Category Archives: Concert Review

Darkness and Light: Prom 20

Robert Schumann died in a lunatic asylum on 29th July 1856. On 29th July 2017, at Prom 20, British pianist Stephen Hough gave a performance of a work suffused with melancholy and darkness, the composer Johannes Brahms’ response to the tragedy of Schumann’s mental illness.

According to Brahms’ friend and colleague Joseph Joachim, who conducted the première of the First Piano Concerto in Hanover in 1856, the work reflects Brahms’ emotions on hearing Schumann, his artistic patron and musical father figure, had attempted suicide in the Rhine. The concerto opens with a ferociously portentous drum roll and darkly-hued, angst-ridden orchestral tutti, and the entire first movement charts a terrain of pain and instability, in which orchestra and piano seem at odds, engaged in a battle of drama and rhetoric. Given that this is the work of a young composer “without his beard” (Stephen Hough), the darkness and profundity of the First Concerto is shocking, its message visceral and emotionally charged. It flames with intensity and rhetoric.

Read the full review here

Commanding and compelling: Alexander Soares at Wigmore Hall

Dutilleux – 3 Preludes
Messiaen – La Fauvette Passerinette
Beethoven – Sonata no. 31 in A flat op. 110

Alexander Soares, piano

Monday 17th July 2017, Wigmore Hall

The Monday Platform at the Wigmore Hall showcases talented young artists and on this occasion pianist Alexander Soares, winner of the Gold Medal in the 2015 Royal Overseas League Annual Music Competition, performed music by two masters of French twentieth-century music together with Beethoven’s penultimate piano sonata.

Alexander’s performance was preceded by some rather pedestrian Haydn performed by a prize-winning string quartet, and the contrast between this and Dutilleux’s Three Preludes could not have been more striking. Coming after the light classicism of Haydn’s String Quartet No. 40, the first of the three preludes, D’ombre et de silence (Of Shadows and Silence) emerged from the piano, freighted with mystery and suspense, stasis and foreboding. The second, Sur un meme accord, presented a varied and colourful landscape of sonorities, while the third, Le jeu de contraires, glittered and pranced across the keyboard. Alexander’s command of the instrument was impressive in these works, combining subtly nuanced dynamics, sensitive use of the pedal, precise articulation and a refined understanding of the sonic possibilities of the piano to create moments of wonderful, striking resonance. The Messiaen which followed, La Fauvette passerinette (a work discovered and reconstructed by pianist Peter Hill) was equally colourful and atmospheric, with vibrant bird song in the treble offset by plangent bass responses. Even in the loudest dynamic range, Alexander maintained a wonderfully lucid, singing tone.

After the interval, Alexander played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, op 110, a work which, like the other two sonatas in the final triptych, seems to come from another place. Alexander gave the first movement the graceful expansiveness of a fantasy, while mainting a tempo which kept the music moving forward. The second movement was suitably rambunctious, serving as a perfect foil to the meditative Adagio which emerged, recitative-like, with a captivating intensity, before the fugue rang out. As in the previous works, Alexander’s command of the instrument, sense of pacing, and ability to create a rich palette of timbres and musical colour lent a powerful emotional impact to the work. Compared to Igor Levit’s interpretation, which I heard a few weeks ago, this version was more intimate and introspective but ultimately joyful and life-affirming, and one of the best and most compelling performances of my favourite piano sonata I have heard in a long time.

www.alexander-soares.com

Murray Perahia – the paradox of maturity and jeunesse

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Guest review by Magdalena Marszalek

Programme:

J.S. Bach – French Suite in E, BWV 817

Schubert – Impromptus, D 935

Mozart – Rondo in a, KV 511

Beethoven – Sonata no. 32 in c, op. 111

 

Murray Perahia, piano

Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

On June 18 Amsterdam was hit by a heat wave that brought everyone out into the parks, to enjoy the summery day, the sun shining in a perfect, cloudless sky. For me, it was a prelude to an evening concert in the Concertgebouw, which concluded the 2016/2017 Meesterpianisten (Master pianist) season. And what a cherry on the top that was! Maestro Murray Perahia presented a wonderful program consisting of Bach’s Sixth French Suite in E major, followed by Impromptus by Schubert (op. posth. 142) and Mozart’s Rondo in a minor K. 511, the evening closing with Beethoven’s last Sonata in c minor, op. 111.

