Shrewsbury School

'An Evening of Chamber Music with François Ragot' - review by Martin Knox

Thursday 13 June 2013

Francois RagotA conspicuous feature of recent concerts has been the contribution of members of the music staff.   Before half-term, organist Alex Mason played his part in the novel and haunting sound of the Sanctuary Ensemble and was to be heard again in one of the annual summer recitals in the Chapel. In the same venue, Sally Lane (flute) and Jane Gleave-Pickett (guitar) entertained us last Friday lunchtime and what a treat it was to hear again this wonderful instrumental blend. In choice of repertoire and in execution, whether of solo or duet, they got it exactly right, filling the large space with ease and grace.

On Saturday evening, two of our own were joined by Fanny Cobus (viola) and François Ragot (cello), distinguished teachers and performers, whose respective CVs showed what a wealth of experience they brought in both capacities. It had been a “selling-point” of the advance publicity that the cellist was using an instrument on which the great Pablo Casals had played and while this did in its way add something to the occasion, the glorious sound of all four participants was what lingers in the memory.

The programme was well chosen, for once on the short side and none the worse for that.  Two substantial compositions, quartets by Fauré and Schumann, with a generous interval between, made it possible to concentrate and appreciate without strain. The very detailed notes, the best we have had in years, gave some idea of the depth and range of the works and it would take more than one hearing to get “inside” these masterpieces, but what did make an instant impression was the unanimity of attack and the rich blend which emerged. It seemed as if the quartet had been playing together for years. David Joyce led in inspired form, John Moore was as ever irrepressible at the piano, and our guests rendered the lower string parts with delicacy and power as appropriate. Their virtuosity was always at the service of the music, so that on the one hand themes were clearly articulated, and on the other, an almost orchestral fullness of tone was accomplished when required.

We have come to take the Maidment building for granted, but we are in fact very fortunate in having an auditorium in which such beautifully balanced playing can be appreciated. The acoustic properties, subtly variable, permit  ff  which is never harsh, and  pp without loss of detail.  The discerning music lovers who attended at the weekend were profoundly appreciative. There was a “buzz” at the interval which reflected a successful first half and at the conclusion, the artists were recalled several times. It was a nice touch, possibly spontaneous, for the quartet to come back each time in a different order. The spirit of “first among equals” prevailed; they had clearly enjoyed their time together.

Martin Knox

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