FringeReview UK 2018
Trumpeter Imogen Hancock and pianist Jennifer Hughes, perform at All Saints. It included a distinguished world premiere that almost stole the whole show.
Trumpeter Imogen Hancock and pianist Jennifer Hughes gave an outstandingly vital recital at All Saints. They’re a finely-matched duo, Hughes already appearing on a CD of British cello sonatas by Delius, Ireland and Bax. It’d certainly be good to see a debut of this duo too. And there was a distinguished world premiere that almost stole the whole show.
Naturally comparison can be made of Hancock with Alison Balsom. Hancock – who deputizes in Phantom of the Opera quite apart from appearing in many classical ensembles – looks to have star quality in a recital that just got better.
Johan Baptist Georg Neruda (1708-80) is a late-baroque/early-classical composer whose Trumpet Concerto in E flat (most are in that key, including Mozart’s) is a transposition from natural horn. It’s bright and if not especially developed is a tunefully attractive, quite well-known work that’s kept Neruda before the public. In its trumpet and piano reduction it breezes by in a classically clean manner in the Allegro first movement echoes rococo tendencies in its Largo, and in the Vivace finale. It’s not quite as memorable as the alter Hayden and Hummel but makes a good third classical work. Hancock grew happily into her characteristic smooth tone.
Nest Hughes enjoyed a solo piano spot in Debussy’s ‘Arabesque No. 1’ from about 1890, a lovely rippling early work sounding a little like Fauré, a touch of Massenet, but really early Debussy’s melting, sweetly melancholy and like no-one else except Chausson. Hughes relished this pointillist rippling over an Impressionist surface.
Barry Mills Evening and Night was the three-part centrepiece. Mills’ works is often pictorial, evocative of natural imagery with a gentle modernism and expressive quietism. The first movement breathed a coast at night, very like Brighton’s with a glittering nightscape as the trumpet muted ranged rather like a quiet wind. the second slow movement evoked a contemplative pitch dark with hushed tones rippling out from an unseen centre. The finale though was spectacularly haunting It’s the ‘Last Post’ quoted, where Hancock turns away from the audience and pays straight into the piano strings on the raised piano lid (unusually open for accompaniment, because the trumpet’s so overwhelming and it’s a large acoustic too). The resonances from the piano strings are allowed an echo effect like a ghost answer. Each phrase is paused to allow it.
No wonder the soloists who commissioned it exactly a year ago instantly fell in love with it when it was delivered just too months later. Both artists possess the hush and stillness Mills works demand, and by this time you feel te trumpet’s soft snarl has come into force.
Schubert’s song transcription ‘Ave Maria’ was played on Flugelhorn, a trumpet-cum-natural horn with a soft amplitude unlike the piercing trumpet’s – and Hancock’s favourite instrument. Hancock clearly relishes the wider, gentler more innocent-sounding sonance of this instrument.
When Hancock was playing the next work studying at the Royal Academy of Music, its composer Peter Maxwell Davies who died in 2016 was called downstairs by an enthusiastic German. She played the Sonatina for Solo Trumpet back to the composer. It’s a spiky, but compressed work in three movements that flit rather than float by, with short stabbing motifs and broken cantilenas, almost over before you knew it. I’d love to have heard it again.
Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) is famed for his flute compositions, several of which are tuneful memorable pieces if not quite as advanced harmonically as his elder contemporaries Debussy, Satie, Roussel and Ravel. His Cantabile et Scherzetto really is written for trumpet and piano though, and attractive if not as catchy as his very finest works. The singing tone of the first movement swiftly skitters into top gear for the Scherzetto.
And as encore, Andy Scott’s ‘And Everything is Still’ coolly resonated in flugelhorn and simple chords around the church acoustic. A magical end to a special recital.