Reviews of SCO piano quartets/streaming

Posted by Susan Tomes on 21 March 2021 under Concerts, Reviews  •  1 Comment

Susan Tomes © Scottish Chamber Orchestra

In the past year there have been almost no live concerts, and therefore no reviews of the traditional kind.

But sometimes there are reviews of streamed concerts, and the piano quartets I performed earlier this month with the excellent Scottish Chamber Orchestra principal players Maria Wloszczowska, Felix Tanner and Philip Higham (the concert is still free to watch here) have had two online reviews. One is from Vox Carnyx, Scotland’s new classical music website, and the other is from the long-running Bachtrack.

I can’t resist quoting this from Bachtrack:

‘Tomes grips the eye as well as the ear, for she has mastered the art of throwaway perfectionism in music that’s in her blood. Relaxed and authoritative at the keyboard, the alchemistic Scot spun black printed dots into gold as what appeared to be an idle flick of the wrist or a casual finger-twiddle became a perfectly formed moment of virtuosity. The weighting of her left hand in the first movement of K478, the earlier of Mozart’s two essays in the form, was even more delicious than her elegant right-hand acrobatics. It’s only a short leap from this repertoire to the piano concertos – indeed, Mozart’s Allegro moderato finale is fully formed as a concertante movement with bright cadenza flourishes and thickly textured piano writing – and it found Tomes at her most commanding.’

The review in full:

Normally one is advised not to pay too much attention to reviews, but after such a bleak year for performers, words of appreciation feel like water in the desert.

What would Mozart make of our spaced-out concert formations?

Posted by Susan Tomes on 15 March 2021 under Concerts, Inspirations, Musings, Travel  •  Leave a comment

Yesterday I was in Perth, recording Mozart and Beethoven quintets for piano and wind instruments with principal players of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra – Adrian Wilson, Timothy Orpen, David Hubbard and Chris Gough. The performance will be relayed as a Radio 3 lunchtime concert on April 9 at 1pm.

We conformed to Covid restrictions and sat 2 metres apart from one another. The distance across the group felt quite far (see photo). And we were only five people – imagine what the distances are like with a full orchestra!

In the few recordings I’ve been able to do during lockdown, I’ve found that when it’s harder to hear, I rely more on visual information. There’s always a blend of aural and visual information in music-making, but I suspect the balance has changed during the era of social distancing.

We were wondering what Mozart would have said if he could have seen us spread out across the stage. (Something rude, probably: ‘Do you all smell? Hee-hee!’) At first we wondered whether he might have lived through times of illness when the Viennese stayed apart to avoid infecting one another.. But then we remembered that in the 18th century, the understanding of disease was very different. If I remember correctly, it was not yet known how infection spread, and there was little appreciation of the need for public health measures as we know them today.

Pictures of chamber music gatherings in Mozart’s day show the players crowded together, sharing music stands, sometimes using double stands (like a sandwich-board on a stand) so that one person could sit on each side. They made best use of candlelight by putting stands as close together as possible. String players might stand right beside the pianist, reading the string part from the piano score. After a year in lockdown, those 18th century images of jolly music-making provoke a sharp intake of breath from the Covid-era viewer: ‘Why on earth are they so close together?’

So I don’t think Mozart would have enjoyed our currently spaced-out formations – although they might have given him ideas. It’s an intriguing thought – if Mozart thought that the musicians might not be able to hear the fine detail of one another’s playing, would he have composed different music?

Nice messages

Posted by Susan Tomes on 12 March 2021 under Concerts, Inspirations, Reviews  •  3 Comments

Thank you to everyone who sent me a nice message after last night’s streaming of the latest concert in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra‘s digital series – on this occasion, a programme curated by their principal cellist Philip Higham and presenting two piano quartets by Mozart and Fauré.

Once again I had the impression that everyone must be stuck at home with more time than usual to think of things like writing to the performers, because I had an unusual number of appreciative responses and I believe my colleagues – Maria Wloszczowska, Felix Tanner and Philip Higham – did too.

The performance is free to watch, and remains online until 11 April. There are programme notes by David Kettle, free to read on the same web page that announces the concert.

Here also is a review of the performance by Vox Carnyx, Scotland’s new classical music website.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra usually offers performances in orchestral format with many more players than a piano quartet, but in my view it’s an excellent and timely initiative to showcase the chamber music skills of individual players. A smaller format – just a few people on stage – lends itself so well to the current restrictions. And this type of music gives so much for talented instrumentalists to get their teeth into.

Speaking as a devoted chamber musician, I hope our current situation will give an extra boost to the profile of chamber music, a joyful repertoire which is so satisfying to play and listen to!

This time last year

Posted by Susan Tomes on 7 March 2021 under Concerts, Daily Life, Musings, Travel  •  Leave a comment

It’s now a whole year since concerts started being cancelled in anticipation of the pandemic.

I remember very well that I had been to a birthday coffee party where the extended family sat around a big circular glass-topped table while our reflections ate scones and drank coffee in mirror image. I got home and there was a message from a concert society where I was to play the following week. Although we were not yet in a period of restrictions, the organisers had been reading the runes and had decided to cancel rather than wait to see if their audience turned up or not. That cancellation was particularly shocking, because it was the first and because the date was imminent and I had done a lot of practice for it.

After that came a cascade of other cancellations, Concerts, talks, masterclasses and festivals fell over like a row of dominos. None of the organisers was in touch with any of the others, which made it feel even weirder – they were all just assessing the situation and coming to the same conclusion. Usually I keep a pencil beside my (paper) diary, but now I replaced the pencil with an eraser. The pages of my diary became blank again. I started to take stock of all the travel arrangements that would have to be unpicked. And there were still two weeks to go before national lockdown.

Who would have thought that I would now find myself noting the first anniversary of that memorable week? Since mid-March last year, nobody has played my piano except me (and occasionally my husband when we decided to cheer ourselves up by playing a piano duet). I haven’t once sat by the window to listen to anyone else playing to me. I can’t even hope to get the piano tuned until the end of April! At least there are signs of spring to enjoy in the meantime.

Mozart and Fauré piano quartets – 11 March, 7.30pm

Posted by Susan Tomes on 1 March 2021 under Concerts, Inspirations, Musings  •  2 Comments

After a long winter in the deep freeze (in more ways than one) – at last! – a concert to tell you about.

It won’t be performed in front of a live audience – that long-awaited moment is probably still months away-  but it will be broadcast on YouTube and Facebook on March 11.

I’ll be playing piano quartets by Mozart and Fauré with principal players of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Maria Wloszczowska (violin), Felix Tanner (viola) and Philip Higham (cello). These piano quartets are two of my favourites in the whole repertoire. Fauré’s Piano Quartet in C minor, opus 15 was the first piece I ever recorded, with my group Domus for Hyperion Records, and a memorable experience it was too because that first disc won a Gramophone Award.

So I know the music well – although of course when you tackle it with a different group of people, some of whom you’ve only just met, you have to engage with a whole new set of questions and answers.

Mozart’s G minor piano quartet is the first example we know of a piano quartet, and still one of the best despite a fair amount of competition over 200 years, especially in the Romantic era when piano quartets were very popular.

When I played in a professional piano quartet, most of our audiences wanted to hear one of Mozart’s two piano quartets (in G minor and in E flat major). It sometimes felt as though we were playing one or other of them every Saturday night somewhere or other, but my admiration for them survived undimmed – which was not the case with every piece we performed lots and lots of times.

The SCO Spring series concert of piano quartets will be recorded this week in the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh and broadcast on Thursday 11 March at 7.30pm.