Mark Viner with the Camerata

Mark Viner with the Camerata in Manchester
Every time I return to Manchester there is always something exciting and vibrant to discover.
Thanks to the adventurous programming of the Manchester Camerata every concert in their series “Up Close – The Next generation” in collaboration with the Keyboard Charitable Trust, we discover a new venue.
This close collaboration now in its second year was welded with great passion by Geoffrey Shindler with the wish to share the expertise of one of the finest Chamber Orchestras in Europe of which he is Honorary Chairman with the young musicians of the Keyboard Charitable Trust whose aim is to help the very finest young pianists to bridge that gap between completing their early studies and embarking on a major career in the music profession.
The artists presented so far have included : Alexander Ullman at the award winning Whitworth Art Gallery;Emanuel Rimoldi at “Home” a new exciting arts and meeting venue built where once there was a leather factory;Iyad I. Sughayer in Manchester Cathedral, so cruelly bombed during the war but reborn magnificently thanks to the resilience of these hardy warmhearted folk from the North;Ilya Kondratiev in the newly opened Stoller Hall ,part of the famous Chethams Music School in the centre of Manchester.
Now it was the turn of Mark Viner in the Anthony Burgess Foundation in the old industrial part of the city.
Follow that big red chimney I was told by one of the very friendly locals here.
And there it was just a stones throw from the centre in what was formerly one of the oldest mills in the country.
A rubber warehouse opposite that still displays the sign of Dunlop. Another sign proudly displays “The Burgess Foundation.”
Created by his widow Liana Burgess in 2003, ten years after the death of her husband, to celebrate the man who is most famously remembered for “A clockwork orange”.
John Anthony Burgess Wilson was born into a poor working class family in Manchester in 1917 and studied at The Victoria University. Simplifying his name to Anthony Burgess on the publication of his first book in 1956 “Time for a Tiger “.
The Foundation contains much of the furniture that was in his house in Bracciano near Rome in Italy and also houses his archive of writings as well as his 250 compositions.
For he considered himself a composer rather than a writer and I remember discussions with Anthony Burgess and Mario Maranzana one of the most important actors in our theatre company at the Ghione Theatre in Rome, about performing a musical of his.
Small world …..having just flown in myself from Rome to Manchester’s superb international airport.
The flight incidentally from Rome to Manchester was much cheaper than the return train fare would have been from London to Manchester!
Importantly the foundation houses his two pianos :one a Steinway K and the other a magnificent Bosendorfer that was used for the concert tonight.
Mark Viner recently made his Wigmore Hall debut as prize winner of the KCT and whose recording of Alkan Studies has been greeted with five star reviews from the press.
Hardly surprising for the programme to include some rarely if ever performed works by Charles – Valentin Alkan,that elusive french contemporary of Chopin and Liszt who became a recluse and is rumoured to have been killed when the bookcase fell on him whilst reaching for the Talmud that he was translating.
His son Elie – Miriam Delaborde taught the daughter of an America General:Lucy Hickenlooper who under the name of Olga Samaroff (wife of Leonard Stokes alias Leopold Stokowski)was the teacher of many distinguished pianists that included William Kapell,Alexis Weisenberg,Rosalyn Tureck and more interestingly Raymond Lewenthal.
It was he who was the first pianist in modern times to champion Alkan’s music.
Taking the concert world by storm as indeed Mark Viner is on the verge of doing now.

                                Mark Viner with Geoffrey Shindler
Still under thirty he is rapidly becoming a world expert on Alkan and that period and is already Chairman of the Alkan Society in England.
It was thanks to him that Manchester was treated to the first performance in modern times of the Andante avec Sourdines op 13 n.3 for solo piano and strings as it was originally conceived as the central movement of The Deuxieme Concerto da Camera op 10.
Eva Thorarinsdottir,violin and Dan Storer,double bass joined forces with Catherine Pether,Kay Stephen and Hannah Roberts in the evocative performances of these long forgotten works.
Originally performed in Paris with Alkan himself ,there were reports in the press of the day of a magical piece with string accompaniment.
The piece had remained as a solo piano work since that period as the parts had mysteriously disappeared only to be found a few years ago in a music cellar in the Netherlands.
It was this performance that we were treated to today.
Together with the Concerto op 10 with the slow movement that “Field of Bath” had premiered in 1834 on Alkan’s first visit to England. The concerto is dedicated to the English virtuoso of the day Henry Ibbot Field.
Fascinating stories that Mark Viner is happy to recount to the audience before embarking on some memorable performances.
Music speaks louder than words but the few very succinct words of introduction certainly added to the atmosphere that was created in this intimate space .
Some wonderfully atmospheric playing of great beauty.
The sound of Burgess’s own Bosendorfer was the ideal instrument that blended in so well with the string players who in turn were visibly entranced by the sounds that were resounding around this space as the daylight gently turned to dusk and the gentle candle like lighting allowed the players just enough light to maintain the spell that had been created.

