Lunchtime Recital: Giovanni Guzzo

Forget everything you think you know about why classical music isn’t for you and consider Chester Music Festival, says Laura Robertson…

Let us begin with a declaration: we are most definitely NOT classical music experts. Seriously, we’re nigh on clueless; we wouldn’t know Beethoven if he hit us over the head and serenaded us. This was a chance for us to get out of the usual gig venue and try something different, maybe even challenging. As such, there was a bit of apprehension about  us ‘not getting it’.

MBNA Chester Music Festival, dubbed ‘the musicians’ festival’, essentially meaning it’s a rare chance for international artists to research and choose the music that they want to play, in an experimental environment, with musicians that they like and rarely get a chance to work with.

We chose to dive in at the deep-end with a lunchtime recital at Chester Town Hall, from real-life partners and violinists Giovanni Guzzo and Mirijam Contzen, accompanied by pianist Marco Fatichenti. Setting nerves aside (kind of), we took our seats.

“The experience was brilliant; more intimate, more relaxed, and astonishingly beautiful”

In reality the experience was brilliant; more intimate than expected, more relaxed, and in parts astonishingly beautiful and moving. The concert room was akin to the Everyman Theatre setup; performance space in the middle, surrounded by chairs, so cosy you could reach out and touch the performers (we didn’t).

Ensemble Deva leader Guzzo swept into the room with a beaming smile, and was instrumental in quickly making the small audience both comfortable and engaged. Perhaps it helps that the violinist is just 26 years old; this also makes his knowledge and skill seem prodigious.

Setting the scene for each section of the recital, Guzzo introduced the background of each composer and why each piece had been chosen for the performance; because he, Mirijam and Marco loved the pieces and were excited by the challenge. It felt considered, and as a result we felt privileged, essentially invited to sit in on friends jamming, albeit at a very high level.

The hour-long performance was split into four parts, or ‘sonatas’; the first two familiar to the ear (even to newbies like us). Describing each of these parts as ‘destinations’ (due to the different countries each composer hailed from), we begin with Russia and one of Guzzo’s “favourite pieces”, Preludes by Shostakovich.

The 20th century Soviet composer and pianist was known as an obsessive genius, was a bit of a fan of Chekov, and best friends with English composer Benjamin Britten (also celebrated during this festival). This was followed by 18th century Austria and more familiar territory: Mozart (and a last minute change in the programme by Guzzo for something more ‘original’).

The pieces from Shostakovich and Mozart shared melancholic and joyful elements; the real pleasure was watching Guzzo play. Little jumps, standing on tip-toes, animated facial expressions, and unbroken eye contact with Contzen. Their performative relationship was mesmerising and emotive, with gutsy support from Fatichenti.

“We whizzed back to Russia for Prokofiev, one of the most amazing composers of his generation”

Things got considerably more interesting as we whizzed back to Russia for composer, pianist and conductor Prokofiev (also of Russia); introduced as “one of the most amazing composers of his generation”, he was known for pushing boundaries and played a considerable role in forming what we now casually refer to as contemporary music.

What proceeded was an extraordinary performance; completely different in intensity and style to the first two sonatas. Looking back on our notes, we’d written “sounds like madness”; to be more specific, this exquisite, at times high pitched and menacing piece, was completely abstract, and felt incredibly modern.

The last destination, Spain, took us to a traditional dance “full of pyrotechics and tricks” from Romantic violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate. Wisely choosing to end with something high energy, Guzzo admitted it was “fun to play but also incredibly difficult”. This difficulty was tangible in a flurry of finger-plucking, sweating, giggles and snapping of bow strings, lapped up by an appreciative audience with applause and much foot-stomping (apparently the etiquette rather than whistling or whooping).

It’s easy sometimes to write off classical music as something elitist, or beyond our knowledge base, letting concerns about terminology or the complex variety of composers and styles put us off. You stick to what you know, right? This was unlike any other performance we’ve experienced and because of this, was all the better for it.

If you’re after something different, a platform for creativity and fresh ideas, look no further than MBNA Chester Music Festival. The international standard musicians are more than capable of challenging preconceptions and you’ll leave feeling genuinely moved, and certainly much less afraid of this thing called classical music.

MBNA Chester Music Festival continues until Sunday 16th June 2013 

Read our interview with MBNA Chester Music Festival Director Clark Rundell

Posted on 13/06/2013 by thedoublenegative