Tag Archives: concert review

My Night with Fran (and a Bechstein)

Review of Frances Wilson & Friends, South London Concert Series at Brunswick House, 22nd January 2015

by Lucy Butler Gillick

Brunswick House
Brunswick House

The last time I visited LASSCO Brunswick House, my husband and I were looking at furniture for our house in Clapham. Back then it was the place to go for interesting bits and pieces at prices that wouldn’t break the bank. It still is. But in those days the area was very far from a prime location. In the 10 or more years since, I have occasionally looked across from a car or bus as I pass through Vauxhall Cross and noticed the isolated Georgian house, standing in defiantly Dickensian splendour, on an island surrounded by sleek riverside architecture and brutally thundering roads.

Without the encouragement of my dear friend Fran [Frances] Wilson – the energetic co-founder and Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series – I would probably never have bothered to park the car or get off the bus or tube to explore any further. But her invitation to come along to an evening of intimate piano music was far too appealing to refuse. And the venue is practically on my doorstep…

Now, apart from the occasional school event, endured for the sake of my children, or dinner at Fran’s where the piano would inevitably form part of the programme (and a welcome one at that), I have never really experienced such a concert. So it was as a complete outsider to this exclusive piano playing world that I arrived last Thursday evening and finally re-entered the pillared portals of LASSCO Brunswick House. To be frank, I was slightly fearful that my bottom would end the evening sore from a long and laborious sit, after having my eardrums assailed by music that could potentially mean nothing to me at all.

ChandelierBut what an appealing setting and pleasurable event it turned out to be. Downstairs is a cosy bar and lively restaurant, lit and furnished with scene-setting antiques that are – so far as I could tell from the tags – all for sale. For your starter you could order Mussels, Kale & Parsnip plus a Venetian chandelier; with perhaps Roast Lamb Leg and a sideboard to follow. Not bad going for the time-poor, multi-tasking city worker, en route home.

DSC_4092But it was upstairs that the salon vibe really took hold. The private concert room, the opulent Saloon with its belle epoque Bechstein grand piano, heavily swagged stained glass windows, old-fashioned school room-style chairs set in neat rows, lamps, lanterns, chandeliers and ephemera, was a genuinely atmospheric space. The very height of old-world decorous gentility, slap bang in the middle of one of London’s busiest junctions (better known for its gay clubs and pubs). Who’d have thought? It even smelt old-fashioned – a sort of pleasantly musty, sandalwood tang.

Once the concert kicked off, after a short introduction from Fran – dressed to the nines in a floor-length slinky red and mauve gown – the evening progressed apace. The concert included the ‘world premiere’ of a new piece by composer and guitarist Matthew Sear, as well as preludes, fugues, sonatas and impromptus from the likes of Debussy, Shostakovich, Menotti, Rachmaninoff, Scarlatti, Schubert and Satie – all favourite pieces of the artists performing that night. There was even a piece by the incongruously named Bryan Kelly (who sounds more like an Irish builder than an Australian composer to me), and a somewhat ‘difficult’ discordant work by Olivier Messiaen – apparently taken from ‘one of the greatest works for piano of the 20th century’ (the Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus) expertly played by Fran, who I think fancied challenging her audience into hearing something unusual at the end of the night.

The South London Concert series typically combines performances by talented amateur musicians with a special “guest spot” featuring professional and semi-professional players. On the evening I attended we enjoyed performances by José Luis Gutiérrez Sacristán, Petra Chong, Lorraine Womack-Banning, Rob Foster and of course our genial hostess Frances Wilson herself. They all looked and sounded amazing to my untutored ears and I would heartily recommend the South London Concert Series to anyone who fancies a very reasonably-priced introduction to the world of glorious piano music in an intimate setting, followed by an opportunity to meet and talk to musicians who are as passionate about their piano music as you probably are about your food, wine and chandeliers. What’s not to love about such civilisation? The only jarring note was re-entering the real world and wintry fug of Vauxhall Cross when it was finally time to head home…

 

Lucy Butler Gillick is ex-chief sub editor of The Sunday Telegraph Magazine and Harpers & Queen. She has written for many magazines and supplements over the years, on a variety of topics, but mostly on issues related to parenting. She now works in education. 

