Thomas Kelly at St Mary’s Masterly playing from the Golden Age

Tuesday 28 February 3.00 pm 

Masterly playing from Thomas Kelly not only for his unique sense of colour and style but for his musicianship that guided us through everything he played with an architectural shape and aristocratic sense of style that marks him out as one of the most exciting young musicians of his generation .
He and Benjamin Grosvenor are magicians of the keyboard as the great pianists were in the golden age of piano playing.The era of Rachmaninov,Lhevine,Rosenthal Godowsky or Moiseiwitch and in our day Stephen Hough.A piano that is no longer a percussion instrument but a kaleidoscope of magical sounds that are created by the greatest of illusionists.Subtle use of the pedals and above all a sense of touch that can find infinite gradations in every note.The famous Matthay touch but also the pedal of Anton Rubinstein that he described as the soul of the piano.
A magnificent recital that was a lesson in musicianship and phenomenal technical control.The sounds he brought to Respighi’s Notturno played as an encore were the stuff that dreams are made of.

There was a fluidity to his sound from the very first Bagatelle with the driving rhythmic urgency of the second even if he was rather impatient with the rests as I expect Beethoven was too.A beautiful cadenza ‘grazioso’ in the first was a gentle relief from Beethoven’s most concisely profound outpouring.It was the same celestial harp that interrupted the third bagatelle.An expansive melodic line of quartet richness similar to the aria of his Sonata op 109.The final sparse notes bathed in pedal but with Thomas’s keen ear was given a subtle cleansing but never taking away from the overall effect.He had indeed digested Beethoven’s meaning and transmitted it to us with integrity and honesty.There was a rhythmic surge to the fourth played with drive and passion which contrasted so well with the bagpipe drone on which floated Beethoven’s disarmingly simple melodic line.The contrasting simplicity of the ‘quasi allegretto’ was a gentle oasis even though the legato contrasts could have been even more fluidly expressed.It was rudely interrupted by the Beethovenian explosion of the last Bagatelle and the contrasting long held pedal note on which Beethoven floated the magical simple mellifluous lines that were to characterise the serenity that he had at last found at the end of tumultuous life

Beethoven’s Bagatelles Op. 126 were published late in his career, in the year 1825 and dedicated to his brother Nikolaus Johann ( 1776–1848).Beethoven wrote to his publisher, Schott Music that the Opus 126 Bagatelles “are probably the best I’ve written”.In prefatory remarks to his edition of the works, Otto von Irmer notes that Beethoven intended the six bagatelles be played in order as a single work, at least insofar as this can be inferred from a marginal annotation Beethoven made in the manuscript: “Ciclus von Kleinigkeiten” (cycle of little pieces).Another reason to regard the work as a unity rather than a collection: starting with the second Bagatelle, the keys of the pieces fall in a regular succession of descending major thirds a pattern used in Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’Symphony and the String Quartet op 127

There was ravishing beauty to the full rich sound that he found for Baron von Fricken’s theme contrasting with the subtle rhythmic precision of the first variation .There was a shimmering beauty to the second that was also a passionate grandiose outpouring of timeless wonder.There followed the butterfly fluttering that accompanied the beauty of the tenor line and the lightweight precision of the chordal variations that follow .It was here that Thomas inserted the five beautifully lyrical posthumous studies .It made a superb contrast with the magical swirling sounds of the first and the subtle beauty of the duet between the treble and bass of the second.The contrasting rhythmic outpouring of the third and the sublime simple chiselled beauty of the fourth and fifth with mature masterly playing of great subtlety and colour.Returning to the passionate outpouring of the fifth of the original variations that was played with superb technical control and passionate simplicity.There was the hard driven rhythm of the sixth and the aristocratically architectural shape of the austere seventh likened by Agosti to the solidity of a Gothic Cathedral.Mendelssohnian lightness followed of true transcendental virtuosity.The solidity of the eighth contrasting with the magical bel canto of the ninth.The shimmering beauty of the accompaniment to the duet between the two glorious Belcanto voices enchanting with passion and exquisite delicacy.The Finale was played with great authority and architectural shape,the slight rallentando and drop in tension,before the final startling change of key was a masterly touch and led even more impact to the excitement and exhilaration of the final dynamic outpouring .

The first edition in 1837 carried an annotation that the tune was “the composition of an amateur”: this referred to the origin of the theme, which had been sent to Schumann by Baron von Fricken, guardian of Ernestine von Fricken, the Estrella of his Carnaval op. 9. The baron, an amateur musician, had used the melody in a Theme with Variations for flute. Schumann had been engaged to Ernestine in 1834, only to break abruptly with her the year after. An autobiographical element is thus interwoven in the genesis of the Études symphoniques (as in that of many other works of Schumann’s).Of the sixteen variations Schumann composed on Fricken’s theme, only eleven were published by him. (An early version, completed between 1834 and January 1835, contained twelve movements). The final, twelfth, published étude was a variation on the theme from the Romance Du stolzes England freue dich (Proud England, rejoice!), from Heinrich Marschner’s opera Der Templer und die Judin based on Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (as a tribute to Schumann’s English friend, William Sterndale Bennett to whom it is dedicated )The earlier Fricken theme occasionally appears briefly during this étude. The work was first published in 1837 as XII Études Symphoniques. Only nine of the twelve études were specifically designated as variations. The entire work was dedicated to Schumann’s English friend, the pianist and composer, and Bennett played the piece frequently in England to great acclaim, but Schumann thought it was unsuitable for public performance and advised his wife Clara not to play it.The highly virtuosic demands of the piano writing are frequently aimed not merely at effect but at clarification of the polyphonic complexity and at delving more deeply into keyboard experimentation. The Etudes are considered to be one of the most difficult works for piano by Schumann (together with his Fantasy in C and Toccata) and in Romantic literature as a whole.

Thomas Kelly was born in 1998. He passed Grade 8 with Distinction in 2006 and performed Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24 in Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre two years later. After moving to Cheshire, he regularly played in festivals, winning prizes including in the Birmingham Festival, 3rd prize in Young Pianist of The North 2012, and 1st prize in the 2014 Warrington Competition for Young Musicians. Since 2015, Thomas has studied with Andrew Ball, initially at the Purcell School for Young Musicians and now at Royal College of Music, where he is a third-year undergraduate. Thomas has won first prizes including Pianale International Piano Competition 2017, Kharkiv Assemblies 2018, Lucca Virtuoso e Bel Canto festival 2018, RCM Joan Chissell Schumann competition 2019, Kendall Taylor Beethoven Competition 2019 and BPSE Intercollegiate Beethoven Competition 2019. He has also performed in venues including the Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, St James’ Piccadilly, Oxford Town Hall, St Mary’s Perivale, St Paul’s Bedford, Poole Lighthouse Arts Centre, Stoller Hall, Paris Conservatoire, the StreingreaberHaus in Bayreuth, the Teatro del Sale in Florence, in Vilnius and Palanga. Thomas’ studies at RCM are generously supported by Pat Kendall-Taylor, Ms Daunt and Ms Stevenson and C. Bechstein pianos. He recently won 5th prize at the 2021 Leeds International Piano Competition, and was the first British pianist to reach the finals of this prestigious competition for 18 years


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