Guest post by Adrian Ainsworth

In its February 2018 edition, Gramophone’s regular ‘Specialist’s Guide’ feature (where a writer recommends recordings sharing a particular theme, genre or style) focuses on ‘Unashamed accompanists’. This is a subject dear to my heart, and I’ve written before about the importance of the pianist in art song.

So I was pleased to see Tully Potter reference a number of contemporary accompanists in his beautifully appreciative introduction. However, all the actual recordings he chooses are, broadly speaking, ‘historical’ – ranging from Michael Raucheisen (born 1889) to spring chicken Graham Johnson, one of our justly-revered elder statemen of song, represented by a 1992 volume in his monumental survey of Schubert lieder for Hyperion Records.

I understand that Potter is a music archivist, which may explain the leaning towards older performances. As this is a knowledge gap for me, I’m looking forward to tracking his selections down. However, I can’t help but feel there’s a place for a companion piece which could point towards some more recent, excellent recordings – highlighting our current generation of accompanists and, hopefully, encouraging readers to go out and hear them live as well as buy the discs. Here’s my attempt at making this selection.

A bit of housekeeping:

  • As I hugely admire everyone I mention, the list is – both democratically and diplomatically – in alphabetical order.
  • I’ve included a Spotify playlist of tracks so that readers can hear the musicians without (at least initially!) breaking the bank. However, where some labels do not feature on Spotify, I’ve tried to ‘recommend around’ the issue, or simply mention some non-playlist recordings along the way. For example, Hyperion’s absence from Spotify had an impact on my choices for Julius Drake and Malcolm Martineau.

I hope you enjoy the recordings.

James Baillieu

‘Chanson Perpetuelle: French Chamber Songs’, with Katherine Broderick.

On this brilliant CD, JB is a superb match for KB’s richness, and in the Debussy I’ve included in the playlist, simply dances around the vocal part – there’s all the push and pull this song about the shore requires. The heft of the ocean and drops of the spray. In the past couple of years, JB has also featured on excellent releases from Benjamin Appl (his debut lieder CD) and Ben Johnson. I’ve also included a glorious track from the latter’s disc of English song, ‘I Heard You Singing’.

Iain Burnside

‘Rachmaninov: Songs’, with various singers – here Ekaterina Siurina.

Surely one of IB’s finest releases, this set of all Rachmaninov’s songs features young Russian singers – who are, understandably, hugely suited to the material, freshness and enthusiasm bursting out of the speakers. I’ve chosen two IB tracks for my playlist – the astonishing ‘Arion’, with the pianist negotiating a heroic series of sudden changes, twists and turns, plus a spectacular Respighi track from Rosa Feola’s debut CD.

Julius Drake

‘Songs by Schubert (Wigmore Hall Live)’, with Ian Bostridge.

One of the most purely exciting accompanists I’ve heard – and seen live. So often, I’ve heard his elemental basslines give the most distinctive, larger-than-life singers the uplift they need to raise the roof. But the necessary restraint is always there, too. The playlist includes this CD’s hell-for-leather version of ‘Auflosung’, as well as the humorous – yet light on its feet – rendition of ‘Fischerweise’ with Matthew Polenzani, also at Wigmore Hall.

Christopher Glynn

‘Percy Grainger: Folk Songs’, with Claire Booth.

Recently, CG has emerged as a strong advocate for the communicative power of English art song, with a recording of Donald Swann’s (non-Flanders) body of work for Hyperion, and this delightful CD with Claire Booth. Clearly a labour of love for both – who have apparently researched and performed Grainger’s music for years – the rapport and affinity for the material are joyously audible.

Gerold Huber

‘Nachtviolen’, with Christian Gerhaher.

It’s a tribute to GH – Gerhaher’s regular accompanist – that when the baritone received the Wigmore Medal, he remarked that if he could he would split the award in two, so he could give half of it to Huber. They have made many recordings together, but this relatively recent album captures their dynamic perfectly. Resisting any urge to over-sentimentalise, GH provides a gently rhythmic counterpart to the bruised beauty of Gerhaher’s voice.