The artist briskly descended the famous Concertgebouw steps to warm applause but, completely focused on the piano, immediately started with the music. From the very first notes I could not stop wondering how such a mature musician could play with such freshness, youthfulness and curiosity. “Jeunesse” was the word that immediately came to mind, while listening to Perahia cruising gently through the movements of the suite. The  clue that this was in fact not a 20-year-old piano enthusiast genuinely having much fun and pleasure at the keyboard was his deep understanding and connection with the instrument. This is a very intimate relationship, one that can only be built over many years….. It was proven that evening three more times, because the friendship that Murray Perahia developed with the piano allowed him a marvellous command of sound and colour, his touch adjusting to suit each piece’s mood and period, light and shade.

His Bach was clear, but not crystalline. Instead of bright crystals falling from the keyboard, I could hear gleaming pearls that fitted perfectly with the sublime elegance of the Bach’s writing. A thundering ovation allowed the artist catch a breath and he came back with the Impromptus by Schubert. The party continued: of course, the joy in the playing was toned down, giving space for other, deeper emotions. The first Impromptu in f minor was so unbelievably cantabile, I am almost certain that no one can make the piano sings in the way Murray Perahia does. The second he played majestically, with much grace, showcasing the full dynamic range of the Steinway grand, from the most sublime, yet somehow bold and confident pianissimos to powerful, full-bodied, but not ostentatious fortissimos. In the following Impromptu, an Andante and Variations, the artist hadthe opportunity to let his boyish nature come forward again. It was incredible how this carefree child-like spirit was released in the music from the fingers of a pianist, who has not only incomparable experience, but also incredibly deep-rooted musical knowledge. One might suspect that too much wisdom could exert weight on the performance, but this was not the case. This 70-year-old Maestro knows how to take care of his inner child and regularly releases it to influence his music. And for sure, he still has it in his fingers, which he demonstrated in impeccably performed fourth Impromptu in f minor.

After the interval, we heard Mozart’s Rondo in a minor. It was the least interesting piece of the evening; however, I let myself sink deeply into the poetic melodic flow, as a preparation for the Beethoven’s final Sonata. I still had in mind the transcendental rendition of Grigory Sokolov, from just over a month ago, so I was curious to hear how Perahia’s version would differ. And indeed, it differed a lot! It was not as pensive and intimate as Sokolov’s, but also not as dramatic as other pianists’ renditions. There was so much light and brightness in Perahia’s playing, which put a unique perspective on this rather dark piece. The mood of the first part of the Sonata varied significantly from all the previous pieces in the programme: the joyful boyishness was gone, and we could see and hear a more serious pianist – serious, but without heaviness. I really appreciated his gestures when he struck the accentuated chords at the beginning of the movement. He flung his arms down violently and with what would look like cheap trick for many showmen in this case evoked an almost a vision of the sound that was attached to his fingers and flung out to the hall, to resonate for a moment before dying. Perahia played the dark and tumultuous movement without a grain of aggression. The recurring motif A♭-C-G was executed clearly, boldly, but not overly dramatic and without overpowering the rest of music, which in my opinion made it ring even stronger. In the second movement, the artist brought back some of the youthful charm, however, this time he did not let it dominate the music. The dark and serious character of the piece was maintained. I loved how he gradually changed the tone of the piano, growing darker and darker, and approching the end, revealing more and more passion. The steadily flourishing expressiveness was evident with the growing force of the pedal. With the trills in high registers, I noticed a beautiful acoustic effect of the concert hall – in addition to the sound produced by the strings one could hear a shy echo of the hammers, which sounded a little like raindrops falling on the roof, enriching the overall experience.

I was grateful to everyone in the audience to allow the last sound to fill the hall and gracefully die before the noisy, very long standing ovation begun. We were not blessed with any encore – but would there be a better way to close such an emotional evening and, in fact, the whole successful Meesterpianisten season?

