Chichester Cathedral Lunchtime Concerts series: Christopher Johnston, piano

I usually prefer to have the whole story – the complete symphony if not the Complete Symphonies or the Collected Poems rather than the SelectedChristopher Johnston’s programme in Chichester today was made of ‘excerpts from’ sets of pieces but the benefit of that was that we got three composers and, to be fair, each piece was self-contained and complete in itself. One can always follow up on the rest of these suites later.

Debussy, Liszt and, probably, Nikolai Kapustin (1937-2020) wouldn’t always be bracketed together but, as the lady sitting next to me usefully remarked, they sounded similar in these selections. Thank you kindly, madam, I’ll have that.

From Debussy’s Estampes (Postcards), Pagodes set the right hand floating over the keys, sprinkling light. It increasingly seemed to me that Christopher’s hands contribute a great deal to his innate musicianship with fingers unlikely to restrict him to jabbing out Crocodile Rock as Elton John’s did.

Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli began with Gondoliera relaxed and melodic, moving into the dazzle of trilling ornamentation. Canzone had the left hand rumbling in the lower register before Christopher brought off a range of effects and Tarantella grew towards the more signature Lizst big finish that some of us expect of him. As a latecomer to the joys of Lizst, I was very glad of it and it was for me the stand-out item.

Kapustin’s Eight Concert Etudes owed much to jazz, as I think Christopher explained but even from near the front one couldn’t pick up all he said. One very much wants to hear what performers have to say by way of introduction to their playing and Chichester do usually give them a microphone with which to do so. Maybe it was at the repair shop and of course the top priority is the music. I never tire of, or apologize for, advertising the high standard of Chichester’s lunchtime musicians and Christopher was every bit as good. Some of us regulars there could be excused for taking all that for granted but we don’t and we keep on going back.

Kapustin’s Raillery was an exuberant boogie-woogie, Pastorale acknowledged ragtime, Reverie suggested a suitably autumnal atmosphere and continued with the torrential outpouring of notes and finally Toccatina was as busy as ever, dashing about in the lower register.

Some people might read these reviews regularly at DGBooks or Music in Portsmouth, for which I’m very grateful, and they will be well used by now to the things I regularly say but some might be here for the first time and so, once more with feeling, our area is spoilt by the opportunities to hear these lunchtime concerts, for those of us lucky enough to have the time to. Chichester is surely the ‘jewel in the crown’, not only for its wonderful venue but for the great musicians it brings to us. Get there if you can.

David Green

Christopher adds:

Regarding the programme, the pieces were all connected by the fact they were all inspired by a place or culture different to that of each composer.

Debussy was inspired to write Pagodes after seeing a Gamalan exhibition at the Paris World Expo, while La Soirée Dan’s Granade translates to “an evening in Granada”. Venezia e Napoli is of course “Venice and Naples”, an addendum to Liszt’s second year of pilgrimage.

Kapustin was partial to hearing American jazz on the radio while he was studying, however, with no background in jazz improvisation he instead blended the idioms with his classical education.

Christopher Johnston is an award-winning pianist, arranger and educator. He holds an MA in Music Performance from the University of Chichester, which he obtained in 2015. Since completing his degree, Christopher has performed across the country as a soloist, as well as working with other musicians as an accompanist and session musician. He teaches privately from his home in Chichester.

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