Light Rain and Breezy


Skillful artists explore British music

Ben Nyberg, arts critic

By A Contributor

Internationally celebrated English violinist Madeleine Mitchell was joined by KSU faculty pianist Slawomir Dobrzanski in a brief, serious, talk-and-play chamber survey entitled “A Century of British Music” Monday in All Faiths Chapel Auditorium on the K-State campus.

It must have pleased the program’s host, KSU violin professor Dr. Cora Cooper, (as much as it did me) that our guest artist appeared to share her negative view of—to use Dr. Cooper’s word—“babe-ification” of women in classical music. Ms. Mitchell’s all but all-concealing silver-gray performance attire projected a strong and authoritative dignity.

Likewise immediately apparent was Mitchell’s professional poise. If she was in the least saddened to see lots of empty seats in the hall she certainly didn’t allow it to dampen her enthusiastic dedication as she set to work on the evening’s mission: to increase our understanding and appreciation of the substantial contribution made by U.K. composers over the past hundred years (or so) to enriching the world’s string repertory.

The guided tour included pieces from both the well-known (e.g., Ralph Vaughan Williams) and the lesser known (e.g., Nigel Osborne) and explored widely diverse musical genres and idioms, from a traditional three-movement sonata for violin and piano to a mechanically diabolic show piece for violin alone. The continually changing tonal landscape, especially as enhanced by the guest artist’s informative commentary, made for an effective educational presentation with a cleverly designed listener-friendly learning curve.

Still, for all its pedagogic value, the most important lesson of the night was simply the glory of wonderful music beautifully realized and conveyed by artists of impeccable skill and taste. It was a privilege to be there, in the hall with them as they worked their magic.

Violinist Mitchell’s flawless technique was always both audible and visible. Whether spinning out the delicate tracery of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending or dancing to the frenetic phrases of Michael Nyman’s Full Fathom Five, she responded to each score’s demands with polished assurance and total respect, always delivering an appropriate measure of precisely shaped sound.

But for all the excellence of her playing, she wasn’t alone. Music performance of this recital’s character and calibre result from collaboration between artists of equivalent commitment and sensitivity. In pianist Dobrzanski Mitchell had just such a partner. It was hard to believe, given the interpretive rapport between the two, that he and she had not been making music together for years.

Glancing over the “programme” while awaiting the entry of the artists, I saw I’d have at least one bone to pick with the evening’s selections: No Elgar in this Century of British Music? Not only was he the best known of them, he’d written one of the loveliest, most charming works ever for violin and piano, Salut D’Amour. Then came our encore. What a delicious bit of trickery to leave “Love’s Greeting” off the printed menu only to serve it up for dessert!

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