Finding a new venue is always an exciting discovery; I had never visited The Musical Museum at Kew Bridge in West London, but it is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year and in addition to housing some interesting musical artefacts it also hosts a concert series as well as many other activities. The Museum’s concert hall is a delightful space, set with a high stage and beautifully ornate early Twentieth century grand piano; it’s akin to stepping back in time and provided an intimate setting for a Sunday afternoon of music making.
Hungarian Dances is a novel written by author and music journalist, Jessica Duchen. It was published in 2009 and traces the life of a Gypsy violinist and her family. Jessica has turned her highly acclaimed book into a concert which effectively incorporates extracts from the novel with Gypsy inspired music. Words and music are most certainly a winning combination, and the performance was a wonderful mixture of expressive narrative punctuated with music for violin and piano by composers from various genres and historical periods.
This format is becoming an increasingly popular feature in concert programmes. It’s a happy marriage of two eloquent art forms and is so successful because it bestows the perfect opportunity for storytelling. Jessica’s narrative was both powerful and poignant, and her delivery commanded total attention. The balance between words and music was very well judged, with neither dominating.
The heroine, Mimi, is taken from her Gypsy roots, and introduced to a different world through her intensive training as a classical violinist. The audience are taken on Mimi’s journey which is full of twists and turns; love, loss, displacement and personal transformation. Romance was juxtaposed with grittier topics such as references to concentration camps and inevitable death. At each stage an appropriate work was presented, nostalgically characterising the various landmarks in her career, family life and ultimately the life of her Granddaughter too; the music evocatively reflecting the mood of the story.
David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano) offset Jessica’s narrative exquisitely. They treated the audience to a veritable feast consisting of ten mainly Gypsy influenced pieces from Dohnányi’s Andante rubato alla zingaresca which opened the concert, to Monti’s ever popular Czardas, the piano part of which was imbued with some interesting chromatic (that’s jazz to you and me!) chordal additions and this rendition brought the house down. Claude Debussy’s Violin Sonata closed the first half and really demonstrated their skill, both with regards to ensemble (they have quite clearly worked as a duo for years) and in creating a shimmering sound world of Impressionistic colour.
Mimi’s introduction to Professor Bela Bartók coincided with an account of the composer’s Romanian Dances which were delivered with gusto, rhythmic drive and total commitment. No self-respecting Gypsy music recital would be complete without Ravel’s Tzigane, which was, for me, the highlight; played with real panache and flare, and full of essential Gypsy inspired rubato. A couple of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances (arranged by Joachim) were choice inclusions, and less familiar but equally lovely were the Valse Triste by Franz Von Vecsey and Hejre Kati by Jenö Hubay. The selection was an eclectic, fragrant pot- pourri of different musical textures, styles and sentiments.
Hungarian Dances – The Concert was an impassioned, mellifluous and emotional voyage; a snapshot of human life and in a sense, of humanity too. The audience loved every minute and were totally absorbed by the enduring, compelling partnership of words and music.
You can purchase the novel, Hungarian Dances here.