Chopin Mathers St Mary’s Chopin Festival
Session 1 Chopin Piano Festival at St Mary’s
And so it was on a balmy night in June that Hugh Mather’s Chopin Festival got under way
Some glorious playing from three very fine pianists of some rare works by Chopin mingled with old favourites.
An illuminating introductory talk by Amit Yahav set the scene for this extraordinary festival that our host had devised to give a platform to 21 young artists who have been part of his stable for some time .
In fact Hugh Mather ,a retired physician ,is now able to dedicate himself to his real passion that has always been music.
Not only a distinguished medical career but also an ex student of the distinguished pianist James Gibb .
In his retirement from the medical profession he can dedicate himself, with that same passion, to organising and giving concerts in St Mary’s and St Barnabas in Ealing where he is also resident organist.
Aided and abetted by his wife Felicity ,also a doctor, and some dedicated helpers he has created a loyal public for the many enormously talented young musicians who after years of dedicated studies yearn only to find a discerning public at the start of their professional careers.
Knowing the difficulties, Dr Mather offers as many professional engagements as he can in this beautiful historic, redundant church of St Mary’s and the much bigger St Barnabas .
He also administers with Vanessa Latarche,head of Keyboard Studies at the RCM and former pupil of Eileen Rowe, the estate of that dedicated teacher and helper of so many distinguished pianist in over 60 years of activity in Ealing.
The Eileen Rowe scholarship fund has been set up with all her worldly goods to help extraordinary young musicians with their advanced studies.
And so after his Complete Beethoven Sonata Festival two years ago Dr Mather has devised this Chopin Festival with more than 12 hours of Chopin’s music. Including the major works mingled with some refreshing surprises from Chopin’s early years as a refined piano virtuoso.
As Amit Yahav pointed out,Chopin found playing in public distasteful and became a society piano teacher on his arrival in Paris at the age of 22 rather than the performing animal that were to become Liszt and Paganini.
His trip to winter in the warmer climes of Spain with George Sand (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin) leaving Paris as Liszt had done with Countess D’Agoult amid the gossiping tongues of the Parisian Salons.
Chopin was already ill when he went on his ill fated trip to winter in the warmer climes of Majorca.Interesting to know that it was the tempestuous Second Ballade and the Third Scherzo that were composed there .
Diagnosed with tuberculosis on arrival on the mainland in Marseille he spent the next seven years with Sand at her country home outside Paris at Nohant.
These were his happiest and most productive years (op 55/58 etc)with their relationship ending ten years later in 1848 the year of his death.
He was destined to die at the age of 39 weighing only 48 kilos.
A fear of being buried alive lead to his body being buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris but his heart was taken where it had always belonged….. to his beloved Poland.
A fascinating introduction from the pianist Amit Yahav who in turn will be playing on Sunday.
Dr Mather had sent around a wish list to his numerous young musicians of the works of Chopin to see who could propose what and when .
An enormous labour of love that has produced a programme of three days of music with some of the finest young pianists around .
Only two defections caused by tours in America and India offered to two of Hugh’s young star prodigies . Of course there was no doubt that they should be left free with blessings but this left the opening space free for a colleague to fill .
Colin Stone ,fellow student of James Gibb and Edith Vogel. Despite his youthful looks he is a distinguish professor at the Royal Academy and the Royal Northern College in Manchester and also head of keyboard at Harrow School – the teacher in fact of Aristo Sham a young pianist who is fast making a name for himself in International Competitions.
And so he was able to maintain the very opening work of the Festival with the extraordinarily original Polonaise- Fantasie op 61.
We wish Hin-Yat Tsang great success in America .
A distinguished performance of refined taste as with all three pianists in this first session. The same piano but all with completely different sounds which is the magic trick of balance and a sign of a real listening musician.
The famous Grand Valse brillante op 18 stylishly shaped and played.The colours and relish of a real musician played in between two Nocturnes.
The famous F sharp op 15 .n.2 and the lesser known op 37 n.2 beautifully shaped as were the four rarely performed mazurkas op 41.
