Jayson Gillham at Conway Hall

Jayson Gillham at Conway Hall Romantic Bach for the Bloomsbury Festival
Jayson Gillham at Conway Hall.
The Bloomsbury Festival Romantic Bach from the intimate to epic on the modern piano………………Sunny Jason outshone them all tonight
Very interesting for a Londoner like me to discover a new venue for classical music. Conway Hall like Regent Hall has always for me had the sound of the Salvation Army and not a concert hall.
I remember Madame Tillett determined to have a hall in the centre of London and not accept the rather cold Queen Elisabeth Hall on the Southbank .
She opened a new hall in Regents street ,paid to have it refurbished and opened with a season of all of her roster of stars from Segovia and Szeryng to a complete Beethoven Series with Badura Skoda.
Coffee served in real china cups but nothing could make the hall feel like a real concert hall. It may have well been the carpets and plush seats.
This is certainly not the case of Conway Hall as I discovered at Jayson Gillham’s recital for the Bloomsbury Festival.
An Art Deco type building in the corner of Red Lion Square in Holborn.
It has a very well worn feeling inside that fits like a friendly glove .
Wood everywhere gives a very warm feeling in particular to the sound from their fine Boesendorfer piano .
The hall was infact purpose built for concerts in 1929 when the South Place Ethical Society acquired the concert series from the People’s Concert Society of 1878.
Four hundred comfortable but certainly not plush seats,no carpets in sight to hinder the near perfect acoustic of this wooden interior.
Just the right amount of resonance to allow the Majestic Boesendorfer to ring out maybe even a little too overpowering at times.
Jayson Gillham is fast becoming an important part of those magnificent Australian musicians that live and work in and around London as well as in their native Australia. Piers Lane and Leslie Howard are both renowned for their enormous musical appetite and their intellectual and musicianly mastery of the piano.
Having graduated from the RAM in London under that renowned pedagogue Christopher Elton. Jayson Gillham has gone on to take first prize in 2014 at the Montreal International Music Competition.
Since then he has played with many of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors.
A real thinking musician in the mold of his illustrious colleagues it was his informal introductions that were so stimulating and informative in this well thought out recital under the title of :”Romantic Bach from initmate to epic on the modern piano”.
As he stated in the introduction :Bach was the undisputed master of Counterpoint- the art of setting independent musical lines against each other and interweaving them to create harmony (just the harmonic inevitability that Murray Perahia so eloquently demonstrated in his Masterclass at Milton Court last week)
The complexity with which Bach could compose in this manner is to this day unmatched,and the resulting beauty and depth of emotion of Bach’s music is immense. “From the intimate to the epic” was all in a day’s work for Bach,who dedicated his life’s work to God.
The Toccatas in G major and C minor opening the first and second half of original and trascriptions of J.S. Bach.
Full blooded performances never afraid of the pianos sonorities but always contained within an architectural framework which is the very substance of Bach’s genius.
Some beautiful contrasts made one almost think that these are just as powerful as some of the overblown transcriptions of Busoni.
The C minor Toccata in particular played with crystalline clarity and an energy that swept us along to the very last note.
The same rigour that he brought to the Chaconne from the violin Partita n.2 in Dminor in perhaps the greatest of all transcriptions of Bach that of Busoni.
Of course a use of the piano and of great virtuosity but never sacrificing this masterpiece written as part of a series of dances .
As Jayson so clearly stated a masterwork as long as all the other movements of the Partita put together.
Played with an unusual and very original ,refreshing and unrhetorical look at the score. A much maligned work in the piano repertoire here Jayson restored it to the masterwork that it most clearly is.
On a par with that of Bach?He almost convinced me!
Bach’s original Prelude and Fugues in C sharp minor Bk.2 and B flat minor Bk 1 so much more powerful than the rather overblown transcription by Rachmaninov of the Suite in E major.
So many extra notes it really became a suite by Rachmaninov with references to Bach! Beautifully played,the Gavotte had a charm and lilt and just the right amount of virtuosity in the Gigue was quite overwhelming in Jayson’s hands.
It was interesting to hear the Prelude in E minor by Rachmaninov’s teacher Alexander Siloti . Not quite the magical B minor that is most often played and there is also the doubt that this too was not an original work of Bach at all!
Dazzling is the only way to describe his performance of Nun freut euch,lieben Christen g’mein in Busoni’s busy transcription .I doubt Busoni himself could have matched that.
His Jesu Joy of Man’s desiring in the Myra Hess transcription was of such beauty that one never wanted it to stop.
Transcendental piano playing in Liszt’s very unfussy and respectful Prelude and Fugue in A minor .
Astounding left hand octaves brought the first half to a breathtaking ending
I was thinking how strange that an Australian pianist should play Egon Petri’s transcription of ” Sheep may safely Graze” .Even though beautifully shaped it did not have the same magic as Percy Grainger’s transcription that Jayson surprised us with as an encore.
Indeed as he pointed out Grainger not content with Bach’s title gave his ramble on “Sheep may safely graze” the title of Blithe Bells. Played as to the manner born . The colours and sounds that now lit up the piano showed us all the magic and fantasy that had up until now been hidden in Jayson’s intellectual and masterly performances.
It was as though he could let his hair down as Grainger obviously was doing and enter a fantasy world of sound that even Bach could not have imagined possible.


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