This may be the coldest church in the kingdom but with Ashley Fripp at the Keyboard the air was quickly filled with the beautiful sounds where the fact that the oil had run out was a total irrelevance.
Strange that the same thing had happened a few weeks ago for Murray McLachlan’s concert too !
Three Preludes and fugues immediately showed his pedigree as a favourite student of Eliso Virsaladze.
An impressive architectural shape but with clarity and very subtle pointing that added a nobility and grandeur in these august surroundings.
As Ashley pointed out in his very informed introductions the works by Bach were written in the same period as the construction of this noble edifice.
I have often passed this beautiful church that sits in the middle of the Strand but have never ventured inside until today.
Someone has had the genial idea to eliminate the traffic that surrounded this church on all sides and it now sits nobly in a pedestrian precinct and is an oasis of tranquility and peace.
Chopin carried the Bach ‘48 with him as his musical bible so it was fitting that after Bach should come two masterpieces by Chopin.
The Barcarolle op 60 which is an outpouring of song that in Chopin’s hands reaches the sublime heights that had Perlemuter (one of the greatest interpreters of Chopin),exclaim that this was surely paradise!
Ashley played it with an aristocratic nobility which gave it a superb architectural shape leading so inevitably to the fervant passion of the penultimate page.The final page was full of reams of golden sounds (much admired by Ravel) that led to a streak of gently more pressing notes gliding so gracefully from the top to the bottom of the keyboard as it drew to its ever noble conclusion.
The B minor sonata written just before the Barcarolle is a full scale work in four movements that Ashley miraculously wove together into one inevitable whole.
The nobility of the opening was followed by the fleeting jeux perlé of the Scherzo linked by imperiously majestic chords to the heart of the sonata which is the Largo.The rondo finale was a continuous crescendo of excitement and sound as Ashley judged with superlative control the mounting tension to the final breathtaking explosion of scintillating notes that shot from one end of the keyboard to the other with astonishing technical prowess.
But how could one forget the freedom and nobility he gave to the beautiful second subject in the first movement.So often played with sickly sentimentality and slower tempo ………and it is Chopin who gets it in the neck for not being able to construct larger forms!
It needs the artistry of a great musician who with sensibility can construct Chopin’s masterly form without sentimental distortions of the so called Chopin tradition.
The return of the second subject too is marked forte and is a glorious exultation rather than a sad remembrance ( the same sort of traditional distortion that hits the first movement of Schumann’s Fantasie).
The Largo too was played with an elasticity and weight that allowed Chopin’s glorious creation to unfold so naturally.The long meandering central episode with it’s cantabile left hand counterpoint was a glorious outpouring of golden sounds.The whispered return of the theme ‘avec un sentiment de regret’ was played by Ashley with transcendental control and ravishing beauty which was not easy in the polar temperature that surrounded this magnificent new Steinway.
No encores (like Arrau who was not a circus act but a servant at the service of music.Merely a medium between the notes on the page and the sounds that the composer intended).But there was a glass of wine to warm the cockles of his heart that was already beating fast after such a feast of music.
But unfortunately the physical extremities were fast turning blue !