                           Mark Viner talking about Alkan
There is nothing so beautiful as the magical sounds of the piano with gentle string accompaniment as Chopin in his Krakoviak or even mighty Beethoven in the slow movement of the Emperor had long realised.
Here tonight we were treated to a lesson in chamber music with the musicians listening intently to each other.
Caroline Pether visibly transported as the hawk like eyes of Hannah Roberts sought out the nooks and crannies that could be filled by her passionate cello playing.
Some amazing feats of dexterity from Mark Viner in sounds that sounded almost like soft glissandi but infact was the same most transcendentally delicate virtuosity that made Alkan so much admired in his day by Chopin and Liszt.
The short Chamber Concerto that followed allowed the string players more scope to add their own stamp on the proceedings in what is truly a concerto for piano and string orchestra.
All the drama fully realised by Hannah Roberts with the low opening vibrations that open the concerto leading to a passionate tutti where all the players were totally convinced by this until now unknown composer.
Great octave flourishes from Mark Viner always blended in with the string sounds in what was very much a “chamber” concerto.
The concert had opened with a piece that the eighteen year old Schubert had written three years before the Trout Quintet that made up the second half of this evening of real music making.
The Adagio and Rondo Concertante in F major D.487 was the ideal opening piece that immediately set the seal for the entire evening.
The Mendelssohnian type writing that the young Schubert had penned completely integrated into the overall sound created.
I would think that in the repeat performance that will take place in Adbaston tomorrow the musicians will be able to have even more fun in their assurance now that each player is listening intently to each other and ready to change direction and inflection in the true spirit for which this music was conceived
A fascinating musical conversation between equals.
The piano part not as pianistically well written as with Alkan and falls somewhat awkwardly under the hand. We were never made aware of that in Mark’s expert hands and the notes just seemed to cascade so easily from his fingers as did the passionate sounds from Caroline Pether,Kay Stephen and Hannah Roberts.
Greeted now with glee by Geoffrey Shindler who admitted that like Neville Cardus he had spent the afternoon at “Old Trafford” and in the evening in the company of “real” music.
Geoffrey who has for so many years been a pioneer of culture in his adored city.Happy to see that yet another of his projects was bringing such lustre to his city. He recounted that Neville Cardus had once written a marvellous piece in the Guardian about a cricket match in which he had poetically talked about the beauty of the surroundings and also of a cricket match that he was alarmed to realise too late had never actually taken place. When confronted by one of his readers in his typical Mancunian down to earth manner merely answered that if the match had actually taken place that is exactly what would have happened!
After the interval a much loved work written when Schubert was only twenty two for the wealthy music patron and amateur cellist Sylvester Paumgartner.
He had specifically asked that it should include variations on the lied ” Die Forelle”.
In fact it is the “Trout” that makes up the fourth movement :Andantino,Allegretto and where the cello is given such an important part to play.
Some really stylish playing from Hannah Roberts where she made the music bubble over with just the joy that is so much part of the original song.The sounds from the other instruments answering her in turn.The high ornaments from Caroline and Kay exactly depicting the bubbling brook that this lucky trout was allowed to wallow in.
The piano and double bass bringing us back to earth with the same warmth and beauty of sound that had been the hallmark of the evenings music making.
An Allegro vivace of great rhythmic drive and interplay between the instruments where the opening flourish of the piano was beautifully answered by the stillness of the strings.
The Andante played with all the poetic cantabile that had been so apparent in the Alkan slow movements.
Great sense of energy in the Scherzo made for a fine contrast with the sublime opening statement of “The Trout” from Caroline Pether visibly moved by this performance.
The Allegro giusto played with a subtle charm by Mark Viner that was answered by some passionate playing from Hannah Roberts and the mellifluous double bass of Dan Storer.

                                         Alkan in rehearsal
What a memorable evening thanks to teamwork not only of the musicians but of their young enthusiastic organisers James Thomas.Jo Ponsillo and the indispensable Emma Wigley.
Future projects voiced between the General Manager Bob Riley and the KCT insures that this is only the beginning of a fruitful relationship as hoped for by Geoffrey Shindler.
The next concert on 22nd June in a Hungarian Festival in which Vitaly Pisarenko will perform the “Ghost ” trio with members of the Camerata .
Many more projects in view for the autumn that makes for a very exciting prospect for all concerned.

             Bob Riley General Manager and Jo Ponsillo Orchestra Manager

James Thomas ,Head of Artistic Development and Programming with Emma Wigley Concerts Officer

                                                Luke Jones with Mark Viner

The artists after the performance of Alkan

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