A standing ovation awaited at the end of an extraordinary performance by Tessa Uys and Ben Schoeman of Beethoven 9th Symphony on his 249th birthday.
An ovation for the performers but above all for Beethoven’s score that can still astonish and amaze us especially when played with a clarity and rhythmic drive even more revolutionary and evident when played on the same instrument.
Playing on Sir Thomas Beecham`s beautiful instrument it was a revelation of beauty,clarity and rhythmic energy from two superb musicians sharing the same keyboard.
With Ben`s two sensitive feet allowing Tessa`s radiant tone to shine like jewels whilst enveloping it with all the sumptuous sounds of a Berlin Philharnonic.
Four hands,two feet but above all four wonderful ears to bring to life so mellifluously Beethoven`s Ode to Joy.
It was a rare privilege to be present at Beethoven`s birthday celebration today in St Lawrence Jewry.
Beethoven 5th on Monday at St Martins will certainly not go unnoticed as we enter into his 250th celebration year.
The extraordinarily wide range of dynamics that Sir Thomas’s Steinway allowed these two superb musicians to delve deeply into Beethoven’s mammoth score and to still surprise and astonish us as though hearing it for the first time.
It was the four hand transcription by Scharwenka that Tessa had grown up with in her mother’s studio in South Africa .
All nine symphonies that she and her compatriot Ben Schoeman will be presenting during the 250th anniversary year.
Both South African pianists who had perfected their studies in London and both gone on to win the coveted Royal Overseas League annual competition amongst the top students in London.
Tessa and I had both been in the class of our adored Gordon Green at the Royal Academy in London and I had been delighted many years later to invite the now very distinguished Tessa to play in my theatre in Rome.
My wife,the actress, Ileana Ghione and I had also hurried to see Tessa’s famous actor /satyrist brother Peter Dirk Uys when he made one of his rare visits to the little Tricycle theatre in Kilburn.
A hilarious political satyrist when there was much to criticise with the South African apartheid regime.
I remember him telling his sold out audience the story of his government’s solution to the birth control crisis.
Their solution was to give free contraceptives to the needy population………… which they then stapled on to cards for easier handling!!!
It was interesting too to hear the piano that had once stood in St Martin in the Fields and that had remained in my memory of a performance I gave there of Beethoven op 111 on completion of my studies at the RAM in 1972.
The piano,an American Steinway is in need of restoration and the performance for Beethoven’s birthday was also a special fund raising concert to restore this still beautiful sounding piano to its former glory.
I had heard this duo before last year and can say that their performance has grown in stature as they have lived together with these scores.
The remarkable opening of the 9th Symphony with the atmosphere created by Ben Schoeman’s bass murmur and the ravishing beauty from Tessa of the fragments that Beethoven offers in this magical awakening.
Some astonishing outbursts and a very impressive build up to the end of the first movement.
There was a rhythmic energy to the Scherzo that was played with a precision and sense of line passing from one voice to another with a great sweep only adding to Beethoven’s never ending rhythymic energy.Very pregnant silences made this energy even more mesmerising .
The beautifull stillness of the Adagio molto e cantabile .
A simple melodic line from Tessa with the deeply felt bass of Ben made a very satisfying symphonic whole indeed.
The sublime melodic invention of Beethoven was sumptuously expressed from the hands of Ben to the extraordinarily poignant comments from Tessa.
The final movement was a kaleidoscope of subtle invention leading to the overwhelming ‘Ode to Joy’ with a sense of colour and invention bursting into the final transcendental outburst where Sir Thomas’s piano was made to glow on this very special occasion.
A joy indeed to see these two artists embracing each other after their 90 minute journey together with Beethoven