Simon Lepper

‘Nights Not Spent Alone: Complete Works for Mezzo-Soprano by Jonathan Dove’, with Kitty Whately.

This pianist is relatively new to me, but the recordings I know find him surrounding huge voices with supreme agility and dexterity. His Schubert album with tenor Ilker Arcayurek is a superb listen but this set of contemporary compositions with Kitty Whately is a revelation, not least in the bravura performance of ‘The Siren’.

Susan Manoff

‘Neere’, with Veronique Gens.

It still feels all too rare to see women as both singer and accompanist in recital duos. Having heard Gens and Manoff live, it’s easy to project a particularly close dynamic between them, but to me, they do seem to share a special empathy. On this marvellous disc of French song, SM avoids any sense of ‘laissez-faire’, playing with a shining, wilful clarity in support of Gens’s passionate delivery.

Malcolm Martineau

‘Portraits’, with Dorothea Roschmann.

A pianist who seems able to play ‘in character’ as effectively as the singers he accompanies. On this stunning recital album, the version of ‘Gretchen’ – where the piano represents the movement of the spinning wheel – sees his constantly alert approach capture the distracted yet intermittently purposeful work of the lovelorn heroine. To show how astonishingly expressive MM is in French song, I’ve included a live performance of a Debussy melodie with Christiane Karg in the playlist.

Joseph Middleton

‘Fleurs’, with Carolyn Sampson.

Winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s 2016 Young Artist Award (when he was described as a ‘born collaborator’), JM combines ceaselessly versatile musicianship with a flair for programming. This leads him to create recordings with the wide-ranging appeal of ‘albums’ – and so prolific is he that I’ve included three tracks on the playlist. My top pick represents his ongoing partnership with soprano Carolyn Sampson, their first CD (from 2015) introducing her to art song with some brio, marshalling her reliably gorgeous tone to his dazzling array of accompaniment styles. He is also the backbone of song supergroup, the Myrthen Ensemble, whose double CD ‘Songs to the Moon’ is another piece of brilliant curation. Finally, his night-themed record with Ruby Hughes, ‘Nocturnal Variations’, was one of 2016’s finest discs.

Anna Tilbrook

‘Schubert: Schwanengesang / Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte’, with James Gilchrist.

Another duo who seem to represent a perfect match. I was lucky enough to experience total immersion when first introduced to AT’s playing, as she jointly helmed a full weekend of Schumann and Mendelssohn that also featured Gilchrist, with a guest appearance from Carolyn Sampson. Sadly, the ‘Robert Schumann: Song Cycles’ CD that followed is not on Spotify. Luckily, their Schubert discs are: this lovely song (the final one Schubert wrote) can be over-emotional, even over-prettified – but AT approaches it with poise and precision, every note a distinct chime.

Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at

Adrian is a regular guest writer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist


Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I fell into piano chamber music and accompaniment, whilst in the enrolment queue at Cardiff University, where I read music as an undergraduate. I was chatting to another first year student who I thought was very cosmopolitan and confident, a violinist, who wanted to perform the Grieg Sonata. Did I know it, he asked, and would I like to play it with him. Of course I knew the Grieg violin sonata, I lied, and I agreed to play it.
As we were the first in our year to play in a concert at university, a lot of people then started asking me to play for them too, which I did, with pleasure. I became a sort of default accompanist, which was no bad thing. This led to learning a lot of repertoire, and meeting some very lovely people along the way.

My earliest inspiration around this time was a fantastic pianist based in Cardiff, Michael Pollock. His first class playing aside, he also showed, by example, never instruction, how to work “with” your fellow musicians. Michael has this amazing ability to draw from people their best qualities, both as musical performers, and as individual personalities.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Three people have had a very strong impact on my musical life and career, after coming to London, where I studied at the Royal Academy of Music.

My teacher since I moved here, Christine Croshaw, has been a constant source of inspiration, support and motivation. She is the most rigorous musician I have ever worked with, but in the sense that she gently coaxes more and more from you. It’s only when you walk away, feeling a little light headed, that you realise you’ve been there for over two hours and have a mind full of ideas. Her own playing is also something quite magical.

