Tag Archives: NPL Musical Society

Concert review: Madelaine Jones at the NPL Musical Society

My local music society based at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington is proving a rich and varied source of fine music this autumn. Last month I attended excellent concerts by Helen Burford, in an eclectic programme of mostly contemporary music, and Joseph Tong who played works by McCabe, Sibelius and Ravel, and ended with a rollicking ‘Wanderer Fantasy’ by Schubert. For the first concert of November, pianist Madelaine Jones returned to the NPL to give a lunchtime recital of works by Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and little-known female composer Louise Farrenc.

4bfbb2f28b-DSCF5588Now in her final year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich, south-east London, Madelaine studies with my piano teacher, Penelope Roskell (I first met Maddie at one of my teacher’s weekend courses, some three years ago). A busy performing musician, Madelaine is now looking beyond next summer to where her musical studies might take her next: this recital was an opportunity for her to perform her programme for forthcoming auditions at the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music, Trinity, and Yale, amongst others.

Madelaine introduced her programme, explaining that Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ is considered to be the Old Testament of music, while Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas are the New Testament. As it happened, her programme contained works from both, and the opening Prelude from the Prelude & Fugue in D minor BWV 875 from Book 2 of the WTC was played with vigour, colour, and crisp articulation (Madelaine also plays the harpsichord, evident in her lightness of touch in the Prelude). The Fugue was more thoughtful, with sensitive attention to the strands of counterpoint (in her introduction, Madelaine described a fugue rather charmingly as “voices chasing each other”). This was an authoritative account, and a splendid opener for the concert.

Beethoven’s Opus 10 Piano Sonatas were published in 1798. The first and the third of the Opus are serious and tempestuous (the Op 10, no. 1 prefigures the Pathétique Sonata), but the middle sonata of the triptych, Op 10 no. 2 in F major, is more light-hearted, a “cheeky” first movement which amply displays Beethoven’s characteristic wit and musical humour. Madelaine was alert to the rapid shifts of mood, dynamics, and orchestration in Beethoven’s writing: a sprightly first movement gave way to an elegant minuet and trio, followed by a fugal finale, nimbly played by Madelaine. Sparing use of the pedal, precise articulation and musical intelligence resulted in a very colourful and enjoyable account of this early period sonata.

In a change to the printed programme, Stravinsky’s second Piano Sonata (1924) came next, again engagingly introduced by Madelaine. Composed while Stravinsky was resident in Paris in the 1920s, this Sonata harks back to Baroque and Classical models, and it was an inspired piece of programming to place it straight after the Beethoven, which helped illuminate the classical elements inherent in Stravinsky’s writing (a first movement in Sonata form – exposition, development, recapitulation – followed by a slow movement). Indeed, the slow movement, as Madelaine put it, was written as if Stravinsky had taken a typical Beethoven slow movement and simply “allowed the hands the wander around the keyboard”. Madelaine’s precise attention to detail, tonal clarity, energy of attack, and musical understanding made for a most interesting performance.

To finish Madelaine played the Air russe varié, op. 17 by Louise Dumont Farrenc, a French composer who, according to Schumann, writing in his Die neue Zeitschrift für Musik showed great promise, but who has fallen into obscurity. And indeed the work Madelaine performed was redolent of Schumann’s own music with its contrasting and varied movements and musical volte-faces. This work was proof that Madelaine is equally comfortable in Romantic repertoire, delivering a performance that caught the full emotional sweep and virtuosity of this music: a committed, bravura performance founded on solid technique and undeniable musicality.

Details of Madelaine’s forthcoming concerts can be found on her website:

madelainejones.co.uk

My Meet the Artist interview with Madelaine

Forthcoming concerts at the National Physical Laboratory Musical Society:

6th November – Corrine Morris, cello and Kathron Sturrock, piano

11th November – Alice Pinto, piano

18th November – Nadav Hertzka, piano

22nd November – Kathron Sturrock, piano

26th November – Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist), piano in works by Bach, Cage, Debussy, Liszt, Elgar, and Messiaen

Concerts take place in the Scientific Music, Bushy House, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington TW11 0LW, and start at 12.45pm. Tickets £3 on the door.

Concert review: Helen Burford at NPL Musical Society

pianist Helen Burford
pianist Helen Burford

While the famous south London parakeets squawked in the trees of Bushy Park outside, inside Bushy House, home to the National Physical Laboratory’s Musical Society, Brighton-based pianist Helen Burford gave a lunchtime recital of great imagination and musical colour, demonstrating the full tonal, percussive and emotional range the piano can offer.

Now in its 63rd season, the NPL Musical Society hosts regular concerts throughout the year featuring a varied range of artists, both established and up-and-coming, and provides useful performance experience for young musicians in conservatoires and music colleges who are preparing for end of year, or final recitals. (Indeed, my own piano teacher played at the NPL when she was a young woman.) The venue boasts a rather stately 1911 Steinway, and the audience is supportive, friendly and interested.