‘Enjoyable and engaging’ – Philip Leslie at St Martin-in-the-Fields

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Tuesday 27th June 2017

Scarlatti – Sonata in E
Scarlatti – Sonata in B minor
John Ireland – London Pieces
Schumann – Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), Op 82

Phillip Leslie, piano

St Martin-in-the-Fields has been welcoming talented musicians for 67 years and its lunchtime concerts series provides a platform for young musicians who are embarking their professional careers. This concert showcased pianist Phillip Leslie, a student at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance who studies with acclaimed teacher and pianist Philip Fowke.

The concert opened with Scarlatti’s regal sonata in E major K380, one of Scarlatti’s most popular keyboard works, to which Phillip brought a vibrant sound and sprightly articulation to reflect the festive dance inherent in this music. This was followed by the Sonata in B minor K27, altogether more melancholy in mood, with richer textures, greater lyricism and a rising sense of tension in the middle section. In both sonatas, Phillip displayed sensitivity in his choice of dynamics and tempo, with tasteful use of rubato to highlight details in the music.

John Ireland’s ‘London Pieces’, composed 1917-20, are musical evocations of London. Chelsea Reach is an impression of the river as it sweeps along Chelsea Embankment with “flickering gas-lamps reflected in the dark waters of the Thames,”.  Ragamuffin evokes the a small, carefree boy whistling along a Chelsea street, while the third piece, Soho Forenoons suggests a scene of good-natured street activity and bustle with a hint of barrel organ. I felt Phillip really caught the individual characters of these pieces while also responding to the virtuosic nature of this music with a full-bodied sound, transparent passagework and clarity of expression.

More evocations followed, this time of nature in Schumann’s Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), a suite of nine miniatures composed in 1848 and early 1849. The rather breezy title belies the true nature of these short pieces: there are “Einsame Blumen” (Lonely Flowers) and “Verrufene Stelle” (Haunted Places) in this particular forest, and the strange and ephemeral”Vogel als Prophet” (Bird as Prophet) is heard calling through the trees. This suite was beautifully presented by Phillip whose alertness to the contrasting moods and characters of each movement brought the music to life with great colour and rich expression. Tasteful pedalling and clear articulation combined with an acute sense of pacing to create a most enjoyable and engaging performance.

 

 

Seong Jin Cho at Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

“A fresh take on Mozart” – Guest review by Magdalena Marszalek in Amsterdam

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11 June 2017

Mozart – Sonata in F, KV 332

Chopin – Four Ballades

Debussy – Images (Première série), L. 110

Debussy – Images (Deuxième série), L. 111

 

South-Korean rising star and Chopin competition gold medallist Seong Jin Cho made his solo debut in the famous Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on 11th June 2017. The concert was a part of the legendary 30-year series ‘Meesterpianisten’, organized by Marco Riaskoff. His made his debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Great Hall in 2015, almost straight from the stage of the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Not very long after that, in January 2016, he returned to Amsterdam with almost a ‘pop-up’ recital in the Recital Hall and I was really lucky to grab the last seat. He presented himself proudly as winner of the most prestigious piano competition in the world and gave the audience a flavor of what he served to the esteemed jury in Warsaw a couple of months back: a Nocturne, the Sonata in B flat op. 35 ‘Marche Funebre’ and finally the Preludes op. 28, which in my opinion guaranteed him the gold medal already in the third stage.

This time, still at such young age (23), he arrived at the Concertgebouw to rightfully take the stage in the Great Hall and claim his spot among the other master pianists. There was a slight last-minute change of programme, which finally consisted of Mozart’s Sonata in F major K. 332, followed by the both books of Debussy’s ‘Images’. After the break we heard Chopin’s Four Ballades (which also appear on Cho’s latest CD for Deutsche Grammophon, along with the First Piano Concerto).

The opening piece sounded to me like a warm up, a way to test the feeling and acoustic of the hall now filled with the audience. Cho’s interpretation had everything that you would expect from a fresh take on Mozart: clarity, brightness, energy, vigour. I really appreciated that he emphasized a few polyphonic, fugue-like moments, which then later smartly contrasted with romantic fragments. The Adagio was played in an almost meditative manner and I was captivated by the way Cho produced the sound, focusing so much on exerting the right touch to yield the highest quality results. The final movement was the place to discretely show off his phenomenal technique and great control of dynamics of the instrument.

