Review: Lunchtime Live! at Portsmouth Cathedral: Catherine Lawlor and Valentina Seferinova

Portsmouth Cathedral, Feb 2

Szymanowski for lunch was a rare treat served up with some relish by Catherine Lawlor and Valya Seferinova. Portsmouth and its catchment area are well catered for in musical talent and they are two of its main ingredients. Today they were introduced by the doyen of Radio 3 announcers, Piers Burton-Page who provided comprehensive synopses of the music.

The pieces are as programmatic as they are impressionistic, Valya beginning with Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie, beginning concentrated and intense in the misty depths before rising mightily with its bells, organ and chanting priests but that was just for starters.

Szymanowski is a potent mix of lushness and twentieth-century torments. If I thought of him as one of any number of artists who might be called ‘The Last Romantic’ that does him no justice. The Myths, op. 30, are three dramatic settings of tales from Ovid. The Fountain of Arethusa described her traumatic metamorphosis into a stream and beyond with Catherine conjuring the most delicate effects from the violin. Narcissus was condemned to the loneliness of being transfixed by his own image before becoming a flower with some crystalline top notes on the strings and Dryads and Pan were intoxicated and orgiastic in the sometimes demur understatement of the summary by Piers in music that defied any attempt at gentility.

Valya does raw energy and scintillating power as impressively as she does sensitivity and Catherine was compelling in her lightning pizzicato, the distant strains and perfect tone she achieved in what I hardly need guess is a considerable technical challenge.

The whole performance was totally absorbing and the duo’s disc, Myths and Legends, is something to look forward to even if one can’t beat hearing it for real as it happens in the flesh. I know I enthuse about most if not all of these concerts and that’s not just to be polite, that’s what they are like but today we can begin the shortlist for the Event of the Year 2023. 

David Green

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