Review of Hastings concert

Hammers and Horsehair
Cellist Robert Ibell and Forte-pianist Douglas Mews
St Matthew's Church Guild Room, Hastings, July 15
Music by Beethoven, Breval, Romberg and Mozart.
Reviewed by Peter Williams in Hawkes Bay Today, 18 July 2016

This was a fascinating music experience which took the near-capacity audience back close to the time when the music was composed, in an intimate venue with subdued lighting, the musicians in period dress and playing appropriate instruments.

The 1843 Broadwood square forte-piano - a large oblong box on a stand - had just six octaves and a wooden frame, instead of the seven-plus octaves and iron frame of modern instruments, making it more portable than a modern piano.

The cello was played without a floor spike, instead resting between the player's legs, and two of the strings were made of gut instead of the metal now commonly used. The piano had a lighter touch and the sound was much gentler, matched by the warmth of the cello tone.

Douglas Mews is a specialist forte-pianist and this showed especially in his stylish playing of the Mozart Variations and the Sonata in C K330, where his fingers seemed to dance over the keys in the elaborate configuration of the music.

The combined performances of the two Beethoven works - the witty set of Twelve Variations on a theme from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute at the start of the programme, and the Sonata for Piano and Cello Op 5 No 1 at its close, were entrancing with a variety of expressive, dynamic colour.

There was much of the same in the playing of works by lesser-known composers, Sonata in G by Jean-Baptiste Bréval and Grand Sonata in E-flat major by Bernhard Romberg, where the performers' musicianship again ensured listening pleasure.

The audience was able to get up close to the instruments during the interval, and the performers' enlightening commentary about the music and instruments made this an absorbing experience.

The audience, and those at the other 18 concerts on this nationwide tour, will surely have left with a greater appreciation of numerous things musical.