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Seen and Heard Recital Review



Bowen, Eccles, Vaughan Williams and Bridge at St James’s Piccadilly, Shulah Oliver (viola) Glen Ballard (piano) 01.09.2006 (LF)



The wealth of lunchtime concerts and recitals at churches across London is truly remarkable. Here many students make their early appearances on a public stage while unusual repertoire gets an airing and we all get to enjoy a variety of lovely buildings.

A classic example of such occasions was on Friday 1 September when Shulah Oliver, viola, and Glen Ballard, piano, gave a recital of viola music by British composers. On this occasion a sonata by Henry Eccles (1671-1742), Vaughan Williams’s Romance, Bridge’s Pensiero and Allegro Appassionato and York Bowen’s First Sonata of 1906.


Shulah Oliver is also known as a violinist but on the viola she created a remarkable impression for her enormous tone which amplified by a freak acoustic of the church made this concert a uniquely memorable occasion. Indeed, although her accompanist was no reticent partner the viola tone dominated everything in the lyrical and passionate romanticism not only of the Bowen, but also in the central climax of the Vaughan Williams and in the Bridge. Similarly the Eccles Sonata in G minor seemed to assume a romantic patina in the slow movements which was very enjoyable if not exactly stylistic.


However it was the Bowen I had gone to hear and they did it proud. This was passionate and youthful playing of a passionate and youthful work. In her enthusiastic spoken introduction pianist Glen Ballard mentioned Rachmaninov, and indeed if the Russian master had written a Viola Sonata I can imagine it sound much like this.  Possibly the least convincing part of the sonata is the opening to the finale which adopts a slightly  twee scherzando manner which proclaims its era, and without the sustained tone of the viola the piano came to the fore. But overall this was very convincing and I look forward to hearing these artists again in similar repertoire.




Lewis Foreman




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