I enjoy performing contemporary scores a lot. I love the complexity, but also the freedom afforded to us by a new score, which has no preconceptions attached to it. My first real foray into this world was when we had a work written for us by the late Alun Hoddinott, one of the leading British composers of his time. We quickly became friends. I enjoyed his kindness, his humour and of course, as Britten and Pears described, the ‘legendary hospitality’ of Alun and his wife Rhiannon.

Alun taught me that, as with the written word, the written note can only ever be a rough guide, and that often composers rely on us musicians to take a particular effect further than perhaps notation allows. He reminded me often, that once the ink is dry on the manuscript, the piece belongs to the performer, and we have to make as much of the music, as we think the music requires. It is a liberating concept which helps us try to create our own interpretations, and have belief in their validity.

My third and final influence would have to be a duo partner, as this is the work I do, mainly. The soprano Claire Booth and I have commissioned, performed and recorded together for over ten years. She has a phenomenal capacity for learning music at a very quick pace. Yet she is never satisfied with this. Claire always delves deeper and deeper into the music, until she finds what she believes is the point of the composer’s intentions. She is also an unflinchingly supportive colleague and friend, which I think you have to be when you put yourselves out there in performance or on record. It’s a question of trust.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I don’t think my challenges have been particularly great, or greater than those of my colleagues. I know my strengths and, like most musicians, I can give you a blow by blow account of my weaknesses.

I’ve never much enjoyed sight reading, which is weird for an “accompanist”. It used to be very good, until I started delving deeper into scores, wanting to understand them as well as, in my case, the singer I am partnering.

So, for me, as my own level of skill as a pianist increased, my sight reading seemed to fall back a bit. I can read through most scores at sight in rehearsals of course, but I don’t have the nerve to get up and sight read in public as some of my colleagues might. I have huge respect for this, but it’s not how I am wired. I need to “get” the score, and what the singer is doing, so I can have the peace of mind to sit back and react, in the moment, with my own technical trials mastered.

Navigating a route in this respect has been unique I suppose, but truthfully, every person has a unique carer route, be they musicians, lawyers or whatever. Just stay true to yourself, your strengths and work with these in mind.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

This is tricky as I listen to my own recordings with frequent coughs and uncomfortable twitches, as I hear things I’m not happy with. I would never listen to anyone else’s recordings in this way, just my own, so I’m not perhaps the best person to answer this.
Our CD of song cycles by Jonathan Dove has done very well, and I am pleased we did his scores justice, and that they are “out there” more now as a result of our recording.

As for a performance I am proud of, I suppose it would be a recital we did in 2013, at the Southbank Centre, to mark the Britten centenary. I had always wanted to perform the canticle for tenor, horn and piano, ‘Still falls the rain’ (Sitwell texts), and performing it with my longtime duo partner Nicky Spence and French horn Jedi Richard Watkins, in the city where the “rain” fell, was a moving privilege. I also played a large solo piece on this occasion for the first time, professionally and in public, which was written for me. It felt very strange walking out on to a concert platform alone, and yet also very free. I enjoyed it, and the piece went down very well (I’m recording it this year in fact) but I missed having someone else there to react to. Enough time is spent alone, practising, for me, so it’s a joy to rehearse and perform with another spirit on the platform

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Again that tricky to answer. Often we perform a piece in concert or on a disc, and what we think is “the” piece, that really shows what we can do, someone will say “yeh, that’s ok, but I LOVED this other one” and I think “really?!”.

