Viv McLean at St Anne’s Kew a lesson in classical authority and sensual colour

Wonderful to be back in the church where I was married in 1984 and to hear a piano recital from a pianist highly esteemed by that connoisseur Hugh Mather of St Mary’s Perivale,but who I have never had the opportunity to hear until quite unexpectedly today.

Gainsborough’s tombstone
Thomas Gainsborough RA FRSA (14 May 1727 (baptised) – 2 August 1788) was an English portrait and landscape painter, draughtsman, and printmaker. Along with his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds,he is considered one of the most important British artists of the second half of the 18th century.

A church where Gainsborough and Zoffany are buried and where I remember hearing Shura Cherkassky play in the 70’s for the Richmond Concert Society.I was with Sidney Harrison and his wife on that occasion and they were proud to be present at my wedding together with the eminent violinist Jack Rothstein and his wife,the pianist Linn Hendry just a few years later.

Jack Rothstein with my wife

I had studied with Sidney Harrison as a schoolboy whilst at Chiswick Boys Grammar School when Sidney was a well known television personality as was his next door neighbour,Eamon Andrews.
The Harrison’s were so proud when my future wife invited them to visit our theatre in Rome and see what an adventure we had embarked on.
They were overjoyed when we told them that two months later we were to be married in Kew!

The Sidney Harrison’s and my wife Ileana Ghione

Today there were some very musicianly performances on a new Yamaha piano and although a change of programme brought us ‘Moonlight’ – in the bright sunlight as the pianist very spiritedly pointed out – it suited this short programme rather than the announced ‘Appassionata!’ Cesar Franck,after all,was given the just importance for the 200th anniversary of his birth.
‘Moonlight’was not Beethoven’s title but his publisher trying to make another sonata more sales worthy.
Beginning unusually with an Adagio and as Beethoven points out these two sonatas op 27 do break the standard Haydnesque model and are presented as Sonatas ‘quasi una fantasia’ .The start of an evolution that was to take us into the realms of the Gods at the end of Beethoven’s long journey to the final trilogy ending with op 111.
It was this sense of ‘fantasia’ that was missing today with playing of great solidity and clarity where Beethoven specifically indicates by tempo and pedal marking that the melodic line should shine above a shimmering accompaniment – hence obviously the title ‘Moonlight.’It was beautifully shaped and flowing though and Viv McLean is in the company of many illustrious musicians who choose a more classical approach.I do remember though,Andras Schiff’s opening gambit in a masterclass at the RCM where he told Pavel Kolesnikov “ now let’s forget this ‘moonlight’ thing”. The Allegretto was played with the same admirable classical musicianship but the fast tempo was rather breathless and devoid of charm and elegance.It was in the Presto agitato that the pianist came into his own with a drive and dynamic energy that was breathtaking and showed his unrelenting classical approach and seriousness in an often much abused work.

Viv McLean has a very impressive curriculum from when he won first prize in the much coveted Maria Canals International Piano Competition and it was his capacity to give such clarity and architectural shape to all he played that was quite remarkable.

It was just this architectural sense and scrupulous musicianship that held Cesar Franck’s Prelude Chorale and Fugue in one glorious whole.From the opening wave of sound on which the melodic line is allowed to emerge contrasting with declamations of romantic fervour.The magic arpeggiated sounds of the Chorale ever more intense leading to the absolute authority of the Fugue.Cesar Franck’s master stroke with the return of the opening theme after a sumptuous cadenza was played with passionate involvement.Never any trace of sentimentality but rather the same aristocratic sense of grandeur of Franck’s great organ of St Clotilde in Paris.

A celebration of the composer,pianist and accordionist Howard Skempton in his 75th year opened the programme with a magical account of his ‘Whispers’ commissioned by the Norfolk and Norwich music society in 2000.Deep resonant sounds on which the sound of bells were allowed to resonate and were played with a sense of colour creating a magical atmosphere of stillness and beauty.It was written in the same years that brought such titles as such as ‘Shadows’ and ‘Stroking the Keys’ from a composer who was new discovery for me.
It was the same ravishing beauty that he brought to the Chopin Nocturne op 72 in E minor that he offered as an encore. Here his classical approach and sense of colour combined to produce a memorable performance of ravishing beauty.

At Anne’s churchyard overlooking Kew Green
The tomb of Zoffany he died in his home at Strand-on-the-Green on 11 November 1810. Johan Joseph Zoffany, RA (born Johannes Josephus Zaufallij; 13 March 1733 – 11 November 1810)[1] was a German neoclassical painter who was active mainly in England, Italy and India.
My wedding photo on the steps of St Anne’s in 1984
Inside St Anne’s 28 July 1984
Viv McLean


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