The enigmatic Ronan Magill astonishes again at St Mary’s who are in celebratory mood with the Critic’s circle accolade

Thursday 12 May 3.00 pm

More magnificent playing from the elusive Ronan Magill with playing of such intelligence and luminosity from scintillating Scarlatti to rarely heard works by Brahms and Debussy.All played with a rare sense of aristocratic style and technical command that makes one wonder why we have not heard more of this master pianist before.
His debut recital at St Mary’s last year was a revelation and today only endorsed that great first impression .
K.420 received a performance of luminosity a precision – beautifully shaped played with high fingers that gave such clarity and a chiselled sound of purity and sparkling brilliance .There was simplicity and beauty in K 481 that was allowed to sing so eloquently and elegantly.The legato right hand with the deliciously delicate left hand staccato was a marvel of refined tone colour.The agility and frantic driving energy of K.39 was electrifying as it was allowed to boil over at 100° with astonishing mastery .
Fascinating to hear these rarely performed variations op 21 n.2 – partner to the better known op 21 n.1 ‘on an original theme’.Ronan explained that he had be drawn to them ever since he heard Richter perform them in Paris in the ‘80’s.Only recently adding them to his repertoire he gave a very persuasive performance of great technical brilliance but also of musicianly style and architectural shape ending in the triumphant last variation played with remarkable clarity and masterly control.

In the years following the composition of his three sonatas in 1851–4, Brahms concentrated his piano output on sets of variations and groups of shorter pieces—and the first representatives of those genres are already powerful indications of his mastery in these smaller forms.Apart from the brief sets of variations on folksongs which constitute the slow movements of his first two piano sonatas, the earliest (and simplest) of Brahms’s existing sets of piano variations is the Variations on a Hungarian Song, Op 21 No 2, composed in 1853 but only published eight years later. The work is based on a rugged eight-bar melody, rhythmically enlivened by its alternating bars of 3/4 and 4/4, which Brahms probably derived from his Hungarian violinist-friend Ede Reményi during their concert tour together in the spring of that year.

Ronan charmingly described the discovery of this very early work that already shows a the personality and unique sound world that Debussy was to demonstrate in his later works.In fact Debussy had sent it to a publisher and not hearing anything had forgotten all about it.Years later,when Debussy had become an accepted master he received an envelope in the post with the published version of his forgotten early Reverie.Another discovery that Ronan shared with us today with it’s gentle rocking left hand ‘barcarolle’ and the luminosity of the melodic line.There were sumptuous sounds ( reminiscent of the first Arabesque written only four years later when Debussy was still in his 20’s) with beautifully shading and a truly magical ending.

Written in 1888, Debussy’s Reverie was one of his first solo piano works to make an impact. Even at this early stage in his career, when he was still working out what kind of composer he wanted to be (he was apparently a fervent debater when it came to Wagnerism), it’s clear to see traits of that signature Debussy sound.However, the young Debussy had not quite developed the style and tricks that would earmark him as one of his generation’s most notable talents. There are no fireworks here, no sudden explosions in texture that would come to characterise his later works – this is more of a meditation, the perfect precursor to exploring those later works.The gently repetitive theme that opens the work feels like a descent into sleepy dream-world (as the title suggests), and as the textures become ever richer the dreams only become more lush and addictive.

Played with a luminous touch and perfect balance allied to a sense of style of melancholic nostalgia
Chopin’s sparkling study with cascades of notes played with remarkable agility and clarity with such subtle shading to the left hand melodic line.A delicious coda was allowed to flow with such timeless phrasing.However the final few chords were a little disappointing not being teasing ( like Horowitz) or authoritative (like Arrau) and without that twinkle in his eye that had given such energy to his remarkable dexterity.
There was aristocratic elegance and beauty of tone where the melodic line was given time to breathe so naturally. A wonderful flowing elegance to the mellifluous central section, the delicate duet was played out between the emerging voices with beguiling subtlety.
Ronan gave weight and authority to the opening theme before giving a remarkable sense of sweep and shape to the transcendental difficulties that litter Brahms’s score .The subtle cross phrasing between the hands was played with great mastery but it was the beauty he gave to the ‘ music box’ variations n. 11 and 12 that will remain in my memory for its luminosity and aristocratic simplicity.If the glissandi in the 13th did not seem to glide with the elegance and ease that Brahms demands and led to a rather uneasy final variation,it was still kept remarkably under control as it brought this voyage of discovery with the enigmatic Maestro Magill to a stimulating end.

Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op 35, is a work was composed in 1863 in two books and based on the Caprice n.24 in A minor by Paganini.Brahms intended the work to be more than simply a set of theme and variations ; each variation also has the characteristic of a study. He published it as Studies for Pianoforte: Variations on a Theme of Paganini and was dedicated to the piano virtuoso Carl Tausig It is well known for its harmonic depth and extreme physical difficulty. A particular emphasis of the technical challenges lie on hand independence, with the left hand often mirroring the right hand throughout the piece or having its own set of obstacles.Clara Schumann called it Hexenvariationen(Witch’s Variations) because of its difficulty.

A last minute rethought about an encore allowed us to share in an intimate confession with his own ‘Lament for the sea dead’.How many people the sea has claimed that are never heard of again!This piece was dedicated to a friend whom he admired who was to disappear for good on a distant unknown wave.A remarkable piece that played with suggestive sonorities.Stamping on the sustaining pedal to create mysterious sounds allowing the strings to vibrate as subtle bass murmurs where fragments of melodic line disappeared as fast as they appeared.Visibly moved,as was the audience ,it was an intimate confession that this remarkable musician had decided to share with us.

The pianist and composer RONAN MAGILL (born Sheffield 1954) was, as a nine year old, chosen to be one of the founder pupils of the Yehudi Menuhin School. Later after a period at Ampleforth College, and on the advice of Benjamin Britten, he went to the Royal College of Music working with David Parkhouse and later John Barstow, and winning all the major prizes for piano and composition. After his Wigmore and South Bank debuts (Brahms 2 nd Concerto) in 1974, and again on Britten’s advice, he moved to Paris to study with Yvonne Lefebure at the Conservatoire, and then remained in Paris for a number of years, performing regularly both in concert and on TV and radio, and also receiving advice from Pierre Sancan, and Nikita Magaloff and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in Switzerland. In 1985 Magill won ist Prize in the 1 st “Milosz Magin” International Competition for Polish Music, followed by a European tour, and then after returning to the UK , he won the 3rd British Contemporary Piano Competition which a UK tour and concerts on BBC Radio 3. In recent years Magill has been performing in the UK, USA (Rachmaninoff 3 rd Concerto) and most recently in Japan where he has been living since 2013 performing in many cities. He returned to the UK in April 2021 and gave a memorable recital at St Mary’s Perivale last year.


We are delighted with this recognition:St Mary’s, Perivale – a tiny, Grade 1-listed redundant church in west London – has punched far above its weight with the range and quality of its streamed recitals. Dr Hugh Mather and the team – all volunteers – carried on with their three weekly recitals when Covid hit, providing young artists with paid employment and a platform during this hardest of times, raising their own funds, largely through donations, to pay the artists without any public subsidies. Both the quality of the concerts on offer and the diversity of performers and repertoire put the response of many larger, subsidised venues to shame. The concerts were streamed live using very high quality equipment installed by two former BBC engineers, Simon Shute and George Auckland. Live audiences are now back at the free-of-charge concerts, and live streaming continues. St Mary’s broadcast 154 live concerts and 53 recordings during the pandemic, and a full schedule of recitals for the year ahead is already in place.

Dr Hugh Mather

Dear Hugh,Warmest congratulations on this recognition of the pivotal role which you and your remarkable colleagues have played throughout the Pandemic. Not only have you kept up the brisk pace of your St Mary’s Perivale recitals, but the quality of the talent, performance, recording and transmission have reached once unsuspected heights – attaining a pace and now justly recognised star lustre and life. The recognition now given your sustained efforts is more than fully earned.Thank you from Noretta and myself as well as the Keyboard Trust, to so many of whose artists you have given these precious opportunities. With every good wish, John ( Leech -founder of the Keyboard Trust)

Roger Nellist

Dear John,Thank you very much indeed for your heart-warming email. It is indeed a communal effort with my amazing colleagues, and you and I have similar interests in helping the very best of young pianists to develop their careers. I have huge admiration for your achievements with the Keyboard Charitable Trust, and our two organizations are of course complimentary. Our joint collaborations have worked very well indeed, and indeed we are planning a joint festival for March next year to give a platform to ‘new’ pianists who haven’t played at Perivale before. Thank you once again for your very kind email, which I will copy to my colleagues. With very best wishes to Noretta and yourself. Hugh and everyone at St Mary’s Perivale


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