Steven Isserlis, Irène Duval & Mishka Rushdie Momen

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Thursday 23 May 2024, 7.15pm

£14 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students

Book Tickets
Pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen, cellist Steven Isserlis and violinist Irene Duval

N BOULANGER Three pieces for cello and piano (8’)
DEBUSSY Cello Sonata (12’)
RAVEL Sonata for violin and cello (20’) 
R SCHUMANN (arr. Isserlis) Violin Concerto (mvt 2) (12’) 
R SCHUMANN Ghost Variations for piano (12’)
FAURÉ Piano Trio (21’) 

Three acclaimed musicians and frequent collaborators perform music they adore. This thoughtfully crafted programme celebrates the musical loves and legacy of the French composer, Gabriel Fauré. 

Highlights include our Guest Curator’s arrangement of a movement from Schumann’s beloved Violin Concerto, which shares a theme with the delicate and haunting ‘Ghost Variations’ for piano; the final work by one of the giants of Romantic music. Fauré’s miraculous Piano Trio, his penultimate work, radiates ecstatic joy to conclude what promises to be a very special evening of music. 

Note from Guest Curator, Steven Isserlis 

Schumann’s Geister Variations for piano have a tragic history: they were effectively his final work,
written in the last days before he was taken to the asylum where he was to spend his remaining years. He believed that the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn, surrounded by angels, had appeared to him in a dream and dictated the theme; he seems never to have realised that he had actually composed the theme earlier, as the violin’s main melody in the slow movement of his violin concerto (as well as another, much earlier, version in a ‘song for the young’). The variations really seem to be his farewell to life. Fauré’s Piano Trio, although his penultimate work, is quite different, pulsing with ecstatic energy from its opening bars; the slow movement is simply breathtaking – I know nothing like it in the whole of music. For me, this is one of Fauré’s very greatest works.” 

Part of Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2024. 

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BOULANGER Nadia, Three pieces for cello and piano 

Sans vitesse et à l’aise
Vite et nerveusement rythmé 

Nadia Boulanger, teacher, conductor, early music pioneer and trusted adviser to the likes of Stravinsky and Poulenc, was also a gifted composer. Fiercely self-critical, she always claimed her own music was nothing like as significant as that of her brilliant younger sister, Lili, but with the rediscovery of Nadia’s music it has become clear that she was a remarkable talent in her own right. She entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of nine and subsequently studied composition with Fauré. Most of her music dates from between 1904 and 1918 (the year Lili died), including the Three Pieces for cello and piano, composed in 1914 and first published the following year. The first, in E flat minor, presents a song-like melody on the cello over a hushed piano part marked doux et vague. After a brief climactic central section, the opening music returns for a serene close in E flat major. The second piece, in A minor, treats a deceptively simple tune – almost a folksong – in an ingenious canon between the cello and the piano. The last piece, in C sharp minor, is quick, with a middle section that provides a contrast in both rhythm and texture to the playful but muscular mood of the rest.   

Nigel Simeone © 2022 

DEBUSSY Claude, Cello Sonata

Prologue. Lent, sostenuto e molto risoluto – Poco animando
Sérénade. Modérément animé
Final. Animé, léger et nerveux


‘Where is French music? Where are the old harpsichordists who had so much true music?’ It was thoughts like this that prompted Debussy to embark on a series of sonatas at the start of World War One. Weakened by cancer, he only lived to complete three of them. The Cello Sonata was the first to be finished, in the summer of 1915, and it was originally going to have a title: ‘Pierrot angry with the moon’. As well as its links to a vanished past, the Cello Sonata has debts to more recent music including use of a cyclic theme. Debussy used this device in his early String Quartet but now there is greater refinement and austerity. The first movement opens with a gesture that introduces the motif which unites many of the musical ideas in the work (and which recalls Baroque ornamentation). The second movement is a ghostly Serenade full of enigmatic harmonies, and this leads to a more flowing and animated finale which seems reluctant to settle until the closing D minor chords.


