Ashley Fripp at St Mary’s poetry and intelligence of a great musician

Thursday 22 September 3.00 pm

Some superb musicianly playing from Ashley Fripp who I have heard on many occasions and even in the masterclasses of Elisso Virsaladze in Sermoneta and Fiesole.I remember very well a magical performance of the Chopin nocturne in D flat op 27 n.2 relayed live from Warsaw playing a Shegeru Kwai piano that I have never forgotten.Today just confirmed his artistic stature. Great intelligence but also passionate involvement.It is not an extrovert passion but it is within the notes themselves distilled into each sound he makes without any distracting histrionics.Ashley Fripp is what one might describe as a ‘dark horse’!It is only with this deep concentration and true listening to oneself that an artist can arrive at the simplicity of real maturity.Artur Rubinstein was the supreme example of that.And so it was today a Mozart of such clarity with sounds etched out ,detached and sculptured which allowed the simplicity of Mozart to speak for itself without any extraneous effects.The clarity almost chiselled sound of the theme came as a surprise but once entering into this sound world it gave great emotional strength to the essential notes of Mozart’s genius.The variations too unfolded in such a natural way that each one grew out of the other.The call to attention of the Minuet was in perfect style as was the sublime legato of the trio.The sedate civilised pace of the ‘Turkish March’ was even more formidable for the unrelenting insistent control that added strength to this often abused movement ……there are those that liken it to a Tom and Gerry chase and rattle it off at breakneck speed!

Sir Thomas Beecham exclaimed that people only go to hear Wagner operas for the intervals !But who would not sit through four hours to find relief in the sublime beauty of this final ‘transfiguration’ .Ashley ‘s passionate involvement together with his ravishing sense of colour and technical control opened a whole new world.Fluidity of sound and a sumptuous sense of balance with a climax of earth shattering tension dissolving into the extreme delicacy of the ending.It was a magic world that only a true artist could have conjured up in just a few minutes.Liebestraum rarely heard these days in the concert hall was played with subtle bel canto rubato together with sounds of profound aristocratic delicacy.

The same simplicity of Mozart but one hundred years later with Chopin.His favourite composers were Bach and Mozart where simplicity and contrapuntal writing are added to artistocratic nobility and innovative technical demands.The Barcarolle written only three years before the composers untimely death is surely the greatest of all his masterpieces.An outpouring of song from the opening bass C sharp that just opens up the sonority in this magic box of hammers and strings as the gentle sound of the laguna start to ripple ( it always reminds me of the opening of Visconti’s Death in Venice).The radiance of the melody that floats on these waves was played by Ashley with a beauty of sound that built so naturally into controlled passionate climaxes.The magical episode before the final bars with a web of golden sounds that Perlemuter would exclaim ‘this is heaven’. He would also tell us that the final string of right hand notes with the left hand melody just suggested underneath was what Ravel so admired and had influenced his own compositions.The Berceuse as the Andante spianato was played with a superb sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to sing unimpeded with subtle inflections of great beauty.The Polonaise was played with true technical command and a jeux perlé that was what Chopin himself must have astonished even his peers with,of such refined pianism .

As Ashley pointed out none of the movements of this Sonata are in sonata form and they are all in the key of A major or minor .The opening movement is a theme and variations where Mozart defies the convention of beginning a sonata with an allegro movement in sonata form He himself titled the rondo “ Alla turca” and it imitates the sound of Turkish Janissary bands, the music of which was much in vogue at that time.The second movement is a standard minuet and trio It was only in 2014 that four pages of the autograph score were found in Budapest in the Hungarian librarian Balázs Mikusi.Until then, only the last page of the autograph had been known to have survived. The paper and handwriting of the four pages matched that of the final page of the score, held in Salzburg. The original score is close to the first edition, published in 1784.In September 2014, Zoltan Kocsis gave the first performance of the rediscovered score.

Liszt’s transcription (written in 1867, S. 447) of the closing piece of Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde” (WWV 90)which was itself composed in 1859. It is the climactic end of the opera, as Isolde sings over Tristan’s dead body.The transcription is of Isolde’s act 3 aria “Mild Und Leise wie Er Lächelt” (mild and quiet as he smiles) which Wagner himself titled the “Verklärung” (Transfiguration). Liszt gave this transcription the title “Liebestod” . Liszt’s transcription became well known throughout Europe well before Wagner’s opera reached most audiences.The transcription is a near verbatim adaptation of the orchestral piece for solo piano. Liszt translates Wagner’s shimmering strings and Isolde’s aria into quiet tremolandi for piano accompanying the soprano’s line. The music gradually builds in a series of ever-impassioned sequences until a shattering, ecstatic climax as Liszt strains to represent full orchestral force. Slowly and gradually the music subsides into blissful exaltation as Isolde slips away to join her lover in death.

Liebesträume ( Dreams of Love) is a set of three solo piano works (S.541/R.211) by Liszt, published in 1850.Originally the three Liebesträume were conceived as lieder after poems by Ludwig Uhland and Ferdinand Freiligrath. Two versions appeared simultaneously as a set of songs for high voice and piano, and as transcriptions for piano two-hands.The two poems by Uhland and the one by Freiligrath depict three different forms of love.Uhland’s “Hohe Liebe” (exalted love) is saintly or religious love: the “martyr” renounces worldly love and “heaven has opened its gates”. The second song “Seliger Tod” (blessed death) is often known by its first line (“Gestorben war ich”, “I had died”), and evokes erotic love; (“I was dead from love’s bliss; I lay buried in her arms; I was wakened by her kisses; I saw heaven in her eyes”). Freiligrath’s poem for the third nocturne is about unconditional mature love (“Love as long as you can!”, “O lieb,so Lang du lieben Kanst”.)

Chopin began the composition in the summer of 1843 at Nohant, where he stayed with George Sand.The theme of the Berceuse echos a song that Chopin may have heard in his childhood, “Już miesiąć zeszedł, psy się uśpily” (The moon now has risen, the dogs are asleep).
Chopin completed the Berceuse in 1844, shortly before his Sonata in B minor and is a series of 16 variations on an ostinato ground bass.In an early sketch of the composition, the “variantes” were even assigned numbers the work began with the theme but Chopin added two bars of introduction later.

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). 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. Ashley Fripp studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with Ronan O’Hora and at the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole (Italy) with Eliso Virsaladze. In 2022 he was awarded a doctorate for his research into the music of Thomas Adès.

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