Review: Mallinson, Wisener & Startseva at Chichester

Chichester Cathedral, 23 January

Peter Mallinson and Matthias Wiesner are two viola players, and Evgenia Startseva is the piano engine room, a combination I’ve not seen before, playing pieces arranged for such a trio but one specially written for it.

Bach is like the comprehensive index to all music and in a way much more of a place to begin than where to end. The Sonata BWV 1029 opens with a Vivace that is very ‘Brandenburg’ before the crepuscular Adagio has the violas hanging in the air over the piano’s wary tread and the velvet strings are measured in the intricacies of the Allegro. MWS, which they will be known as for convenience here, made a mature, sensual sound out of the lush intelligence of the score and we will wait in hope of a recording of them doing so.

The Allegretto from Schubert’s String Quartet D. 887 was wistful with maybe a suggestion of ‘palm court’ elegance or sentimentality about it before, very much by way of contrast, A pale blue dot (2019)by John Alexander, who was present even if Bach and Schubert were indisposed. The dot in the title is the image of the earth on a photograph taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 from a distance of 4 billion miles away. The music begins with endangered species, its chill shifting to urgency before Evgenia’s piano is nervous. the pebble, tended by its shadow is desolate with the two violas stranded, perhaps, without accompaniment, then fragile and pizzicato with a precarious top line.

As has happened before on such programmes, one can take the Bach very much for granted while something else makes a deeper impression but it was Bach’s music that was sent into outer space on Voyager’s highly improbable mission to make contact with any other life that might be out there which, it was suggested, was ‘just showing off’ what one of our species was capable of. But only, really, him and a few others who also did very well.

A pale blue dot is solemn, bereaved but I hope not quite ‘apocalyptic’. Delivered movingly and concentratedly by MWS, I was glad to find it on one of their discs on the way out and look forward to giving it several more hearings. It’s a shame I didn’t know about it when Radio 3 were asking not long ago for nominations of great C21st pieces.

Elgar’s Wild Bears, after that, was almost by way of a lollipop after the main course, dashing along but not always fitting in with the impression I’m getting of the composer from the biography in which I made my way steadily to page 482 beforehand. If I can read at the tempo of Wild Bears for the next ten days, I should get it back to the library without having to renew it.

Elgar was lauded in his lifetime, even by such as Fritz Kreisler, as belonging alongside Brahms and Beethoven. I might not quite go that far but England, or Britain, hadn’t had any such composer since Purcell. It’s a good thing that the piece of most interest today, in a programme that also included him and two genuine Old Masters, was by a living composer even if its prognosis for the future isn’t upbeat, not having Elgar’s Catholicism to hold it up by faith alone. 

I’ve never been disappointed by a Chichester concert. They are always at least excellent. But once in a while I come back with more than I expected.

David Green

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