Sunday, August 21, 2022

Andrew Rumsey and Lucy Macourt perform with style and panache

Music / “Andrew Rumsey and Lucy Macourt in Concert”
Andrew Rumsey, piano. Lucy Macourt, Violin.
At Wesley Music Centre
August 20, 2022

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Violinist Lucy Macourt and pianist Andrew Rumsey. Photo: Peter Hislop

In a last minute change to the program, violinist Lucy Macourt stepped in with three days notice, replacing cellist David Pereira.

Pianist Andrew Rumsey, already having cancelled the concert one month prior due to Covid, didn’t want to disappoint his audience again and after almost forty phone calls chanced upon talented violinist Macourt to play with him - the first time the two have performed together.

The program, largely unchanged, was delightful, some of the pieces extremely challenging for both players.

David Pereira did however make an appearance at the concert fulfilling the role of welcoming guests and explaining the tragic situation that led to him having to pull out.

His mother, having suffered a bad fall and being seriously injured just six days prior passed away that morning and it was the first time most of the audience new of this and indeed the change of players.

Ever stoic and peaceful in his presentation, Pereira gently explained the events of the last six days, being by his mother’s bedside in hospital, knowing that an end-of-life situation was imminent.

The audience felt for him and his family in the most sensitive and compassionate way as he finally welcomed the two musicians onto the stage, even staying for the opening piece before departing to deal with the unfolding events of saying farewell to a loved one.

In a strange twist of fate, it turned out that the first half of the program was originally written for violin and piano anyway, so it was somewhat easier for Macourt to master Amy Beach’s “Romance in A major, Op. 23” and the more difficult, complex and demanding “Sonata in A major” by Cesar Franck. A massive work in four movements which Macourt learnt in just three days and with only one rehearsal possible within their busy schedules.

American composer Amy Beach (1867 - 1944) has only recently been recognised as a major composer of substance and quality. Her output was vast and the chosen opening piece was delightful in both melodic line and structure.

Macourt’s playing was romantic, with bold rich tones also revealing a darker lower register. Her middle and upper registers are vibrant and she plays with extraordinary clarity and texture.

Her instrument is by Australian luthier Justin White, made in 2010, the factory being located in a small village named, astonishingly, “Fiddletown”, just north of Sydney in Hornsby shire.

Rumsey’s piano accompaniment was sensitive and supportive and the two players both mentioned that they immediately felt a sense of “connection” at the first and only rehearsal. This came through wonderfully in the actual concert as well.

The major work on the program by Franck followed, starting with a gentle and reflective “Allegretto” before moving into the “Allegro” movement, revealing complex and dramatic piano solo passages from Rumsey, all played with skill and flair. Macourt displayed a fluid, lyrical technique and tone, also playing many dramatic double forte passages. Her instrument has viola-like qualities at times, and appears to be of supreme quality and one that she feels very much in control of and is able to extract a huge dynamic range, from sensitise pianissimo to bold and rich forte sounds of great clarity.

The final two movements of the Franck contained many beautiful and familiar melodies, the two players savouring the masterful compositional style of the composer, the final “Allegro” revealing a glittering piano part from Rumsey over which Macourt played with vibrancy and authority.

This is music where the two players are soloists in their own right, the violin and piano being equals, in much the same way as Schubert composed his vast repertoire of lieder for voice and piano.

The second half of the concert contained a range of short pieces, four by Australian composers. Canberra based Sally Greenaway, present in the audience, introduced her two pieces, “Perhaps Tomorrow” and “Dawn of Evening” in a most eloquent manner, leaving Rumsey to play the former as a solo on his unusual V-harp instrument, a musical reflection and depiction of the struggles, sadness and love of a person and their family and friends dealing with dementia.

Andrew Rumsey playing "Perhaps Tomorrow" by Sally Greenaway on his V-harp. Photo: Peter Hislop

Rumsey’s performance, was gentle and reflective, playing respectful single note phrases that evoked an air of contemplation and heartfelt thought amongst listeners.

Macourt joined Rumsey, still playing his V-harp for the second piece, “Dawn of Evening” which evoked images of dusk, the birds bedding down for the night and nocturnal animals awakening, in its gentle, reflective and very moving imagery.

“Blue Silence” by Elena Kats-Chernin was a fascination in that she composed it to allow her child, who suffers from schizophrenia, to hear beautiful live music in the morning, before the disturbing inner voices in his head take over for the day.

In a way, one felt it was a kind of therapy she had devised so the boy could experience the beauty and wonder of real sounds - live music - to help him start his day in the most pleasant way possible. Perhaps this could lead to an improvement in his condition.

Kenneth Lampl’s “Mirrored from Far Away” was composed especially for cellist David Pereira and although he was unavailable to play it, the transposition to violin still sounded very beautiful, the two artists dedicating their performance to the late Mrs Pereira.

Composer Kim Cunio, also current head on the ANU School of Music, premiered “Hymn for the Fires”, a piece for solo piano, in which Rumsey gently played in a reflective, moving and calming style, paying tribute to those who lost there homes, businesses and in some cases, their lives, in several of Australia’s recent bushfire disasters, attempting to capture the emptiness and vastness of nothingness and the massive eerie spaces where towns and forests once stood.

With the presence of violinist Macourt, the two artists decided to add a couple of violin and piano concert favourites to finish the program.

“Meditation” by Jules Massenet is a perennial violin masterpiece, often heard in recordings by such greats as Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz Isaac Stern, Anne Sophie Mutter, David Oistrakh and countless others, often as an encore.

In this, I felt the two artists failed to capture the intense romanticism and passion that the piece requires. More rubato, emotion, feeling and dynamics would have helped.

Finishing with “Czardas” by Vittorio Monti, the piece, whist not blemish-free, captured the passionate and lively style required, also revealing the Gypsy care-free-abandon manner of playing which suits it so well.

After a frantic week of re-preparation, Andrew Rumsey and Lucy Macourt pulled of a stylish and excellently played large program of material of great variety, paying homage to many great composers, while also respectively remembering the sadness, loss and grief which brought about this sudden change of program.

First published in Canberra City News on-line edition in an edited format, August 21, 2022