Thomas Kelly at the Royal College of Music A star shining brightly

Great success for Thomas Kelly with his end of year Master’s recital that had been postponed from June because of illness .
A sumptuous performance of playing that is at last getting the recognition it deserves.
Beethoven’s Eroica Variations played with a relentless dynamic drive and a kaleidoscopic sense of colour.
If he just missed the grace and charm that Curzon could pinpoint so magnificently he certainly gave the variations a radiance and luminosity allied to a driving undercurrent of surging energy.
A fearless performance of great architectural shape where there were moments of sublime calm in between a storm that only a Serkin could have conjured up.
A Medtner Sonata op 38 played with such clarity and ravishing sounds.The opening so reminiscent of Schumann’s Humoreske but the return of this typically Russian nostalgic melody haunting us to the very end of a journey that had seen such marvels in the hands of a true master.
I have never been convinced by the work of Medtner who when I am asked who he is I can only reply:’Rachmaninov without the tunes!’
Today for the first time he was revealed as a master of colour,melody and architectural shape that kept me totally mesmerised.
The spell was soon broken with the savage attack that Thomas waged on us with the opening of Agosti’s Firebird.
I have heard Thomas play many times from that very first moment five years ago when he unexpectedly ran off with the Chissell Schumann prize.
It was the first occasion that this young student of the late Andrew Ball had emerged as a major talent to keep an eye on.
This today was a pianist of an authority and unique musical personality that had been noted in Leeds and in Hastings but has now matured into a major talent ready to take the world by storm.
The phenomenal challenges that Agosti placed before us mortals in 1928 with the transcription of Stravinsky’s Firebird were taken by the scruff of the neck and played with a fearless abandon where the melodic line emerged amidst a barrage of technical hurdles.
It was,though,the musical line and overall energy that took us by storm in this very resonant hall .
Perhaps for Beethoven it had been too resonant and could have done with a much sparser use of pedal but here in Stravinsky it created an orchestra of overwhelming power and sumptuous sound .Has the opening of the finale ever sounded more radiant and seductive or the ending more savage?
An extraordinary performance of a man possessed and on his way to the heights.
Now studying with Dmitri Alexeev and Vanessa Latarche he will bring the same recognition to the College as the 17 year old John Lill who I heard give a sensational performance of Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto on this very stage over fifty years ago .

