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.
Janneke Brits and James Kreiling have performed individually at St Peter’s Church for the Marlborough Brandt Group, but on Sunday (November 23), the pair, now married, performed together in a spectacular programme of piano duets.
The recital was the second in the 2014-2015 series organised by Nick Maurice to raise funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group and the St Peter’s Church Trust.
The first half of the programme was devoted to a version of Gustav Holst’s ‘Suite: The Planets’ This is very familiar music in the ever-popular orchestral version, but here was a piano duet version which had languished in obscurity for some 80 years in a cupboard in Saint Paul’s Girls School, (where Holst had been Director of Music) and has only recently entered the duet repertoire.
The piece begins with the percussive and persistent rhythms of Mars. Mercury, is represented by a flurry of fast moving notes. Then comes Jupiter represented by one of most memorable and loved melodies of the twentieth century. The work finishes with the appropriately ambiguous music of Uranus and the gentle other-worldy pulsating chords of Neptune.
In this stripped-down piano version we heard the piece from a fresh perspective - much more transparent and immediate. Jennike and James worked hard to capture the diversity of moods and styles which the interpretation of these movements requires
The second half was devoted to two very contrasting pieces. It began with the ‘Ma Mere L’Oye’ or ‘Mother Goose Suite’ by Ravel. Each of the six movements refers to a Fairy Tale, and was originally conceived for the two children of friends. What expectations he had of their ability!
Here is variety of mood gentle and lyrical, even threatening at times. One movement shimmers with oriental magic while the last movement, ‘The Magic Garden’ brings the piece to a triumphant climax.
The final work was the piano duet version of Stravinsky’s ballet score ‘The Rite of Spring’. This which preceded the infamous orchestral score which caused an outcry when the ballet was first performed in Paris in 1913.
There are two movements, the Adoration of the Earth and The Sacrifice, bursting with primitive percussive rhythms, discords and unfamiliar interval. Each movement rises to a huge atavistic climax.
Playing this piece requires, as James told us, a real understanding of each partner’s role, with hands and arms actually interlocked at times. This virtuosic score is some challenge - thumping chords, wild harmonies and thrilling runs. They played with flair and confidence to the astonishment of a riveted audience. Furthermore the piano survived!
It was indeed a spectacular concert and one which will be remembered with awe.
The next recital in the series features Erdem Misirlioglu - at St Peter’s Church on Sunday, 14 December at 7.30. More details here.