“Outstanding concert”… James Sommerville

Bounce world première – “full of suspense and mystery”.
Penelope Cookson, WMCT Artist Selection Committee member shares her views of Sommerville concert.

James Sommerville presented an outstanding concert in Walter Hall for Music in the Afternoon Nov. 24. The French horn is not often featured in recital, and this was a marvellous opportunity to hear the instrument masterfully played in an intimate setting. Sommerville was accompanied by Peter Longworth, piano, and violinist Scott St. John joined them for two of the works.

From the moment Somerville played his first notes, we knew we were in for a wonderful afternoon.

The concert opened with Villanelle by Paul Dukas, which was designed as an examination piece for the Paris Conservatory. The horn is often considered one of the hardest instruments to play, but in this first piece we were introduced to what the instrument sounds like in the hands of a master. The Villanelle was followed by three of Charles Gounod’s Six Mélodies: Larghetto, Andantino, and Andante sostenuto. Longworth and Sommerville collaborated magnificently in both these opening works.
The French horn evolved over time from the hunting horn, and has a haunting quality, often used in repertoire to suggest the hunt or to call attention in melancholic way. The third work, commissioned by the WMCT was the World Première of Bounce created by Canadian composer Vivian Fung.

Longworth and Sommerville were joined by violinist Scott St. John. Fung gave us a spectacular array of new sounds to hear, not only from the horn but also from the piano and violin. Fung attended the concert and explained that she had been inspired by the rhythmic sound of her baby banging his head against his mattress to soothe himself to sleep. Though this habit was alarming, the doctor assured her it was quite natural. She carried the sound with her and turned it into a sophisticated and exciting composition which included Somerville singing into the bell of the instrument while playing. A young guest, who attended the concert with me, said it was full of suspense and mystery, and was her favourite of the afternoon. I agree Bounce was a highlight of the concert.
As Somerville told us, it is difficult to plan the order of a concert when you have not yet heard the entire repertoire; he could have ended the first half with Fung’s brilliant piece. Instead the slightly long first half finished with Variations sur une chanson française, beautifully executed and giving us a twentieth century example of what the horn can sound like.
The second half of the concert began with Francis Poulenc’s beautiful Élégie for horn and piano. It was written in memory of horn player Dennis Brain, who died in an accident at 36. This was a deeply moving tribute in the hands of Somerville and Longworth. Somerville explained that Élégie began and ended with a tone row. For me, the beginning and ending were the most expressive parts of the work.
Finally we were privileged to hear Brahm’s wonderful Horn Trio, Opus 40, which was brilliantly played by all three musicians. What a rare treat to hear James Sommerville in recital, in a lovely balanced and varied programme, along with two other distinguished musicians, Peter Longworth and Scott St. John.


Penelope Cookson, far right, with Diane Martello (left), Scott St. John, Peter Longworth, Vivian Fung, Peter Longworth