John Lill’s sensational debut at the RCM
The Variations and Fugue for Piano in E♭ major, Op. 35 are a set of fifteen variations for solo piano were composed by Beethoven in 1802. They are commonly referred to as the Eroica Variations because a different set of variations on the same theme were used as the finale of his 3rd Symphony composed the following year.The theme was a favourite of Beethoven’s. He had used it in the finale of the ballet music he composed for ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’ (1801), as well as for the seventh of his 12 Contredanses, WoO 14 (1800-02), before being the subject of the variations of this work and of his later 3rd symphony .Beethoven opens the work not with the main theme, but the bass line to the main theme. He then follows with three variations of this bass line before finally stating the main theme.This approach was carried over from the ballet music, where it represented the gradual creation of life forms by Prometheus. and the variations in the Eroica Symphony follow this same pattern. In another departure from traditional variation form, after the fifteen variations of the main theme, Beethoven finishes the work with a finale consisting of a fugue followed by an Andante con moto.
The eight pieces of the first cycle of Forgotten Melodies op 38 are given a certain coherence as a group by a number of thematic cross-references, particularly to the cycle’s motto, the melodically memorable opening paragraph of the single-movement Sonata-Reminiscenza. The ‘recollection’ of the work’s title, perhaps Medtner’s reflection on his own difficult life and imminent departure from his homeland, is a melancholy one. After the exposition of the sonata’s two main subjects, rounded off by the motto theme, the development intensifies the mood of haunted anguish, culminating in two arpeggiate cries of despair. The prevailing gloom is only briefly lifted by a brighter new theme unexpectedly introduced into the recapitulation, after which the motto of recollection is heard once more, bringing the work to a pensive close.Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) was utterly despised by the Russian community in Paris. Considered old guard and hopelessly out of touch with modern times, he was even facetiously called the “Russian Brahms.”He was though strongly supported by his friend, colleague and admirer Rachmaninoff, who writes, “The Futurists clamor for colour and atmosphere, and by dint of ignoring every rule of musical construction, they secure efforts as formless as fog, and hardly more enduring.” The comparison between Medtner and Brahms is actually misleading, as his music is closely related to Beethoven. And Medtner makes no secret of the fact that Beethoven is his hero, at least when it comes to writing piano sonatas. “The greatest representative of this form,” he writes, “Beethoven, conceived his sonatas as one song, which by the simplicity of its theme and its vertical correlation, from the beginning to the end of each of his works, illumined to us the whole complexity of his architectonic b and of his horizontal correlation.” During the years leading up to the 1917 Russian Revolution , Medtner lived at home with his parents. During this time Medtner fell in love with Anna Mikhaylovna Bratenskaya (1877–1965), a respected violinist and the young wife of his older brother Emil. Later, when World War I broke out, Emil was interned in Germany where he had been studying. He generously gave Anna the freedom to marry his brother. Medtner and Anna were married in 1918.Unlike his friend Rachmaninoff, Medtner did not leave Russia until well after the Revolution. Rachmaninoff secured Medtner a tour of the United States and Canada in 1924;Esteemed in England, he and Anna settled in London in 1936, modestly teaching, playing and composing to a strict daily routine.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Medtner’s income from German publishers disappeared, and during this hardship ill-health became an increasing problem.
His devoted pupil Edna Iles gave him shelter in Warwickshire where he completed his Third Piano Concerto first performed in 1944 and in gratitude to his patron it is dedicated to the Maharajah of Mysore.
He died at his home in Golders Green in London on 13 November 1951,and is buried alongside his brother Emil in Hendon Cemetery.Anna died in 1965.
The transcription that Guido Agosti made in 1928 of three movements from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is dedicated to the memory of his teacher Busoni.In 1910 Stravinsky was a young, virtually unknown composer when Diaghilev recruited him to create works for the Ballets Russes; L’Oiseau de feu was the first such major project. The success of the ballet was the start of Stravinsky’s partnership with Diaghilev, which would subsequently produce further ballet productions until 1923, including Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).It is based on the Russian fairy tales of the Firebird and the blessing and curse it possesses for its owner. Interesting to note the reaction of fellow composers and of Rachmaninov saying of the music: “Great God! What a work of genius this is! This is true Russia!”Another colleague, Claude Debussy, who later became an admirer took a more sober view of the score: “What do you expect? One has to start somewhere.”Richard Strauss told the composer in private conversation that he had made a “mistake” in beginning the piece pianissimo instead of astonishing the public with a “sudden crash.” Shortly thereafter he summed up to the press his experience of hearing The Firebird for the first time by saying, “it’s always interesting to hear one’s imitators.”Most of the piano writing is laid out on on three staves in order to cover the multi-octave range of the keyboard that the pianist must patrol. The piano comes into its own in this transcription as a percussion instrument, to be played with the wild abandon starting with the shocking 7-octave-wide chord crash that opens the Dance infernale.Agosti captures well the bruising pace of the action, with off-beat rhythmic jabs standing out from a succession of punchy left-hand ostinati constantly nipping at the heels of the melody line. The accelerating pace as the sorcerer’s ghouls are made to dance ever more frantically is a major aerobic test for the pianist.
Relief comes in the Berceuse, which presents its own pianistic challenges, mainly those of finely sifting the overtones of vast chord structures surrounding the lonely tune singing out from the middle of the keyboard.
The wedding celebration depicted in the Finale presents Stravinsky’s trademark habit of cycling hypnotically round the pitches enclosed within the interval of a perfect 5th. Just such a melody, swaddled in hushed tremolos, opens this final movement. It is a major challenge for the pianist to imitate the shimmering timbre of the orchestra’s brightest instruments as this theme is given its apotheosis to end the suite in a blaze of sonority that extends across the entire range of the keyboard.
The whole musical world flocked to Agosti’s studio in Siena where for three months a year he would be an inspiration to generations of aspiring musicians.Sounds heard in his studio would never be forgotten or heard again.Too reserved to have the career of a travelling virtuoso he dedicated himself to a profound study of the true meaning hidden in scores .
He and his wife were great friends who often stayed with us in Sabaudia …….Our wives would spend the day on the beach whilst the Maestro and I would play Beethoven quartets and symphonies all day long preparing an evening after dinner concert that we were expected to produce for our wives delight!
Guido Agosti with Lydia Agosti and Ileana Ghione in the Teatro Ghione in Rome 1985

Misha Kaploukhii and Paul Fitzgibbon with Thomas Kelly

27/28 October RCM 7.30 Adrian Partington conductor
Misha Kaploukhii piano. RCM Concerto Competition Winner plays Liszt’s second and final piano concerto
RCM Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Mark Biggins chorus director

Liszt Piano Concerto no 2 in A major S 125
Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony

A recent five star review of the same performances a few weeks ago

13 th October RCM at 7.30 Amarylis Fleming Concert Hall

Sakari Oramo conductor
Thomas Kelly piano
RCM Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven Piano Concerto no 4 in G major op 58
Shostakovich Symphony no 10 in E minor op 93

Sakari Oramo, chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, directs an unmissable programme of repertoire played by the RCM Symphony Orchestra.

Rising star and RCM pianist Thomas Kelly takes centre stage for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no 4 – widely considered the pinnacle of piano concerto repertoire. To add to a number of accolades, Thomas won second prize at the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition in March and was also a finalist at the 2021 Leeds International Piano Competition. Supported by Her Serene Highness Princess Heidi von Hohenzollern HonRCM

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