Helen trained at Birmingham Conservatoire, the University of Sussex and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and has studied with a number of renowned teachers, including Heather Slade-Lipkin, Peter Feuchtwanger and Stephen Gutman. A champion of British and American new music, her NPL concert reflected her passion for this repertoire, with an eclectic programme of works by contemporary composers, including Martin Butler and David Rakowski.

Chick Corea’s ‘Three Improvisations’ offered a gentle entrée to the programme. The first and third pieces in the triptych, Where have I known you before and Where have I loved you before, were played with a wistful, sensuous sensitivity, while the middle movement was a lively, toe-tapping dance.

I have heard Helen perform Somei Satoh’s ‘Incantation II’ several times, and each time it has been slightly different, and always highly absorbing. The work, which has never been published, relies on the minimalist technique of prolonging a single unit of sound, while creating the sensation of a ‘rhythmic limbo’, a sense of stasis that is characteristically Japanese (cf the music of Toru Takemitsu). The music makes full use of the piano’s resonant qualities, creating a remarkable bloom of sound, which suggests a variety of instruments including cello, horn, bells, harp, drums. Building slowly from a simple opening, this music is hypnotic and meditative, and Helen’s controlled and intense performance made this an extraordinary and unusual musical experience.

Following this with a sonata by Scarlatti was inspired, for it highlighted not only the mannered elegance of the Baroque but also how revolutionary Scarlatti was, in his daring use of dissonance and unusual harmonies. It was performed with a lyrical simplicity.

The next work, a piece by composer Ester Mägi, named after an instrument called a kannel, a kind of plucked zither or psaltery, recalled the folk music of Mägi’s native Estonia with stamping off-beats and haunting melodies, to which Helen brought great colour, sensitive dynamic shading, and rhythmic vitality.

From the folk idioms of eastern Europe to the industrial western city in Martin Butler’s ‘Rumba Machine’, a celebratory fanfare-like piece, which suggests swiftly turning cogs and wheels of machines and the blaring sirens and honking horns of the city over a compelling rumba beat. This, together with David Rakowski’s witty Étude ‘A Gliss is Just a Gliss’, a study on glissandi, was played with an extrovert elan, bringing to a close a most enjoyable and refreshingly original lunchtime recital.

Helen will be performing a similar programme at the launch of the South London Concert Series on 29th November 2013 at the 1901 Arts Club. Further details here slcs1901.wordpress.com. Tickets southlondonconcerts@gmail.com

NPL Musical Society concerts take place in the Scientific Museum, Bushy House, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington TW11 0LW. Tickets £3 on the door.

Upcoming concerts this season include: 23 October – Joseph Tong, piano; 1 November – Madelaine Jones, piano; 11 November – Alice Pinto, piano; 22 November – Kathron Sturrock, piano. Further details Stephen.Lea@npl.co.uk

Diploma #4 – a date and a concert

And so, on the day I received confirmation of my Diploma recital date (16th April, at Trinity College in Greenwich, where I took my ATCL), I gave a lunchtime recital at the NPL Musical Society (NPL MS), at Bushy House on the National Physical Laboratory campus in Teddington.

When I booked the concert, it was intended to be the “dress rehearsal” for the actual Diploma recital, for me and my page turner. I have played at the NPL MS before (with a violinist), and have attended a number of concerts there, all of which have been most enjoyable with high-quality programmes and performers. The audience, mostly NPL staff and former staff, is very supportive and friendly, and the society has a rather nice 100 year old medium-sized Steinway.

By the time I’d got dressed up, put my lipstick on, applied some “lucky perfume” (Jo Malone ‘Red Roses’), and warmed up on the piano, it stopped feeling like a dress rehearsal and began to feel like a real occasion, a ‘proper’ concert, the programme chosen entirely by me, without consultation with teacher or mentor, the notes written by me (a requirement for the Diploma): it was ‘my’ concert.

For all three levels of Diploma – ATCL, LTCL and FTCL (and the equivalent Diplomas with other exam boards such as DipABRSM and LRSM) – the candidate is required to give a recital lasting between 35 and 50 minutes, depending on the level of diploma. The material should be prepared to a very high standard (from LTCL on, the exam criteria state “to a professional standard”) and one should display musicality, technical assuredness, understanding of the composer’s intentions and an ability to convey these to the audience, communication skills, and stagecraft. Doing a “dry run” concert, either at home to friends, or in a more formal setting, is invaluable – not so much to flag up errors or inconsistencies (there were very few in my concert, I’m glad to say), but more to check the flow/energy of the programme and to hear how it all fits together. There is always a heightened sense of tension when one plays before an audience, whatever the venue, which can be extremely useful not just in learning how to cope with performance anxiety but also drawing on the release of adrenaline to help one raise one’s game and play better. I have to admit I was so excited about the concert (coming as it did the day after an extremely positive session with my teacher) that I couldn’t sleep the night before.

