I can think of few better ways to spend a Monday lunchtime than enjoying piano music in a beautiful setting such as the Wren church of St James’s, Piccadilly. It was doubly pleasing to escape the cold October rain on this particular Monday.

St James’s Piccadilly hosts regular lunchtime recitals, mostly featuring up-and-coming and emerging artists. There is no entrance charge, though audience members are invited to make a donation afterwards to enable the church to continue to host these concerts.

A multi-award winning graduate of the Royal College of Music, pianist Amit Yahav is now pursuing a career as a performing artist as well as undertaking doctoral studies into the music of Chopin, at the RCM. He has received particular praise for his performances of Mozart, Chopin, Schumann and Liszt.

Amit opened his recital with Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor BWV 826. The Partitas were the last set of keyboard works Bach composed, and are the most technically demanding of all his keyboard suites. They were originally published separately, and later collected into a single volume, known as the Clavier-Übung I (Keyboard Practice), the title suggesting that Bach regarded these as technical works for rather than music for performance. In fact, like the French and English Suites, the Partitas are extremely satisfying, enjoyable and varied works, for both performer and listener.

The C minor Partita opens with grand orchestral statements before moving into more fluid territory, to which Amit brought great clarity of articulation, despite the rather echoey acoustic in the church, and the large voice of the Fazioli grand piano. The subsequent movements were shapely, Amit always sensitive to the melodic lines and “voices” so crucial to Bach’s music. The Courante, Rondeaux and Capriccio were sprightly, imbued with wit, despite the minor key.

The Schumann Humoresque Opus 20 might seem a strange pairing with Bach’s mannered arabesques, but in fact both pieces worked well together as a programme. The Humoresque shares a number of features with the Partita, most notably its changes of mood and tempo through the individual movements. The work consists of seven movements, to be played attaca one after another. Amit was adept at neatly capturing the mercurial wit and humour of Schumann’s writing, highlighting Schumann’s dual musical personalities: episodes of warm lyricism and emotional depth were contrasted with masterly double-octave passages, nimble tempos, and full-toned fortissimos. This was an extremely enjoyable concert, the music performed with finesse, sensitivity, and obvious commitment by this young artist.

Details of future performances by Amit Yahav can be found on his website

Meet the Artist….,.Amit Yahav

As befits an up-and-coming young artist who draws inspiration from James Bond not just in his music but also his image, pianist Emmanuel Vass’s debut at London’s Steinway Hall was stylish and suave.  And the title of Emmanuel’s concert tour and debut CD, ‘From Bach to Bond’, reflected his varied musical tastes and repertoire.

He opened the “rush hour” recital (so-called because it started at 6pm) with Morton Gould’s Boogie Woogie Etude (1943), a work replete with classic foot-tapping boogie-woogie rhythms offset by traditional etude elements more commonly found in the music of Chopin and Liszt. The piece was a great opener, played with wit and energy. Placing it before Bach’s Italian Concerto was inspired: to hear Bach after Boogie-Woogie highlighted all the “jazz” idioms present in Bach’s music, some 300 years before the genre came to be – syncopation, counterpoint, and dynamic diversity. This was a lively and colourful account. The slow movement, which bears some relation to the Adagio of the Concerto in D minor after Marcello, was a study in restrained elegance. I was pleased too, that Emmanuel opted for a more reined in tempo in the final Presto, allowing us to enjoy all the elements of this movement. The entire concerto was convincing and proof that Emmanuel is equally at home in this type of repertoire.

The first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Op 27 No. 2, the ‘Moonlight’, was pensive and mysterious, while the middle movement had a pleasing rusticity. There were a few anxious moments in the final movement, but despite this a strong sense of forward motion and purpose was retained.

Chopin’s Op 27 Nocturnes followed, with some sensitive handling of the melodic lines, the subtle shifts in mood and romantic sweep of these works. Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm reprised the humour and swagger of the Boogie-Woogie Etude. And another Etude closed the concert, the James Bond Concert Etude, Emmanuel’s own arrangement of classic Bond film themes, given a Lisztian treatment with vertiginous cadenzas and sparkling fiorituras. It could have been cheesey, but in Emmanuel’s hands it was classy and clever, and looks set to become a sophisticated virtuoso showpiece or encore.

