Stephen Gott – end of year recital

I was delighted to return to Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich, where I took my Diploma exams, to attend pianist Stephen Gott’s end of year recital on 6th June. Stephen has just completed his second year at Trinity-Laban, and in the three years since I first met him (we share the same piano teacher), I have heard his playing develop and mature.

Students at Trinity-Laban (and other conservatoires) are expected to present an end of year recital with a programme of contrasting moods, styles and tempi to a panel of examiners, and an audience, in effect as a professional concert. After a short introduction about the pieces he was going to play, Stephen opened his recital with Gershwin’s Three Preludes, composed two years after Rhapsody in Blue. The first and third Preludes were taken at a boisterous tempo, Stephen handling the unusual rhythms in both adeptly, and making light of other technical challenges in these pieces, including crossed hands and octave passages. The middle movement, with its nods to ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess, was taken at a more relaxed tempo (perhaps not relaxed enough for this “blues lullaby”, but effective nonetheless), with some sensitive highlighting of the different melodic lines in the right hand and a toe-tapping middle section. Taken as a whole, the Three Preludes made for a bold and challenging opening.

Chopin’s Étude Op 10. No. 12 in C minor, the ‘Revolutionary’, was written around the time of Poland’s unsuccessful uprising against Russia, and reflected the composer’s deep distress over the events in his homeland. In common with Chopin’s other Études (Opp 10 and 25), the piece offers significant technical challenges to the pianist, in particular the relentless left hand semiquavers and cross-rhythms in the right. Stephen rose to the challenge of the piece with a rousing tempo and good attention to detail to create a spirited reading of one of Chopin’s most famous works.

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op 2 No. 1 pays homage to Mozart, in its first movement opening theme, which recalls the main theme of the finale of Mozart’s G minor Symphony, and its elegant, operatic Adagio. Stephen’s performance had plenty of colour and energy, graceful articulation in the slow movement, and a strong sense of forward propulsion in the final movement. A couple of anxious moments where the tempo was slightly rushed were offset by lyrical playing in the Adagio and Minuet and Trio, and overall, I felt it was a convincing account.

Stephen ended his recital with Liszt’s transcription of Isolde’s Liebestod (“love death”) from the closing scene from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, during which Isolde grieves over the body of her lover, Tristan. In his transcription, Liszt stripped out the vocal parts and some of the orchestral music as well, while retaining the impact of Wagner’s original. Stephen seemed particularly at home in this music, offering an authoritative reading, which showed an understanding of the narrative of the piece, its tragedy and its ecstasy. Well-shaped melodic lines, sensitive dynamic shading, and close attention to detail brought the piece to life with conviction and passion.