Ashley Fripp “A Poet in Perivale”

Ashley Fripp “ A Poet in Perivale”
Probably one of the hottest September’s for years but things were certainly hotting up in the opening recital of the remarkable season of Dr Hugh Mather`s hallowed haven at St Mary`s .
The atmosphere and excitement of Ashley Fripp’s extraordinary playing was enough to melt even the hardest of souls.
His intelligence combined to a control and subtle virtuosity was something to marvel at indeed.
A robust Chopin full of sentiment but never sentimental reminded us of Rubinstein.
La Leggierezza reminded me of the performance of Godowsky that I discovered on a late night programme on the BBC 3rd programme that kept us all glued to the radio to hear the piano rolls of leggendary pianists of the Golden Age of the Piano .
A unique collection of another philanthropic enthusiast Frank Holland in the Piano Museum in Brentford.
Just a stone’s throw from St Mary’s.
There must indeed be something very special in the air in these parts!
I have heard Ashley many times but today I heard a true artist matured under the masterly guidance of Elisso Virsaladze. As  Dr Hugh Mather confided afterwards;’he has played many times at St Mary’s but it just gets better and better’
Rare to hear the three concert studies together but in Ashley’s hands they make a very refreshing group of perfect miniatures that made of Liszt the piano virtuoso who was idolised in the fashionable Paris salons.
“Il Lamento” was complimented by “Il Sospiro” with a delicate “La Leggierezza” to divide them.
“Il Lamento” was played with great feeling and a beautiful rubato that allowed all the romantic ferment to sing so naturally.
The passionate heartbreak dissolving into beautiful liquid sounds.
“La Leggierrezza” entered as a whisper with such subtle rubato.
Great romantic vehemence together with amazing brilliance and a sumptuous sense of balance made one realize what gems Liszt could conjure from his keyboard.
“Il sospiro” was beautifully shaped with the melodic line floating so expressively above the swirling accompaniment.
The climax could have been even more ‘grandioso’ as it was no doubt in Liszt’s hands and was the reason for him being chased as a pop idol by all the refined ladies in the fashionable Paris salons.
The calm after the storm in Ashley’s hands was quite ravishing though.

Roger Nellist controlling the superb streaming from his mobile telephone
A true ‘lollypop’ in Ashley’s own words brought the first half to a brilliant end with an old war horse of yesteryear:”Caprice Espagnol” by Moritz Moszkowski.
And like all true lollypops it was played with all the startling virtuosity and charm of the pianists of a bygone age.
Taken at an amazing pace that surprised even Ashley but never loosing control and he was still able to add such glorious old world charm in such a ravishing palete of colours.
The final flourish took our breath away as it did Ashley’s ….but then this is a virtuoso piece full of ‘joie de vivre’ – all or nothing!
It always surprises me to think that Moszkowski was the first teacher of the prodigy Vlado Perlemuter.

Ashley getting to grips with Moszkowski
A first outing,confided Ashley as he went on stage for the Schumann Arabesque op 18.
He need not have worried because he was so immersed in the Romantic world by now that Schumann’s dream was brought beautifully to life.
The etherial coda,so similar to Liederkreis, was bathed in a luminosity that came from a very subtle use of the sustaining pedal.
If Florestan was given a bit too much space in the second interlude it made a perfect contrast to Eusebius that had preceeded it.
His subtle pointing of the bass throughout gave great depth and subtlety to the seemingly simple but, in Ashley’s hands, the ever changing melodic line.
Very interesting introductions by Ashley reminded us of Berlioz famously saying that Chopin had been” dying for his entire lifetime.” Prefacing his performance of this late work: the Sonata in B minor op 58, he described in words as he did later in music the extraordinary slow movement:
”…almost a prayer of strength,hope and longing.”
It was after the arresting call to arms of the slow movement and the beautiful Schumannesque diminuendo (created by taking away the notes of the final chord in a very subtle way) that dissolved and set the scene for one of Chopin’s most poignant melodies.
Beautifully shaped long lines like the great bel canto song that it is but always moving forward- no wallowing here – and keeping the great architectural line that created a tension which held us all so spellbound.
The coda was played so beautifully with the final chords full of mystery and it led without a break into the ever more exciting Finale.
An extraordinary sense of line and shape amongst all the exciting and scintilating virtuosity that is called for and a gradual building up of sonority with romantic fervour and grandeur.
Yes after desolation there is hope!
The first movement had a great sense of drive and architectural shape.The heartrending melodic second subject was played with a robust masculine beauty that was even more poignant than in the more delicate performances that the so called Chopin tradition inflicts on us all too often!
The Scherzo was thrown off with all the jeux perlé of a Moisewitch but the central section was played with a line and direction that gave great strength to the structure of Chopin’s rare adventure into the long term Sonata idiom.
The Bach English suite n.2 in A minor BWV 806 was played with all the intelligence and architectural strength that marked the performances of this poet of the piano.
As Ashley had said in his introduction there was very little that was English about this suite.Except for the Gigue that could be Irish it owes more to France ,Germany and Spain.
Superb ornaments in the Bourée n.1 and contrasted so well with the Bourée n.2 .A great sense of propulsion in the Gigue and throughout there was  great attention to the bass. I missed though the colours and sheer beauty and variety of sound that he brought to the other works in the programme.A difficult line to tread but a journey that a poet must surely risk.
A wonderful way to start the season.
With the sun blazing from within and without!
And as Hugh Mather confided Ashley had stood in for a colleague who at the last minute was indisposed!
Chapeau indeed.

And this is only the autumn / winter season at St Mary’s

St Mary’s bathed in sunlight inside and out!

The recording of the extraordinary BBC broadcasts of the late 60’s


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