A very interesting programme for our ever versatile Professor Jacobson.I remember thirty years ago Julian Dawson -Lyell (as he was then) mixing with all the avant guarde composers at the American Academy in Rome with their Prix de Rome or Fulbright Scholarships,breathing the rarified air of the latest innovative music.
When they needed more space or a better piano they would venture down from the Gianicolo to play in the Ghione Theatre.A memorable concert thanks to the Aspen Institute with Petrassi and Carter has gone down in legend.Julian too would be there with his intellectual curiosity ready to perform works where the ink was still wet on the page.It was the ‘indefatigable’Robin Freeman who had invited Julian to play a Suite by Scelsi which he did in the Ghione theatre and which Julian intriguingly says that the whole adventure turned out to be a bit of a nightmare………?!
So it was very interesting today to see the presence of Sally Beamish in his short lunchtime programme for the City University of London.Julian had met her at that chamber music mecca of Prussia Cove.I did not know that she was a very highly esteemed viola played as well as being one of the most prolific composers of the day.I had been charmed by her introduction ,a few months ago, to the much postponed premiere of Sonnets that she had written for the New Ross and London Piano Festivals.A hilarious piece where three pianist’s vied for two pianos.
Julian had asked her for a piece to play in today’s concert and it was ‘Lullaby for Owain’written in 1986 that he played today.It was inspired by the uncertain emotions that a parent might feel at the birth of a child with Down’s Syndrome.The initial shock mixed with powerful love and pride.It was a very simple peace almost pastoral in atmosphere and played with clarity and rhythmic precision.A modern vocabulary that spoke every bit as powerfully as the Great E flat Sonata Hob.XV1:52 by Haydn that had preceded it.
The nobility and rhythmic drive of the Allegro was answered by the beauty and poise of the Adagio.The extraordinary bass interruption central section just showed the genial Haydn at his best and the return of the beseeching opening statement was by contrast so magical.The Finale :Presto was played with great precision and rhythmic energy.
It was interesting to hear the introduction by Julian in which he said that Haydn may not have been touched with the genius of Mozart, Bach or Beethoven but he was a prolific composer,still today much neglected ,and who does have moments of pure genius in his enormous output of works mainly commissioned for a specific occasion or purpose.The composer that Prokofiev most admired was indeed Haydn.Prolific Haydn and prolific too Sally Beamish the most commissioned composer of the day who has been recognised recently with an OBE.
Nikolai Kapustin too was a most prolific composer who produced 20 piano sonatas ,6 piano concertos,many studies and 24 Preludes and Fugues in jazz style.He studied from 1956 until 1961 with Goldenweiser at the Moscow Conservatory.During that period he acquired a reputation as a jazz pianist, arranger and composer.He regarded himself as a composer rather than a jazz musician: “I was never a jazz musician. I never tried to be a real jazz pianist, but I had to do it because of the composing. I’m not interested in improvisation – and what is a jazz musician without improvisation? All my improvisations are written, of course, and they became much better; it improved them.”Julian played the 6th Sonata op 62 from 1991.Taking his jacket off he proceeded to let rip as he entered into this special jazz idiom.A beautiful bass melody in the Grave central movement with a final whispered chord at the top of the keyboard before the undisguised boogie woogie of the Vivace last movement.
Chopin’s late fourth scherzo ,the only one in a major key ,was given a very musicianly performance of aristocratic good taste.It suffered though,from being a little too earthbound rather than etherial.The beautiful melodic middle section was played with a luminosity of sound and a disarming simplicity that was most touching.Helped of course by this Steinway D concert grand in this wooden concert space at the University of London.
A small but appreciative audience was offered a reflective,elegiac encore of the Minuet from Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin.The ideal choice for the resonance and luminosity of sound in this small hall where Ravel’s atmospheric Minuet could breathe so magically under Julian’s sensitive hands.