Lunchtime Live! at Portsmouth Cathedral: Richard Allum, piano

Richard Allum, Portsmouth Cathedral, Nov 11

One waits patiently through the long summer for an autumn that’s all too brief and then it’s gone. Gladly, there’s compensation in the warmth of the lunchtime music in a quiet corner of Portsmouth. It’s almost our precious little secret.

Richard Allum presented a programme of generally well-known masterpieces linked together ingeniously in his notes.

Mozart’s K.545 Sonata is a sparkling piece of ornate perfection so famous that even I know it by its Köchel number. Richard was measured, taking each phrase as if to emphasize what an exquisite thing it is. The Andante is a blanket of comfort tinged with shade in its middle key change from major to minor and the Rondo is purely playful. It’s with this and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik that one should introduce children to Mozart. It’s never too soon and they’ll be grateful forever.

Grieg’s Holberg Suite is on a grander scale. We don’t get Grieg solo piano music very often, maybe because there’s not much of it and this was more ‘classical’ in temper than one might have thought. The Passacaglia, taking the hint in the title, sounds like a transcription of organ music and the Sarabande next could also be Bach in disguise in one of his inward-looking moods. The Gavotte is again formal before the tempo slows again for a pensive, dusky Air and the uplifting, emphatic Rigaudon delivered with some aplomb.

We have been more accustomed to Debussy in recent months during our local lunchtimes. The Suite Bergamsque is lush, extending the programme’s range of reference with the dreamy Prelude, some light in our darkness, the Menuet more Romantic than most before one thinks one senses a more concentrated silence as the audience focuses on the famous bit, the Clair de Lune in the same way that there seems an extra stillness in a performance of Hamlet as we wait to see how ‘To be or not to be’ will be done this time. By turns, of course, it was radiant, shimmered, glowed and faded and I doubt if anybody was disappointed. There’s no hiding place for a performer in such an iconic piece because everybody knows what to expect but it was gorgeously done. The jauntier Passepied took us to the end of a very enjoyable set that had taken us elsewhere while it lasted and an encore was only denied us because Richard had to dash to his Year 6 class that was almost due.

It remains seemingly miraculous that these concerts happen, like something in Tom’s Midnight Garden, and they are often the only place in Portsmouth to be once you know. 

David Green

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