Leading to the commanding opening performance of the Polonaise Fantasie.
Chopin’s fantasy world held strictly in reign with a sense of line and rhythmic propulsion that allowed the music to unfold so naturally. It lead so inevitably to the glorious final declamation somewhat reminiscent of the much lesser known Allegro de Concert that will be heard in a later performance by Iyad Sughayer
A completely different sound from Mihai Ritivoiu of secret colours and a velvet sound that was so impressive in the three opening Mazukas op 59. Such subtle colouring of the almost whispered secrets of these real gems of Chopin in which all his yearning for his homeland were so poignantly portrayed.
A scintillating performance of the very rarely performed Variations on a German air “Der Schweizerbub”- Swiss Boy Waltz- with which the sixteen year old Chopin would have astounded his audiences in the salons in Poland .
The same jeux perle of Nikita Magaloff the only other person I have known programme this charming little bauble.
The same charm from Mihai’s hands allowed us to marvel at this neglected bauble that in a real artists hands can be transformed into a gem.
Mihai tells me he learnt it when he too was a teenager and worked on it again for Dr Mather with much more difficulty than in his youth!
A marvellous sense of colour shaped the famous waltz in A flat op 42 and it was the same velvet sound that enveloped the famous Ballade in G minor op 23 that closed his performance.
Some really remarkable sounds not least in the final scales that became washes of sound in his hands interrupting Chopin’s final question and answer.The sign of a true artist that can make an over performed piece sound refreshingly new.
His new CD was on sale of works by Liszt,Enescu and Franck promoted by the City Music Foundation and were snatched up in the interval in between sips of wine and excited conversation.
Julian Trevelyan was the last to perform having flown in from Paris where he performed in the morning.
Winner at only 16 of the Long-Thibaud-Crespin a few years ago he is a favourite performer at St Mary’s .
Still continuing his studies in Paris he is fast forging an important career.
An intelligent thinking musician he opened his concert with the three rarely heard Polonaises op 72 . Published after Chopin’s death they were very early works even earlier than the variations that Mihai had played before.
Full of the same charm and easy jeux perle of the teenager Chopin.Nevertheless one could see in Julian’s hands the same outline that was to be shaped into the great polonaises of his later years.
A great sense of clarity and scintillating virtuosity together with an absolute control of line and rhythmic propulsion were the hall marks of these extraordinary performances.
Three little Polonaises that I have only ever heard as encores in the days of the Chopin recitals of Stefan Askenase or Jan Smeterlin .
Indeed it was the same rigour and absolute sense of architectural shape that was the hallmark of a quite riveting performance of the B minor ( yes not B major as was advertised!) Sonata.
The second subject allowed to sing with such majesty .
No sentimentality but real masculine passion.
The Scherzo played with a most impressive jeux perle and the middle section integrated into the whole as is rarely the case.
The great Largo immediately erupting out of the final notes of the Scherzo gave such power and held the audiences attention as is rarely the case.
The virtuosity and excitement of the Finale was breathtaking as was the study op 10 n.1 offered as an encore to a public that could have happily listened all night. Today 18 more pianist to go …..cannot wait!
Eight more pianists at the second day of the Chopin Festival at St Mary`s .
What a line up today with nearly seven hours of music making from these extraordinarily talented young musicians .
One can only select at random from the enormous amount of music heard today.
A beautiful Nocturne in F op 15 from Yuanfan Yang in which his superb sense of balance and beauty of sound made one realise why he has received already such recognition at such an early age.
Just back from a three week tour of China where he performed his own Piano Concerto.
Two bourrees and the Cantabile in B flat were refreshingly played and quite new to me.
Ke Ma presented the 24 Preludes op 28 .
Twentyfour problems as Fou Ts’ong would describe them but they were certainly no problem for Ke Ma who played with passionate involvement.
The Prelude n.16 in B flat minor was dispatched as very few could manage in a public performance.
Some very musicianly playing managing to keep the architectural line from the first to the tumultuous last prelude.
