Music review: Music at Paxton, Paxton House, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Louise Alder
Louise Alder
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While this year’s Music at Paxton festival, under new artistic director Angus Smith, is making explorative forages later this week into the wider Berwickshire community, most of its busy programme remains self-contained within Paxton Estate and its elegant Palladian mansion.

It was there, on Saturday evening, in the well-stocked Picture Gallery that the voice of soprano Louise Alder (*****) surprised and delighted a packed audience.

Who is she? Alder studied at Edinburgh University and the Royal College of Music, and has developed her career – as so many bright British vocal talents do – in the German opera house system. On the evidence of a recital geared so well to illustrating her mesmerising musical diversity, Alder’s wider recognition is guaranteed.

She performed with pianist Gary Matthewman, whose delicate understatement, generous and accommodating, allowed this sweeping journey – from the crystalline clarity of Mozart and fragile tonality of Richard Strauss to the passionate heights and depths of Liszt and the fun and games of Verdi – to enthral.

Alder is a natural communicator: one minute the purist of pure, the next coquettish and quite the madam. Her movement, the fire in her eyes, deliver their own magnetic narrative to every corner of the room. And then the voice, limitless in power and ravishing in tone, instantly adaptable to the Mozartian finesse of An Chloë, the shadowy nuances of Fauré’s 5 Mélodies de Venise, the mercurial histrionics of Strauss’ Drei Lieder Der Ophelia, which shaped the opening half.

But it was in Liszt’s 3 Sonetti del Petrarca that the full force of Alder’s expressive power came into its own, a swirling torrent of emotional extremes contained in a thrilling unity of interpretative thought. From there the direction was gently homeward – first in a restful pairing of Puccini songs, then some flirtatious Verdi. Alder’s Quilter encore added a single satisfying English sign-off to a glorious programme.

If that was de rigueur for Paxton, the preceding 5pm “aperitif” in the garden marquee was not. Two young folk musicians working under the auspices of Live Music Now, fiddler Robbie Greig and Orcadian guitarist Owen Sinclair (***), brought a fresh informality to the evening, their mischievous intimacy lighting up an hour-long set of songs and dances perfect for the time of day, though a more spiced-up context would have lifted the atmosphere.

In the first of two appearances yesterday by the young Albion Quartet (****), a neat pairing of string quartets by Haydn and Mozart introduced us to an ensemble en route to being very good.

If anything showcased the instinctiveness of their playing it was Mozart’s first Prussian Quartet, K575, the cut and thrust of its adventuring textures captured excitedly in mood and action.

The preceding Haydn Op20 No5 seemed more like a warm- up in comparison. It took until the final fugue for the same vital spark to ignite. Otherwise it seemed cautious and grounded. - Ken Walton