 

The South London Concert Series returns to LASSCO Brunswick House on 21st May for a concert by Australian counter-tenor Glenn Kesby. Full details here

www.slconcerts.co.uk

Review: Scriabin Revealed – Garrick Ohlsson at Wigmore Hall

My first concert of 2015 was an all-Scribian recital by American pianist Garrick Ohlsson, who, by his own admission, is a ‘Scriabinophile’, an obession which grew from hearing Sviatoslav Richter playing the ‘White Mass’ Sonata in the 1960s.

To mark the centenary of the composer’s death is Garrick Ohlsson’s ‘Skryabin Focus’ at Wigmore Hall, and the two-concert celebration opened with a recital held, appropriately, on the composer’s birthday, which in the Julian calendar (to which Russia then subscribed) is Christmas Day. This fact alone suggests we are dealing with an unusual personality, and as time went on, and Scriabin’s egocentric obsessions increased, he began to regard himself as a second Messiah whose music would have a purifying, unifying and life-changing effect on all mankind. Add to this his interest in spirituality, the theosophy of Madame Blavasky, the writings of Nietzsche, his synaesthesia (which is what originally drew me to his piano music) and his assertion that there was an aesthetic connection between musical harmony and shades of colour, and we have an extreme personality at work. This heady mix produced music which is languorous, sensuous, demonic, enigmatic, erotic, febrile and over-heated. Hyper-everything, his music is lush, gorgeous and inspired, always ecstatic. It is these aspects which many listeners, and artists, find off-putting, and the reason why Scriabin’s music is so rarely performed today.

Read my full review here

Francois-Frederic Guy at Wigmore Hall

Brouillards swathed the Wigmore audience in mist, yet the sound was never foggy”

Photo credit: Guy Vivien
Photo credit: Guy Vivien

Occasionally one comes across an artist who seems so at one with the music, that one can almost hear the composer at the artist’s shoulder saying ”yes, that is what I meant”. Such was the effect of French pianist François-Frédéric Guy’s performance of Beethoven’s final Piano Sonata, the Op.111, at London’s Wigmore hall on Friday night: a performance replete in insight and an emotional intensity which comes from a long association with and admiration for this composer and his music.

Read my full review here

Triffic Trifonov at Royal Festival Hall

© Dario Acosta Photography / DG

He looks like he should still be at school, yet he plays with the commanding presence, exceptional technical facility and deep commitment a professional artist thrice his years would envy. He’s slight, floppy haired, yet he can bring power and richness to the boldest fortissimo passages, while his pianissimos are delicate whispers. Welcome to the world of Daniil Trifonov.

Superlatives quickly become redundant when attempting to describe the pianistic feats of this young artist, winner in 2011 of both the Tchaikovsky and Rubenstein Competitions, and still only 23. He’s already got a clutch of recordings under his belt, and is in demand around the world. His London concert marked his Royal Festival Hall debut (he has already played at the Wigmore and Queen Elizabeth Halls), and it was therefore a pity that due to an unfortunate, and probably accidental, concert clash with Behzod Abduraimov’s Wigmore Hall recital, the Festival Hall was not as full-to-bursting as it might have been for this eagerly-anticipated debut.

Read my full review here

Mahan Esfahani at Wigmore Hall

This is the year of CPE Bach, the tercentenary of the birth of the fifth son of JS, and this anniversary is being marked with performances, recordings and appreciations of his music worldwide.

This is also the year of Mahan Esfahani, the young Iranian harpsichordist, now resident in the UK, who has been credited with bringing the harpsichord “out of the closet” and making this instrument, the pre-eminent symbol of the Baroque period, accessible and exciting and proving that the harpsichord has an important position in contemporary music making.

I first encountered Mahan Esfahani via Norman Lebrect’s Slipped Disc blog and, my interest piqued, heard Mahan perform Bach’s Goldberg Variations at Cadogan Hall as part of the 2011 Proms. This was a double first – Mahan’s Proms debut and the first solo harpsichord recital in the Proms history. The performance was fresh, thrilling and insightful, revealing many of the gems of Bach’s writing not always highlighted by other performers, either on harpsichord or piano.