© Nigel Simeone 2015

RAVEL Maurice, Sonata for violin and cello

Très vif
Vif, avec entrain

In 1920, Ravel was asked to contribute to a musical supplement in memory of Debussy for the Revue musicale (other contributors included Bartók, Satie and Stravinsky). This ‘Tombeau’ for Debussy (with a front cover specially drawn by Dufy) appeared in December 1920 and included a ‘Duo’ for violin and cello that would become the first movement of the Sonata for Violin and Cello. It was another two years before Ravel completed the other movements and the whole work was published in 1922 with a dedication to Debussy’s memory. Ravel himself described the austere, pared-down language of the Sonata as ‘stripped to the bone’ and said that ‘harmonic charm is renounced’. The Sonata is also remarkable for its thematic unity, and some ingenious cyclic transformations. For instance, the violin theme heard at the start returns later in the work as do other ideas. The Scherzo suggests that Ravel was familiar with Kodály’s 1914 Duo for violin and cello: Ravel includes elements of Hungarian music in a movement of formidable drive and energy. The slow movement is stark and serious and after building slowly to an impassioned climax, its ending is remote and strange. The finale is brilliantly written for both instruments, bringing this extraordinary work to an athletic close, the dissonances finally resolving on to a chord of C major.

© Nigel Simeone 2018

SCHUMANN Robert (arr. Isserlis), Violin Concerto (mvt.2)

Schumann wrote his Violin Concerto in September and October 1853 for his friend Joseph Joachim. Though Joachim played it through with the Hannover Court Orchestra for the composer, he never performed it in public, coming to believe that it was the product of Schumann’s disturbed mental state at the time. Evidently Clara Schumann and Brahms agreed, as the concerto was not included in the edition of Robert’s collected works which they prepared. It was not until 1937 that the work was given its belated premiere. The slow movement is the expressive heart of the work, its main theme very similar to that of the Ghost Variations, though in a different key. Its intimate character – in the style of an intermezzo – lends itself very well to the present arrangement for piano trio.  


© Nigel Simeone 

SCHUMANN Robert, Ghost Variations for piano

In February 1854, Schumann’s mental health was in a steep decline; at the end of that month he attempted suicide and, after being rescued from the river, asked to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Endenich, where he was to remain until his death. The ‘Ghost’ Variations were composed in the midst of this traumatic crisis. Dogged by increasingly disturbing visions, on the night of 17 February he claimed to hear angels singing a theme which he immediately wrote down – though in fact it is very similar to the slow movement of his Violin Concerto, composed six months earlier. A few days after this vision, Schumann started to compose a set of variations on the ‘angel’ theme, writing out a fair copy on 27 February. Before finishing it, he left the house and threw himself into the Rhine. After being brought home, he finished the work the next day. It was the last music he wrote. A year later, Clara Schumann had a copy made which she gave to Brahms (who subsequently composed variations on the theme as his Op.23). It is impossible to imagine the harrowing circumstances in which Schumann wrote this work which comprises a theme followed by five variations. Apart from the copy made for Brahms, Clara kept the work entirely private and it was not published until 1939.  


© Nigel Simeone

FAURÉ Gabriel, Piano Trio Op.120

1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Andantino
3. Allegro vivo


Fauré retired as Director of the Paris Conservatoire in 1920, at the age of 75. Though he was increasingly troubled by a kind of deafness that distorted musical sounds, he produced several late works that demonstrate a wonderful economy and concentration: the Second Piano Quintet, Second Cello Sonata and the song cycle L’Horizon chimérique were completed in 1921, and his only String Quartet was to occupy him from 1923 until just before he died the following year. The Piano Trio was started in his favourite retreat of Annecy-le-Vieux in August 1922 and his original idea was to write it for clarinet, cello and piano but he soon settled on having a violin as the top part. Progress was slow. Fauré wrote to his wife: ‘I can’t work for long stretches of time. My worst problem is perpetual tiredness.’ There’s no sense of fatigue in this work, partly because Fauré took his time. The slow movement was the first to be completed, and the outer movements of the Trio were finished by February 1923. The first performance was given on 12 May 1923 at a concert of the Société Nationale de Musique by Fauré was too ill to attend. He did hear a performance the following year given by the celebrated trio of Alfred Cortot, Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals. The music demonstrates Fauré at his most subtle harmonically and rhythmically in the first movement, at his most elegantly restrained in the slow movement, and at his most vigorous in the finale (the resemblance between its main theme and ‘Vesti la giubba’ from Pagliacci – an opera Fauré particularly disliked – was, according to Fauré himself, entirely accidental).


Nigel Simeone

“An extraordinarily moving performance where time, very briefly, seemed to stand still.”

The Guardian

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