Pettman Ensemble at St John’s Smith Square play Lilburn and Schumann

If you’re going to St John’s Smith Square for chamber music, be sure to sit in a seat in the first five rows. The acoustic – called upon for numerous landmark recordings – will deliver on its promise. Your proximity to the stage will mean you experience the visceral qualities of the music as though you were a performer yourself.

That said, if you do choose to sit that close, don’t for God’s sake take out a notebook and pen, and start making notes during the performance. Bad form.

The Pettman Ensemble – billed as ‘a flexible touring ensemble affiliated to the Pettman National Junior Academy of Music at the University of Auckland’ (my, that’s a mouthful) – consisted of Julia Park (viola), Benedict Lim (violin), Stephen De Pledge (piano), Edith Salzmann (cello), and Royal Academy of Music head of strings and former RPO leader Clio Gould (violin).

Lim – a slight, unassuming but conscientious performer – opened the concert with a rarely heard but strangely familiar sounding work by New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn.

This was an unfussy performance that allowed a warm, rich and sonorous tone to shine. Some moments saw the solo line battle with the piano accompaniment, but Benedict was clearly at ease conjuring a range of colours and moods that belied his age.

Some top notes lacked commitment, but this remained an endearing introduction to a captivating work.

Schumann’s Piano Quintet Op.44 was a gloriously ebullient affair throughout. Exquisite, sometimes heartbreaking moments followed in the second movement with electrifying tremolandos from Lim. This was the turning point in the performance. Smiles abounded on stage. Reverie followed.

A ravishing lunchtime treat from a hard-working hungry bunch of musicians.



Edinburgh Festival 2017: Mitsuko Uchida plays Mozart, Schumann, and Widmann

There are performances that are so transfixing that to review them seems churlish. If the performer succeeds in transporting you, there’s little else to do but put your pen down and submit.

Mitsuko Uchida is one of a handful of musicians who has achieved that for me and, save for the occasional choking, coughing, and general spluttering, for most others in the Usher Hall too.

Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major K545

Uchida’s jaw-dropping technical mastery brought the playful innocence and joyful naivety in Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major K545 to the fore. In a matter of moments it felt as though everyone in the hall was hanging off every note she played. A remarkable achievement.

Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana

She continued to demonstrate her masterful control of the piano in Schumann’s eight-movement homage to author ETA Hoffmann.

In this work in particular we didn’t just marvel at the sound Uchida produces, but the relationship she forms with every single note the piano sounds. Each one is given its moment before she has to part company with it and move on to the next.

Here too she created epic drama with dazzling dynamic, tonal, and textural contrast.

Robert Widmann’s Sonatina facile

Premiered in Hamburg in January 2017, Jorg Widmann’s Sonatina facile paid homage to the Mozart piano sonata we heard in the first half. Widmann’s harmonic language has a wilfulness and playfulness, that part-ridicules, part-celebrates.

There are moments in the work when the harmonic language not only honours the original creation, but highlights the absurdities and contradictions of modern-day life too. A fun and entertaining piece. Loved it.

Robert Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major Op. 17

Uchida concluded her recital with a performance of Schumann’s C Major Fantasy that tantalised. Heartbreaking slow movements, contrasted with fiery dexterity, and deft pedal work. A performance that brought tears to the eyes.