Since then, Mahan’s star has been ascending rapidly, evidenced by a busy international concert diary, including participation in this yaer’s Aldeburgh Festival, appearances on BBC Radio 3, and an acclaimed recording of CPE Bach’s Wurttemberg Sonatas for Hyperion. In addition, Mahan is a sharply intellectual musician who is not afraid to challenge the dogmas of the early music movement and who likes to draw his own conclusions about aspects such as interpretation and performance practice from his studies of period sources, and collaborations with modern instrument players to recreate the sonic world of earlier music.

Mahan’s witty and relaxed stage manner combine with his intelligence and musical insight, resulting in recitals with a magnetic appeal which prove that far from an instrument capable of producing “one sound”, the harpsichord is vibrant, colourfully nuanced, expressive and highly textural. From the melancholic arabesques of Couperin to the dramatic bravura and declamatory statements of the young JS Bach’s Toccata in F# minor BWV910 to the graceful soundscape of Takemitsu (an inspired inclusion), this was a concert which fizzed and sparkled.

Those of us more used to hearing piano recitals at the Wigmore need a few moments to “tune in” to the sound of the harpsichord. It speaks more quietly, inevitably, because of its size, but the special acoustic of the Wigmore Hall seems just about ideal for this instrument. Add to this an audience which, by and large, listened most attentively, creating a highly engaging and absorbing concert.

In addition to the works by Couperin, JS Bach and Takemitsu, there were two Sonatas by CPE (“Emmanuel”) Bach, written while his father was still alive. Dedicated to Emmanuel’s employer, the newly-crowned Prussian King Frederick II, these sonatas reveal a composer working within a musical landscape which was poised on the cusp of change and display the remarkable forward-pull of Emmanuel’s creative impulse in the use of texture, dissonance, rapid changes of mood, rhetoric and wit, music which looks forward to Haydn and Beethoven. For the purposes of comparison, Mahan also included in his programme a sonata by Georg Anton Benda, a Bohemian disciple of Emmanuel. More sparely scored, it lacked the immediate “shock value” of Emmanuel’s writing, yet included many distinctive facets – drama and tension, a recitative-like slow movement and a spirited finale – and was performed with great elegance and sensitivity.

On first glance, Rain Dreaming by Toru Takemitsu may seem an odd choice in a programme dedicated to Baroque and early classical music, but the piece worked well, providing an interesting contrast and a pause for reflection. There were echoes of Emmanuel’s unexpected dissonances and Couperin’s poetry within Takemitsu’s writing , yet the work is also highly lyrical in its explorations of tonality.

This was a concert of bravura playing, combined with wit and intelligence to create a thoroughly engaging concert, which challenged pre-conceived notions about the harpsichord and the music of the Baroque and Rococo periods. Mahan’s entertaining and informative introduction (given after the Couperin) and his interesting and quirky programme notes (in which he described Frederick II as an eighteenth-century “hipster”) undoubtedly contributed to a most enjoyable and imaginative evening of music making. Highly recommended.

Meet the Artist……Mahan Esfahani

www.mahanesfahani.com

 

(Photo credit: Marco Borggreve)

Pascal Rogé at Wigmore Hall

Acclaimed French pianist Pascal Rogé gave a lunchtime recital at Wigmore Hall on Monday featuring works by three towering figures of French piano music – Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc. The hour-long concert afforded the audience a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the most wondrous pianism, from the graceful, subtly nuanced soundworld of Debussy’s Suite bergamasque to Ravel’s glittering Sonatine and closing with Poulenc’s vivid and characterful Les soirées de Nazelles.

Parisian-born Rogé has a deep affinity with these composers, with countless celebrated performances and an impressive discography. I have enjoyed Rogé’s pianism on disc and have for a long time wanted to hear him live.

Debussy’s Suite bergamasque was written in 1890 and owes much to the poet Paul Verlaine and his Fêtes galantes.Verlaine in turn was inspired by the painter Watteau, whose works evoked the elegant and frivolous pleasures of eighteenth-century French society, and his poems – and Debussy’s Suite – also draw inspiration from the Italian Comedia del’arte.

Debussy’s writing is subtle and elusive in rhythm and harmony, with an undercurrent of sadness and poignancy which runs through the four movements. Roge’s lucid playing highlighted many of the details, layers and nuances in the music which other performers may overlook, too keen to emphasise the “impressionistic” nature of Debussy’s writing (a term which the composer himself despised). There was vibrancy too, in the ‘Prelude’ and the ‘Passepied’, emphasised by sensitive pedalling and a clear sense of line. No muddy soundwashes here, ‘Clair de Lune’ seemed to float, suspended and shimmering, yet with a gorgeous clarity too.

