Thomas Kelly at St Mary’s for the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe Prizewinners recital

Thomas Kelly was born on 5 November 1998. He passed Grade 8 with distinction in 2006, andperformed Mozart Concerto No.24
in the Marlowe Theater two years later. After moving to Cheshire, he
regularly played in festivals,including the Birmingham Festival.
He won 3rd prize in Young Pianist of The North 2012 and 1st prize in WACIDOM 2014.Since 2015, Thomas has been studying with
Andrew Ball, initially at the Purcell School of Music and now at Royal College of Music where he is in third-year undergraduate.
Thomas has won first prizes including Pianale International Piano Competition 2017, Kharkiv Assemblies 2018, at Lucca Virtuoso e Bel Canto
festival 2018, RCM Joan Chissell Schumann competition 2019, Kendall Taylor Beethoven competition 2019 and BPSE Intercollegiate
Beethoven competition 2019.In addition, he has performed in a variety of
venues, including the Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, St James’ Piccadilly, Oxford Town Hall, St Mary’s Perivale,
St Paul’s Bedford, the Poole Lighthouse ArtsCentre, the Stoller Hall, at Paris Conservatoire,the StreingreaberHaus in Bayreuth, the Teatro
Del Sale in Florence, and in Vilnius and Palanga.Thomas’ studies at RCM are generously supported by Ms Daunt and Ms Stevenson, Pat
Kendall Taylor and C. Bechstein pianos.

I have heard Thomas Kelly on many occasions since listening to him quite by chance at the Schumann Competition at the RCM.I was not surprised that he won first prize with a very persuasive performance of Carnaval – the work with which he chose to finish this short recital for the BPSE at St Mary’s Perivale.

https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.wordpress.com/2019/11/13/thomas-kelly-takes-st-marys-by-storm/

It was a programme made up by a rarely performed work by Beethoven together with a reworking of the very well known ‘Moonlight ‘Sonata finishing with Schumann’s Carnaval op.9

Jonathan Östlund: Mondspiegel – Fantasia on Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ (mvt.1) (World Premiere)

A fascinating piece offered in World Première by the distinguished composer Jonathan Ostlund.As he himself says it is an elaboration of the first movement trying to evoke the atmosphere that the title ,which was not Beethoven’s but his publishers,evokes.It follows almost faithfully the original adding magical sounds and embellishments that give even more colour and atmosphere.It was played by Thomas with the ravishing liquid sounds and colours that had immediately caught my attention in his Schumann op.9 at the RCM.Rather self indulgent but short enough not to become too schmalzy especially when played with such serious and sensitive intent as at it’s world première today.

The composer himself has written:”By writing ‘Mondspiegel’, I expressed a homage and created a ‘meeting’, a little time travel exercise… Although Beethoven didn’t name it Moonlight Sonata himself, but rather his publisher did, it is easy to imagine this moonlit inspiration with Beethoven sitting by his piano,looking out over the skyline. I wanted to play with the elements of the moonlit scene, and its introvert qualities, while turning it into a fantasiawith an elegiac character, yet hopeful; with an air of springtime, and a meditation on the flow of inspiration, and of time.” — Jonathan Östlund

Jonathan Ostlund received his BA and MA in Composition at LTU, Sweden, and has so far completed more than 100 works, including
several orchestral works, and two concertos. His achievements include CD-releases, publications and performances with the LSP in the U.K.,
France and Romania throughout 2010 and 2011.In 2012 he won the Public Choice Award for the Cello Sonata, premiered by A. Zagorinsky and E.
Steen-Nokleberg, and was awarded 1st Prize in the LSO’s Composers’ Composition with his ‘Celebration Fanfare’, which was premiered
during the Orchestra’s 90th Season Gala. In 2013 followed various premieres in the U.K. andFrance.

Beethoven Fantasia Op.77

As Thomas himself has penned :”Beethoven Fantasia Op.77 a highlight of his piano output which is simultaneously a seed from which more famous conceptions grew, and an insight into Beethoven’s capabilities as an improviser.John C Sutton wrote that Beethoven extemporised it during his famous concert on 22 December 1808 (performed alongside works
such as the 4th Concerto, 5th Symphony and Choral Fantasy), later writing down the Fantasia as Op.77.”

