Oxford Lieder Festival – Mr McFall’s Chamber: Solitude

Mr McFall’s Chamber (above – Cyril Garac, Robert McFall (violins), Brian Schiele (viola), Su-a Lee (cello), Rick Standley (double bass), Maria Martinova (piano)

Sallinen Introduction and Tango Overture Op.74a (1997)
Pärt Für Alina (1976)
Tüür Dedication (1990)
Mustonen Toccata (1989)
Pēteris Vasks A Little Summer Music (1985)
Toivo Kärki Täysikuu (1953)
Sibelius Einsames Lied (arranged for piano sextet)
Unto Mononen Satumaa (1955)

Holywell Music Room, Oxford
Wednesday 17 October 2018 – 5:30pm

Written by Ben Hogwood

This recital, given in the intimate surrounds of the Holywell Music Room, was centred on Solitudes, a recent release of Baltic chamber music from Mr McFall’s Chamber, a group founded by violinist Robert McFall and centred around friends from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

This is surely how chamber music should be – a group of friends playing music that has mutual appeal – and the chemistry between the group was that of easy familiarity and affection. That affection spread to the audience, thanks to an easygoing set of introductions from McFall to put the music in context.

Over an hour’s concert we had seven very different and well-chosen pieces, linking nicely with the Oxford Lieder Festival’s theme of the Grand Tour and providing context of the Estonian music ahead of the evening concert from Kai Rüütel and Roger Vignoles.

Neighbouring Finland also got in on the act, and the Introduction and Tango Overture from Aulis Sallinen proved a bold opening piece once its persuasive rhythms and bold melodies got going. We heard more of the tango in Finland towards the end, with brilliantly swung versions of Toivo Kärki’s Täysikuu and Unto Mononen’s Satumaa.

Contrasting nicely with this was a brief but very poignant excerpt from SibeliusBelshazzar’s Feast, Einsames Lied (Song of Solitude, giving the concert its name), and a substantial Toccata by Olli Mustonen, which took Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos as its inspiration but used powerfully driven rhythms and motifs to make a punchy piece with full bodied Romantic harmonies. As with the tangos, these were performed with great character and verve by the sextet.

To balance the concert rather nicely there were pieces for reduced instrumental forces. The brief meditation of Für Alina from Arvo Pärt, Estonia’s favourite composer, left a lasting mark through the sustain applied by pianist Maria Martoniva. So too did the powerful Dedication for cello and piano by fellow Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür, whose output falls under the influence of his time in progressive rock band In Spe. This blended catchy melodic riffs into a powerful call and response between cello and piano, with expressive cellist Su-a Lee and Martoniva quick to get to the heart of the piece.

Meanwhile A Little Summer Music, from Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, offered a sunny counterpart, its six short movements bursting with life and melody. Written as something of a pastiche, this did nonetheless work beautifully as six brief picture postcards of a Baltic summer, the violin imitating insects in the final movement while exploring attractive Latvian dances in the second, third and fifth. Cyril Garac played these with great dexterity and energy, helped with the fulsome accompaniment of Martoniva.

This was a hugely enjoyable concert, opening the door to a number of musical discoveries. Yet Mr McFall’s Chamber had one more trick up their sleeve, an encore of the hymn from SibeliusFinlandia, with the piece de resistance a solo role for Su-a Lee on musical saw. It was strangely moving as well as humorous – and capped a terrific concert.

Further listening

You can hear all of the repertoire from this concert performed by Mr McFall’s Chamber on Spotify. The album was made for Delphian Records:

The Oxford Lieder Festival – why you should go and see it!

written by Ben Hogwood

Sometimes judging a book by its cover can bring the best possible results. For a few years now the immaculate publicity and tempting programmes of the Oxford Lieder Festival have been beckoning me in – and 2018 was at last the year I travelled to Oxford for the day to experience a day in the company of song enthusiasts.

If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be attending a concert of classical song, let alone travelling for three hours to see a couple, I would have politely asked you to leave the room. Yet thanks to the Wigmore Hall I have gradually come to know and in some cases love the ‘Lieder’ repertoire, all the way through from Mozart to the present day.

I attended the festival on Wednesday, where the focus was on Italy, Russia and the Baltic countries, notably Estonia. As you will read in the following three reviews, to be published on Arcana later today, I could not praise the Oxford Lieder Festival highly enough for its ability to appeal to all concertgoers, regardless of what stage in their audience life they are at. A combination of slick organisation, a relaxed approach to concert going and a clear love of their cause shone through at all times. The performers clearly loved to be there too – in each of the three concerts smiles were frequent, long-lasting and genuine.

The ’fringe’ activities excelled too – the Language Labs, where people can get to know the characteristics of the language they will hear in song later in the day, are invaluable. A talk about The Grand Tour from the Ashmolean Museum’s Matthew Winterbottom was entertaining and informative, throwing the Italian vocal compositions of the time into a fresh context. The integration of restaurants and bars into a mix already containing some striking venues was a great plus too, showing the city of Oxford at its best.

The festival, then, is greater than the sum of its many parts – and there really is something for everyone in the twists and turns of its Grand Journey this year. If you are within striking distance of Oxford, I heartily recommend it.