A virtuoso recital at St Peter’s Church – with a musical gallery full of paintings

Written by Christopher Rogers on .


John Paul Ekins at St Peter's Church (photo: Christopher Rogers)John Paul Ekins at St Peter's Church (photo: Christopher Rogers)The Brilliant Young Pianists series of recitals at St Peter’s Church welcomed the return of John Paul Ekins on Sunday (January 18) and this time he was playing to support  the Marlborough branch of  ‘Save the Children’.   It was his third visit to Marlborough.

John Paul graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2009 and studied with Charles Owen (another loyal friend of Marlborough charitable causes) and was awarded his Master of Performance in 2011. He made his concerto debut at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013 and has now played in most of the great concert venues in the British Isles and throughout Europe.  

His importance as an upcoming pianist was recognised when he was invited to a reception given by the Queen for Young Performers at Buckingham Palace. In addition to his extensive concert rounds he gives workshops and teaches piano at Saint Paul’s School in London.

The first half of his recital was a series of short and well-known masterpieces. First came Mozart’s Fantasy in C Minor, a strangely chromatic work, full of emotional contrast, looking forward to the Romanticism of the forthcoming century. This was followed by a Schubert Impromptu (in Ab) – a wistful and lyrical work from the final years of Schubert’s short life.   

Brahms’ Intermezzo in Eb is perhaps his best-loved piano piece. This too was played with great sensitivity, every note and cadence lovingly developed and expressed, creating an intimacy which was shared with the audience.  

We then heard Liszt’s Cantique d’Amour. By 1852 Liszt had pushed out the boundaries of piano technique and this lovely piece is technically very demanding, full of unusual harmonies and luscious crescendi. Finally John Paul played a very different piece, Humoresque by Rodion Schedin, a Russian composer who was born in 1932. The piece is replete with cheerful brashness and unusual harmonies.  Played with a delicacy and technical confidence this highlighted another area of John Paul’s many skills.

Before the recital...(photo by Christopher Rogers)Before the recital...(photo by Christopher Rogers)The second half of the recital was entirely devoted to a performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition - one of the greatest and most demanding of Russian piano works. The piece consists of a musical depiction of ten paintings exhibited by Viktor Hartmann.

Mussorgksy created a first rate and imaginative masterpiece out of some second rate pictures! There is recurring confident promenade theme, representing the composer walking from one picture to the next after which John Paul produced a vivid portrayal the very diverse pictures, each of which was lovingly and individually crafted.

There was the wistful troubadour singing by the walls of an Italian castle, a calm scene contrasting with the busy and chattering children in the Tuileries Garden. Among the other pictures is the lumbering Polish ox cart, played with such imaginative dynamics that we heard the cart pass right by us before lumbering into the distance. The scampering of the ballet of Un-hatched Chicks in their Shells (not a propitious subject for a composer!) is followed by the portrayal of two Polish Jews, one full of boast and gravity, the other simpering and whining.

The finale begins with the nightmarish witch Baba Yaga in search of her prey, played with angry malevolence - a dizzying flurry of fingers and hands. This leads directly into the last picture: the gorgeous depiction of a proposed Great Kate at Kiev – ‘the cradle of Mother Russia’. Cascades of joyous peals of bells race down the piano and suddenly contrast sharply with the distant haunting chanting of a distant choir, all subsumed into rich cacophony of  a great celebratory hymn, based on that original promenade theme.

What playing! Here was technical virtuosity and musical colour illustrating the diversity of mood which these unusual pictures inspired. This brought to a dramatic conclusion a superb recital that was rich in diversity, enabling us to glimpse the variety of interpretative skills which John Paul possesses. We hope to hear him in Marlborough again very soon.     

The next Brilliant Young Pianists recital at St Peter’s will see the return visit of the Russian pianist Anna Zassimova on 19 April at 7.30. 

Tickets will be available six weeks before the recital at Sound Knowledge, The White Horse Bookshop and at Marlborough Box Office. Anna will be playing Medtner, Catoire, Beethoven and Chopin.