Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Aysen Ulucan and Kenneth Roberts at Kino-Teatr.

Ulucan and Roberts at Kino-Teatr

Elegance, modernism and romance were the abiding features which most struck Victoria Kingham when she attended a coffee concert given by violinist Aysen Ulucan and pianist Kenneth Roberts at Kin0-Teatr this week.

The late-morning stage at St Leonards Kino-Teatr looks plain and elegant, a vase of flowers placed on a small table to the right, a grand piano, a music stand. Ayşen Ulucan enters, a neat, slight figure in black, looking little more than a teenager.

There is nothing slight or understated about her violin technique, however, which is clear virtuoso. She introduces the first piece comprehensively: the Romance for Violin and Piano by Korel Szymanowski. This Polish composer is perhaps less well-known in the UK than he ought to be. This 1910 composition is a modernist exploration, beautiful, haunting, full of unresolved cadences and unexpected intervals, traversing the whole range of the violin, with a central short explosive motif mellowing to a quieter, extended, simpler final chord resolution at the end.

Make it new, was the modernists’ vow in every branch of the arts in the first two decades of the twentieth century: there were no musical clichés here.

The next piece (which Kenneth Roberts introduced beforehand) was the A Major Violin and Piano Sonata by César Franck. Dated 1886, it is one of Franck’s best-known pieces, and though musically complex has a more familiar harmonic resonance. As Roberts explained, it is cyclical, so that the deceptively simple initial theme develops through the next three movements via a turbulent statement, a questioning, but gentle, third movement, and a quietly triumphant final movement that ends with a ringing return to the original melody, unadorned and memorable.

After a nominal interval came two Dvořák Slavonic Dances, and an encore of gorgeous Rachmaninoff, the Vocalise, composed for (non-verbal) voice but more often arranged for other instruments. Recognisable by almost everyone whether they are classical music afficionados or merely casual listeners, Rachmaninoff’s works have instant appeal. Despite having been composed later than the Szymanowski, the piece is unashamedly Romantic, and like all Rachmaninoff’s work, elicits an immediate emotional response engendered wholly in its musical construction.

This duo bring together a profusion of musical understanding, virtuosity, and scholarship. Ulucan is a member of an exceptionally musical family from Turkey, and has since her early youth has performed extensively in Europe as a soloist and with her equally gifted brother and sister. She is now a St Leonards resident, frequently contributing to the exceptional local classical music scene. She plays a beautifully mellow-toned 19th century German violin of which, she tells me, the maker is unknown.

Kenneth Roberts explained during the course of his introduction that one of the most challenging aspects of Franck’s music is that Franck had famously large hands. He wrote music that he was physically capable of playing – spanning intervals of an octave and a half – that presents challenges for future players.

Roberts himself is Hastings-born and has a long and distinguished musical career in England and the USA. In addition to his stellar piano performances he composes, directs, and arranges all varieties of orchestral music, gives lecture recitals, and is currently resident conductor of the Sussex Concert Orchestra.

Once again, we are privileged to live in this endlessly musical town.


Ayşen Ulucan will perform the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in St Leonards in April 2024.

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Posted 12:28 Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023 In: Music & Sound

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