The Joy of Music for Christmas

The Joy of masterly music making at St James’s
On listening to the opening of the Symphonic Studies by Schumann today I was reminded of my audition lesson with Sidney Harrison.
As a talented child obsessed with my grandmother’s piano my mother had written to the man she had seen giving lessons on the television.Like Eamon Andrews, his next door, neighbour he was a great personality when the television had only one chanel transmitting for only a few hours a day in black and white.

Murray Mc Lachlan with Canan Maxton indefatiguable promoter of exceptionally talented musicians via her Talent Unlimited series
We were one of the few families in our street that had a television and the neighbours used to come quite regularly to look at ours.
One of the most popular programmes was This is Your Life with Eamon Andrews, Take your Pick with Michael Miles,Dixon of Dock Green with Jack Warner and Sidney Harrison who would be teaching a young Peter Croser how to play the piano!

Todays programme at St James’s Piccadilly page 1
People would tune in week after week to see what progress the young pianist was making.
I took my pieces to play to Sidney Harrison which he listened to carefully and then sat down at his beautifully inlaid mahogany Steinway and played the opening theme of the Symphonic Studies.
I still remember 60 years later the aristocratic sumptuous beauty of sound.
It was the moment that I knew that I wanted to spend my life searching for that sound too.
Sidney wrote to my mother saying he could see by the way I sat at the piano that I was a born pianist and although he did not give schoolboy lessons he would make an exception in my case!
I studied for the next five or six years with Sidney who became my piano ‘daddy’.
He undertook my musical education and took me to concerts and operas and introduced me to his musical friends.
The seed was set by this remarkable man as it had also been for the schoolgirl Norma Fisher ,the teacher of Callum Mclachlan’s father and also of Tolga Atalay Ün the other pianist in the programme today.Small world!
I went on to study with him at the Royal Academy where I won the Gold Medal in 1972.He was very proud when I invited him to Rome to meet my future wife and he saw for himself what wonders we were doing with the theatre we had created next to St.Peter’s Square.

The centre photo with the two Sidneys on my wedding day in Kew the top photo with the celebrated violinist Jack Rothstein and the bottom Ruth Eedy one of my childhood neighbours who would look ‘into’ our television with her children our best friends on our street!
He was even there for the debut of Victor San Giorgio one of many pianist young and 0ld (from Leslie Howard brought by Noretta Conci-Leech to my final mentor Vlado Perlemuter) who had been neglected by the rather provincial Roman audiences but had been befriended by us as Sidney Harrison had befriended me in my youth.
All this came into my mind as Callum Mclachlan played the theme today.A Fazioli piano chosen by another distinguished musician friend Alberto Portugheis.I have never heard sound so ravishingly beautiful as today.
It was with that aristocratic feeling that there was something very special about to unfold.
I turned to his father (the distinguished pianist Murray McLachlan) in amazement that his young Callum had become at only 19 an artist of such stature.
I had heard him before :
What has happened in Salzburg to turn a very fine student into an artist that lives and breathes every note as though it was the most beautiful jewel to share with us?
His secret according to his father is Claus Tanski who had also helped another remarkable pupil of his: Chiyan Wong……
I think, although his father would never like to admit it ( he is Head of Keyboard and much more besides at Chethams in Manchester), it is the air in Salzburg that is so much more invigorating for a young aspiring artist than that in Manchester !

A triumphant end to the Schumann op 13
These are the two spontaneous comments I made immediately after the concert and do not regret:
”It was indeed amazing ………..a performance of great artistry that I shall try to describe in carefully chosen words tomorrow.I think you deserve Krug at least and leave the mulled wine to the plebs!
I like my photos too ……………the way you played the opening theme created an aristocratic magic world that kept us all spellbound in wonder to the final triumphant fanfare.The little op posth study that you said you were not going to bother with has at last found its rightful place in your  sensitive hands.
I turned to your father after the first few bars and told him how proud he must be today”

