At one point in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the narrator is listening to a sonata for piano and violin by the fictional Vinteuil, when “at a certain moment, without being able to distinguish any clear outline, or to give a name to what was pleasing him, suddenly enraptured, he tried to grasp the phrase or harmony – he did not know which – that had just been played and that had opened and expanded his soul”. Some suspect that the author might have had Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano in mind. The wistful opening is both haunting and ineffable, and the wisps of violin melody were beautifully caressed into life by Benjamin Beilman. What really impressed me was the 22-year-old violinist’s sense of the architecture of the piece: the climaxes were immaculately shaped. In the recitative at the opening of the third movement, he started out passionately, and dissolved to nothing in a way that was truly magical. Beilman is definitely one to watch out for: technically adept young players are legion, but artistic maturity of this calibre at such an early age is much rarer. The partnership with the experienced Lambert Orkis at the piano worked a treat, although the latter might have made the melody at the start of the second movement stand out a bit more from the surging figuration.

Benjamin Beilman © Christian Steiner
Benjamin Beilman
© Christian Steiner

The final concert of the Musica Viva Festival continued with Ernst von Dohnányi’s Sextet, a marvellous work for piano, violin, viola, cello, horn and clarinet. The first two movements employ lush, late romantic harmonies; the third is more simple and lyrical; while the finale breaks into something akin to a hoe-down. The players embraced the emotional range of the work, the finale being delivered with especial gusto. When all was fortissimo, things had a tendency to lapse into indistinctness, but given my experiences at other times in the festival, this probably had more to do with the hall’s acoustic than any real misjudgement. In the second movement, there was a lovely play with sonorities in the exchanges between viola, clarinet and horn on the one hand, and the piano, pizzicato violin and cello on the other. The clarinet’s melody at the start of the third movement was also memorable. A special word of commendation is due to Ian Munro at the piano, who was unspectacularly excellent throughout, and exemplarily clear in his passagework (although he clearly missed out on the memo about the all-black dress-code, wearing instead a dissident white shirt). The drunken waltz near the end was simply hilarious, and Dohnányi’s final joke (seeming to end in D flat major, before undercutting it with a quick cadence in the correct key of C major) nearly caught out the enthusiastic audience.

In the second half we were treated to Mendelssohn’s Octet, by some distance the greatest composition ever written by a sixteen-year-old. The work is a masterpiece of textural drive and invention, and the third-movement scherzo in particular is often regarded as the first in a line of fairy music textures whose later descendents include Berlioz’s Queen Mab Scherzo, and Mendelssohn’s own Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This sprightliness and exuberance was well captured by the combined Goldner and Pacifica Quartets. At one point in the scherzo, a figure is batted around by the ensemble, descending from the violins to the cellos before returning back up. In this moment of wonderful theatre, we could literally see it passed across the semi-circle of players and back again. However, it wasn’t all headlong forward impetus – the lovely oasis in the middle of the first movement was beautifully handled, with the pace allowed to slacken just a fraction. The eight players were fascinatingly different in temperament, ranging from the stolid (viola 1) to the exuberant (violin 3). What united them all was a sense of teamwork and communication, which never once slackened. They clearly had a ball, and, to judge by the warmth of the ovation at the end, so did the audience. This work, indeed the concert as a whole, was a fitting end to four stimulating days of music-making. Roll on 2015!