Neil Chaffey’s birthday concert at St John’s Smith Square

sjss1

For the musically-inclined there can be few better ways to mark a significant birthday than to gather musicians, friends and family together in celebration, and this was the format for a delightful and varied concert on the 80th birthday of Neil Chaffey, concert artist manager. The concert comprised musicians represented by Neil Chaffey and the programme demonstrated the breadth, variety and individual talents of these artists. And with an audience of family, friends and supporters, the atmosphere at St John’s Smith Square was warm and convivial.

After a rousing rendition of the Largo from Handel’s ‘Xerxes’, performed by Chaffey himself on the magnificent SJSS organ, we remained in the Baroque era for songs and arias by Purcell, Blow, Handel and Monteverdi by The Musicke Company (soprano, countertenor, baroque cello and harpsichord). This provided an elegant first part to the concert and contrasted beautifully with a performance of John McCabe’s Clarinet Sonata. Neil Chaffey and John McCabe first met as students at Manchester University in the mid-1950s and Neil comissioned the sonata in 1969 when he was Artistic Director of the Macclesfield Arts Festival. This haunting work is in various linked sections which together make up a continuous movement, and the individuality of each instrument is given voice (including some interesting effects achieved by plucking the piano’s strimgs) while letting all three work with roughly the same motifs. It was a very committed and absorbing performance of a challenging work.

Another striking contrast came with Gitarrissima, an all-female guitar quintet from Vienna, who played well-known and some lesser-known works arranged for guitar (including the intriguing baby “octave” guitar) with great brio, virtuosity and individuality (their renditions of the Tritschtratsch Polka and Hoe-Down from Copland’s ‘Rodeo’ ballet suite were particularly enjoyable and entertaining).

The second half of the concert was mainly taken up with piano music, opening with an intimate and sensitively nuanced performance of works by Bridge, Schumann and Kapustin by Neil Chaffey’s pianist daughter Alicia. ‘Rosemary’ by Frank Bridge, dedicated to Alicia’s late mother, was particularly poignant, and her approach to Schumann’s Fantasiestucke op.12 demonstrated a clear appreciation of the composer’s shifting moods, from tender and introspective in Des Abends to the extrovert Aufschwung. After the spirited jazzy Kapustin, Alicia was joined by her duo partner Marzia Hudajarova in a charming rendition of Fauré’s ever-popular Dolly Suite.

The final part of the concert featured the Fujita sisters Arisa, Honoka and Megumi, who together make up the Fujita Piano Trio. Initially, Megumi gave a solo performance of three of Chopin’s most popular Etudes (Black Keys, Thirds and Revolutionary) in which she balanced power and richness of sound with a wonderful delicacy of touch. Joined by her sisters, the trio performed Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in c minor, entirely from memory, which made for an intensely musical and impressively concentrated performance, and thrilling close to a most enjoyable concert and a wonderful musical birthday tribute to Neil Chaffey.