Callum introducing his performance to a very full hall
Words are indeed superfluous but one can note not only the imposing opening theme but the very subtle first variation that entered as a whisper in the depths of the piano with a very incisive rhythm (the so called dotted rhythm that can be so irritating in Schumann if not played with great shape and imagination ).
There were some very subtle counter melodies- just a mere shadow of the theme to whet the appetite for this amazing adventure.
The second variation was played with sumptuous tone with a very delicate repeat played so simply without trying to vary the variations as is so often the case with lesser artists.It was as though this was another verse of a great poem with different more expressive words.A wonderful sense of balance allowed the resonant bass notes at the climax to ring as they have never before been allowed to on this rather brilliant Fazioli.
The sumptuous beauty of the left hand melody played like a great singer with the fleetingly light right hand like a butterfly barely touching the keys.I have only heard a balance like this from Alfred Cortot but here the trill in the left hand was even more precise and incorporated into the melodic line.
It is of quite transcendental difficulty and requires such subtle control.
In the third variation Callum’s great temperament got momentarily the better of him and where now rigid control is needed he was slightly too anxious to tamper with the clock like precision that makes for such a telling contrast.
He immediately set the tempo again though with the lightweight almost Mendelssohn scherzo fourth variation shaped so eloquently and thrown of with an ease that was indeed the contrast needed for the great romantic impetus of the fifth.
Played without the usual rhetorical sentimentality but allowed to speak simply for itself .
It led into the very exciting sixth variation played at a real Allegro molto with some truly astonishing left hand octaves but also with some very telling shading.
The seventh variation I remember Guido Agosti likening it to the structure of a Gothic cathedral.
It was infact played here with that solid structure but also with some very subtle colours ending with a great sense of occasion.
The feeling one can have when leaving some imposing edifice erected by man for the glory of God.
I am not a believer but it is moments like this that make one wonder!
And it was indeed the heavens that opened at this point when Callum took me so by surprise by inserting here the last of the op. posth studies .It was truly magical and played with a wonderfully flexible melodic line so much more poignant coming after the great structural event of the seventh.

Callum with his long time mentor and family friend Leslie Howard
The Presto possibile shows that Callum is not just a young man about town in Salzburg but that he has been puting in the hours needed to play this very difficult variation with a lightness and total command that was quite astonishing.The ending was thrown off like Traumes Wirren with a nonchalance of the great virtuosi of the so called Golden Age.
The eighth was played with great energy and rhythmic impetus that contrasted so well with the final ninth variation.

Canan Maxton entranced as we all were today
A simple duet between two voices on a subtle velvet cushion of sound.A true tone poem that could stand on its own like the Chopin nocturne op 27 n.2 that it is so similar to.
The finale was played with great brilliance.
The great change of key coming like the shock Schumann obviously intended.
The problem here is always the Schumann dotted rhythms on which it is totally based.
Should they be rhythmic or melodic of should one try to combine both?
Not sure Callum succeeded completely but he did succeed in taking our breath away- his too- with the excitement and the enormous but never hard sounds that he brought to the finale as he brought this great adventure to a triumphant close.
A much played work at last restored in Callum’s sensitive hands to the pinnacle of the Romantic Repertoire where it truly belongs.
Hats off to use Schumann’s own words ….an artist is born!

Programme page 2
Tolga Atalay Ün and Ana Dunne-Sequi both artist of Talent Unlimited took the stage for a performance of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata.
Beautifully played on the viola with the piano lid fully open.
Tolga another artist who I know well from the class of Norma Fisher.
He was winner of the much coveted Beethoven prize at the RCM with a magical performance of Beethoven op 110 Sonata.
He is a true musician who followed every nuance of the Schubert Arpeggione in a true musical conversation that was so refreshing after the Romantic ‘sturm und drang’ of Schumann.

Tolga with Ana today
Hats off to Canan Maxton for programming not only exceptional artists but also choosing an order that I would not have thought possible.
It created a concert that was a true celebration to the Joy of Music in this Christmas period.

The Arpeggione Sonata by Schubert
In my wife’s favourite church too and where I was happy to light a candle to her memory today.(Many of the cushion covers in our house are from the market outside!)

Linn Rothstein with Tolga, Ana and page turner .Linn had just been staying in Germany with her best friend Janina Fialkowska, mentor of Tolga

Canan Maxton with the concert manager of St James’s David McCleery

Murray McLachlan,Canan Maxton,Leslie Howard,Callum and Mathew McLachlan


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