I feel that by bringing ‘Images’ by Debussy to the stage the young pianist made a statement, that he clearly doesn’t want to be labeled as a ‘Chopinist’ (Chopin-specialist – this term actually exists in Polish). Six pieces that are the essence of impressionism were performed pensively, with great confidence and the highest care to produce quality of sound. This wise choice of repertoire presented him as a mature, multi-dimensional artist. It was clear that he spent a lot of time experimenting and searching for his own identity in each of the pieces. Yet, the strongest feeling radiating from the instrument was freshness: fresh to the point that one could forget that it is still classical music – so jazzy and free, the music just flew from beneath Cho’s fingers. He showed the strongest command of the instrument; the precision with which each sound, tone and colour was executed was phenomenal. I felt that by playing Images he could fully express what he is going through, that this is what occupies his mind. His performance at this point was truly stunning, however, it felt that he is not yet done with the search for the key to these pieces and he may still work on them and experiment more. He is already very convincing in his interpretation, but youthful hunger and curiosity may lead to, hopefully, something unexpected on a new recording, perhaps? He was awarded a well-deserved standing ovation before leaving the stage for a break (the Concertgebouw audience does not do it very often).

And although the interpretation of Debussy was something new and captivating, I was most looking forward to Chopin’s Ballades. Sadly, these turned out not to be the pinnacle of the performance. Usually I am very sensitive to Chopin’s music (maybe because we are both Polish people living abroad) and often I shed a tear or two during public performances, but this time I was left just feeling puzzled. In my opinion, Cho set off too fast with the first Ballade and he could not calm himself till the end of the piece. Everything was in its place – the changing moods, the dynamics – but I cannot shrug off the feeling that it was all rushed and even nervous. The second Ballade started softly as it should, and I hoped that he had fought off the nerves after coming back from the break, but the more he got into the piece, the more chaotic it sounded. He lost clarity and brilliance in the high registers and right hand; the heavy chords in the left hand overpowered the piece. Things were back under control for the last two Ballades. Nevertheless, I was rather disappointed with the second part of the concert. However, a warm and sincere standing ovation for the debutant invited him to perform two short pieces for encores, one of them being Debussy’s ever-popular ‘Claire de lune’.

To sum up, it was a very good debut by Seong-Jin Cho, but I got the impression that the young artist felt the pressure of performing at such as prestigious venue and maybe a little overwhelmed, which showed especially in the openings of his pieces. Surprisingly, he felt most at ease when performing the more difficult to interpret Debussy, as if this was so close to him in that particular moment. On the contrary, coming back to Chopin, after the competition and all that buzz, seemed to be something that he would rather leave behind, or put aside for the time being. Seong-Jin Cho is such a young man, it is only natural that he is still searching for who he is or who he wants to become as an artist. The wonderful news is that along that search he leaves behind him beautiful, already very mature piano music for us to enjoy.

Shock and Awe: Igor Levit at Wigmore Hall

Igor Levit, Wigmore Hall, 13 June 2017

Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Opp 109, 110 and 111

I first heard Igor Levit in this sonata triptych back in 2013. It seemed a bold programme choice for a young man, yet Levit’s assertion that this music was “written to be played” makes perfect sense and is a view I’m sure Beethoven would concur with. Then I felt there was room for development and maturity, important attributes for any young artist in the spring of their professional career. Now I hear an artist who has lived with – and in – the music and has crystallised his own view about it.

He crouches over the piano like an animal coiled for attack, yet the sound in those opening bars of the Sonata in E major, Op.109, was so delicate, so lyrically ethereal, it felt as if the music was emerging from some mystical outer firmament, entirely appropriate for these sonatas which find Beethoven in profoundly philosophical mood. It is music which speaks of shared values and what it is to be a sentient, thinking human being; it “puts us in touch with something we know about ourselves that we might otherwise struggle to find words to describe” (Paul Lewis). The Prestissimo second movement, urgent and anxious in its tempo and atmosphere emphasised by some ominous bass figures, contained Levit’s trademark “shock and awe” stamping fortes and fortissimos, only to find him and the music back in meditative mood for the theme and variations, which reprised the serenity of the opening, the theme spare and prayer-like with more of that wonderfully delicate shading at the quietest end of the dynamic spectrum that he does so well.

