Beethoven at The Red Hedgehog

Sonata in F for piano and violin, Op.24 (Spring)
Variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen, WoO46
Trio in B flat, Op.97 (Archduke)

Paul Barritt (violin), Josephine Horder (cello) & James Lisney (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 19 July, 2006
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6

Conveniently situated very near to Highgate tube station, where parking is available, and various bus routes, The Red Hedgehog takes its name from Brahms’s favourite watering-hole, Rote Igel. (A hedgehog also features on the crest of Iglau, Mahler’s childhood home – so there seems some covert connection between hedgehogs and music.) A cafe by day and a chamber-music venue by night – do not be put off by The Red Hedgehog’s location on Archway Road. For any true music-lover this new venue provides the chance to hear top-flight artists in an intimate setting. The forthcoming Autumn season includes artists of the calibre of Piers Lane, Mikhail Kazakevich, Emma Kirkby (a Highgate resident) and Alexander Baillie. Two of the musicians from the recital under review, Paul Barritt and James Lisney, will play Beethoven’s sonatas for violin and piano.

The highlight of this all-Beethoven programme was an outstandingly stylish performance of the ‘Archduke’ – chamber music-making at its interactive best. Amongst the many virtues was the group’s ability to hit just the right tempo in each movement: forward-moving but never hurried in the first, slightly quicker than normal in the scherzo, expansive and emotionally generous in the Andante cantabile and with a fine quirky strut to the finale: this ensemble never short-changed Beethoven’s sheer weirdness and unpredictability; the odd little pizzicato passage in the first movement, the slithering chromatic trio or the plosive opening to the finale all registered fully without disrupting the onward flow. Noticeable too was the manifest care, not just over dynamics – which were generally restrained – but also regarding the placing of accents. James Lisney’s account of the piano part was a particular source of strength: crisp, under-pedalled, ornaments cleanly in place and responsive to his partners.

Paul Barritt’s man-sized account of the ‘Spring’ sonata with which the evening opened was similarly characterful. This was no mere ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ reading but something altogether grander, and which succeeded in being at once expansive and propulsive. Rightly, it explored Beethoven’s more disruptive tendencies as well as the work’s passing beauties. Pauses were timed with particular care and there was a welcome degree of unanimity between violinist and pianist, for example in the little leave-taking duet with which the slow movement closes. This was strongly ‘classical’ playing in the tradition of Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin – not perhaps the glossiest account but one that consistently hit the right tempos and in which Beethoven came a clear first.

One minor suggestion; given the Red Hedgehog’s size (it seats around 70), it might be a good idea for the violinist to play the rest of the cycle sitting down (if he is comfortable doing so), because, standing up, the sound could be a little uncomfortable at peak times.

Sandwiched between the two major works the cellist Josephine Horder played Beethoven’s take on ‘Bei Männern’ from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, the slow variations at its core drawing playing of particular warmth and eloquence. Once again, Lisney’s account of the piano part was like a good crisp dry wine.

This concert, quality music-making in an intimate venue, gave very great pleasure.

  • The Red Hedgehog (Piano-Cafe & Art Space) is situated at 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London, N6 5BS
  • Box Office: 020 8348 5050
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