One of the nicest aspects of my blogging and reviewing is that it has put me in touch with a network of interesting musical people – musicians, journalists and writers, promoters, and classical music enthusiasts – and has enabled me to enjoy music in a variety of different venues and settings.
My latest musical outing was an invitation to a run through of Promenade à Gaspard, a new “mixed genre” production featuring piano music by Liszt, Ravel & Mussorgsky, accompanied by readings and illustrated with pictures. The pianist was Anthony Hewitt, the reader actress Susan Porrett, who is involved in a similar concert concept, Divine Fire, which examines the relationship between Chopin and Sand through music and readings. The concert took place in an elegant town house with views across the river at Barnes, a setting which provided an enjoyable intimacy and informality to the evening’s entertainment, and was particularly appropriate for the Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs.
After champagne, general introductions and socialising, we were ushered upstairs to the host’s spacious piano room. Despite the fact that the event was billed as an “informal first try out”, there was nothing unrehearsed about Tony’s playing which was colourful, committed and convincing throughout (he later admitted that this was the first time he had played Pictures At An Exhibition through as a complete work, though one would never have guessed from his expert reading of this monumental work).
The first half opened with a handful of Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs (Ständchen von Shakespeare, Die Forelle, Gretchen am Spinnrade, Auf dem Wasser zu singen and Der Erlkönig), each preceded by a reading of Goethe’s text which inspired the song. It was really interesting to be given additional visual cues from the poetry, as well as the pictures created in the music itself (in Tony’s hands, Schubert’s eponymous trout was lively and playful), and one could carry an image from the readings throughout the musical performance. Words and music complemented one another extremely well in these short pieces, bringing the music to life in new ways.
Ravel’s famously difficult Gaspard de la Nuit is based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. Once again, each movement was preceded by a reading from the poem by Susan Porrett. This combined with Tony’s dramatic and virtuosic playing brought Ravel’s music to life to great effect, the words shining a new angle on the music while we listened.
After a short interval, Mussorgsky’s Pictures At an Exhibition took centre stage, and Susan’s introductory reading described the pictures which Mussorgsky sought to portray in his score. The music is extremely “visual” in its own right, Mussorgsky painting contrasting images with the use of recurring motifs, textures, and tempo, and he took inspiration directly from pictures by his friend Viktor Hartmann. In this production, the pictures will be projected behind the pianist, changing as the movements of the music progress. My only worry about this is that the pictures should not distract the listener from the music, and therefore need to segue slowly from one to another. This was a fine performance, even more impressive for being only a few feet away from the pianist, allowing a special insight into just how technically demanding this work is to play.
I enjoyed the evening very much and look forward to seeing Promenade à Gaspard again when the format has been tweaked and refined for public performance.
For information about this, and other similar concert concepts, please go to
Divine Fire, performed by Viv Maclean and Susan Porrett, is at Bridport Arts Centre on Saturday 3rd August. Further details and tickets here