After ending an improvisation of this kind Beethoven would burst into loud laughter and mock his listeners for the emotion he had caused in them. ‘You are fools!’, he would say.’

It was just this sense of character that was so much part of Thomas’s interpretation.As Thomas himself says:’The opening scales are like a call to attention, which is followed by a D flat major episode hinting at the sublime.’In fact it was just this difference between the scale interruptions that obviously gave the improviser time to decide what direction he would take next.It is nice to think of Beethoven seated at the piano changing from one mood to another.From the hauntingly beautiful first episode played with a beauty of sound and a feeling that the music was being created in that very minute.This infact is one of the first things I noted about Thomas’s playing .The spontaneity and obvious delight at finding the most ravishing tonal varieties due to his very natural technical agility allied to a very sensitive ear.There followed a cordial B flat major theme, a vicious passage of broken octaves played with a wonderful rhythmic impetus and forward drive. Impatient somewhat violent interruptions – obviously Beethoven having fun at the keyboard.The main theme in an unexpected B major has overtones of the choral themes in the Fantasy op 80 and 9th Symphony, on which Beethoven proceeds to write a set of his best variations.The final delicate collision of scales brings the work to a peaceful conclusion.A fascinating journey and a thanks to Thomas and the BPSE for including this rarely heard work in this 250th anniversary year

Schumann Carnaval Op.9 with which he ended this short recital needs no introduction.This is what I wrote exactly a year ago:

‘But it was a performance of op 9 Carnaval that caught my attention for the liquid sound and natural pianism almost of Nelson Freire dimension.Some things cannot be taught and the God given gift to communicate has been given only to a chosen few.They may exceed in rubato or excess of bravura but there is a quality of sound that goes straight to the heart in a direct musical conversation.Thomas Kelly ran away with the prize and I can just see Joan Chissell with a smile of recognition on her face.She was a critic who could in just a few well chosen words illuminate her articles in the Times and her books on Schumann have become a reference for us all’

And it was all here today but with a maturity and assurance that a year of discovery can make to a real young artist.There was all the sense of characterisation allied to a charm and above all a sense of colour that could bring these well know pieces vividly to life.A strange quaver instead of semiquaver right at the opening fanfare I put down to the exhuberance of the minute but the delicate charm in the più moto and animato was irresistible as was the relentless forward movement that took us to Pierrot’s door.Ravishing change of colour on the melodic notes but why play the ‘f’ staccato!Artistic licence and Thomas is certainly a remarkable artist!

Arlequin was thrown of with consummate ease and the great bass notes in Valse noble made the contrasting middle section even more magical.The same thumb melody was allowed to sing out in the left hand repeat the same as I have never forgotten from the hands of Cortot. Eusebius,Schumann’s tranquil companion was played with a simplicity but such wondrous colouring from within as Florestan just crept in with some wonderful jeux perlé playing.Coquette was played with just the right amount of charm and colour which led to the lovely question and answer of Réplique.The strange Sphinxes I have only ever heard from Rachmaninov and like Thomas today are not usually incorporated into performance being only a floor plan that Schumann places in the middle of this work.As Thomas says:”it is possible to think of the Sphinxes as casting a shadow over the Carnaval without being literally played”Papillons fluttered over the keyboard in masterly fashion with a lightness and playfulness that took us straight to the Dancing Letters that could have been even more ‘leggierissimo’ to contrast with the passionate outpouring of Chiarina.Chopin enters the scene with a mellifluous outpouring of Bel Canto which was played with baited breath on it’s magical repeat .The ease with which he played the repeated notes in Reconnaissance was masterly especially as they were imbued with such shape and colour too.The contrast with the almost hammered arguing of Pantalon et Colombine was remarkable as even here there was no harshness of sound but wonderful shape and colour.The gentle lilt to the Valse allemande was indeed the calm before the storm.Paganini entered the scene with amazing virtuosity and precision the reverberating final chord perfectly judged.Aveu was played with a simplicity that led to the Promenade and grandiose March of the Davidsbundler against the Philistines.Played with great technical prowess but also with a sense of style that cannot be taught but is in the very bones of the true artist.

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