John Humphreys – Allan Schiller 50th Anniversary concert at St Mary’s – the humility and simplicity of master musicians:‘notre amitié est invariable’

Sunday 19 June 3.00 pm

Some masterly playing from two musicians with celebrated careers that now in their Indian summer have chosen to share together with us their inestimable experience and profound understanding of music.Playing as one where their musical minds and intelligence combined in an exhilarating afternoon of music making at its purist and most enjoyable.No mean feat as Dr Mather pointed out after an hour listening to music making of rare humility,modesty but above all ‘joie de vivre.’As Schubert titles one of his rondos :”Nostre amitié est invariable”.There was the absolute clarity of J.C Bach where Allan Shiller’s ornaments glistened like jewels.Charm and beauty were the hallmark of Schubert’s Andante varié D 823 n.2 – the second of three pieces that make up the ‘Divertissement sur des motifs originaux francais’ – which John Humphrey’s puts on the same level as his celebrated Fantasy in F minor.Playing of great sensitivity where John’s care of balance and superb use of pedal allowed Schubert’s mellifluous outpouring to sing out unimpeded by any hard or ugly sounds.In fact music just poured from their four hands and two feet!There was grandeur in the Mozart with perfect synchronisation between the four hands – after 50 years it is the least one could expect! But there was much much more besides!As Dr Mather said at the end we look forward to celebrating the next fifty!Hugh who had heard Allan when they were both children over sixty five years ago!Allan of course was one of the many child prodigy’s that came under the spell of the indomitable Dame Fanny Waterman.

Dame Fanny in her 80’s helping young musicians to excel

I had not realised that Allan had gone on to study with Guido Agosti in Italy which goes a long way to explain his intelligent musical pedigree.I used to play four hands with Agosti for eight hours a day whilst our wives spent a peaceful day on the beach!Agosti was never happy away from the piano.We would prepare a concert for them in the evening after supper.

Guido Agosti with our wives Lydia Agosti (left) Ileana Ghione (right)

It was the same spirit of friendship and relaxed music making that made today so poignant and special.The Ravel Mother Goose can she ever have sounded so contented and ready to share all her ravishing secrets with us.

A superb ensemble of transcendental control from both players and glissandi at the end that were like a silver lining to the almost religious chorale of peace and Elgarian importance of Ravel’s Jardin Féerique.Three Slavonic dances by Dvorak were played with rhythmic intensity and beguiling gypsy freedom.The simplicity and beauty they brought to the four Ländler by Schubert played as an encore just summed up the elegance and humility of the Hausmusik that we had been allowed to eavesdrop on all afternoon .

Allan Schiller and John Humphreys have been playing as a piano duo since 1972 and in 2022 will be celebrating their 50th anniversary with appearances throughout the UK, ending with a recital at Wigmore Hall on Saturday 25th June .They have recorded Busoni and Schubert for Naxos and on 26th January 2006 were invited by Wigmore Hall to present a recital on the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. In addition to BBC Radio 3 broadcasts they have played throughout the UK and more recently have played in Iceland.

Allan Schiller is widely regarded as one of the UK’s finest pianists. Born in Leeds he studied initially with Fanny Waterman making his debut at the age of ten with the Halle Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli. He later studied with Denis Matthews and became the first British pianist to be awarded a scholarship to study at the Moscow Conservatoire. After further study under Guido Agosti in Italy he returned to this country and rapidly established a reputation as one of the most exciting pianists of his generation with solo appearances throughout the country and concerto performances with all the major UK orchestras and the BBC Symphony Orchestras. He has made countless broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 and recorded a number of highly regarded cds. 

John Humphreys was born in Liverpool and studied with Henryk Mierowski and later with Harold Rubens at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1967 he was awarded one of four scholarships by the Austrian Government to study in Vienna and on his return to this country made his Wigmore Hall debut in 1972 with Busoni’s rarely heard ‘Fantasia Contrappuntistica’. Since then he has appeared throughout the country as soloist, accompanist and chamber musician. In 1975 he performed the cycle of Mozart piano sonatas in London and elsewhere and has given many performances of Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’. John was Assistant Head of Keyboard Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire until 2009. He is also Chairman and Artistic Advisor to the Dudley International Piano Competition. In 1998 he was awarded the ARAM for ‘his distinguished contribution to music’.

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