I love anything contemporary by the composers I admire, but I also have a real passion for French composers, as their subtle complexity appeals to me. I love how an apparently simple gesture by Debussy sometimes involves huge technical, forensic (!), labour from the pianist. Yet the effect is almost nothing. This irony fascinates me, and I find it a little addictive.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Repertoire choices for me often come from singers, unless I am curating something, and I might be in a position to suggest some music, as well as take on new scores. A few nights ago Claire Booth and I performed Grieg’s ‘Haugtussa’ songs, with Folksongs by Percy Grainger and then melodies by Fauré. All of them were new to me, and they were just a joy to explore and perform.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love the Southbank Centre, and always enjoy playing there. The audiences always seem open to new ideas sitting alongside something “established”. After concerts they often come up to me and say something so perceptive: “wow, the Knussen and Debussy worked well…some of those Debussy harmonies could be contemporary…” And I think how absolutely spot on that comment is. Great music often transcends period, or time. Occasionally, one of my Trinity Laban students will play some Bach, and I am astounded at how outrageous some of the harmonies are even in 2015. I often think listening to his music is like hearing something in 3D, so I can’t imagine how it must have sounded at the time Bach was actually writing it. Mesmerising.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many inspire me, from legends who are seemingly untouchable, to a student in my performance class who might play something in a way that’s so “right” that I am amazed.

But in terms of people who I turn to, or listen to, for inspiration, the first names that come to me are Martha Argerich and Jacqueline du Pré. They have such immediacy., even when coming out of speakers.

As musicians there are thoroughly prepared technically and just let it go. By nature they remind me of a great jazz musician, like Oscar Peterson or Ella Fitzgerald, who have total technical command but allow themselves to play in the moment, almost unplanned. Thrilling.

As Claudio Arrau observed, when we walk on to the concert platform, ‘I don’t know what will happen, but I trust it will be wonderful‘. Of course he means the experience. He allowed himself to react to that experience, trusting he had the tools.

As I work with so many singers, I have to say that the late Welsh soprano, and compatriot, Dame Margaret Price, is an artist who had the ability to sing Schubert lieder, Dove sono or Verdi Requiem, and control her voice for each so that it was absolutely “right” for that particular piece of the repertoire. Her sound, basically, was double cream, served in a cold silver jug, presented on a velvet cushion. Rich, beautiful, but with a slight, and quite wonderful, edge.

Of the people I have been fortunate to work with personally, I love Christine Croshaw’s ability to suspend time, Roger Vignoles’ conductor-like sense of space and breadth, and Patricia Bardon’s gloriously fruity mezzo. There are so many more, but we have a word limit here I’m sure…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable experience, was giving the premiere of Hoddinott’s last work for voice and piano, which he wrote for Claire Booth and me, with Michael Pollock joining me for the piano duet accompaniment. Towy Landscape, was written towards the end of Alun’s life, and the work’s sentiments reflect this; it was also one of the last premieres of his own music that the composer attended. That particular evening seemed to bring together a few personalities who mean a lot to me to this day.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Know what your strengths are, trust them, celebrate them, and seek to develop them further. Remember, music is not a career, it is an addiction. There is no career path, no pension plan or guaranteed salary increase every 12 months. Today’s musicians must be performers, coaches / teachers, curators, producers. It is all connected, it is valid work, and each skill will inform the other.

Be versatile, open minded, work hard and be a good colleague.

What is you idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness for me is a good meal and glass of wine with someone I love, with not a piano in sight.

Andrew Matthews-Owen’s first solo disc, Halo, is available now and includes works by Joseph Phibbs, Dobrinka Tabakova and Hannah Kendall. More information

Andrew Matthews-Owen is among the most sought after collaborative pianists of his generation, regularly appearing in concert, and on commercial recordings with some of the finest classical artists of our time. Recent engagements include appearances at the Southbank Centre (Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room), Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, Birmingham Symphony Hall, St. David’s Hall, Warehouse and National Portrait Gallery with singers including Patricia Bardon, Claire Booth, Anne-Sophie Duprels, Helen Field, Gail Pearson, Natalya Romaniw, Nicky Spence, Katie Van Kooten, Sir Willard White, French horn player Richard Watkins, percussionist Joby Burgess and the Allegri and Brodowski String Quartets.

