S&H recital review

Katherine Mackintosh (oboe) & Simon Lepper (piano) Blackheath Halls, 8 April 2001 (PGW)

Alongside the great symphony orchestras and major opera companies in UK and abroad, it is important for Seen&Heard to remain in touch with music's grass roots at the local level, and hopefully this report may have wider interest for people concerned about the changing music scene. This particular Blackheath Sunday 2001 morning recital gave ample food for thought.

These two experienced musicians were sponsored by the Tillett Trust, and Katherine Mackintosh's CV is as impressive as you could wish - formerly principal oboe in the NYO of GB & the European Union Youth Orchestra; often engaged as principal oboe with the BBC Philharmonic and BBC Scottish Orchestras, pupil of illustrious masters, Celia Nicklin, Douglas Boyd & Nicholas Daniel, and a Tillett Trust Prizewinner. Simon Lepper's credentials were shorter, but he is an excellent duo and solo pianist, and he made the Blackheath Bösendorfer sound its best, especially in a fastidious account of the Bartok Roumanian Dances. (Pace Matthew Taylor's sponsored and copyrighted programme notes, misleading once again  in anticipating rare oboe arrangements; these, & Beethoven Bagatelles later, proved to be piano solos as usual, inserted to let the oboist take her breath instead of playing non-stop.)

The centre of the programme was a sensitive account of Poulenc's concentrated and moving late oboe sonata, dedicated to Prokofiev and with quotations from his Romeo & Juliet ballet. Ensemble was close and it was a real partnership.

Otherwise it was mostly trifles and pieces extracted from their published groupings. We had a couple of movements from a Telemann sonata, and a Romance each by the Schumanns, Clara & Robert. Rhian Samuel's Shaping the Air (who she?) was effective and serviceable but in no way ground breaking or memorable, and one stroke upon a suspended triangle to finish failed to satisfy expectations. Hamilton Harty's three prolix 'miniatures', in an exhausted idiom of which one quickly tired, belied their description; not so three Beethoven Bagatelles which took a third of the time. Lest this sound churlish, let it be said that the programme, deliberately contrived as a short and light programme before lunch or Sunday Dinner, seemed eminently suitable to please the small remnant of Blackheath loyalists who had not been put off coming (so it was explained to me) because it was a woodwind recital! (The South Place Sunday Concerts suffer lowered attendances when it is not a string quartet!)

From the artists' point of view it must have been daunting; a scattering of us elderly folk in our designated reserved seats, formally arranged in close rows - OK for a sell-out event, but the Halls' alternative arrangement, with a more informal semi-circle around the musicians, would have transformed and rescued this potentially pleasant occasion. Katherine Mackintosh (in formal black evening concert garb) clattered back and forth to the Artists' Room at the back of the Hall between items, telling us once that it was 'feeling like a long walk'! Why did not convention allow her to just sit in the front with us whilst her partner took his brief turns?

I hope Katherine Mackintosh & Simon Lepper will be persuaded to come again, and that Blackheath Halls can devise ways (no easy task!) to encourage some younger people to get up on a Sunday morning to come and hear the accomplished young musicians which the Tillett Trust carefully selects to sponsor in concert tours throughout Britain.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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