Review: Richard Allum, piano and Lis Peskett, viola at Portsmouth Cathedral

Richard Allum and Lis Peskett, Portsmouth Cathedral, June 15

We have had some viola round these parts in recent months so for once it’s not such a rarity. The viola’s relationship with the violin is vaguely like that of Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s with Haydn and Mozart, ostensibly closely related but nowhere near as well-known and it’s not obvious why that should be so.

Hummel’s Sonata, op. 5 no.3, on a day like today, could be interpreted as Eine Kleine Sommermusik with its jollity in the Allegro moderato in which Lis made most of the pace with some nimble fingerwork and the piano and viola in their turn either answered each other or joined in unison. The Adagio had subliminal echoes of K. 545 before becoming an entirely more reflective piece and then Richard’s piano took on the racier passages of the Rondo. 

Much moodier, maybe even murkier, was Rebecca Clarke’s Morpheus. More passionate than desolate, the god of dreams eventually resolved to an airier elsewhere almost but not quite like the disappearing act of a lark that has ascended.

Robert Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, op. 70, has the viola properly contralto in the Adagio, like Kathleen Ferrier or Nathalie Stutzmann, and Lis demonstrated the richness of the instrument before the exuberant Allegro continued in that register without conceding much to anything that could have been violin music.

I remember the enthusiasms of hi-fidelity devotees making all kinds of claims for their equipment as if it was somehow possible to hear music better than it could be heard live. If that wasn’t nonsense then it surely sounds like it by now. Portsmouth’s St. Thomas’s Chapel has an intimacy that one hears the resident Bosendorfer and the likes of of Lis Peskett’s viola at such close quarters that there is no improvement that technology could offer. 

Not for the first time, a very well-behaved dog attended and I understand that he enjoys it very much so I hope that when Sachin counts up the attendance figures he doesn’t limit it to human listeners.

David Green

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