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Brighton Year-Round 2022

Chapel Royal Peter Sulski and Philippa Mo in Concert Mozart Violin/Piano Recital October 18th 2022

Chapel Royal, Brighton

Genre: Live Music

Venue: Chapel Royal, North Road, Brighton


Low Down

Violist Peter Sulski, joined in the Mozart by violinist Philippa Mo, plays a solo programme of Biber, Telemann Stravinsky and Vieuxtemps.


Violist Peter Sulski  – and in the largest item (Mozart) violinist Philippa Mo – plays a solo programme of Biber, Telemann, Stravinsky and Vieuxtemps at Brighton’s Chapel Royal.

Sulski’s adept at repurposing fiercely-prized violin masterpieces for his instrument, as well as ranging in the extensive viola repertoire: today we enjoy both.

Living from 1644-1704, Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia is the last and most famous of his 15 Rosary Sonatas of 1681, and the only ne where scordatura – tuning to unusual pitches – isn’t used. It sounds paradoxically the most aethereal and adventurous of all. Sulski sculpts the almost hieratic and exalted sense of suffering and contemplation distilled in this exquisitely redemptive work framed round Easter. Sulski makes it sound in this transposition as if the work were born at this lower pitch. It’s a haunting, obsessed work. No wonder Rachel Podger tours with it amongst her most favoured repertoire pieces (she performed it at the Dome). Sukski’s way is unhurried but relentless, as a passacaglia should be, but also with points of light darkling as the ground bass treads its way to  a hushed, almost questioning close.

Telemann wrote 12 solo Soanta,s, not on Bach’ scale but fine enough for Podger – agan – to record them showing what miniature masterpieces they are, gambolling in the light of Bach’s vast partitas and Soantas, without feeling too intimidated.

No. 7 in the transposed key of D flat is a typically baroque slow-fast-slow-fast affair. We open on a adagio feel, but it’s a lento intro, as we come to a true adagio after a lively capricious scherzo-type movement. The latter two movements have elements of deeper feeling in them, with the adagio bring remarkable for its sudden seriousness, and the finale haring off to a world beyond whatever the adagio’s opened up.

Stravinsky’s Elegy for Solo Viola from 1944 is as interesting as the Biber in many respects. A commission from Germain Prevost, The piece was written in memory of the ProArte Quartet’s first violinist, Alphonse Onnou, who had died some four years before. The work remained the composer’s only piece for viola. It’s haunting, mor a prophesy of the world Stravinsky would explore after 1951 when he edged to Webern’s (never Schoenberg’s, he was too proud to admit that) serialism. This isn’t a serial piece, but neo-classical it ain’t. There’s intimations of a brooding atonal world in this five-plus minutes work. With a faint kick of a neo-baroque tied note to begin, then a monodic traversal that like  a chaconne or passacaglia though not in those forms, returns to the same material, then just ends.

Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-81) wrote for viola as well as violin. His Capriccio Op 55 ‘Hommage à Paganini’ (Paganini also enjoyed a manic flirtation with the viola, commissioning rejecting then embracing Berlioz’ Harold in Italy) though is a virtuosic piece under four minutes fully inside Vieuxtemps’ violinistic sound-world as well as Paganini’s. There’s double-stopping and a rich undertow, coming out a something far more than some other short works. It’s a brooding, powerful, rhapsodically freighted work, beyond Romanticism in many ways because of the sombre layers, not wholly unlike Stravinsky’s. It was published posthumously and also listed as Op 9 confusingly.

The vibrantly gifted Philippa Mo joins Sulski in the first of the two Mozart Duos, written around 1783 to help out Michael (not Joseph) Haydn (1737-1806), commissioned to write six and only managing four before illness overtook him.

These four are dismissed and the two he asked his friend Mozart to write (and split the fee) are the ones we know. The Haydn ones happily have been recorded and though more four-square harmonically and thematically than Mozart aren’t at all bad works: being Michael Haydn they’re a cut above much hum-drum classical writing, but not at the level of his elder brother. Michael’s greatest strength lay in fine symphonies and above all his Masses. These Duos though are worth exploring, they’re recorded and on YouTube.

The first in G major K423 is in three movements. The first, a call to attention on a downbeat that launches into an Allegro duologue of dizzying quartet writing  for two (they were written between the great D minor K421 and E flat K428), where they chase each other for six minutes of question and answer, statement and shadow, refrain and decoration.

The three-minute Adagio, quite a daring marking for such a relatively brief work, shows how invested Mozart was in his favourite instrument, the viola; and how he enjoyed writing for it. Again the layerings suggest a full quartet, or at least the E flat K563 String Trio he later wrote. The relationship is one of equals, and there’s interplays of fade-ins and rapid role-plays and reversals, despite the basic Adagio pulse. Mo and Sulski twine round this movement entrancingly. People had clapped at the ed of the first movement but were far too enthralled – and clearly moved – to interrupt the end of the Adagio. Some of the finest writing is when the violinist or violist drops out for a couple of seconds and then thrums a chord on re-entry.

The five-minute Rondo Allegro is even more brilliant than the opening, but also more complex, heavier with the weight of where it’s been. The violin enjoys some double-stopping round the viola, and the cut-through of the violin part means the viola enjoys first a kind of cantus firmus role, then returns to one of equals, then deepens to one of commentary and complexity on a striking violin statement, sounding very close indeed to the sound world of the recent D minor Quartet. It ends brilliantly but also with the Rondo return deeper, with a true sense of arrival.

Sulski is sovereign in the viola, and Mo proves a radiant partner. An outstanding recital.