Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Brighton Festival 2012 - Lunchtime Concerts, Part 1

Finally catching up on some of the first week of concerts in Brighton Festival.  The week began with me unfortunately having to miss a lunchtime concert (Saturday 5 May) of Jessica Grimes (clarinet) and Fiachra Garvey (piano) due to a rehearsal clash (see BREMF Consort of Voices concert below).  My partner went along instead, and despite some of the repertoire not being his cup of tea, he really enjoyed the concert, and was particularly impressed by the young duo's ability to communicate their obvious enthusiasm for the music, and their comfortable stage presence.  As a non musician, he also found her background explanations of the pieces performed helpful and insightful.  Grimes also performed the challenging Fantasie for solo clarinet by Jörg Widmann (you can see him perform the piece himself on YouTube).  Grimes described Widmann as one of her musical heroes, and she and Garvey both attended the concert the following day at Glyndebourne in which Widmann performed the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the Hagen Quartet (see my review here).  

Then on Monday 7 May, another lunchtime concert - this time, Jayson Gillham on piano.  Another young performer, he also has great stage presence, with a natural ability to engage with the audience, again choosing to speak about the music too.  He performed Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata (No. 21 in C major, Op. 53), followed by four of Debussy's Études (numbers 6, 7, 8 & 11).  He concluded his programme with Chopin's Ballade No. 4 in F minor.  Born in Australia, Gillham settled in the UK in 2007, and has a number of competition prizes to his name, as well as a well established concert performance career, and two CDs to his name.  His Waldstein was powerful and robust, the Debussy beautifully delicate, and the Chopin was appropriately bravura and full-blooded.  We were also treated to a short encore, which Jayson kindly informed me via Twitter was the Étude No. 10, Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) by György Ligeti.  An impressive performance all round.

Tuesday 8 May - more lunchtime music from guitarist Michael Partington.  Born in Wales, he now lives in Seattle, and judging by his soft accent, he's been there a while.  Initially I feared the rather dead acoustic in the Pavilion Theatre would not favour the instrument, and I struggled to hear some of his sensitively quiet playing to start with.  However, I think in the end, this actually worked for him, in that I felt drawn in to listen more carefully to the intimacy and delicacy of the music.  Once again, we were given useful introductions and background notes on the music.  He began with a pleasant set of Variations, Op. 102 by Mauro Giuliani.  These were followed by his own arrangement of two Sonatas (K208 & K209) by Domenico Scarlatti.  As he explained, these keyboard sonatas fit remarkably well on the guitar, and his arrangements are fitting and effective.  Partington is also a great advocate of new music for the guitar, having commissioned and premiered many works.  He next performed Six Preludes by the Oregon based composer Bryan Johanson.  A great contrast to the rest of the programme, these showed a wide range of influences, as well as using some extended techniques on the instrument.  One, we were told beforehand, was even based around a Supremes song.  I spotted that it was the fourth, but couldn't identify the song - I heard him tell another audience member after, but didn't catch the title - so if you're out there, Michael... (update from the man himself - it was 'Keep Me Hanging On').  The highlight of his programme was the beautiful Tombeau sur la mort de M. le Comte de Logy.  Le Comte de Logy (or Jan Antonín Losy) was the 'Prince of the Lute' in his day, and Sylvius Leopold Weiss wrote this moving piece upon his death in 1721.  Interestingly, it uses one of the same 'extended' techniques we heard in the Johanson (string bending) to evoke wailing and grieving, and the rising scale towards the end depicts Le Comte's soul rising to heaven.  Despite a couple of memory lapses (I think), this was a touching performance, and made me want to seek this piece out again.  The programme ended in perhaps more familiar territory, with Tres Piezas Españolas by Joaquín Rodrigo.  

© Eric Richmond
The final lunchtime concert in this first week was very special, and for this we moved over to the Corn Exchange - although the concert was surprisingly not sold out (a top name pianist, for just a tenner...).  He began with Debussy's Children's Corner.  Despite their deceptive simplicity, these miniatures are not straightforward, but are equally not great virtuosic showpieces either.  It was nice to hear such a great pianist performing these graceful and witty pieces with such subtlety of expression, and they provided the perfect opener, before the more challenging Processional by George Crumb (b. 1929).  One of Crumb's few piano pieces that doesn't involve extended effects or preparations, this piece nevertheless does use on particular effect rather well - chords are placed silently following heavily attacked chords above or below, creating a curious resonance.  In the larger, slightly barn-like acoustic of the Corn Exchange, this proved rather effective, although it may not have carried completely to the back of the hall.  The lion's share of the programme was then taken up with Ravel's Miroirs, a mammoth work of five impressionistic and highly evocative pieces, containing huge challenges for the pianist.  The arpeggios of the third piece, Une barque sur l'océan, was particularly beautifully performed here, the music rippling and flowing almost endlessly.  The concluding bells of La vallée des cloches perfectly concluded a captivating and uplifting oasis in the middle of a miserably rainy day!

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