When Ravel composed his Sonatine he had already completed Jeux d’Eau, an inspired addition to the impressionist repertoire of the piano, and it seemed unlikely he would turn back to a classical antecedent. However, he was tempted by a competition for the first movement of a sonatina: as it turned out, he was the only entrant. The delicate figurations, which act as an accompaniment (together with the bass line) in the first movement, clearly show the influence of the “running water” arpeggiated figures of Jeux d’Eau.

As in the Debussy, so in Ravel Rogé displayed remarkable precision combined with sensitivity in touch, articulation, tonal shading, phrasing and voicing, all coupled with an astonishing control of the piano which results in the most delicious, sparkling palette of sounds and colours. His magical sense of timing and spare rubato in the opening movement was, for me, one of the most wondrous moments in the entire recital.

In contrast to the intricate traceries of Ravel and Debussy’s kaleidoscopic soundworld, Poulenc’s Les Soirées des Nazelles was bold and spirited, full of improvisatory passages and rapid shifts of mood, dynamic and tempo. Rogé gave a rich and full-blooded performance, which really brought the virtuosic nature of this suite to life.

Satie’s rarely heard Gnossienne No. 5 was the encore – voluptuous in tone, simple and tasteful, a delight!

 

Meet the Artist……Pascal Rogé

(picture credit: Mary Robert)

 

Vatche Jambazian at the 1901 Arts Club

Occasionally one experiences something really remarkable at a concert: Maurizio Pollini playing the Boulez Second Sonata, Marc-André Hamelin making sense of the craggy edifice that is Charles Ives’ ‘Concord’ Sonata. And last night, it was young Armenian-Australian pianist Vatche Jambazian playing Galina Ustvolskaya’s Piano Sonata No. 5 at the season finale of the South London Concert Series. This was not at the Royal Festival Hall, nor the Wigmore, but the 1901 Arts Club, just five minutes from the Southbank Centre, a beautiful small venue in a former Victorian schoolmaster’s house.

Vatche Jambazian
Vatche Jambazian

A graduate of the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music, Vatche is already carving an impressive professional career with a busy concert schedule and an equally full teaching roster, and he has an enthusiastic following, judging by the crowded salon at the venue and the noisy post-concert party upstairs.

Unlike some up-and-coming young artists, Vatche doesn’t play crowd-pleasers: his repertoire choices for the South London Concert Series (SLCS) were challenging and eclectic: it was his choice of repertoire that prompted the organisers of the concert to call it ‘Eastern Accents’, with its special emphasis on music from Russia. But just to prove that he is equally at home with “mainstream” classical repertoire, he opened his programme with Haydn’s B minor Sonata, a darkly sardonic work whose final movement could be mistaken for the work of a youthful Beethoven. The performance was rich in colour, witty and crisply phrased, particularly in its outer movements.

Vatche’s assertion that Galina Ustvolskaya’s Piano Sonata No. 5 was “not for the faint-hearted” was more than borne out in a performance of great clarity and control. Composed in 1986, and initially banned by the Soviet authorities, this is a work which contains chord clusters and violent dynamic contrasts, and makes full use of the range, resonance and sonority of the modern piano. It is not easy listening, challenging and at times brutal, yet Vatche’s powerful communication drew the audience into this extraordinary soundworld with its dissonances and chiming bells. The piece also confirmed one of the key missions of the SLCS: to put lesser-known and rarely performed repertoire before an audience in a salon setting which recalls the European cultural and musical salon of the nineteenth century.

“Absolutely fantastic…..Vatche I salute you! Such control, power and energy!” Lorraine Banning, audience member

Shostakovich followed, fittingly, for he was Ustvolskaya’s teacher, with an exuberant and technically demanding Prelude and Fugue in D-flat from the Opus 87. Returning to the piano after performances by supporting artists Alex Ewan (violin, in de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance) and Frances Wilson (Takemitsu and Rachmaninoff), Vatche concluded the concert with an energetic and colourful rendition of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in A minor. It was a rollicking finale to what has been an exciting and popular first season for the South London Concert Series.

