Review: Hélène Clément and Alasdair Beatson at the King’s Hall, Ilkley, March 13, 2024 

French violist, Hélène Clément, and Scots pianist, Alasdair Beatson, gave last Wednesday’s recital at the Concert Club. Their programme was inspired by the viola that Hélène plays, an instrument which belonged to and was played by both Benjamin Britten and his teacher, Frank Bridge, whose music largely comprised the concert.

Bridge started his career as a professional violist and his Allegro appassionato for viola and piano which started the second half shows off his command in writing for his own instrument with a dramatic and virtuosic piece in a late romantic style. Three early piano pieces from the same period had preceded the interval and had been played with characteristic wit and musicality by Alasdair Beaton, much appreciated by the audience. In his later music, Bridge developed a sparer style less dominated by harmony and influenced by continental modernism. This was illustrated in the viola arrangement of his cello sonata with which Hélène Clément started the programme. This piece makes huge demands on both the soloist and the pianist, in which both players showed themselves thoroughly proficient, although there were moments in which the balance between the instruments was not ideal. A far more attractive work is the viola sonata of Rebecca Clarke, which is becoming a staple of the viola repertoire. Hélène and Alasdair gave an enchanting performance of this difficult work in which their technical ability was always at the service of the music.

By how much Britten outshone his teacher was evident from the remainder of the programme. Even the Elegy for solo viola into which the schoolboy Britten poured his unhappiness is a work of great clarity, exploiting the instrumental possibilities. His arrangement of Bridge's ‘There is a willow grows aslant a brook’ from two years later is beautifully done, with its narrative of Ophelia’s watery fate still crystal clear. To these two more reflective pieces, our players brought emotion without sentimentalism and virtuosity without showiness. Britten’s Lachrimae rounded off the programme: this set of variations on Dowland’s ‘If my complaints…’ largely exploits the viola’s upper register and associated harmonics until the theme finally emerges in dark-toned simplicity. It was given a masterful performance by our two players, the quality of the stillness at the end a tribute from an enraptured audience, equally echoed by the generous applause which followed.