On the whole, I was extremely pleased with my performance. Rather than slog through the ‘Presto’ of the Bach Concerto (which is still in need of some housekeeping), I skipped the repeats, and no one was any the wiser. The Takemitsu was super on a bigger piano, and I deliberately allowed more “stasis” in the music, a sense of repose and waiting in the rests and silences. The turner missed the second turn, and even tried to take the music away (!) when he realised his mistake: he admitted to me afterwards that he had got rather caught up in the mood of the piece, which I suppose should be seen as a sign of my ability to “communicate”! A couple of things to fix in the Mozart, but nothing serious. And so to the Liszt, the big virtuosic piece of the programme……well, when someone came up to me afterwards and said “the Liszt was particularly haunting” I felt I’d really achieved something with that piece.

Other useful factors? The piano had some “squeaky” keys, but I simply ignored these. At one o’clock someone’s watch alarm went off, and was not immediately silenced (a capital offence at the Wigmore Hall!), but although I was aware of it, it didn’t throw me. Rustling programmes, someone coughing, the general ambient sounds of people and the park outside the window, all entered my peripheral consciousness but did not distract me from the task in hand. All good signs – I have worked very hard on my concentration (in particular using techniques in The Inner Game of Music and The Musician’s Way).

So, with exactly three weeks to go to the exam, I feel focused and excited. Of course, having been there and done it once before helps enormously because I know what to expect, but this Diploma is a big step up from the previous one (it’s the equivalent of 3-4 years in Conservatoire) and requires a greater level of commitment. I think I’m ready for the challenge.

An earlier article I wrote on the value of performing

Now in its 62nd season, the NPL Musical Society hosts regular concerts throughout the year with a wide variety of performers and programmes. Concerts take place in The Scientific Museum in Bushy House, an elegant 18th century house overlooking Bushy Park.For further information please contact Stephen Lea (stephen.lea@npl.co.uk)

Anna Stachula at NPL Musical Society

Robert Schumann

ABEGG Variations, Op. 1, Widmung (Dedication) Op 25 no. 1 (arr. Liszt)

Fryderyk Chopin

Étude, Op 10, no. 5 ‘Black Keys’, Mazurka in D, Op 33 no. 2, Mazurka in F minor, Op 68 no. 4, Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante

Anna Stachula, piano

While a brisk November gale whipped up fallen leaves in Bushy Park and rattled the long windows of the Scientific Museum at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Silesian-born pianist, Anna Maria Stachula, gave an impressive debut concert at the NPL Musical Society.

Now in its 62nd season, the NPL Musical Society (NPLMS) hosts regular lunchtime concerts in an elegant room in Bushy House. Concerts are very well-supported by staff, former staff and the general public, and the Society attracts a varied range of chamber musicians. Concerts are held in the Scientific Musuem, an intimate space with a hundred year old medium-sized Steinway, and fine views across Bushy Park.

Anna Maria Stachula first came to my notice through her teacher, John Humphreys (Birmingham Conservatoire). John described Anna as possessing the kind of talent and technique one could expect at the Wigmore Hall, but despite this, Anna is virtually unknown in the UK and her day job is in a post office sorting office (where, she told me after the concert, she listens to music through her headphones while she is sorting post).

In a programme of popular works by Schumann and Chopin, Anna played with huge commitment and conviction, technical assuredness, dynamic shading, and musical insight. The opening piece, Schumann’s ABEGG Variations had a romantic sweep, yet there was humour and warmth too, and an understanding of the varied characters of this work. The casual closing cadence earned a chuckle of delight from the audience.

Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s ravishing love song Widmung, composed the year he married Clara Wieck, and Anna did justice to this beauty of this music with an enchanting performance.

Two contrasting Mazurkas by Chopin followed. The first, in jaunty D major, had a foot-tapping, dancing metre, and Anna brought a distinctly folksy vibrancy to the piece with her characterful playing. The second, in F minor, and one of the last works Chopin composed, was poignant and sincere, with tasteful rubato and subtle dynamic shading.

Anna’s account of Chopin’s B-flat minor Scherzo, the most popular of his Scherzi, was highly dramatic, brave and heartfelt, the contrasting sections of the work highlighted with careful attention to detail, and some really gorgeous playing, particularly in the trio which opened with a gentle hymn-like motif. (This for me was the highlight of an excellent programme.) The same rich cantabile tone was evident in the Andante Spianato (which translates as “smooth”), while the Grande Polonaise Brillante was fearless, spirited and virtuosic. The audience’s appreciation was very evident at the end with enthusiastic applause, and several people went to congratulate Anna afterwards.

Anna’s teacher John Humphreys will feature in my ‘At the Piano…..’ series

The next NPLMS concert is on Monday 26th November. Pianist Petra Casen performs a Spanish programme with music by Granados, Albeniz and Mompou. Concerts are held in the Scientific Musseum, Bushy House, and start at 12.45pm. Tickets £3 on the door.