Dvorak Explored at Kings Place

Paul Driver, Dec 2014, Sunday Times

Antonin Dvorak's music is easily taken for granted by the seasoned music lover, and hardly seems to cry out for revisiting and re-evaluation. But as the pianist Daniel Tong observes, much of the chamber music is rarely heard, and this was his prompt for curating a three-day Dvorak Explored mini festival at Kings Place.

I caught the first and last of four concerts, which were amplified by a talk and study day. I did not expect more than an ear-tickling experience, but straightaway the performance by the London Bridge Ensemble of the "Dumky" piano trio penetrated far deeper than the lobes of that organ. It was a long time since I'd heard it, and the effectiveness of the divertimento-like sequences of short, intensely-characterised movements, free from the encumbrances of sonata form, was born in on me anew.

Melody shot forth with magical poignancy, particularly from the cello of Kate Gould. With the violinist Arisa Fujita, and Tong's expertly balanced pianism (his colourful projection of different registers sometimes made him seem two pianists in one), she achieved an ideal balance of sound in the already acoustically fine-tuned Hall One.

Their account with the violist Gary Pomeroy of Piano Quartet No 2 in E flat, was equally absorbing; and the baritone Ivan Ludlow's interpretation, with Tong, of the seven Op 55 Gypsy Songs (settings of the German) quietly shattering. The fourth, ALS die alte Mutter mich noch lehrte singen (When my old mother taught me to sing), stands beside Schubert's An die Musik as an invocation of the noble art itself; and Dvorak's worldbeater of at tunesseems effortlessly to close the divide between the popular and classical music worlds.

The final concert, by ensembles of the Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival, of which Tong is co-founder, brought the early piano Trio in G minor, Op 26, and the much more arresting late String Quartet in A flat, Op 105. It had me reflecting that, when listening to Dvorak, if you find yourself thinking about form, it is inauspicious (his wilful minor-mode rhetoric can be wearing), but if you're just marvelling at the melodic outpouring, all is well. In the end, his great value seems to be to uplift us. He embodies a pure happiness principle, and never more vividly so than in the marvellous Serenade for Strings. Simon Crawford-Phillips conducted this biting, brilliant, heart-warming realisation by a gathering of 11 patents enthusiasts.