We were privileged to hear two very accomplished artistes playing challenging repertoire tonight in the excellent acoustic of St John’s, Keswick. I didn’t realise until I heard the first notes that I already know the most recently written and most topical piece in their programme, Post scriptum by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, written in 1990. I worked with this music several times in connection with the war in former-Yugoslavia, in particular with video footage I was editing of the atrocities at Srebrenica. I most recently heard the piece on Thursday last week on French radio, who played it on the first day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Valentin Silvestrov was born in Kyiv in the Soviet era, he withdrew from public life following his public opposition of the invasion of Prague in 1968 but was able to compose more independently as a result. Silvestrov’s Post scriptum is clearly about division and great sadness. Sophie Rosa and Ian Buckle have been playing Post scriptum for many years and its inclusion tonight had already been programmed. Their seasoned performance brought huge intensity, tension and depth but although the music is about loss, it is not about tears.
Impossible to hear it played in front of me so vividly without recalling searing images of war with which I’ve worked through my career, particularly former-Yugoslavia, but also Tiannamen Square. Also, the disarmingly charming photograph of Keswick Railway station, through which I’ve now walked many times, entitled “Keswick lads, off to the front, 14 September 1914”. The original is now in the care of Keswick Museum but is displayed on one of the information boards on the Keswick Railway Footpath. At least the Keswick lads had a dry day for their send-off. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that again; meanwhile, there was a collection plate for Red Cross, Ukraine.
The catharsis in the concert was provided with classical form and rhythm by “sunny Beethoven”, his F major Sonata known as “Spring”. Not that young Ludwig doesn’t demand huge dexterity from the pianist and virtuosity from the violinist... in which challenge Sophie Rosa and Ian Buckle were almost uncanny in the ensemble of their performance. Their encore of Edward Elgar’s miniature, Salut d’Amour, has a melencholy tinge beneath its drawing room lilt but I’m sure tonight’s audience went home happy nonetheless.
Sophie Rosa and Ian Buckle had earlier played Dream Valley, their assortment of six English miniatures which they devised as an EP for the Covid lockdown, another time of separation. We were yearning for music in the lockdowns but couldn’t concentrate, so miniatures fitted the bill. The mood of this selection moves from distraction to solace and escapism to a kind of levity. Lockdowns having passed (we hope), this is a fine showcase for virtuosity.
Robert Schumann’s rarely played Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor was a fantastic opener. This is big music even though there are only two performers. The first movement is abstract though traditional in tonality but modern in concept, being based on a set of initials, F A E. There’s a long flowing melody in the third movement which Sophie Rosa played lovingly; she plays a Joseph Gagliano violin dating from 1795, with a Claude Fonclause bow. Beethoven was aged 25 years and it was fifteen years before Schumann’s birth when this Joseph Gagliano violin was crafted; it has a glorious rich tone, particularly in the lower register. The Schumann’s Finale is challenging for both players, I particularly noticed the complexity of the piano part and how apparently readily Ian Buckle took us into it.
The piano was Keswick Music Society’s own Steinway Model B, dating from the 1930’s; the instrument has been moved recently to St John’s and under Ian Buckle’s fingers sounded warm but not over-bearing.
Once again, we are lucky that Keswick Music Society has brought music at an international level to lovely Keswick in a thought-provoking programme. A fragile pleasure to be treasured, like peace in Europe.
Sophie Rosa, violin, and Ian Buckle piano
Robert Schumann: Sonata no 3 in A minor, WoO27
‘Dream Valley’: an assortment of English miniatures
Including Richard Rodney Bennett, Rebecca Clarke, Frank Bridge, Cyril Scott, Roger Quilter, Angela Morley
Valentin Silvestrov: Post scriptum
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata no 5 in F, op 24 ‘Spring’