Mikhail Shilyaev covering at the last minute for an indisposed Florian Mitrea but maintaining the same programme.
Some beautifully evocative sounds with the melodic line emerging almost Debussian from the mysterious bass murmurings in the Nocturne op 27 n.1.
Beautifully shaped melodic line in the Nocturne in F minor op 55 n.1 (a Cherkassy favourite)and a subtle sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to sing out completely unforced.
It lead to an extremely beautiful Andante Spianato with the orchestra at a minimum leading into the Grande Polonaise played with great style and command.
An early Polonaise in B flat minor was the opening work for Iyad Sughayer beautifully shaped and played with great style.
Following the Mazurkas op 33 with a specially requested performance by Dr Mather of the Allegro de concert op 46.
A rather awkward piece that was the initial workings for a never to be completed third piano concerto.
Iyad had learnt this very taxing and rather ungrateful piece especially for the occasion.
Hats off to Iyad Sughayer and for finding many beautiful things in this rather orchestral score.
I remember it being a speciality of Claudio Arrau and more recently of Louis Lortie.
Philip Fowke brought it to Gordon Green’s class and how they delighted in finding the beauty and style together in this almost unknown showpiece.
This second session ended with a superb performance by Ashley Fripp of the Fourth Scherzo The first time he had performed it in public and it showed off his great musicianship and wonderful sense of balance which allowed the sense of melodic line to create a unified whole.
This followed a magical account of the Berceuse and the wonderfully teasing three early waltzes op 70 .
The third Ballade was played with all his consummate artistry followed by the nocturnes op 48 n.2 and op 55 n.2 and made up the programme that brought this session to a close .
The final session n.3 of the day saw two past students of Tessa Nicholson, that renowned teacher from the Purcell School and the Royal Academy. Kausikan Rajeshkumar ( called in at the last minute to substitute for Dinara Klinton on tour in India)
Kausikan Rajeshkumar took us into his own magic world of half lights and amazingly fluid sounds which suited so perfectly the 2nd and 3rd Impromptus and the late B major Nocturne.
Interesting to note the repeat in the first movement of the B flat minor Sonata from the very beginning of the Sonata and not from the doppio movimento was the norm in my day.
A work especially prepared for this evening and for that even more remarkable.
This has opened the flood gates on social media about where Chopin intended the repeat.
Tyler Hay in discussion with Kausikan Rajeshkumar and others .
It appears that the double bar exists but not the repeat sign.
Some feel that as the Grave uses material that forms the bass element of the development section it makes sense to repeat it in the exposition repeat.Others beg to differ where Chopin’s intentions are not clear.
Superb clarity and musicianship in the Studies op 10 . Tyler Hay showing off his quite superb technical equipment but never forgetting the musical content in these quite extraordinary early studies.
The two slow melodic studies n.3 and 6 were superbly shaped .The first and last studies were dispatched with quite amazingly effortless virtuosity as were the second,fourth and the famous Black Key study n.5.
A beautifully shaped melancholic waltz in B minor op 69.n.2 was preceded by the Nocturne in G minor op 15 n.3 and a very heartfelt throbbing performance of the Polonaise in E flat minor op 26 n.2.
Luka Okras closed this third session with a quite superb account of the fourth Ballade, a masterpiece of the romantic repertoire.
It was hardly surprising to all those present that Luka has won already first prize in five International Piano Competitions.
The Ballade seemed to enter as if a window had been opened and then proceeded to unravel its opening melody culminating in the great romantic climax and coda played with great passion and superb technical assurance.
The famous little waltz in C sharp minor op 64 n.2 ,a favourite encore of Rubinstein, was played with all the colour and half lights of the master himself.
Ending with the First Scherzo in B minor op 20 played with great rhythmic energy throwing himself into a coda of great excitement.It made a great contrast to the little polish melody in the central section that sang so nostalgically in Luka Okros‘s sensitive hands.
Today the last two sessions at 14h and 19h culminating in a performance by Ilya Kondratiev of the Polonaise Heroique op 53 that will bring this remarkable weekend to a fitting close.