Ashley Fripp- an Emperor comes to Chiswick
Ashley Fripp‘s first Emperor in Chiswick with the West London Sinfonia and Philip Hesketh conducting.
Singing in the rain indeed !
One of our first really typical summer days !
A little church just around the corner from my old Alma Marta in Chiswick and a stones throw from Sidney Harrison’s house on the river where I used to spend my teens in wonder at the marvels of music revealed to me under the magical guide of that extraordinary man.
Today in St Michael’s Church in Elmwood Road just around the corner from Radu Lupu’s old abode.
Handel used to have soirees in the little house that Lord Burlington in his Chiswick Grounds had copied from a villa that he rather liked in Vicenza:La Rotonda.
And now the “Emperor” had come to Chiswick.
The West London Sinfonia led by Iwona Boesche and conducted by Philip Hesketh turned an orchestra of amateur musicians into a body of people gathered together for the joy of making music together .
It was this passion and joy that combined to give a fine if not note perfect performance of the Beethoven Egmont Overture and the Concerto n.5 for piano and orchestra “Emperor”.
I have heard Ashley Fripp many times and followed his career from winner of the Gold Medal at the Guildhall to playing in the masterclasses of Elisso Virsaladze in Sermoneta near to my home town in Italy.
He is greatly esteemed by this great russian pianist and pedagogue.
Ashley Fripp arrived to play the Emperor today with his suitcase packed to rush off to Florence to play it for her the next day and to receive her invaluable suggestions in his search to delve ever more deeply into the score before his next performance in Germany.
A small Yamaha piano donated to the church with funds from a generous benefactor and local parishioner Ida Dodderidge to whom the concert was dedicated.
In Ashley’s hands it was truly an Emperors’ gift and sang out beautifully above the orchestra but also blended in so well with them when Beethoven deems it necessary.
The development section for example at bar 292 was played with the same rhythmic impulse as the opening flourish but gave such urgency and nobility leading to the great chordal interchange between piano and orchestra and the mighty imperial octaves that follow.
Played with superb command and clarity never allowing the sound to become hard but a full almost symphonic sound where each note was given its true weight.
Disolving into the espressivo interchange between piano and orchestra with some really beautiful cantabile playing which anticipates the sublime slow movement that is to follow.
These great contrasts between the nobility and the sublime were beautifully realised by Ashley Fripp and even inspired these musicians to heights they surely had not expected to reach.
The sheer beauty and stillness of the pianissimo leggiermente at bar 151 was quite magical and Ashleys way of caressing the keys so noticeable as it was also in the Adagio.
It was of true Matthay proportions.
So rare these days to see the beauty of the hand movement translated into sound.
It has been most noticeable in Andrea Gallo’s playing for the KCT recently in Tuscany.
As it was also with Sasha Grynyuk for the KCT at Steinway Hall this week.
It reminds me of Myra Hess or Moura Lympany who Uncle Tobbs had encouraged to listen and to feel the sound in the keys almost like squeezing the sound out of each key. With a loose and flexible wrist and arm movement just like a great artist painting or conductor shaping the sounds in the air- Giulini was perhaps the most beautiful to behold .
It is no coincidence that both Sasha and Ashley have been students of Ronan O’Hora,a disciple of Vlado Perlemuter, at the Guildhall where both had also been awarded the prestigious Gold Medal.
The very difficult triplets in double thirds were played with absolute authority and the marcato triplets in the left hand were played with exemplary clarity.
The pianissimo leggiermente chromatic scales beautifully shaped and leading to the final triumphant exchange between piano and full orchestra where the rhythm thanks to the understanding between pianist and conductor did not flag for a moment and swept us on to the triumphant coda.
A wrong turning taken by Ashley was concealed with the sang froid of a real professional and brought back into line with only those who really knew the score aware of what could have been a major mishap in lesser hands.
The Adagio played un poco mosso and allowed to sing even though pianissimo with a projection of sound that drew the audience into the magic world that Ashley was able to convey.
A magical transition to the Rondo where Beethoven’s scales and arpeggios took on a new meaning with a rhythmic drive and joy in the interchange between soloist and orchestra The poco ritard and staccato octaves most telling before the explosion and the joyous melody on the piano bustling into the most powerful broken octaves before the return of the rondo.
Some beautiful exchanges between piano and orchestra and some real magic at bar 189.
The final chords kept alive between conductor and pianist and not allowed to flag until the final cadence marked Adagio.
It made the explosion and piu allegro even more startling and brought this Emperor to a noble and exciting end that had the audience on their feet.