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Humanity and Generosity

a memorial concert for David Sonin


It is not given to every music critic for leading artists to pay tribute to their work with outstanding performances of golden gems of the classical repertoire. But David Sonin was more than just a critic: he encouraged artists both young and experienced, he enthused readers and audiences with his reviews, interviews and articles, and he inspired younger writers, myself included, with his insights into the journalistic art, its roles and responsibilities. Indeed the smiling portrait on the cover of the programme for the Memorial Concert for David Sonin, held at University College School's Great Hall in Hampstead, NW London, UK, on 28 February 2009, seemed the best reminder of his sparkling and warm hearted personality.

David Sonin (1935-2008) was an Arts Editor and Music Critic for the greater part of his professional journalistic life, initially, from 1978, for The Jewish Chronicle, and in his later years, for The Hampstead and Highgate Express, where he passionately encouraged local musical events, and was a true friend to artists, young or experienced. Born in London's East End and educated in Australia, with a distinguished career in broadcasting and media, his work as a music critic, in which he was autodidact, radiated a love of music, which he shared with his wife Gillian Sonin, organiser of this memorial concert held in aid of the St Luke's Hospice charity.

The artists featured included the renowned organist Jennifer Bate, three noted pianists, Nicola Eimer, Charles Owen and Penelope Thwaites, the acclaimed cellist Gemma Rosefield, soprano Sally Silver, trumpeter Deborah Calland, the award-winning Wihan Quartet and members of the Highgate Choral Society. The programme was introduced by eloquent spoken tributes by David Sonin's colleagues in the national press, Hilary Finch and Barry Millington. Hilary Finch read Emily Dickinson's poem 'Hope', relating it to David Sonin's indomitable spirit; Barry Millington spoke of the humanity and generosity which infused David Sonin's writing, especially in coverage of the Hampstead and Highgate Festival.

The concert began with stirring performances of Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim, aptly performed from the angel's gallery by trumpeter Deborah Calland, Barry Millington's wife, as sparkling duettist to Sally Silver's ebullient soprano. Jennifer Bate's lively organ accompaniment added to the music's zest, contrasted in the more reflective lyricism of the second aria, 'Eternal Source of Light Divine'. If 2009 is Handel's 250th anniversary, it is also Haydn's 200th anniversary, and it was poignant to follow the brightly coloured trio with the F minor Variations in an eloquent account by pianist Penelope Thwaites, who noted that it had been composed in memory of a friend of Haydn's. In offering her own appreciation of David Sonin she stressed his unique understanding of what the interpreter was trying to do. Their common bond of being brought up in Australia was expressed in her choice of Percy Grainger's Colonial Song, a virtuoso piece which wore its sentimentality with good humour.

Amongst the younger artists supported by David Sonin were the acclaimed duo of Gemma Rosefield, cello and Nicola Eimer, piano, who performed Cecilia McDowall's moving Falling Angels -- a work inspired by Venice. The music was entirely apt both because of the personal significance of that city, and for the sustained, sometimes acerbic piano textures and lyrical cello melody, intensifying to a peak of melancholic reflection before its tranquil conclusion. It offered an aptly contemplative space to prepare the two choral works sung with serene expressivity by the Highgate Choral Society conducted by Philip Weston, with Jennifer Bate at the organ: Fauré's In Paradisum from the Requiem, with the soprano Sally Silver, and the Cantique de Jean Racine.

Memorial concerts require moments of timeless contemplation, in which one ponders the great beauty which a single human being may achieve and foster. This concert contained many such moments, including the cantabile of the slow movement from the Sonata No 3 in B minor by Chopin, all four movements of which received an enthralling account by the pianist Charles Owen.

In the second half we heard two works by Schubert, framing Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D minor BWV 539, in which Jennifer Bate once more displayed her contrapuntal clarity, control and colour. Schubert's Impromptu in B flat was played with pearl-like poise and delicacy by Nicola Eimer, spiced with powerful drama, while the first two movements of Schubert's String Quintet in C, played by the Wihan Quartet with Gemma Rosefield, transported one through the transcendent caressing cello duet of the first movement and Adagio, to heavenly realms.

'Pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem' sang the Highgate choristers in the final setting of Parry's I was Glad, which concluded the concert on a suitably elevated mood. It affirmed the skill and dedication with which David Sonin pursued his quest to highlight the human qualities in music-making of all types and of the highest order, and through which he enthused so many readers with a passion for the arts and especially music.

Copyright © 15 April 2009 Malcolm Miller,
London UK


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