Thomas Kelly a shining light at St Mary’s

Tuesday 29 June 4.00 pm 

Scarlatti: Sonata K101 in A

Scarlatti Sonata K 531 in E

Chopin: Nocturne Op 48 no 1

Chopin: Barcarolle Op 60

Debussy: Etude no 7 ‘Pour les degrés chromatiques’

Paderewski: Variations in A Op 16 no 3

Mendelssohn arr. Rachmaninov: Scherzo from ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Scriabin: Etude Op 42 no 5

Tchaikovsky: Chant Elegiaque Op72 no 14

A truly exceptional recital. Here is the HD link

An afternoon of pure magic as we were taken to a world of sumptuous sounds.Jewels that glistened and shone with such ravishing beauty.
I was transported back to the wonderful world of Benno Moiseiwitch.A world of ravishing sounds and superb musicianship that combined in a subtle display of masterly playing.
From a Scarlatti that had the same subtle colours and shape that Horowitz had demonstrated in his historic CBS recordings that he made together with Clementi Sonatas in one of his retirement periods.
Chopin that was reminiscent of an old recording of Moiseiwitch playing the 3rd and 4th Ballades that I have always cherished.I once played it in the car while driving Cherkassky to a concert from Rome to Pescara and I hoped he did not mind.
But I love Moiseiwitch he exclaimed.
They both had that kaleidoscope of sounds in their fingers together with a jeux perlé of true transcendental piano playing of an era that has almost disappeared.
It is gradually reappearing with Benjamin Grosvenor,Stephen Hough (who Shura also adored) .Today Thomas Kelly undoubtedly joins these illustrious ranks.
I first heard Thomas at the Schumann prize competition that Joan Chissell had bequeathed to the Royal College.He played Schumann Carnaval with a luminosity of sound and ease of playing that was like the young Nelson Freire.Like Freire there were some musical things that I found a little too self gratifying but the overall impression was totally convincing as the piano was made to dance and sing with featherlight feux follets colouring contrasting with the sumptuous sounds of a full orchestra .
Of course he won and since then I have heard him getting better and better with each hearing.

His musical curiosity allows him to explore unexpected territory too.It is the same curiosity of Busoni whose works he relishes admired too by Ronald Stevenson whose works he also plays
I heard a remarkable Reubke Sonata for the Keyboard Trust that will remain with me for a long time.
All of which I have written about.
But today it was his superb musicianship and aristocratic good taste that came to the fore in a programme of piano lollipops that just showed how a talented young musician can over a few years be allowed to develop into a great artist.
His mentor Andrew Ball,recently retired from the RCM,has been his constant advisor and can be truly proud of his last student who has been transformed under his guidance from a bauble to a gem – to quote the great critic Joan Chissell!

The Chopin Nocturne in C minor op 48 was played with a bell like almost chiselled cantabile reminiscent of Michelangeli’s remarkable sound world.But here there was immediately a warmth as the deep bass notes were allowed to resonate and envelop us is a world of sumptuous velvet sounds.The subtle colouring in the tenor register in the organ like middle section just added to the great build up with the octave interjections just adding a carpet of sound that took us so naturally to the tumultuous climax .Dying away to the ‘doppio movimento’ return of the main theme on a layer of ever more romantically agitated sounds until the desolate quiet farewell.

The Barcarolle too was a great song played with a rubato of aristocratic good taste and magic sounds of ravishing beauty.His very original way of allowing prominence to the left hand in the meno mosso all led to the deep C sharp of the ‘dolce sfogato’one of Chopin’s most beautiful creations.The più mosso build up was played with passionate restraint that just added to its noble grandeur before the streams of sounds ‘leggiero’with the left hand melodic line a mere whisper as it wove its way to the final conclusion.

Debussy’s Chromatìc Study demonstrated in a few minutes the remarkable art of this young artist.His technical perfection as the lightness of the jeux perlé just created wafts of sound where Debussy’s hint at melody could rise and fall with such subtlety.His transcendental control of the pedal allowed absolute clarity to mingle with streams of sound in such a natural way that never disturbed the constant flow of sounds like water running gently in a mountain stream.

It was Moiseiwitch who made a historic recording of Rachmaninov’s Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.He had a few minutes left in a recording session and decided to just play through this very tricky piece.The result was one of the most phenomenal recordings that has since become legend.Full of ethereal lightness and subtle shading with a ravishing jeux perlé and the appearance of the melodic line in the alto register that was miraculous for its shape and colour.Thomas today gave a brilliant note perfect account but could have had lighter dance shoes at the outset as he tried to tip toe through the magic forest rather too deliberately with clogs rather than dance shoes.As the music unraveled though a magic wand was obviously waved as he let his hair down and allowed the music to glow and gleam. A smile appeared on his face as he too was charmed like us all by the sudden appearance of the alto melody amongst all the magic fairies dancing with wistful lightness and charm.A tour de force of transcendental piano playing where clarity,lightness and charm are allied to the magic sparkle of the will o’ the wisps.

