Louise 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.
Anna Zassimova at St Peter's Church (photo copyright Magnus Arrevad) (Click to enlarge) The latest of the ‘Brilliant Young Pianists in Saint Peter’s Church took place on Sunday (April 19) and was given by the young Russian pianist Anna Zassimova - her second visit to Saint Peter’s.
Anna was born in Moscow and began her studies there at the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music before moving on to Karsruhe University of Music in Germany. She has played in many European music festivals, notably the Chopin Festival at Marianske Lasne She has become well-regarded for her Chopin interpretations, some of which she has recorded on period instruments
The first half of her recital, which was played without a break, revolved around music by Chopin. The recital began with two Nocturnes, both gentle and reflective, while the two Mazurkas are more rhythmic, the latter simple dying away to nothingness. Both these were played with imagination and tenderness.
Two short pieces, from the lyric Suite by Edvard Grieg followed, the first of which, also a Mazurka, may be a tribute to Chopin. The second with its repeated rhythm and expansive melody was exquisitely shaped.
This was followed by two pieces from Scriabin’s Feuittets d’Album. The first of these short sketches, is gentle and reflective, like a deep sigh, the other is yet another lively and energetic Mazurka was played with panache.
To complete the first half Anna returned to Chopin. This time she played the Polonaise Opus 26 - a warm and sentimental piece. Anna highlighted the work with huge variety of dynamics and there was a feeling of unbounded joy as she raced upwards through the semiquavers towards moments of pure rapture.
The work showed the world what the young Chopin was capable of producing, and this evening, we heard Anna’s flair at interpreting his works.
In addition to Chopin her repertoire includes piano masterpieces by early 20th century Russian composers, two of whom, Scriabin and Medtner, were included in her programme. The recital's second half was devoted to two Russian composers, neither of whom is very well-known.
First came Five Preludes by Nicolai Roslavets, a Ukrainian who began his studies in Moscow on 1902. All five are very short and different in mood, but characterized by cascades of notes, falling like raindrops. The intervals were unusual and there were some curious dissonances typical of the new ‘Futurist’ movement which, with the pioneering work of Arnold Schoenberg a decade later, shaped the very foundations of 20th century European music.
Roslavets became a prominent member of the early Soviet musical élite, but fell out of favour with the establishment and was sent to Siberia. His work has, until very recently, languished in undeserved obscurity. These studies, played with force and diversity of mood, suggest his rehabilitation is justified.
Nikolai Medtner was an almost exact contemporary of Rachmaninov and Scriabin in the Moscow Conservatoire. Unlike Roslavets, Medtner was neither a musical nor a social revolutionary. Unhappy in the controlling world of Soviet Russia, Medtner settled first in Germany (both his parents were German), then in England where he died in 1951.
Musically his work is conservative - very tonal and lyrical, and there was a profound wistfulness about the work that Anna played: the ‘Sonata Reminiscera’. It is a nostalgic yearning for the country and the society that he would never see again.
Anna captivated this mood of regret in its variety, moments of joy amidst a deep melancholy with soft lyrical passages among the brighter and more buoyant moments. Very appropriately there were also ‘Chopin’ moments, reflecting the common loss of country and social identity.
This was not an easy programme for the listener. Beautifully played indeed, but this carefully crafted programme was very dark and melancholic. There was little to quicken the heart and raise the spirit. Nevertheless, an appreciative audience admired Anna’s skills as a ‘brilliant young pianist’.
With thanks to Magnus Arrevad for permission to use his photograph taken at the end of the recital.
The Brilliant Young Pianists series raises funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group & St Peter's Trust. The next recital in the series featuring a rising young star, the French pianist Louise Cournarie, is on Sunday, 10 May 2015 at 7.30pm in St Peter's Church, Marlborough.
Tickets £10, (MBG/ St Peter's Trust members £8) - available online from MBG. The programme will include works by Bach, Mozart, Scriabin and Schubert.
A small town is flung into the worst hurricane in US history in Summertime, Marlborough author Vanessa Lafaye's first published novel.
Summertime was inspired by a real storm wreaking devastation in 1930s Florida. Taking the brunt of it was a segregated seaside community and a nearby makeshift camp of disenfranchised and damaged WW1 veterans, both white and people of colour, tasked with building a railroad in leu of a government war service payout.
The opening chapter - a baby is threatened by a hungry crocodile - reached out and grabbed me by the collar.
However, the next sizeable chunk of the book busied itself with scene setting and character building. Vanessa is adept at this in a way that fills me with envy, but the story threatened to tail off like a spent squib while it hung around waiting for the main event and its most exciting character, the storm. And, like stale tropical air, the odd metaphor could do with a freshen up (frustrated Sheriff Dwayne contemplates the beauty of a crab; will he/won't stamp on it and vent his anger?).
But full steam ahead for the second half of the book. An attempted murder-mystery picked up the pace before the wind quite literally blew with a vengeance, settled a few moral scores, and left the inevitable collateral damage.
It's been compared to The Help probably because it features twentieth century US racial inequality and a black nanny-cum-maid. But The Help's protagonists were imbued with an urgency missing from Summertime. The inhabitants of Heron Key were like leaves tossed in a breeze until the hurricane brought out a kill or cure for their stunted lives.
Overall I'd recommend this impressive debut, and enjoyed (and am grateful for) the social history lesson it slipped in on the way. Vanessa Lafaye joins a growing lexicon of published local authors.
Summertime is published by Orion and is one sale now at Marlborough's White Horse Bookshop and other good retailers.
Read about the launch, here.
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)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.