Emmanuel’s debut CD includes more from his wide-ranging repertoire, including a sensuous Malaguena by Leuona, works by Debussy, and another of Emmanuel’s own arrangements, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, all stylishly rendered.

Further concerts in the ‘From Bach to Bond’ tour:

Friday 3rd May – St. Saviourgate Chapel, York YO1 8NQ

Saturday 4th May – St James’s Piccadilly, London W1

Saturday 11th May – Heswall Hall, the Wirral, CH60 0AF

My Meet the Artist interview with Emmanuel Vass


James Bond Concert Etude for solo piano – Barry/Fleming, arr. Vass

Angelo Villani

Pianist Angelo Villani is not exactly a household name. Over 20 years ago, he was due to participate in the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition when a trapped nerve in his right arm, the result of a sports injury, forced him to withdraw. The loss of sensation in his hand caused by the injury prevented him from performing, except only sporadically, while he sought a cure for his condition. In 2010, he started performing again in private recitals in London, and on 6th October 2010 he made his much-anticipated London debut at St James’s Piccadilly, in a programme of works by Brahms, Greig and Liszt, including the vertiginous ‘Après une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata’ from the Années de Pèlerinage II (Italie).

I was fortunate enough to hear Angelo perform ahead of his London debut at St James’s Piccadilly, at an ‘at home’ concert hosted by Jessica Duchen. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a big fan of music in small places, and concerts in people’s homes are the perfect way to enjoy music which was, by and large, intended for the intimacy of the salon. And for a performer, playing before a small, sympathetic and highly engaged audience is very useful preparation for a more formal concert.

Angelo played a selection of pieces from his St James’s programme. He opened with Brahms’s ‘Edward’ Ballade (Opus 10, no. 1, in g minor, so called because it is based on a ‘murder ballad’ of the same name), a piece whose open fifths and simple harmonies suggest myth and legend. It was played with an imposing and sombre elegance, its melancholy perfectly complemented by the wistful, tranquil Intermezzo in E from the Opus 116 which followed it. The alternate theme, following the rich, hymn-like opening statements, was imbued with poignancy, which led the programme nicely into a handful of Grieg’s lyric pieces. These were played with great character and sensitivity to the ‘narrative’ of each piece: a shimmering butterfly, a moody waltz, the joyful ‘Wedding Day at Troldhaugen’, a yearning ‘Arietta’ and a dancing ‘Remembrances’, the two pieces reflections of one another in their melodic and stylistic elements. The Brahms g minor Rhapsody, which followed these pieces, had an intense, Beethovenian drama, rich and passionate. In complete contrast, the two ‘Petrarch Sonnets’ by Liszt (nos. 47 and 123), from the Italian Années de pèlerinage, were songful, deeply expressive, with some beautifully judged “misty” pedal effects and graceful dynamic shading.

We demanded an encore, and we were rewarded, appropriately, with Schumann’s ‘Des Abends’ from the Fantasiestücke, Op 12. This was piano playing to savour: mature, thoughtful, committed and convincing. Angelo has a real understanding of romantic repertoire, but without selling out to crowd-pleasing piano pyrotechnics or over-sentimentality. Based on his Brahms, in particular, last night, I am sure his performance of Liszt’s ‘Dante’ Sonata will be assured, charismatic and profound.

Angelo played wearing white gloves. This is not a virtuoso affectation, nor some reference to the eccentricities of Glenn Gould; as Angelo explained to me afterwards, the gloves prevent his fingers “dragging” at the keys too much, thus protecting his hands.

For more information about Angelo Villani, please visit www.angelovillani.com. If you enjoy piano music delivered with seriousness, bravery, lyricism and drama, informed by some of the great pianists of earlier eras, go and hear Angelo live.

Jessica Duchen’s blog article about Angelo Villani