Ashley Fripp at St Marys penetrating the soul of Mozart and Schubert

Tuesday 14 December 3.00 pm

Mozart: Piano sonata in A minor K310
Allegro / Andante / Presto

Schubert: Sonata in B flat D 960
Moderato / Andante / Scherzo / Allegro

Christmas certainly is a magical time no more than today to pass from aristocratic Beethoven in Hampstead to sumptuous Mozart and Schubert in Perivale.

Ashley Fripp with performances not only of great intelligence and technical mastery but where he managed to penetrate the very soul of these two masterworks with such contrasts between ravishing beauty and dynamic rhythmic drive.

Mozarts A minor sonata was played with grandeur and urgency as the notes just seemed to pour from his fingers with jewel like precision.The Andante cantabile was true opera with the sumptuous bel canto contrasting with the menacing central section and the return to the sublime where peace once more reigns.
The restless and breathless Presto with its almost Schubertian melodic middle section just miraculously appearing on this relentless wave of such rhythmic drive.

Schubert’s last sonata written only a few months before his tragically early death was full of radiance and ravishing beauty.Drama too but such simplicity in the scherzo and even the interruptions of the last movement could not curb Schubert’s seemingly endless stream of melodic invention.
A superb performance from a master musician .

Here is the link to enjoy the performances at your leisure :

Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor K.310 was written in 1778.It is the first of only two that Mozart wrote in a minor key (the other being n.14 in C minor K.457).It was composed in the summer of 1778 around the time of his mother’s death and one of the most tragic times of his life.The surviving manuscript was written using the same type of paper that was used for the Symphony n.31 in D K.297 which Mozart purchased while in Paris.

Playing of great rhythmic energy but also a luminous melodic sound where everything was allowed to sing with such intensity.The arresting opening was immediately answered by the contrasting charm of reply all so subtly phrased by Ashley.The ornaments on the beat just adding to the rhythmic drive.Even the chords over silvery left hand figurations were played with lyrical fullness and beauty of sound and shape.The development took on an orchestral texture with the pungent harmonies over quick silver accompaniment alternating between right and left hands with brilliance and ease.The phrasing of the Andante was of such simplicity and subtlety that one could understand why Mozart should be considered too easy for children and too difficult for adults.But not in Ashley’s sensitive hands where there was such delicacy and attention to phrasing like an operatic scene where one could almost imagine the different characters taking their places.There was drama too in the middle section where a question and answer was played out over a continually moving bass and then taking over the melodic line with throbbing right hand harmonies of simple emotion of great poignancy.The Presto was like a breathless whirlwind of relentless forward movement.The melody moving into the bass with almost unnoticed ease as Ashley took such trouble over maintaining the same overall sound in the continual outpouring of continuous motion.The sun did come out for a moment as a magical ray of light was shed in the major key creating the contrast that is such a part of Mozart’s genial invention.

Schubert’s last three piano sonatas D.958, 959 and 960, are his last major compositions for solo piano. They were written during the last months of his life, between the spring and autumn of 1828, but were not published until about ten years after his death, in 1838–39.One of the reasons for the long period of neglect of Schubert’s piano sonatas seems to be their dismissal as structurally and dramatically inferior to the sonatas of Beethoven.In fact, the last sonatas contain distinct allusions and similarities to works by Beethoven, a composer Schubert venerated.However,analysis has shown that they maintain a mature, individual style and are now praised for that mature style, manifested in unique features such as a cyclical formal and tonal design, chamber music textures, and a rare depth of emotional expression.Schubert had been struggling with syphilis since 1822–23, and suffered from weakness, headaches and dizziness. However, he seems to have led a relatively normal life until September 1828, when new symptoms such as effusions of blood appeared. At this stage he moved from the Vienna home of his friend Franz von Schober to his brother Ferdinand’s house in the suburbs, following the advice of his doctor; unfortunately, this may have actually worsened his condition. However, up until the last weeks of his life in November 1828, he continued to compose an extraordinary amount of music, including such masterpieces as the three last sonatas.

Ashley is not only very eloquent with sounds but also with words.It was fascinating to have his thoughts about his journey with Schubert’s last sonata before he delved even deeper into that realm where words cannot reach.The longest of all Schubert’s sonatas ( if one does the ritornello in the first movement it would add a good 10 minutes to the 40 that Ashley offered today.I think for time reasons Ashley chose not to repeat.Many great pianists insist on the repeat which includes eight extra bars of Schubert’s sublime music.As Andras Schiff says :who are we mere performers to question the creator?)Ashley quoted too a Danish philosopher :’life can only be lived forwards but understood backwards’ in relation to Schubert reaching for the cosmos even though he knew that he had very little time left on this earth.Quoting Brendel too: ‘when Schubert writes in a major key it can be even more tragic than the minor!’……especially I think coming from minor to major – as in the slow movement .Ashley is a thinking musician and his studies that continue still in Florence with Eliso Virsaladze are opening up ever more spiritual and intellectual horizons as one might expect from the city that is the very cradle of our culture.

