BRIEF ENCOUNTER

St George’s Bristol, 24th March 2018

Celebrating the Life of Sara Lovell 

(Love, Life, Death and Transfiguration)

It may have been built as a Chapel of Ease, but trudging up the steps to St. George's Bristol, Brandon Hill does not strike you as easy. Particularly in March 2018, when hard-working lungs gulp in cold Bristol air, breath puffs out in clouds, and your feet scrunch on gravel and weathered stone. 

 

But as you arrive, there’s also a sense of having left worlds of worry and  work both beneath and behind. You’ve done it! Here is a building where music from many of the world's leading musicians has blessed audiences since the concert stage covered the church's altar decades ago.

 

Two soloists who regularly graced that stage were Nicholas Oliver(piano) and Sara Lovell(cello) and on Saturday 24th March 2018, Bristol Symphony Orchestra, with their renowned conductor William Goodchild performed a concert entitled Brief Encounter.It was in memory of one of these musicians: my dearly loved sister, Sara Lovell.

The major work of the programme was Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. It was a piece Sara herself had worked hard to learn as a student - and I can still remember its glorious tunes and challenging cascades of notes echoing around the house where we grew up. On this occasion it was masterfully played by our childhood friend, Nicholas Oliver. This concerto is one of the most famous ever written. It regularly tops Classical Music charts and has featured in countless films. Nick brought to it breadth, space and a sense that every note mattered - that every sound was important from the deepest chord to the fleetest of semi-quavers. Nick is highly regarded as a chamber musician, and the way he accompanied and encouraged the orchestra's talented principal flute, oboe and clarinet in their poignant melodies was both moving and telling. From the sonorous opening chords through to the finale's emphatic closing exclamation, there was a real sense of musicians coming together to remember, to commemorate and to celebrate beauty - the beauty of the music and the beauty that was a mutual friend.

The programme moved from the deeply familiar to the totally unknown as international Soprano, Rebecca Evansjoined 18-year old violinist, Charlie Lovell-Joneswith the orchestra. They performed 'Cariad Cyntaf' (first love): a duet with orchestral accompaniment written by Charlie, who is Sara's nephew. Charlie gave its premiere with the BBC National Orchestra of Walesjust one week after his aunt passed away. Its musical language draws on Strauss and Wagner, but with a Mahlerian feel to the orchestral solos and counterpoint. The orchestra's cor anglais and principal horn should be singled out for their wonderfully sensitive playing. Rebecca Evans' voice possesses a warmth and beauty that distinguish her as world-class. She is usually associated with Mozart (she has performed the roles of Zerlina and Susanna for the New York Met) but her voice seemed to relish the challenges the young composer had set her, rising above the orchestra with a tone and range that was truly breathtaking. The young violinist played with assurance and artistry - whether deeply-felt melodies, finely-turned countermelodies or scintillating outpourings of semiquavers. The music passed from moments of total calm through awe-inspiring crescendi to tremendous orchestral climaxes, ending with a serenity  that produced a prolonged moment of stillness in the Hall, broken eventually when a voice called: "That was ravishing"' and huge applause for soloists and orchestra ensued.

 

The tone poem Tod und Verklärungand Wagner's Liebestod were both beautifully presented - tempi matched the music perfectly and the orchestral sound demonstrated this highly-regarded ensemble's ability to perform music of great tenderness and of great power. William Goodchild's programming was masterful. He had clearly noted the influences in Charlie's piece and selected works that picked up on these, complemented the concerto but were also fundamentally suited to the nature of the concert: remembering a dear friend and gifted musician. Sara Lovell was a fine cellist who was known throughout the West country for her solos, orchestral work and inspired teaching. It was fitting that the concert should end with a cello solo, played by one of Sara's closest friends and a member of the Bath Pump Room Trio, where Sara had regularly contributed as a dep.

Keith Tempest's rendition of Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabileshowed a musician of tremendous integrity and affecting sensitivity. He captured the wistfulness of the piece in all its beauty and fragility, reminding us, perhaps, that at the centre of our lives lie friendship and music - often hidden from view. Like the altar still preserved beneath the stage at St. George's Brandon Hill, there are things we cannot see, nor understand - but we can still treasure them. Just as everybody who came to this concert on a cold, March day, treasured memories of someone whose friendship and musicianship touched so many lives. RIP Sara Lovell, and thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this concert such a triumph.

 

by Simon Lovell Jones

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