It begins at the turn-off to Buckfastleigh. I’m driving my father’s car. He’s next to me. We’ve done this journey so many times — together, alone. We know all the twists and bends and signs. I refrain from saying “Oh look. Charlie’s still in a mood,” as we pass the sign to Charlies Cross but I’m sure we both think it. As we pass Foxhole there’s a game of cricket in full swing, with a team in traditional whites. “Lovely,” says my father. And then we’re passing High Cross, the top gate, Martins, the gallery and the gatehouse. We’re back. I’m back.
Please forgive me for a moment of nostalgia. I grew up at Dartington Summer School. My parents met there, and continued to go to the Summer School together through engagement, marriage, two kids and one divorce. My brother and I waltzed off into life and my father got custody of the Summer School. He still comes every year, and a few years ago took on the role of archivist, assembling a magnificent collection of photos, programmes and ephemera dating from 1948 to the present day. Which is why I am here, 25 years after my last visit, accompanying my father and researching a book on the Summer School, featuring treasures from the archive.
I’ve got my violin with me, and I’ll be doing some chamber music, but my main practice these days is writing, and as part of that I’ll be writing a daily blogpost, which may or may not include reviews of the previous day’s concerts and events.
So here goes…
Saturday 13 August
Great HallThe Romantic Violin I
It’s a luscious start to the week with a dose of high romanticism in the shape of Dvorak and Brahms, plus a twist of Prokofiev. Chloe Hanslip is a young British violinist who studied with Zakhar Bron and is now in demand as a soloist, not least because of her amazing repertoire, which includes Korngold, Glass, Corigliano, Maxwell Davies and (Brett) Dean, not to mention all the older stuff. Her partner on stage is Roumanian pianist Florian Mitrea, who is currently ripping through the competition and concert circuit, winning prizes as a soloist and as a chamber musician.
I imagine the first concert of the week is a tough gig. The audience has just arrived and is still warming up, getting their listening ears on, pacing themselves. Hanslip and Mitrea launched into Dvorak’s Sonatina in G with serious intent — perhaps for me a little too serious, a little too muscular for Dvorak’s innocent melodies. The Brahms — Sonata No. 3 in D Minor — was forceful and brave, with gloriously sunny thirds in the second movement, but the balance between pianist and violinist in colour, dynamics and tempi was sometimes elusive.
They finally cracked it in the second half, in Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinq Melodies. Five little episodes, five moods, captured with delicacy and focus and, finally, pianissimos to make us all hold our breath. With the audience, as much as the duo, finally tuned in, the Sonata No. 2 in D major made for a stylish and satisfying play out. I look forward to hearing more from both musicians later in the week.