold January lunchtime sent a shiver down the spine. Elgar is fiercely lyrical in the outer movements of this work, and Baker did well to project this over an equally active piano part. The two found the grace of the Romance, where it felt as though they were dancers in hold, charming with slow steps but occasionally drifting apart.

Elgar’s determination returned in the finale, the tune consistently putting its head above that of the piano and achieving a well-won victory by the end. The two showed great understanding of the older man’s music, a fine interpretation that reminded me this piece was one of Nigel Kennedy’s earliest recordings. Baker and Lebhardt, then, have followed in illustrious footsteps!