This was after a performance of Paderewski’s Variations in A op.16 n.3 with the theme played with such delicacy as the three variations were allowed to grow one out of the other to the final excitement and sumptuous finish of this rarely played gem.There are seven pieces in this collection and part of the considerable legacy of the legendary Paderewski.A student of Leschetizky with triumphs in America where he would tour more than 30 times for the next five decades.His stage presence, striking looks, and immense charisma contributed to his stage success, which later proved important in his political and charitable activities.He became a spokesman for Polish independence and in 1919, became the new nation’s Prime Minister and foreign minister during which he signed the Treaty of Versailles ,which ended World War 1.His Minuet in G was a piece that many children used to struggle with but he wrote numerous works that are rarely heard so it is hats off to Thomas for including one today.

There were the same layers of sound that he found in Scriabin’s famous C sharp minor study op 42 n.5.One of the most romantic outpouring of passionate sounds it has long been favoured by the great virtuosi of the day.Today,although played with phenomenal digital and technical control,the individual notes were just streams of sound that pulsated as the excitement and passion grew ever more fervent with a melodic line that floated on this sea of sumptuous sounds.Thomas’s command and musical understanding allowed him even to bring out some subtle left hand counterpoints whilst all around the music was boiling over at 100 degrees.

This was followed by a heart rending account of Tchaikowsky’s Chant Elegiaque played with sumptuous colour and ravishing sounds with a sense of balance that allowed the poignant melodic line to shine through a web of magic accompaniments.It was a fitting end to a recital where poetry and musicianship were allied to the almost lost art of piano playing of the Romantic era of the likes of Lhevine,Godowsky,Rosenthal. and Levitski.All pianists that I had heard at the Brentford Piano Museum where piano rolls of this great era of piano playing were stored by that eccentric engineer Frank Holland.Sidney Harrison brought them to the notice of the BBC who gave a series of programmes with these recordings that were a revelation,made long before CD’s were even dreamt about.They even played Moiseiwitch’s recording of Ravel’s Jeux d’Eau to him as he lay in his hospital bed and he just smiled and said :’yes.I used to play like that!’Cherkassky would often end his recitals after numerous encores of Rachmaninov’s Polka,Godowsky’s Tango or the Boogie Woogie Etude by Morton Gould.Always ending though with the Autumn Melody from Tchaikowsky’s Seasons.Seducing his audience with such subtle ravishing sounds,as beautiful as any singer,where his sense of balance and subtle timing held his audience with baited breath much as Thomas had done today.I remember Fou Ts’ong coming to play for us a day after an infamously renowned pianist was playing in the same hall :Two Mozart Sonatas and Chopin 4 Scherzi.I warned Ts’ong who wanted to listen too,that this pianist was a bit like Cherkassky in the liberties he might take with the score.After the concert Ts’ong admonished me saying:’But Shura loves the piano.This man hates it!’It was indeed this great love that shines through all that Thomas does and like Grosvenor or Hough he actually listens to himself.A rarity indeed and a pianist to be reckoned with these days.

The two Scarlatti Sonatas that opened the programme were played with a clarity and a delicate jeux perlé where streams of notes were shaped with such loving care with delicate phrasing of quite touching beauty.There was a great sense of character of almost operatic bel canto but kept perfectly in style .Hushed almost music box sounds and magical embellishments created a magic out of which these jewels were allowed to be revealed as they sparkled like rays of light in his delicate hands.

Thomas Kelly was born on 5th of November 1998. He started playing the piano aged 3, and in 2006 became Kent Junior Pianist of the Year and attained ABRSM Grade 8 with Distinction. Aged 9, Thomas performed Mozart Concerto No. 24 in the Marlowe Theatre with the Kent Concert Orchestra. After moving to Cheshire, he regularly played in festivals, winning prizes including in the Birmingham Music Festival, 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 the Royal College of Music. Thomas has also gained inspiration from lessons and masterclasses with musicians such as Vanessa Latarche, William Fong, Ian Jones, Valentina Berman, Wei-Yi Yang, Boris Berman, Paul Lewis, Mikhail Voskresensky, Dina Yoffe. Thomas will begin studying Masters at the Royal College of Music in 2021, sharing with Professors Andrew Ball and Dmitri Alexeev. Thomas has won 1st 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, BPSE Intercollegiate Beethoven competition 2019 and the 4th Theodor Leschetizky competition 2020. He has performed in a variety of venues, including the Wigmore Hall, the Cadogan Hall, Steinway Hall, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, St James’ Piccadilly, Oxford Town Hall, St Mary’s Perivale, St Paul’s Bedford, the Poole Lighthouse Arts Centre, the Stoller Hall, at Paris Conservatoire, the StreingreaberHaus in Bayreuth, the Teatro Del Sale in Florence, North Norfolk Music Festival and in Vilnius and Palanga. Since the pandemic restrictions in 2020, Thomas’ artistic activities include participating in all 3 seasons of the “Echo Chamber”, an online concert series curated by Noah Max, and releasing 3 singles under the Ulysses Arts label on digital platforms. Thomas is a C. Bechstein Scholar supported by the Kendall-Taylor award. He is being generously supported by the Keyboard Charitable Trust since 2020, and Talent Unlimited since 2021.

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