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Review: Louise Cournarie's St Peter's recital before a very appreciative audience

Louise Cournarie and the St Peter's pianoLouise Cournarie and the St Peter's pianoThe latest of the ‘Brilliant Young Pianists’ at Saint Peter’s Church (May 10) was Louise Cournarie, who says she loved playing the St Peter's piano and would like to come back again to give another recital.  And from the enthusiastic reception she got from the audience, she would surely be welcome.

Louise is a native of Toulouse where she began to play the piano aged 3!  On completing her baccalaureate at the Paris Conservatoire, she moved to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Charles Owen.  

She is now studying for her Master’s degree at the Royal Academy and developing her interest in music of the Baroque and early Classical eras.

Her interpretation of the Bach Sixth Partita, which she played at St Peter's, earned her this year's Harold Samuel Bach Prize leading to her first Wigmore Hall recital. As her career blossoms she has recital engagements at a number of music festivals both in the United Kingdom and in France.

The evening’s programme explored some of her Baroque repertoire and began with that Bach Partita in B Minor, one of a group of works published in 1731. It is a majestic work, quite solemn in mood thanks to its key signature. Six dance movements follow a formidable Toccata which gives way to the first fugue of the evening, played with uncoiling energy, bursting into a cadenza based on the opening chords of the Toccata.   

Then comes an intimate Allemande, like a two part invention, followed by   a Courante, fast- flowing and syncopated. A jaunty and cheerful Air leads into a stately Sarabande, its opening chords a faint echo of the Toccata.  

The work finishes with a dazzling Gigue, another giant fugue, relentlessly building up to a great climax. This is a work of some technical wizardry, a giant mountain to climb. It certainly enabled Louise to display her skill and her understanding of Bach’s work.  

This was followed by Mozart’s Sonata in B-minor. The work opens with a lyrical cantabile movement, light and graceful, which becomes progressively more agitated. A gentle and profound slow movement follows with Louise carefully developing the plangent yearning of the melody. The third movement is a jaunty rondo, the provocative theme inevitably returning at regular intervals, each time more embellished with the work culminating in a spectacular cadenza before one final replay of the theme. Thanks to the minor key the work has a sense of foreboding, which Louise exploited very well.    

The second half began with Handel’s Suite in F Minor - originally scored for the harpsichord. This too is a formidable and stately piece, beginning with a solemn Prelude, all double dotted and fashionably French in style, which then erupts into a magnificent fugue, played with energy and technical virtuosity. Then follow two more gentle movements, first a graceful Allemande and a fiery Courante.

The work finishes with a dazzling Gigue, musically ‘angular’, played here with whirlwind energy. Louise captured the drama and majesty of  this work, although a little more contrast between the different movements would have been  desirable.

The evening finished with Schubert’s Six Moments Musicaux. This was soul-music for Louise, and she played these wistful pieces sensitively, coddling them as if they were precious jewels. The lovely Andantino, with its repeating theme died away to nothing as if time itself had stood still.  

By way of contrast the third has a dance like staccato rhythm, not unlike a mazurka, but gently fading away  with the daylight of a still summer’s evening. The fourth is all perpetual motion, while the fifth is one long impatient gallop played with here with ferocity - saddle-gripping stuff!

The last movement is a return to the wistful: a giant sigh of yearning for the fading sunlight, or, indeed life itself, so close was Schubert’s death.  The Schubert was magically played, the pathos and gentle beauty of these wonderful contrasting pieces admirably explored.

It was a very fine concert played to a very appreciative audience. It was also unusual in that several of the works were in minor keys creating an overall degree of solemnity well leavened by the gentle beauty of the Schubert.

Tickets £10 / £8 for MBG and St Peter's Trust Members available from The White Horse Bookshop, Sound Knowledge, the MBG website and on the door.
The recitals are sponsored by Hioscox Insurance and are held in aid of The Marlborough Brandt Group and The St Peter's Trust.

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