FringeReview UK 2018
Violinist James Shenton and guitarist Paul Gregory gave a recital of Corelli’s La Folia Variations, Paganini’s Adagio and Rondo from his Sonata, Shenton’s The Sleeping Owl and Ferrer’s Bolero. The concert was rounded out by two Irish folk arrangements: Bridget Cruise and Mable Kelly and O’Carolan Concerto.
Violinist composer James Shenton and guitarist Paul Gregory are the kind of international figures you take for granted in Brighton.
Gregory won the Segovia International Competition at the age of 22. Shenton’s fame as a composer-violinist who works across modernism to folk-tinged music somewhere to the left of say Michael Finnissy is similarly famed and hard to categorize too.
They’ve played together on many occasions, though today were drafted in at short notice. Lucky St Nicholas.
Corelli’s La Folia Variations are often played in a variety of baroque combinations, and there’s the Rachmaninov Variations on what he thought was Corelli. The La Folia tune is probably 15th century Spanish, literally a mad dance. Corelli though popularised it and a host of baroque composers right through to CPE Bach got obsessed with it too.
It’s insistent, nagging joyfully melancholic and one of those simple strophic things you get great variations from. Shenton’s violin underpinned by Gregory’s harmonies make a fantastically varied strong combination, a rich vein of tight colour – not a large array of instruments but a tangling versus bowed effect is hypnotic, and effectively Hispanic too. The duo maintained a tension and yet virtuosic brio both relaxed and building to a crescendo and release that was spellbinding.
Paganini left a large body for his second instrument the guitar (his third was the viola). In particular he left an attractive late-classical body for this particular duo. His Sonata contains an Adagio and Rondo which work happily when excerpted here though I’d have love to hear the whole thing. There’s a spacious easy-going classical twilight, tinged with early romantic leanings and the slant sunlight of Italian operatic arrangements. Whilst the Adagio hints at a gallant kind of depth, the Rondo is more Paganini in whirligig mode. Lovely.
Shenton’s own compositional brio, often in evidence at the new Music Brighton concerts, is here peeping out in The Sleeping Owl, a hypnotic gentle and brief work on solo violin playing gentle enharmonics which makes you want to hear more of his work in this combination too.
José Ferrer y Esteve’s Bolero Op 39 is often played with two guitars, but this arrangement is even more attractive. It’s like something out of Nino Rota almost, the best kind of film music, with its long slant of mild afternoon melancholy. The folk-inflected, rhythmic insistence of the bolero is here less mechanical than Ravel’s deliberate celebration of that dance.
Two folk arrangements – Bridget Cruise and Mable Kelly, slow and fast, followed, flashing past in an inflection of the Irish harp, with a rich undertow. Then the famed (and long-lived, to 113!) harpist O’Carolan. His Concerto movement rounded everything off.
For a improvised concert it doesn’t get much better than this.