Sunday, February 24, 2013

Aglaia Graf

Swiss Pianist

Good pianist, interesting programme. Swiss, daughter of veteran pianist. Peter Lukas-Graf. Venue, Swiss Church in Endell Street, Covent Garden, handsome –plain white room, altar the only clue to its ecumenism – alas, dreadful acoustic, bathroom style, fortes distorted.

Nice Schubert Sonata, the smaller one in A major, melodies to the fore but never running too long.

Next, Chopin's Andante spianato, not the best of this composer but some truly magical moments. Followed by Prokofiev a piece that I have never come across before in sixty years of recital-going with the title Après des vieux cahiers Opus 29, alternately gruff and rough like the second Concerto for piano, and lyrical, listener-friendly more like the third of his five.

The next work showed the pianist as a composer, talented at that. It was the world première of Announcement (of what we were not vouchsafed) the five-minutes of its duration gave no definite hint – hatch, match, despatch, certainly not bankruptcy. It featured one tone repeated many times, almost like a Fantasy on One Note. It paralled Le Gibet of Ravel but never sounded like that composer.

Finally, two of the Moments Musicaux of Rachmaninoff, one slow, one faster, not vintage S.R., no gorgeous lyrical passages but skilful wandering.

Aglaia is rising 27, pretty, nice manner on the platform, should have a successful career.
But I would have to hear her in surrounding more conducive to enjoyment than this Swiss church to write a meaningful review.

Jayson Gillham

One of the pleasures of being a critic is that you sometimes spot a tremendous talent before it becomes known to the public at large: in my sixty years writing about artists I was able to come across some young muzos that I recognised as being star quality. I was able to appreciate when he was only seventeen the conductor Simon Rattle, and the guitarist Julian Bream when he was in his mid-teens. And now I am happy to salute the young Australian pianist Jayson Gillham. I am not alone in saluting his talent: he has a following already, he has success with orchestras in various countries and has won important prizes such as the Gold Medal of the Royal Overseas League. At the 2012 Leeds Piano competition he was a semi-finalist and won warm praise from Sir Mark Elder; likewise in the Warsaw Competition he won praise from the great Marta Argarich.

Recently, I heard Jayson again at one of the Bob Boas Concerts in Mansfield Street when he played a recital programme of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy and two Liszt transcriptions. Each composer was done justice and the performances could not have been bettered. Gillham has virtuosity to spare but uses his technique as a springboard to making deeply satisfying and freshness of Bach (the G major Toccata), the wit and strength of Beethoven (opus 78, the ardent passion of Schumann (the Etudes symphoniques), the voluptuous poetry of Debussy (3Etudes) and the passion of Wagner (the Liebestod and the coruscating wit of the Rigoletto Paraphrase). It was a recital to cherish and remember. Jayson Gillham will surely have a big and important career.

Saturday, February 02, 2013


Curious that the conductors Monteux and Toscanini who gave fine performances of the Enigma Variations did not subsequently tackle Elgar's symphonies. I suspect that it was because those symphonies are, especially the first and last movements, subjective in emotional content whereas the Variations are more objective. I suspect that this was the reason for Beecham's high-handed, indeed ruthless cutting of the first symphony.

During the year after the premiere of that symphony the hundred or so performances of the work did not suffer the indignity of the Beecham treatment when he reduced the work's fifty or so minutes to a paltry 38.  The above thoughts were induced by attending the Barbican concert given by the BBCSO on January ll when Andrew Litton conducted a programme of British music. He proved himself once again to be yet another American conductor who can be relied on to get right inside the music of our composers. My only quibble concerns the extreme loudness of the playing; Litton seems to be suffering from a current delusion of performers: that volume equals intensity. The orchestra responded enthusiastically  and virtuosic ally to his exhortation, strings sang, bugles/ trumpets, likewise the muted trombones as they quietly barked out that four-chord phrase at the close of the Adagio, letting us hear Elgar's genius for inventing short phrases that are truly memorable.
In 1938 Benjamin Britten played the solo part in his new Piano Concerto, a dazzling performance (I heard it on the wireless) of a work that could only be written by a young man (curly-mop was just twenty-five at the time) The concerto does not outstay its 34 minute length, despite its show-off, look at me, mummy, quality. The four movements have genre titles, Toccata, Waltz, Impromptu and March, the third number being a replacement written for the revised version of 1945 (soloist Noel Mewton-Wood).

The soloist at the Barbican was another Benjamin, even younger than the composer was at the premiere but no less brilliant with the entire virtuoso pianistic. You may remember that Benjamin Grosvenor was a BBC finalist in 2004 when he was only eleven years old - he played the two-handed Ravel Concerto but the judges didn't give him the top-prize (because they thought he was too young, I heard). Andrew Litton presided on the podium meaningfully, artfully, successfully. The concert began with a twenty-minute number called Night Ferry; title derived from a poem by Robert Lowell where the ferry is depicted "huddled in a big sea, the whole craft ringing with an armourer's music." So, lots of scurrying strings and heavy brass but not somehow suggesting the ocean as well as composers in the past (Wagner, Debussy, Britten). The composer was Anne Clyne (born London 1980, living now and getting performances in the States). She seems to eschew melody and although there was plenty of movement in her piece there was little action.