The latest concert in this ever-popular series was an astonishing performance of music for violin and piano given by two young musicians Brieuc Vourch (violin) and Gamal Khamis (piano).
Brieuc was born in Paris in 1995 where, at the age of 3, he began to play the piano. In his teens he moved to New York to study at the world-renowned Juillard School of Music, where he studied with Itzhak Perlman among others. Despite his youth he has played in a wide variety of masterclasses and chamber music – most recently he has met and played for the President of France, Emmanuel Macron.
Gamal’s piano playing had been noted at an early age. He first performed at London’s Wigmore Hall when he was ten. After graduating in mathematics from Imperial College, he studied at the Royal College of Music. He has played at many British concert halls and music festivals. Although he has won several prizes as an accompanist, he is also an experienced soloist. It was in his accompanist role that we welcomed him to Saint Peter’s on Sunday (May 13).
The concert began with the Violin Sonata in D Major written by George Frederic Handel about 1750. Unusually the work begins with a gentle and lyrical first movement, played with great style, before changing gear into a fast and furious allegro.
A second gentle movement follows before the work finishes with another allegro movement. Throughout the piece the ‘pairing’ of the two instruments was wonderful. Ideas and themes were bounced effortlessly from one instrument to the other in almost equal measure.
The violin playing especially was confident, eloquent and technically brilliant. Perhaps the two slow movements were played with greater passion than a Baroque masterpiece demands.
The two remaining works in the first half are much loved items from the violin repertoire. First came the Saint Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso of 1863. It is a real showpiece – virtuoso stuff for both the piano and the violin. It became so popular that both Bizet and Debussy made arrangements of it for violin and piano in the first case and four hands in the second.
After a brief introduction the violin launches into a captivating theme full of syncopations, giving the work a sultry Spanish flavour; exuding the atmosphere of a flamenco dance in some Andalusian smoke-filled bar.
The piano maintains this mesmeric rhythm throughout the piece while the violin provides an embellishment which is ever more stratospheric culminating in a breath-taking coda. Brieuc showed not only his technical dexterity, but his ability to convey the sun-drenched mood of the piece. Yes, it was a jaw-dropping performance.
Fritz Kreisler’s Prelude and Allegro completed the first half. A virtuoso piece written in 1905 by the violin virtuoso himself, and therefore inevitable challenging.
It is in the style of an obscure eighteenth century violinist named Gaetano Pugnani, some of whose work Kreisler is alleged to have discovered in a bunch of old manuscripts. In reality it might be by Kreisler himself.
It begins with a bold and angular statement, forcefully and majestically played . This is then followed by a second theme, which Kreisler develops relentless, with long semi-quaver runs and double stopping, which really test the player’ technical ability. The work was played with huge bravado and showmanship – which delighted the audience.
The second half of the recital was devoted to Cesar Frank’s great Sonata in A Major for violin and piano. Written in 1886 this work was a wedding present for the young violinist Eugene Ysaye and his bride Louise Bourdeau de Courtrai.
Presented to the bridal couple on the morning of their wedding, and after a very hasty rehearsal of the work, it was performed in front of the wedding guests by Ysaye himself and the pianist Leontine Bordes-Pene.
The opening movement, a gentle allegretto, is a deep sigh of longing, accompanied by rolling arpeggios on the piano. A passionate allegro follows after a phenomenally virtuosic introduction on the piano.
The third movement is gentle with long stretches of solo instrument, as if perhaps telling a story, before the glittering allegretto, a wonderful joyous movement based around a simple series of descending notes, repeated at regular intervals, which could be construed to be wedding bells.
The work is technically awesome. Indeed, the piano part is rated as one of the most challenging in the repertoire. It was brilliantly played; the variety of moods highlighted and the joy of the last movement played with the technical skill and the infectious enthusiasm which such a celebratory work demands.
What a concert! It was only after the performance that we discovered that Brieuc and Gamal had first played together only a few days ago. Given the obvious rapport between the two, this was truly amazing. We wish them both well in their careers and hope they will return to Saint Peter’s where they are assured of a very enthusiastic welcome.