There was a beautiful mellow sound from the opening with the glorious melodic line a stream of pure gold cut off by a menacing rumble deep in the bass.A pianissimo trill, a mere murmur in the bass is very difficult to control and needs a transcendental technique………a good piano helps too!A gradual build up to the repeat of the theme in all its glory dissolving almost immediately to a magic duet between tenor and soprano voices.As Ashley says this liquid sound and fluidity as in many of Schubert’s songs gives life and hope.The eternal life of water flowing.

The playful pastoral staccato and legato searching for a way back with the declamatory question and answer led to the development and the mystery and wonder of the minor key.Major to minor or minor to major touches deeply our inner emotional senses.There was a beautiful flexibility to the melodic line like a human voice and the return of the staccato and legato playfulness this time took us to the left hand palpitations of Schubert’s heartbeat.Building to a passionate climax finding a resolution only in the simplicity of the melodic line as it passes from one voice to another .Magically leading us to a wonderland of sounds played so profoundly but simply by Ashley as it leads us back,like a sleepwalker,to the sublime return of the recapitulation.

The Andante sostenuto was a great song with a delicate filigree accompaniment spread all around it.Ashley had a supreme control of sound and the melodic line was bathed in pedal which gave great fluidity to the melodic line while the accompaniment was played with a completely different opaque colour – the contrast was quite ravishing as the melodic line was played with searing architectural shape.The magical modulation this time from minor to major for the almost Brahmsian chorale of velvet richness was like the sun shining through the clouds.The chorale contrasting with the mellifluous flowing song like answer in the treble.Clouds appeared once more with the major returning to the minor and the opening melody accompanied by the rumbles of thunder in the distance deep in the bass.It is this constant rumbling bass throughout the sonata that must be the cloud hanging over Schubert’s earthly existence as he lay on his deathbed unable to curb the continuous outpouring of music that was in his head.

The Scherzo played ‘allegro vivace con delicatezza’but also with the simplicity of a child’s hide and seek with its constant changes of character and position.Once again the deep bass notes this time in the Trio trying to interrupt the eternal flow!But the playfulness of the Scherzo wins this time.A least until the sinister call to order of the octave ‘G’in the last movement ‘Allegro ma non troppo’.An apparent playfulness overshadowed always but the sinister ‘G’ but leading to a mellifluous outpouring of melody that is a constant of Schubert’s genius. Here now erupting into a volcanic episodes of drama and athletic virtuosity played with passion and dynamic control by Ashley.The menacing ‘G’ now becomes a sinister ‘G flat’ and ‘F’before the final explosion that brings Schubert’s last masterpiece to a miraculously exciting conclusion.A remarkable performance of great maturity by Ashley at the start of a lifetime journey of penetrating the very soul of Schubert with the intelligence and humility of a true musician .

His encore of a waltz by Chopin was a lesson in aristocratic style and artistry .

British pianist Ashley Fripp has performed extensively as recitalist, chamber musician and concerto soloist throughout Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and Australia in many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. Highlights include the Carnegie Hall (New York), Musikverein (Vienna), Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), the Philharmonie halls of Cologne, Paris, Luxembourg and Warsaw, the Bozar (Brussels), the Royal Festival, Barbican and Wigmore Halls (London), the Laeiszhalle (Hamburg), the Megaron (Athens), Konzerthaus Dortmund, the Gulbenkian Auditorium (Lisbon) and the Konserthus (Stockholm). He has won prizes at more than a dozen national and international competitions, including at the Hamamatsu (Japan), Birmingham and Leeds International Piano Competitions, the Royal Over-Seas League Competition, the Concours Européen de Piano (France) and the coveted Gold Medal from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. In 2013, Ashley won the Worshipful Company of Musicians’ highest award, The Prince’s Prize, and was chosen as a ‘Rising Star’ by the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO). He has also performed in the Chipping Campden, Edinburgh, Brighton, Bath, City of London and St. Magnus International Festivals as well as the Oxford International Piano Festival and the Festival Pontino di Musica (Italy). A frequent guest on broadcasting networks, Ashley has appeared on BBC television and radio, Euroclassical, Eurovision TV and the national radio stations of Hungary, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and Portugal. He has collaborated with orchestras including the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, the Milton Keynes City Orchestra and the Kammerorchester der Universität Regensburg (with whom, in 2012, he recorded Chopin Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2). He has worked with conductors including Semyon Bychkov, James Judd, Vasily Petrenko, Robertas Šervenikas, Hilary Davan Wetton, Jonathan Bloxham, Graham Buckland and Peter Stark. Ashley Fripp studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with Ronan O’Hora. He is currently studying with Eliso Virsaladze at the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole (Italy) and undertaking doctoral studies into the piano music of Thomas Adès at the Guildhall School.


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