Read my full review here

 

 

 

(photo ©Igor Levit)

Quality chamber music in the heart of Kingston

Launched in May with a fine performance by noted fortepianist and academic John Irving, the first tranche of Kingston Chamber Concerts (KCC) closed last night with a recital by the Armorel Piano Trio, who performed works by Beethoven, Schumann and Dvorak.

The KCC formula is quite simple: quality chamber music performed by young professional artists and local musicians in the convivial setting of the East End Café at All Saints’ Church, right in the heart of Kingston-upon-Thames and its historic market place. Tables are set out salon style and the bar serves good wine at a fraction of the cost of a glass of house white at the Wigmore Hall. You can take your drinks to your table and share a bottle with friends, as I did last night.

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The Armorel Piano Trio comprises Kathy Chow (piano), Lucia Veintimilla (violin) and Sebastian Kolin (cello). Their programme, opening with Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio, Op 70/1 and closing with Dvorak’s ‘Dumky’ Trio, Op 90, B 166, with Schumann’s Op 80/2 the middle of the triptych, demonstrated the development of the piano trio genre, from the strictly classical three-movement structure of Beethoven, though already showing the forward-pull of Beethoven’s vision in its eerily dramatic middle movement which connected it, in this concert, to Schumann’s sweeping romanticism, to the freedom of Dvorak’s six-movement ‘Dumky’ which feels more like a suite than a trio in its organisation highly  contrasting moods and textures.

This was a very committed performance by all three musicians, and extra credit must go to the young players who had had their final recitals for their post-graduate studies at conservatoire the same day: they must have been shattered but they hardly betrayed this, and their playing really came alive in the Dvorak which was replete with folk idioms and fine solos from cello and violin, with vivid colouration from the piano, in particular in the third and final movements. The Schumann was genial, laced with a bitter-sweet poignancy (the work was written in 1847, the year of the deaths of the Schumanns’ son Emil and Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn), and Armorel really caught the fleeting mercurial moods of this music.

The Beethoven, meanwhile, provided drama of a different kind, with much boisterous dialogue between violin and cello in the first and final movements, and colourful interplay between the piano and the other instruments. The slow movement was freighted with Gothic gloom, with its fragmented themes, uncertain harmonies and eerie tremolos in the bass of the piano. This was a movement of great tension, rich in quasi-orchestral textures.

This was a fine end to the first three concerts in KCC’s six-concert first season and the sizeable audience prove the series is already off to a very good start. The series resumes on Saturday 16 September with Ceruleo, an early music ensemble, whose concert entitled ‘Love and Betryal in the music of Handel and Barbara Strozzi’ includes performances on harpsichord, theorbo and Viola de Gamba.

For further information about Kingston Chamber Concerts/join their mailing list, please contact kingstonchamberconcerts@gmail.com, or telephone 020 8549 1960

Grigory Sokolov – giant of the piano

Guest review by Magdalena Marszalek

 Grigory Sokolov – Meesterpianisten series recital, The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam 7th May 2017

Programme

  • Mozart – Sonata in C, KV 545
  • Mozart – Fantasie in c, KV 475
  • Mozart – Sonata in c, KV 457
  • Beethoven – Sonata no.. 27 in e, op. 90
  • Beethoven – Sonata n0. 32 in c, op. 111
  • Schubert – Moment Musical in C, D 780, No. 1 (encore)
  • Chopin – Nocturne in B (from ‘Deux Nocturnes’, op. 32) (encore)
  • Chopin – Nocturne in As (uit ‘Deux Nocturnes’, op. 32) (encore)
  • Rameau – 4e Concert : No. 2 L’Indiscrète (from ‘Pièces de clavecin en concert’) (encore)
  • R. Schumann – Arabeske in C, op. 18 (encore)
  • Chopin – Prelude in c (from ’24 Preludes’, op. 28) (encore)

There is no need to introduce Grigory Sokolov to anyone interested in the piano world today. He is an implicit giant, who does not seek nor need advertising, unnecessary media attention, flash-bulbs and buzz. He is above all that, yet so powerful in his modesty. His performances do not contain obvious technical fireworks. If you like this kind of showing off, there are other names you should look to. His performance will affect you first from the inside, starting slowly, almost shyly – and then it will swallow you and possess you whole.

