Julian Jacobson 70th Birthday Series at St John’s Smith Square

Julian Jacobson’s 70th Birthday Series at St John’s Smith Square
Julian Jacobson at St John`s Smith Square
The first of four concerts to celebrate Julian Jacobson’s 70th Birthday year.
Concerts that include the three “war” sonatas of Prokofiev and some of the major works from the piano repertoire.
I was much reminded of that remarkable musician Frederick Jackson .
“Freddie” as he was affectionately known could sit down and play the Goldberg or Diabelli Variations as he could conduct the Verdi Requiem.
I first met Julian thirty years ago when he came to Rome to perform in a contemporary music festival in my theatre in collaboration with the American Academy in Rome.
There was talk of him coming to give a recital with Ida Handel and Zara Nelsova but it was not to be and so I met him again only last year when he was taking over the chairmanship of the Beethoven Society from the retiring Dr Malcom Troup .
I together with Piers Lane and Noretta Conci-Leech were invited to judge their annual Beethoven Competition which was won by Mihai Ritivoiu with a remarkable performance of the “Appassionata” as you would expect from a prize student of Joan Havill.
And so I was very keen to hear Julian again especially as I had heard about his cycle of the 32 Beethoven Sonatas played in the same day in aid of charity WaterAid.
I also knew of his many other activities at the RCM and for the Beethoven Society.
A real musician as you would expect from a young boy at the age of seven studying piano and composition with the Lamar Crowson and Arthur Benjamin.
A graduate of Queen’s College Oxford and student later of Louis Kentner .
I was intrigued to see a CD on sale of the works of Maurice Jacobson who on reading the cover learn was Julian’s father.
A very distinguished musician in his own right, a child prodigy who could play the “48” and “32” from memory at the age of 16!
A fine accompanist he was to discover Kathleen Ferrier and went on to found the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain with Dame Ruth Railton.
Director and chairman of the publisher J.Curwen and Sons with an impressive 450 works to his name.
He was also founder , I was told, of The Chopin Society UK.
He was awarded an OBE in 1971 and died in 1976 at the age of 80.
On the same table a CD of the complete piano works of Balakirev and some of Julians compositions which include The Orang-U-Tango written for the Martha Argerich Festival .
Only three great works on his first programme as you would expect with such a pedigree:
Beethoven “Eroica” variations op 35 , Schubert’s first set of Four Impromptus D 899 Prokofiev 6th Sonata in A 82.
Never a harsh sound from this musician who was listening intently to the great line of these masterworks that he was sharing with us.
The great Beethovenian interruptions in the Eroica Variations played with all the vehemence that made the contrast with the simple theme so telling.
If there were some blurred edges it did not in anyway detract from the overall picture that was so much part of this musician’s vision and wish to guide us through.
Beautiful almost whispered sound after the Beethovenian opening of Schubert’s first Impromptu .
The similarity between the opening of the Beethoven was even more striking for its direct unfussy approach to the composers intentions.
Many beautiful things in the following impromptus especially the 3rd Impromptu where the melody was allowed to sing out in such a natural unmannered way.
The jeu perle in the second and fourth Impromptu played with an enviable precision and it was good to notice this pianist’s “paws” the same ones I used to admire so much in “Freddie” who I mentioned above.
A pianist’s hand that seems to always be drawn to the keyboard without any fuss or affectation in many ways an organist’s hand too and allow us to follow unimpeded the composers intentions.
Enormous contrasts in the Prokofiev as though Julian was trying to show us the reasoning behind this first sonata of his “war” trilogy.
Here a slightly clearer articulation would have given even more rhythmic impetus to this astonishing sonata.
The long slow movement seemed so logical in it’s projection of the long melodic line.
If the last movement could have been even more steely fingered it was played in a fearless way that brought the concert to tumultuous finish
A rarely heard Scriabin Prelude in B minor played with all the colour and calm but always with the same sense of line and direction that had been so much the hallmark of a real musicians recital.
The next recital on the 26th November in which another three blocks from the piano repertoire Schubert D850,Beethoven op 27 n.2 and Prokofievs 7th Sonata.
A remarkable tour de force indeed for someone who is so much involved in every aspect of musical life ……..
It is evidently a family trait!


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