There were also performances by supporting artists Jose Luis Gutierrez Sacristan (Villa-Lobos and Granados) and SLCS co-founder Lorraine Liyanage (Khatchaturian and Auerbach), and the audience had the opportunity to mingle with the performers in the bar at the 1901 Arts Club after the concert.

Founded and curated by Lorraine Liyanage and Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist), this innovative concert series offers amateur and semi-professional musicians the opportunity to perform alongside young and emerging professional artists in the same formal concert setting. The series has a special focus on lesser-known and rarely-performed piano repertoire, and has featured young professional artists Helen Burford and Emmanuel Vass in its first season. Praised for its unique and accessible approach to music making, the series combines quality chamber music with socialising to recreate the ethos of the nineteenth-century musical salon.

“A wonderfully creative idea” – Peter Donohoe, internationally-acclaimed concert pianist.

The South London Concert Series 2014/15 season launches in September 2014 with a new concept – Notes&Notes – a music and words event in which acclaimed pianist and teacher Graham Fitch will discuss and perform music by Bach and Haydn. The concert is at Craxton Studios in Hampstead, former home of pianist and teacher Harold Craxton, and will be followed by afternoon tea.

“The South London Concert Series is both innovative and traditional. Events blend an appreciation of fine music and music making with conviviality, and blur the artificial distinctions between professional and amateur”
James Lisney, international concert pianist

Full details of all SLCS events here www.slconcerts.co.uk

View photographs from the concert

 

 

 

Paul Badura-Skoda at St John’s, Smith Square

Paul Badura-Skoda (Photo @ DR)
Saturday 10th May, 2014 – St John’s, Smith Square, London
Chopin
Waltzes – A minor, Op.34/2, C sharp minor, Op.64/2, D flat, Op.64/1; Nocturne, op. posth., Four Mazurkas, op. 30, Barcarolle, op. 60
Schubert
Impromptu in B-flat D935 No. 3 ‘Rosamunde Variations’

Sonata in B-flat D960

The words “great” and “world class” are all too frequently bandied about in reviews and articles about musicians (and artists and writers too). But how does one truly define these over-used descriptions? If “greatness” comes from a life spent living with, and performing and writing about, some of the finest music ever written, forming a profound relationship with it and its composers, understanding with intimate detail its structures and nuances, then Paul Badura-Skoda is a living example of this.

Paul Badura-Skoda is a pianist I have long wanted to hear live. I was aware of him more as a respected pedagogue, writer on music and editor of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin and others. My teacher frequently refers to him, I have met pianists who have studied with him, and I have listened to some of his recordings (including his latest in which he plays Schubert’s final sonata on three different pianos) with interest and curiosity.

His concert at St John’s Smith Square was an opportunity for me and my companion for the evening (a fellow pianist) to share a unique musical experience – and one which will resonate with us for a long time to come. To attempt to “review” the playing, the pianism, the musical understanding and insight of such a master would be churlish.

Badura-Skoda created a special and intimate soundworld and atmosphere from the opening notes of the bittersweet A minor Waltz to the life-affirming closing cadence of Schubert’s final Piano Sonata, a place where generosity of spirit and good humour ruled, a place of great intimacy, as if we had been invited into his own musical salon for the evening. Of course, Paul Badura-Skoda is steeped in that particular European tradition of music-making, and his teacher, Edwin Fischer, connects him to an earlier golden age of music making and culture.

Despite his age (86), Badura-Skoda cuts a sprightly figure (compare his twinkling eyes and brisk gait with the frailer Maurizio Pollini at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in April, who is more than 10 years Badura-Skoda’s junior) and displayed an obvious pleasure in being at St John’s Smith Square. And if there were some smeared notes and uncertain rhythms, the overall effect was of a musician who has lived with this music for many years and whose knowledge and understanding allowed the music to speak for itself, free of ego and unnecessary gestures.

