Antoine Tamestit and Cédric Tiberghien at Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, on 14 June 2017

Great Music in Irish Houses is making a habit of seeking out new and surprising venues, and today’s concert is no exception, bringing its audience to the hallowed surroundings of the Royal Irish Academy’s meeting room. More associated with learned gatherings and public lectures, its evenly-balanced acoustic also proves excellent for chamber music, and it would be nice to think that this might not be the last time it serves as a space for concerts.

The sense of a special gathering is appropriate, as the performers—renowned violist Antoine Tamestit and pianist Cédric Tiberghien—make their first joint appearance here today, with Tamestit giving his Irish debut. Leading chamber players in France, and fresh from a recital earlier in the week in London’s Wigmore Hall, their appearance in Dublin is a real coup for the festival.

 

A hush descends, and from the very first note—gently sprung, perfectly timed between them—their music has a special quality. Tiberghien is a tremendous pianist, fluid, precise, and absolutely attentive to his partner. The sense of concentration draws everyone in. The opening work, Henri Vieuxtemps’ Viola Sonata in B-flat, vividly comes to life in their hands, with Tamestit’s exquisite playing bringing out the work’s glittering detail and dancing passagework with a real sense of drama. Despite his dates, Vieuxtemps’ style harks back to the bel canto style of the operas of Rossini or Bellini, and Tamestit’s playing responds to this with rich tone colours and a wonderful sense of line.

In terms of programming, this is very much a concert of two halves, and after the interval the lyricism of Vieuxtemps is set aside for a meditation on the musical relationship between Brahms and the second Viennese School. It’s a warm evening, so jackets are off, and Tiberghien sits at the piano with all the relaxed style of a jazz player as he launches into the densely abstract textures of Alban Berg’s Op. 1 Sonata. His poised reading is deeply engaging, detailed and fresh, unlocking the many shifts of tone and dynamic. All the same, the work’s uncompromising style creates quite a contrast with the rest of the programme.

 

The paired ‘Nachtigall’ [nightingale] songs—putting late Brahms and youthful Berg side-by-side—bring Tamestit back on stage. While he brings a beautiful bloom to the melodies, these short arrangements seem to lack something as instrumental pieces, and are oddly unsatisfying. The players close with Brahms’ superb Sonata in F minor, published as being for either viola or clarinet, though better-known as a vehicle for clarinettists. Tamestit makes a compelling case for seeing this as a work for viola, his bowing silky-smooth and emphatically lyrical by turns. After this, the inevitable encore reprises the bel canto ambiance of the first half, as they play an arrangement of the aria Casta Diva from Bellini’s ‘Norma’. Tamestit refers to it as “the little cherry on the cake”, and indeed it is, sweet, refined, and—like the concert itself—over all too soon.

 

Programme:

Henri Vieuxtemps: Sonata in B-flat for viola and piano, Op. 36; Elégie for viola and piano in F minor, Op. 30

Alban Berg: Piano Sonata, Op. 1

Johannes Brahms: Die Nachtigall, Op. 97/1 (arr. for viola and piano)

Berg: ‘Die Nachtigall’, from Seven Early Songs (arr. for viola and piano)

Brahms: Sonata in F minor for viola (or clarinet) in F minor, Op. 120

Encore:

Bellini: ‘Casta Diva’ from Norma (arr. for viola and piano)

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