Sunday 7th May 2017 was Sokolov’s 19th recital in a row (!) in the famous Meesterpianisten series in Amsterdam, which this year celebrates its 30th annivcersary. He chose to present two piano sonatas by Mozart (C major K 545 and C minor K457 with the Fantasy K. 475) and two sonatas by Beethoven (E minor op. 90 and C minor op.111). The first sonata, known as the “easy one” (Sonata Facile), may be a surprising opening piece. Heard so (too) many times, performed by all manner of child prodigies, only when under the fingers of a mature pianist does it bloom to its fullest. Still, I would consider it as a warm up before the Fantasy, where Sokolov visited every dark corner there was and brought to light every nuance of this piece. Cruising between the different moods, emotions and styles of this work, he immersed the audience in his mystical world. His natural transition to the sonata invoked the feeling of some unspoken deep, dramatic questions. Yet, his interpretation was not overly dramatic, which left the listeners even more emotionally disturbed and intrigued. It made me realized how this classical piece, decorated with almost baroque fugue elements, shyly and unintentionally hints towards a new era. Nevertheless, the genius of Mozart transcended his own time, just as the genius of Sokolov eclipses other performances.

After the first standing ovation and a break, the pianist came back to present the two sonatas by Beethoven, op. 90 and op. 111. My overall impression of the tone and colour was that the Steinway concert piano sounded much better in this repertoire. Multi-dimensional, Beethoven’s voice sounded much broader and bloodier than the rather flat and crystalline Mozart. Sokolov played the sonata E minor in a more contemplative way than I knew it and throughout his performance I realized that slowing down the tempo, even a little bit, might lead to great discoveries. Again, this sonata – like the Sonata Facile which opened the concert – was more like a prelude for the op. 111. A beautiful second movement resembled a ray of sun before the serious C minor piece commenced. Sokolov played the first movement of op. 111 so meditatively that the audience grew a little uneasy, guilty about barging into such a deep and intimate conversation he was having with a piano. But it was so compelling you simply want to be a part of it… I was curious how Maestro Sokolov would interpret the “rag-time”/syncopated elements of this sonata and I really liked the elegant, understated way in which he handled these rhythms with a little swing in a more playful way.

One can only guess at the maestro’s intention in building such a programme, but for me it was a beautiful journey, using the definition of a classical sonata as its point of departure. Sokolov presented the evolution of the form beautifully, and he chose pieces where the composers, even though firmly grounded in the aesthetics of their respective times, were already emotionally climbing on their tiptoes to see and feel what the future could bring. As a performer, he cleverly highlighted these musical fast-forwards and truly let the music shine. And by doing this he actually could not confirm any more strongly the impact that his personality exerts on the music. He shows so much respect to the music that when he touches the keys he gives the impression that he has disappeared and the only thing that is left in the hall is a beautiful, omnipresent sound. And yet this is not true – because he is everywhere, in every soul who is privileged to sit in the room with him.

The Concertgebouw audience cherishes and almost worships Maestro Sokolov, so a great set of encores was obviously going to follow a thundering standing ovation. He started with Schubert’s Moment Musical no. 1 in C major, and then went on to play two Nocturnes op. 32 by Chopin. He played them last year in the Concertgebouw, and I was not the only one with tears in my eyes, especially after the first Nocturne. That was the most emotional moment of the evening and it unlocked a new, deeper level of emotions in many listeners. He then played L’Indiscrete by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Schumann’s Arabeske in C major op. 18, which I also remember from last year. Again, a lesson should be learned that it does not necessarily pay to show off with tempo, even with a relatively easy piece like this, because one can overlook small pearls and diamonds in this charming work. The final encore was the Prelude op. 28 no. 20 (“Funeral march”) and it is impossible to describe what he did with this short piece! Sokolov turned that prelude into a musical haiku, and through masterful use of dynamics he evoked the weight of death with just the faintest shade of hope. No one else is capable of doing that.