Before the Sonata in B flat, D960, Paul Badura-Skoda said a few words about the piece, how he regarded it as Schubert’s “farewell” (it was completed less than two months before the composer’s death in 1828), and how the sublime opening theme suggests the words of a hymn or prayer. The first movement had a spacious serenity in the main theme, and the range of colours and nuances which Badura-Skoda brought to the music shone a new light on a familiar work for me: for example, the bass trills were voiced differently each time which gave them a greater resonance and sense of foreboding, and the exposition repeat was observed. The slow movement’s ominous tread was relieved by a middle section of great warmth. The third movement bubbled with all the exuberance of a mountain stream, the darker Trio hardly interrupting the mood, while the finale had drive and energy coupled with wit and humour, despite one or two uneven moments. This was an engaging and entirely satisfying performance, which was met, deservedly, in my opinion, with a standing ovation.

A week of music……

A busy week of enjoyable and varied concerts in Brighton and London. Here’s my round up:

Sunday 4th May – Helen Burford, piano, Brighton

Helen has a particular interest in contemporary British and American music, and an unerring ability to create imaginative and eclectic concert programmes which combine her interests with more mainstream repertoire. For her afternoon recital as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival, she opened with Somei Satoh’s haunting Incarnation II, a work which allows one to fully appreciate the full range of sounds and resonance possible on the piano. An extraordinarily absorbing and unusual work. The Japanese connection continued with Debussy’s evocative Pagodes, followed by Haydn’s C major Piano Sonata Hob. XVI No. 50 with two witty and sprightly outer movements enclosing a slow movement played with expression and warmth. In typical style, Helen cleverly paired Hush-A-bye, a work by contemporary American composer Julie Harris, with Debussy’s much-loved Clair de Lune. Both pieces recall nighttime – the first has night sounds combined with fragments from the lullabies, “All the Pretty Little Horses” and “Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word”, while the veiled harmonies and rippling semiquavers of Debussy evoke moonlight. Helen closed her programme with a lively and foot-tapping Rumba Machine by Martin Butler.

Monday 5th May – Jonathan Biss at Wigmore Hall

Biss is a musician I was curious to hear live, having enjoyed interviews with him, and his insightful and intelligent writing about Beethoven. His recital opened with an early Beethoven Sonata, Op 10, No. 2, and there was much to enjoy in his nimble and witty rendition of the first movement. However, the second movement lacked shape and the final movement was too rushed. The second Beethoven of the concert was the ‘Waldstein’ which lacked structure and a clear sense of the underlying “four-square” nature of Beethoven’s writing. The end result felt rather superficial. Sandwiched between the two Sonatas were selections from Janacek’s On An Overgrown Path. These were enjoyable but lacked a certain sensitivity to the emotional depth inherent in these miniatures.

Wednesday 7th May – Behind the Lines: Music from the First War, MOOT, Brighton

Another lunchtime concert, hosted by Music Of Our Time, a wonderful music collective organised by the indefatigable Norman Jacobs. This year’s focus is on music and composers from the First World War, and the concert, duets and solo works performed by Helen Burford and Norman Jacobs, was a touching, tender and occasionally humorous tribute to composers such as Cecil Coles (who was killed in April 1918) and Frank Bridge, a committed pacifist who was profoundly affected by the war. There were also works by Debussy and Stravinsky, and the concert ended with a four hands version of ‘Mars’ from Holst’s Planets suite. The concert took place on the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania, which gave the concert an added poignancy.

Friday 9th May – David Braid, guitar & Sergei Pobdobedov, piano

The end of the week and a concert at the delightful 1901 Arts Club, a converted schoolmaster’s house not five minutes from the bustle and noise of Waterloo Station. One of London’s hidden gems, the venue seeks to recreate the ambiance and ethos of the European musical salon, with its gold and crimson decor and friendly, convivial atmosphere. It is the perfect place for intimate chamber music, and this evening’s concert was no exception.

I interviewed David Braid earlier this year and I was curious to meet him and hear him in performance, for his musical landscape and influences accorded, in part, with my own interests. He plays an electric archtop guitar, more usually associated with jazz or rock/pop musicians. He makes transcriptions for this instrument, with piano accompaniment (his duo partner Sergei Podobedov), of works by Renaissance and early Baroque composers such as Byrd and Sweelinck. The concert included music by these composers and Bach, together with piano solos of works by Chopin (two Scherzi, handled with stylish aplomb and energy by Sergei) and Schubert/Liszt, and some of David’s own compositions. Taken as a whole, this was a most intriguing and unusual concert, beautifully presented. It is hard to describe the sound of the archtop guitar with the piano: at times it recalls the Renaissance lute (which David also plays) while also sounding entirely contemporary, thus making the music sound both ancient and modern. David’s own compositions were haunting, delicate, fleeting – the Waltzes in particular had great poignancy and tenderness – and his contrapuntal writing connects his music to the Baroque masters whom he also plays. One of the nicest aspects of the evening, apart from the high-quality music, was that during the interval instead of disappearing upstairs, the musicians stayed in the salon to talk to the audience, further enhancing the sense that this was very much an evening of music amongst friends.

