Philip Dukes – 20 years anniversary concert at Purcell Room [with Piers Lane and Julian Lloyd Webber]

Arthur Benjamin
Sonata in E flat for Viola and Piano
Trio in A minor for Viola, Cello and Piano, Op.114
Harold in Italy – symphony in four parts with solo viola, Op.16 [transcribed by Liszt for viola and piano]

Philip Dukes (viola) with Piers Lane (piano) & Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 20 March, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room

It is twenty years since Philip Dukes made his Purcell Room debut. He chose to mark the occasion with this afternoon recital, enticing in choice of repertoire and excellent in quality of performance, Dukes enjoying the dedicated collaboration of Piers Lane and Julian Lloyd Webber.

Arthur Benjamin’s Viola Sonata proved a real discovery. Australian-born, London-domiciled Benjamin (1893-1960) wrote it for William Primrose who gave the premiere in 1942 in Vancouver with the composer at the piano. Primrose recorded the work in 1945 as Elegy, Waltz and Toccata, yet it would be published as a Sonata two years later. Nevertheless those titles give a clue to the nature of the three, played continuously, sections. The first, soulful and agitated, and with moments of Delian rumination, gives way to a sinister dance that soon ignites, and then on to an exuberant, rather jazzy finale that ends the work optimistically. This really fine piece, which packs much into its eighteen minutes, was here given a sympathetic and well-balanced performance – Dukes communicating vividly with warm tone and athletic strides, Lane a considerate accompanist – leads one to consider Benjamin’s output beyond Jamaican Rumba and his large-scale Symphony. And it would be good to hear the Viola Sonata again.

Dukes and Lane were then joined by Julian Lloyd Webber for a rather lovely account of Brahms’s Clarinet Trio, played in its alternative version with viola. This was a caring, sharing performance alive to melancholy and beauty of phrase, brimful of beauty and confidential asides. One may have missed the breath and liquorice of a clarinet, but Lloyd Webber’s contribution was notable for tenderness and poise, and also how the three musicians (one very distinctively playing a viola, one a cello) interacted to bring us the import of this music without harming its essential privacy.

This thoughtfully programmed celebration concluded with Liszt’s transcription of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, which is first and foremost a symphony, one with an obbligato viola, and which fell far short of Paganini’s expectations, enough for him to decline to play it. Thus, just as Berlioz’s original is orchestra-centric, so Liszt faithful arrangement gives the lion’s share of the music to the piano. For this performance, Dukes relinquished his (estimable) modern instrument to play the on-loan (from the Royal Academy of Music) Cremona Viola 1696 ‘Archinto’, one of only ten violas made by Stradivari that survive. The ‘Archinto’ sounded gorgeous – vibrant, silky and alluring – from Dukes’s bow and fingers, as well as suitably brooding at the beginning of this wonderful Berlioz piece. Indeed, everything that Dukes produced, be it arabesques, dignified phrases, and a wide-range of dynamics, and not forgetting silences, was of special quality, and when he left the stage during the finale to be heard from afar as the coda approached, such distance was perfectly realised. But, thanks to Liszt, this is a pianist’s piece. Piers Lane was terrific throughout, whether setting the scene, or nocturnally treading, or being bucolically joyous, or creating a humdinger of an orgy; Lane’s fingers were really flying here! When the musicians did play together, there was an obvious rapport between them.

What had been a notable concert was rounded off with a solo from Dukes, a ‘Sarabande’ taken from one of Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello, and sounding effortlessly suited to the viola. A perfect way to end.

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