MusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

Songs of Love and War – Dewsbury Town Hall

Musicians: David Greed (violin), Ian Buckle (piano)

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

The Dewsbury Lunchtime Concert Season is part of Kirklees Council and Opera North’s initiative to bring regular musical events to the area. Faced with continuing financial stringency, both the Huddersfield Concert Season and the Dewsbury lunchtime concerts rely ever more heavily on the host company, but this brings no reduction in quality.

Songs of Love and War was the rather tendentious, and only partially accurate, title for the first of two appearances in the season by David Greed, leader of the Orchestra of Opera North, and Ian Buckle for whom being Opera North’s pianist of choice makes for a busy life: only 36 hours previously he had been appearing at Ripon with two other orchestra members. 

David Greed briefly, but with great conviction, stated that the Dewsbury season is something that must not be allowed to die out – and it is, indeed, a very popular series with an atmosphere all its own. The one-hour lunchtime concerts are preceded by snack lunches for those who want them and plenty of the audience listen to the concert still seated at their lunch tables. However, the informal atmosphere doesn’t exclude seriously intense music. The seasonal programme has its light-hearted side, it’s true, but it also includes concerts such as this one, two substantial and challenging pieces by Ravel and Elgar.

Both pieces were first performed in 1919 and the programme described them as being by “two composers deeply troubled by the global conflict”. The more obvious links to the First World War come in Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin for piano solo in which each of six movements is dedicated to a friend who died in the war. The other major influence is that of French baroque keyboard suites: “tombeau” in this context is a memorial piece and Couperin represents the French baroque as a whole.

The mood is overtly cheerful; when challenged about this, Ravel said, “The dead are sad enough.” Most of the movements use dance rhythms and there is no slow movement, but Ian Buckle was able to suggest the underlying unease beneath the animated surface. The Fugue, for instance, substitutes a moderate tempo and a classical restraint for the dizzying melodic patterns often associated with the form. Buckle is the least flamboyant of pianists – which served him well in, for instance, the stately, but faintly mysterious, Minuet – but capable of dazzling pianistics in the final Toccata.

Elgar’s Sonata for Violin and Piano is of the conventional pattern of a slow movement – in this case a Romance – sandwiched between two Allegros. The first movement moved from a dramatic opening via a more introspective section to a further outburst of anger. Even in the last movement, broken phrases hinted at the background against which it was composed, but the closing pages, stirringly and eloquently played by David Greed and Ian Buckle, suggested a more dynamic and optimistic conclusion.

Not the easiest listen for a Wednesday lunchtime, but well received by a discerning audience.

Reviewed on 14th November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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