American violist Christine Rutledge and British award-winning pianist David Gomper offer a little afternoon serenity in the midst of the festival hubbub. As the concert programme notes point out, Rutledge is a musician of eclectic tastes and talents, taking in cutting edge, standard repertoire and baroque. We are treated to a mix of works by American and British composers: Frank Bridge, the American-Armenian Alan Hovhaness, Benjamin Britten (who was Bridge’s student), and York Bowen. All of these works appear to have been carefully chosen to showcase the versatility of the viola: an instrument often overlooked in favour of its more fashionable peers.
Rutledge has rightly been praised for her beautiful tone. This is evident from the get-go with a stirring open C inaugurating Bridge’s ‘Pensiero’, an exploration of the darker side of the instrument. In Bridge’s ‘Allegro Appassionato’, Rutledge ably navigates the highest registers with an energetic melody, accompanied by the piano’s constant sixteenth-note motif. Early on then, Rutledge makes the case for the versatility of the viola and we settle in our comfy church seats knowing we are in capable hands.
Britten’s ‘Lachrymae’ (‘Shed my tears’) features some deft pizzicato in the third variation, while Hovhaness’s ‘Chagagir’ (meaning ‘torch bearer’ in Armenian) lends an exotic twist to proceedings. Bowen’s ‘Phantasy’ sees Rutledge cutting loose somewhat and having fun with a rigorous rendition of perhaps the most accessible and romantic piece of the afternoon. Speaking just once to thank her mother-in-law in the front row, the Glaswegian artist Ann Meade, for designing her beautiful silk-chiffon kimono coat, Rutledge is evidently happy to let the art speak for itself. A calm presence, she and her instrument strike a welcome note of calm and we leave feeling better armed to face the rest of the day.