Valentina Lisitsa at Wigmore Hall

(photo: Gilbert Francois)

Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa first performed at London’s Wigmore Hall in late 2007. Since then, she has gone on to achieve an almost cult following on YouTube, due in no small part to her selfless posting of videos of her practice sessions, usually the most private and personal preserve of the musician’s working life.  I suspect that these glimpses into her daily musical routines have endeared her to her followers, proving that she, like the rest of us, has to work hard for her art. Clearly adept at harnessing the relatively new medium of YouTube and its associated social networking applications, she has enjoyed a cool 70 million clicks on her videos together with concerts at The Yellow Lounge, a neat concept established in Berlin in 2006 to bring classical music to a much younger audience by holding concerts in nightclubs.

I admit to being slightly wary of anything or anyone that is labelled “a sensation” or “must see/hear” (ditto “iconic” – a word which should probably be banned from all publicity material and reviews of musicians, books and art exhibitions!). However, I was curious to hear Valentina Lisitsa in concert as I had read largely positive things about her live performances, so I went to hear her at Wigmore Hall on Monday lunchtime with ears and mind very much open and receptive.

Ms Lisitsa is tall and slender, with long blonde hair, her lissome frame accentuated by a simple black gown and spindly stiletto sandals. Her stage presence is modest, demure almost: there are no flamboyant gestures or crowd-pleasing piano pyrotechnics beyond those technical theatrics necessarily for the music and when she plays she seems entirely focussed on the task in hand. For her lunchtime programme she presented two very well-known and highly dramatic sonatas – Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ and the craggy, Herculean Liszt B-minor, serious fare indeed.

The opening arpeggio of the Beethoven seemed unnecessarily elongated, so that its natural drama threatened to veer into the realms of cliché. However, taken with the explosive agitated first subject, when this motif reappeared, once again over-stretched, the effect was mysterious and convincing. A slow movement of beguiling warmth and tenderness prefaced an elegantly-turned finale, its tempo sufficiently reined in to allow us to enjoy Beethoven’s expression and inventiveness. I heard Maurizio Pollini play the same Sonata at the Royal Festival Hall a fortnight ago, and while the Italian maestro may have offered a more probing account born of many years spent living with this music, there was much to admire in Ms Lisitsa’s performance and there was no doubting her commitment, meticulous preparation, technical fluency and attention to detail. This proved a highly engaging reading of one of Beethoven’s best-loved Sonatas.

Liszt’s B-minor Sonata is a strange creature: heard on disc it can sound sprawling and disparate, but heard live and done well, it is a staggering music edifice. (Liszt scholar Alan Walker described it as “arguably one of the greatest keyboard works … of the nineteenth century”.) It takes an intelligent and daring pianist to pull all the elements together to create a whole. Divided into defined sections, demarcated by different tempo and expression markings – in effect, “movements” – these sections flow into one another, creating a single movement of non-stop music, lasting about 30 minutes.

Ms Lisitsa’s account had the requisite power and darkness in the opening statements, the famous theme which returns throughout the work. Her transitions between the sections were sensitively nuanced, creating a continuous, coherent narrative. There were moments of great transparency of sound, lyrical cantabile playing and delicate pianissimos. Her foot may have strayed to the una corda pedal a little too often in these passages, but overall her account was authoritative, at times thrillingly precipitous in the allegro and presto sections.

Checking with Sara Mohr Pietsch, the BBC Radio Three presenter for the concert, that an encore would be “allowed”, Ms Lisitsa gave a serene performance of Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s Ave Maria. This was followed by a coruscating Chopin Etude (Op 10, No. 12), proving that she is very much a “real pianist” and one who, by her own admission on Twitter in the hours following the concert, “here to stay”.