Magdalena Marszalek

Amsterdam 8th May 2017
Magdalena Marszalek is an amateur pianist. She taught herself how to play and read music when she was 5 and then graduated to a primary music school in Poland. She did not pursue a professional career in music and went on to become a scientist (PhD in chemistry), however, piano music has accompanied her and inspired her all along. Currently residing in Amsterdam, when not working on new types of solar cells, she spends many hours at the piano practising and playing for pleasure – mostly Chopin, because he was a Polish emigrant, too. Very often she hops on her bike and in 10 minutes she is in the Concertgebouw, enjoying stellar performances by the finest musicians in the world. Realizing how lucky she is, she wants to share her passion for piano music with everybody. 

Magdalena’s piano story on instagram: @princess_mags_piano

A glimpse into the soundworld of Haydn and Mozart

Kingston Chamber Concerts launch, Thursday 18th May 2017

John Irving, fortepiano

Haydn: Sonata in A flat, Hob.XVI:46
Bach: Prelude & Fugue in F sharp minor (48, Bk.2)
Mozart: Sonata in C, K.330
Haydn: Sonata in E flat, Hob.XVI:49
Bach: Contrapunctus 8 from The Art of Fugue
Mozart: Sonata in B flat, K.570

For one night only the audience at the inaugural recital of the new Kingston Chamber Concerts (KCC) series at All Saint’s Church, Kingston-upon-Thames, were offered a fascinating and beautifully presented glimpse into the soundworld of Vienna in the late eighteenth century with a recital on fortepiano by John Irving. The concert was a treat for all sorts of reasons, not least because Kingston is a mere 15 minute bus ride from where I live – a privilege to enjoy such splendid music so close to home.

KCC is the initiative of local resident Leslie Packer and the stated aim of the series is to provide a platform for young artists and local performers in a friendly and convivial setting – the East End Cafe at All Saint’s Church. The audience were seated around small tables, reminisicent of the way music was enjoyed prior to 1850 when the modern concert format as we know it today developed. “Good wine” is also part of the KCC experience and my friends and I enjoyed a glass of delicious Riesling on arrival (and a second glass in the interval!). This undoubtedly added to the pleasure of the evening.

John Irving is an internationally-recognised Mozart scholar and is Professor of Performance Practice at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire. His concert programme, Keyboard Music from the Age of Enlightenment, featured piano sonatas by Haydn and Mozart, together with a Prelude and Fugue and a excerpt from the Art of Fugue by J S Bach. He had brought his McNulty fortepiano into the church especially for the concert. This instrument is a copy of a fortepiano by Walter, and one which both Haydn and Mozart would have known and played. The sound of the fortepiano is at first a little disconcerting: it’s more “clangy” than a modern piano and its voice is less resonant, but in the opening sonata by Haydn (in A flat, Hob.XVI:46) wonderful colours and orchestral tones were immediately revealed, from deeply resonant bassoons and horns in the bass to trumpet fanfares in the treble. The lighter action of the instrument, compared to a modern piano, made for really sparkling passage work, while the slow movement spun elegant melodic lines. The entire performance was imbued with much joy and wit.

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John Irving

The playing was interspersed with interesting commentaries, which illuminated both music and instrument, and gave us a flavour of the musical life and times in Vienna in the late eighteenth century, including an amusing anecdote about one of Haydn’s pupils who asked for the cross-hands section in the Sonata in E flat Hob.XVI:49 to be made easier so that she could play it. John also explained the reason for including works by Bach in the programme: Mozart was familiar with Bach’s keyboard music and transcribed many of his fugues for string ensemble. Meanwhile, the Art of Fugue was not specifically composed for harpsichord and its intricate contrapuntal lines and voices suit ensemble playing. The Prelude & Fugue in f minor, from the second book of Bach’s 48, felt curiously modern compared to the Haydn, elegantly shaped, with an austere melancholy; while the excerpt from the Art of Fugue was sensitively voiced, building in grandeur as the myriad lines of counterpoint interwove to create unexpectedly piquant moments of dissonance.