Andrew broadcasts for BBC Radio 3, most notably from a Purcell Room concert, on St David’s Day, which included the London Premiere of Alun Hoddinott’s A Contemplation upon Flowers with his regular duo partner Claire Booth. Andrew’s debut CD of song cycles by Alun Hoddinott (Naxos) was ‘Recommended Recording of the Month’ in Gramophone magazine, and a recent disc of world premiere recordings of song cycles by Jonathan Dove (Naxos) was Editor’s Choice in Gramophone magazine. Andrew will feature on a Debut Disc being released in 2014, for the NMC label, with soprano Claire Booth. His recordings are frequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM.

A passionate commitment to contemporary music has seen Andrew commission, and give first performances of, major scores from some of the most distinguished composers of the 21st century including Michael Berkeley, Charlotte Bray, Philip Cashian, Laurence Crane, Jonathan Dove, Alun Hoddinott, Simon Holt and Arlene Sierra. Andrew studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was recently elected an Associate, generously supported by the RAM Trust, S4C Wales Television, Sir Edward Heath, Coutt’s Bank and the Rayne Foundation. He has also studied privately with Christine Croshaw, Roger Vignoles and Eugene Asti. Competition successes include a coveted Sir Henry Richardson Award for Accompanists (MBF/Help Musicians), John Ireland Trust Prize, Elisabeth Schumann Lieder Prize and the Ryan Davies Memorial Award. Andrew was recently honored, with the inaugural T.Glanville Jones / Leo Abse and Cohen Award, by the Welsh Music Guild, for his ‘Outstanding Contribution to Welsh Music’.  Andrew is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.

Guest post by Adrian Ainsworth

It’s easy to assume the singer is the star in classical song – just like with rock bands. I’ve stopped counting how many album covers feature an accompanist-shaped gap.

As a player-of-sorts – not to mention a lieder nut living too close to London’s Wigmore Hall for his wallet to ever completely relax – I’m turning the spotlight towards the piano stool.

Accompanists are indispensible specialists. There’s a huge repertoire to learn, or suddenly be required to learn. Schubert alone wrote some 600 lieder, with other masters of song – from A (er, Brahms) to Z (um, Wolf) – comfortably filling more modest, but still handsome, box-sets with their output.

Ian Bostridge & Julius Drake (photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke)

Of course, there’s a fair amount of other piano music. But song comes with a special set of daunting quirks. Solo, pianists forge their style unfettered. Accompanists must make their mark while supporting and complementing the other artist on stage. And (without getting into divo/a clichés) the link between the emotion channelled by a singer and the sound they produce is uniquely, biologically close, bringing that frisson of nuance and unpredictability the pianist must always be prepared for.

Some of the best-known and loved song – for example, Schubert’s great song cycles – also comes in different editions to suit various voice types. As certain keys will be more comfortable across the pieces than others, I’ve often admired the pianist’s mental strength when working up the songs in their more thorny positions – and then making sure they even bring the right music. Is there a recurring nightmare, like falling naked into your maths exam (or something), where, about to perform ‘Winterreise’ with a baritone, you launch into your version for high voice..?

Star soloists sometimes step onto the accompanist’s pedals. It can work – Mitsuko Uchida has been a superb foil for Dorothea Röschmann in Schumann and Berg – audible empathy, unwavering attentiveness – and a jolt of unwelcome shock at the rarity of seeing women in both roles. At other times… I once heard a great pianist bring so much of their robust energy to ‘Winterreise’, they partly ‘took over’, and you got the sense the two performers would reach the end of the GODDAMN. JOURNEY. IF. IT. KILLED. THEM.

Let’s not forget that accompanists have their own differences in approach. Of the two I hear most often, Malcolm Martineau’s liquid expressiveness – and ability to play to the audience as if also ‘in character’ – makes me slightly favour him in French song, while Julius Drake’s thrilling, vivid style especially electrifies German lieder (I note that MM features on series of Poulenc and Debussy CDs while JD is working through Liszt). Other personal favourites include the sensitive, intriguing playing of Anna Tilbrook, and the brilliantly versatile Joseph Middleton.

They are all professional chameleons, who can keep their own style while shaping the sound around any singer. When you next go to a recital, give at least one ear to the piano, and reap the rewards.

Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at