Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra: Helen May with the Ivanov & Chen Duo

Saturday 17th October, Christ Church, St Leonards-on-Sea

One of unexpected snags of the pandemic has been the closure of larger venues. St Mary in the Castle is now closed until April 2021 and the White Rock Theatre is similarly shut. Finding a venue for an orchestral concert, particularly one which has to be socially distanced, is therefore proving to be a problem. Thankfully the same is not true for chamber music, and Christ Church, St Leonards is proving to be a wonderful haven in the midst of cultural turbulence. With the chairs arranged in three wide semi-circles there is no sense of gaps, only of a relaxed space within which to perform.

Last Saturday brought soprano Helen May together with the Ivanov & Chen Duo for an evening of song and arrangements for clarinet and piano. They three musicians came together at the start for Schubert’s glorious setting of Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. This is a ‘scena’ rather than a song as the singer moves from the Shepherd’s delight in the hills and valleys, to the love-sick concern that his sweetheart is so far away before returning to delight in the fact that Spring is on its way. The accompaniment from both clarinet and piano was beautifully balanced to bring out the nuances in Schubert’s delicate scoring.

The Rigoletto Fantasia da Concerto which followed allowed Boyan Ivanov to demonstrate his dexterity on the clarinet with the florid decoration of the melody, before Helen May sang Caro nome from the same opera. The Meditation from Massenet’s Thais is familiar though not in a fine arrangement for clarinet and piano, which allowed Boyan Ivanov to show the gentler side of the instrument. Helen May returned to sing the Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust. She seemed to be particularly at ease singing in French and this was a spirited way to bring to first half to a close.

After a brief interval – no refreshments and social distanced conversations behind masks – Boyan Ivanov and pianist Lysianne Chen returned to play the Carmen Fantaisie in an arrangement by Sarasate. We got the first half then there was a change to the programme. Marcio da Silva bounded on and sang one of the most engaging versions of the Toreador’s song I can remember. Just gently tongue in cheek, but every word crystal clear with a real sense of drama. Unexpected but very welcome. Helen May followed this with more reflective Song to the Moon from Dvorak’s Russalka, before Lysianne Chen gave us her only solo of the evening, Black Earth by Fazil Say. The opening and closing sections require the performer to recreate the sound of a Turkish baglama – a lute-like instrument – by physically dampening the strings by hand while hitting the keys. It was most effective and a pity the work itself was so short.

The evening concluded with an arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue which allowed us to hear the wonderful jazz writing in all its glory. The next recital in the series brings the Dumky Trio to Christ Church on Saturday 21st November. Limited seating so book now.


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