The sonatas by Mozart (in C, K.330 and B flat, K.570) revealed more of the colourful treble of the fortepiano in their sprightly opening and closing movements, while the slow movements were replete with operatic arias and long-spun melodies. Here, John improvised in the repeated sections, a practice which was common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

This was a really delightful concert, engaging, informative and very enjoyable, and I wish KCC success with the first season. For more information about the series, please contact kingstonchamberconcerts@gmail.com / 020 8549 1960

The Ecstasy…….and the ecstasy. Peter Donohoe’s Scriabin marathon at Milton Court

Is it Chopin? Or Liszt? Or maybe Brahms? To the ingenue listener, Scriabin’s first piano sonata suggests all of these composers – Chopin’s long-spun lyricism, Liszt’s sweeping romanticism, Brahms’ plangent, orchestral textures, or maybe even Rachmaninov on a fantasy-frolic. But as Alexander Scriabin’s great friend, Leonid Sabaneyev said “he is not like Chopin. He is like Scriabin“.

Scriabin inhabits a distinctive, personal soundworld which is hard to define. It is the music of excess, ecstasy, tumult and passion. It is excessive, overripe, decadent, heavily perfumed, languorous and frenzied, lacking in structure and sometimes downright bizarre. The music of extremes, it is “hyper everything”, and as such it defies description or categorization. Its language is complex, often atonal and frequently almost impenetrable. For some listeners, and artists too, it is this “over-the-top-ness” that is off-putting; for others, myself included, it is this sense of excess and rapture that is so compelling. His personal life and outlook mirrored the excesses of his music: he was dissolute, he could be outrageous, he had high-falutin’ ideas of his own self-worth, and he believed music should be intimately connected to all of human experience. Perhaps this explains the breathless sensuality, the roaring passion and mystic spirituality of his music. All of human life is here, in all its ecstasy.

Scriabin was also a synaesthete, as I am, and it was his synaesthesia which initially drew me to his music.

…..he wrote and spoke of the colours of his music, of the constantly changing shapes that chords and rhythms and melodies could summon up, almost like a spiritualist at a séance. His scores bristle with detailed and evocative markings designed to help the performers imagine what the listeners see and feel.

– Gerard McBurney

The ten piano sonatas chart the course of Scriabin’s musical development more faithfully than any of his other music. The last sonatas hint at where his music was heading and offer a captivating glimpse into his adventures in atonality, while the early ones demonstrate his forays into late-nineteenth-century romanticism, the music of his compatriot Rachmaninov.

In presenting Scriabin’s ten piano sonatas in a single concert, British pianist Peter Donohoe amply demonstrated the variety of Scriabin’s writing for the piano – its rich textures, trembling filigree gestures, mystic perfumed harmonies, and ferocious virtuosity (Scriabin was a fine pianist himself). From the first youthful sonata, written a year after Scriabin left the Moscow Conservatoire and at a time when he was raging against a self-inflicted injury to his right hand, to the incense-laden mysticism of the ninth, the infamous “Black Mass”, Peter Donohoe plunged into the programme with relish. Never mind that there were still nine sonatas to go, the first was played with pulsating power and energy.

The programme was not presented entirely chronologically, and the middle section of the concert featured sonatas six, seven and eight, played in a single sequence without applause (as requested by the performer). At this point, one simply submitted to the music, to be drenched in myriad sounds and textures. Here Scriabin’s kaleidoscopic tonal palette, filigree figurations, perfumed sonorites and complex rhythms were magically brought to life by a pianist who totally “gets” this music. Hauntingly-lit piquant harmonies, ethereal accompaniments, jazz idioms, Peter Donohoe brought muscularity and featherlight delicacy to this ecstatic music.

The music was interspersed with engaging readings by Gerard McBurney, which illuminated the music and the man. These were accompanied by projections behind the piano, mostly grainy photographs of the composer and his friends, or abstract images which were supposed to suggest a synaesthete’s response to the music. For this synaesthete, it was rather awkward – and I suspect it may have been for Scriabin too: for him key of F was associated with deep red, while for me it is mauve, yet we were treated to blue during the first sonata (in F minor).

I was disappointed not to be able to stay for the final segment of the concert, but I have Peter’s recording of the complete Scriabin Piano Sonatas to enable me to complete this magnificent journey.