Young Musicians

Talented classicial musicians shine at the Belfast Festival at Queen's

Esteemed film composer Ennio Morricone opened the Belfast Festival at Queen's at the Waterfront Hall last weekend with a programme that included some of his best known music from the silver screen, but closer to home several young and upcoming classical stars from Northern Ireland took the stage at the Ulster Bank’s headquarters in Belfast city centre for two evenings of popular classics.

The first musician to showcase his talents is David Sloan, an 18-year-old cellist from Bangor who performs an eclectic programme of Bach, Shostakovich, Fauré and Granados. 

The first piece, the Prelude to the third of Bach’s suites for solo cello, gives the young musician a chance to display his technical assurance and interpretative skills. Widely known as some of the most difficult in the solo repertoire, these suites are seen as a technical tour de force for cellists in their breadth of harmonic invention and musical deftness. 

Sloan gives a strong performance bringing the piece to life, and with a keen sense of pace and subtlety - something not lost on the vast acoustic space of the building’s central atrium, in which the performances took place. 

Following this is Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata in D minor, a rather sombre work, but typical of the Russian composer. Accompanying on the piano, Francis King gives a suitably restrained performance allowing the cello to breathe. 

The final sections of the programme include Fauré’s Elegie, another famed work, and Garandos’ less well-known Intermezzo from Goyescas. The latter allows our soloist to explore other regions of the cello and in a different style, bringing the recital to a flamboyant close.

Our next performer is a soloist who has already had a varied career as both an orchestral and solo perfomer. Eimear McGeowan has performed with many ensembles including Camerata Ireland, and has also been involved with traditional music, having twice won the all-Ireland traditional Irish flute compeition. 

Tonight, though, the music is of a very different flavour, complementing Sloan’s programme beginning with Bach before moving through to works by Theobald Boehm, Ian Clarke and Faure. Bach’s Flute Sonata in E minor is a charming work, typical of the Baroque period. McGeowan chose to include the first and fourth movements ('Adagio ma non tanto' and 'Allegro') giving the impression of a French overture-styled performance.

Boehm’s Elegie may to some be a rather obscure work, but the inventor turned composer is perhaps one of the most important figures in the history of the instrument, having been credited with creating the concert flute we know today.

McGeowan delivers a delicate and refined performance of the work, matched by a sensitive accompaniment from Michael McHale. The final parts of her programme include a work by a living British composer, Ian Clarke of Zoom Tube fame. 

Hypnosis is a thoroughly enjoyable piece, written with a distinct understanding of the instrument. Above the delicate piano arpeggios, McGeowan brings Clarke’s dreamy landscape to life with a fantastic performance full of colour and technical assurance, followed by Fauré’s exquisite Fantaisie, one of the most famous works in the flautist’s canon, and performed with equal enthusiasm.

Moving onto Sunday night’s performers, Ballymena pianist Sam Law produces a wonderful recital of music including Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat Major, Rachmaninov’s Moment Musical No. 5, and Liszt’s famous La Campanella

This year Law was given the title of Most Promising Competitor at the 2008 BBC Young Musician of the Year, a great achievment for the 17-year old musician, and his technically complex programme lives up to the title. 

Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata is an epic work and a towering technical challenge to any pianist. Also referred to as Stalingrad, the sonata forms part of the composer’s three War Sonatas written on the outbreak of World War II. The music is deeply chromatic and dark, and Law’s interpretation of the piece is perhaps the highlight of these weekend recitals. His assurance of style and sense of timing is spot-on, balancing both the sombre and more luminous passages of this complex work.

This is followed by Rachmaninov’s attractive Moment Musical No. 5. Law’s performance is restrained, but in allowing the music to work with the surrounding acoustic, he delivers an emotionally reflective performance. 

Finally we hear Liszt’s La Campanella or The Little Bell, written as part of his Grand Pagannini Etudes composed around 1838. Although seen as a charming work, it forms an important part of Liszt’s output and is representative of the composer’s technical brilliance and insight for piano writing. Law's rendition is undoubtedly another highlight.

Equally enjoyable is Eimear Collins’ performance of popular arias and songs from the worlds of opera and folk music. Recent performances for the young soprano have included the role of Lauretta in this year's Opera Fringe production of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Collins certainly looks to be someone worth watching in the future. 

She opens with Catalini’s 'Ebben? Ne andro lontano' from the opera La Wally, followed with a work by the German composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold from his opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). Popular traditional pieces follow, including 'The Last Rose of Summer' and 'My Lagan Love', performed with equal finesse, finishing with Lehar’s whimsical 'Meine Lippen sie kussen so heiss' from Giuditta - a fitting finale to the evening's musical journey.

Over the weekend the audience was treated to four recitals of a very high standard, vividly displaying the talent of our own local musicians. 

Greame Stewart