Category Archives: Concert Review

I Musicanti make a welcome return to St John’s Smith Square

Once again the impeccable musicianship, collective commitment and imaginative and varied programming of I Musicanti impressed with the first concert in their new series at St John’s Smith Square. Entitled ‘Alexandra and the Russians’, each recital in this 4-concert series features a new work by composer Alexandra Harwood, who can trace her Russian heritage back to Catherine the Great.

Bookended by Shostakovich’s taut and impassioned Piano Quintet Op 57 and Glinka’s good-natured and lyrical Sextet in E flat, Alexandra Harwood’s ‘Fiddler in Hell’ was a rollicking, foot-tapping romp and a great platform for violinist Fenella Humphreys’ colourful virtuosity and affinity with new music. Meanwhile, Schnittke’s mysterious and unsettling Hymnus II demonstrated the supreme technical control and musical understanding of Leon Bosch (double bass) and Richard Harwood (‘cello).

I Musicanti’s creative approach proves that it’s possible to present new music in accessible programmes which combine familiar works with lesser-known pieces. Future concerts in the series include music by Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Prokofiev, and Smirnov performed by some of the finest musicians active in the U.K. today.

Highly recommended ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

IMusicanti.co.uk

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.