The festival that keeps on giving

Still only a tender three year old, the London Piano Festival, organised by pianists Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva is already a significant part of the London piano concert calendar, an event much looked forward to by myself and piano friends. In just three years it has grown from a weekend festival to a 5-day extravaganza and it looks set to extend further, such is the quality and variety of its programmes and performers. The secret of its success and evident popularity (judging by the commitment and enthusiasm of the audiences) lies in a simple formula: an impressive line up of pianists, imaginative programmes and a friendly atmosphere. Owen and Apekisheva curate the festival and also perform in it, thus creating a wonderful sense of common purpose, very much music with friends, for friends, and amongst friends. This year the young Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov stole the show, at least as far as I was concerned, in both his solo concert on Saturday afternoon (review here) and his performance with his duo partner Samson Tsoy which opened the 2-piano marathon on Saturday night.

While last year’s 2-piano marathon had a rather epic sweep to its programme, this year’s was more thoughtful, the main focus being the centenary of Claude Debussy’s death, and the tone was set by the opening works, Schumann’s Six Pieces in Canonic Form, performed with exceptional control, poetry and musical maturity by Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy. It would be hard to match the exquisite intimacy of this performance, but the great thing about the 2-piano Marathon is that each pianist brings their distinctive voice to the repertoire performed, the pairs of performers sparking off one another, collaborating and interacting with evident enjoyment. Two works by Arnold Bax provided an impressionistic follow up to the Schumann, expressively played by Margaret Fingerhut and Charles Owen. Three works by Poulenc offered further contrasts, the triptych closing with his joyous l’Embarquement pour Cythere. The first half closed with Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos, a work which requires lightning-fast reflexes, masterfully played by Kolesnikov and Tsoy. It was good to see this extraordinarily mature duo together in more extrovert music.

The deliciously sensuous post-interval works by Debussy – En Blanc et noir and Danse Sacree et Danse Profane – were welcome bookends to Thomas Ades Lisztian Concert Paraphrase on Power Her Face, which while expertly played felt over-long and self-indulgent. It was good to see Stephen Kovacevich grace the stage once again at this year’s festival, side by side with Charles Owen in Debussy.

The closing work, Rachmaninov’s Russian Rhapsody for two pianos, was memorably played by Konstantin Lifschitz (who gave a solo performance earlier in the festival) and Katya Apekisheva, and left us with a hummable foot-tapping folk tune for the homeward journey.

Plans are already well underway for the 2019 London Piano Festival and full details will be announced in the new year.


Photo credit: Viktor Erik Emanuel / Kings Place