Perfect control in a fitting finale

Iona Brown and Nick Byrne at St George's United Reformed Church, Morpeth.
Iona Brown and Nick Byrne at St George's United Reformed Church, Morpeth.

The final winter/spring performance of the 2016 lunchtime concert series was held at St George’s United Reformed Church and featured a strong duo of Iona Brown (violin) and Nick Byrne (cello).

This was the fourth appearance of Iona, the principal first violin of Royal Northern Sinfonia, and debut for Nick, who is also a member of the orchestra.

Iona performs regularly with the Da Vinci String Quartet, while Nick works as a freelance cellist and has recorded with many pop artists for BBC radio.

Their concert consisted of three works, all composed in the first quarter of the 20th century.

The first by the Russian composer Gliere was an eight movement piece for violin and cello written in 1909. This consists of a delightful series of contrasting short movements, with variations of style, mood and tempo.

From the rather dark and gloomy prelude, with its slow moving minor chords, to the light tripping gavotte and through to the dramatic and bold scherzo and the fast and furious finale, the two musicians provided a masterclass in string playing.

There was slick interplay between them and notation was clear. Add a magnificent tonal quality with perfect togetherness and the result was outstanding.

The high level was continued in the second work by the Norwegian composer Halvorsen, the Passagaglia in G Minor on a theme by Handel. The whole piece is based on a main theme with many variations.

Although the music had a modern sound, the 17th century style of Handel was never far away and there were clear echoes of his harpsichord suite as the music unfolded.

Again, the excellent playing of Iona and Nick contributed to a memorable musical experience.

The main work of the concert was Ravel’s Sonata for violin and cello, which was completed in 1922 after two years in preparation. This is a complex and dramatic work, with four contrasting movements, and presents a huge technical challenge.

But from the opening passages it was obvious that Iona and Nick were in perfect control.

The second movement alternated between bowing and plucking and required accurate and precise playing. There were clear indications of Hungarian folk music in certain passages. The chorale which followed was deep and sombre, and decidedly bleak. This led into a sensuous and vigorous finale, with many interwoven themes, which eventually developed into a complicated and fiery climax.

This is a most difficult work, but the two performers were more then capable and rose to the challenge in a thrilling manner. Their playing was of the highest standard and a large audience showed its appreciation.

The autumn series of concerts begins on Wednesday, September 14, and features two young local musicians, Michael Fu and Nichole Souter, both flute. Admission is £3. For information contact Gillian Irvine on 01670 515870.