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Review: The Austen Trio Concert

16/06/2019

What a delight to hear the unusual combination of soprano, piano and harp bring musical light to the life of novelist Jane Austen.

Jane and her siblings lived in an age where live entertainment was the only option. They revelled in the music of their time: the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and often performed it themselves.

Pianist Samantha Carrasco has studied the six books of music collected by Jane Austen, much of it copied in Jane’s own hand. This provided the narrative for a fascinating concert. Fine musicianship from Samantha, and her colleagues, Kate Ham (harp) and Helen Neeves (soprano) brought us works, in various combinations of voice and instruments, from famous composers past: Handel, Haydn, and present: Carl Davis and less well-known composers from Austen’s time. All the works were introduced by the performers with interesting snippets of social context, gossip and musical background.

Handel arias from ‘Judas Macabaeus’ and ‘Theodora’ immediately established that we were in for a real treat. Helen Neeves has an attractive, natural and well-focused voice perfectly suited to this repertoire. ‘Their Groves of Sweet Myrtle’ showed Robert Burns at his best as a songwriter and worked beautifully for soprano and harp.

Although skillfully played, the two works for piano and harp (Dussek’s ‘Grand Duet’ and Knapton’s ‘Caller Herring’) were less successful as piano sound masked the harp’s middle and lower registers. A real shame as Kate Ham is an accomplished harpist as she showed in solo works by Gretry and Piccini (not ‘Puccini’).

Carl Davis’ familiar music for television’s ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is formulaic and disjointed despite being as expertly played here by Samantha as by Melvin Tan for TV. Thankfully, this disappointment was more than made up for by Charles Dibden’s tongue in cheek: ‘The Joys of the Country’ which Helen characterised with great wit.

The highlight of the evening was Georgina Cavendish’s ‘I have a silent sorrow here’ (pointing to some sad realities of aristocratic life at the time, as portrayed in the 2008 film ‘The Duchess’). It was performed tenderly and poignantly by all three members of the Austen Trio.

A superb concert by insightful and hugely accomplished performers – enjoyable and educational. To misquote Jane Austen: “You have not delighted us long enough my dears”.

To get a flavour of their performance, watch vimeo.com/187886219

Author: Steve Bartholomew
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