Musicians from Portsmouth Grammar School at Lunchtime Live!

In a late change to the advertised programme, it turned out not to be our local piano superstar, Angelina Kopyrina with her fiery Rachmanninov that I and my select entourage saw today, but Angelina can be saved for another time and, by happy accident, we had a different sort of treat at Lunchtime Live! at Portsmouth Cathedral on 4 November.

Karen Kingsley, Head of Keyboard at PGS and surely a profound influence on these young musicians, did the honourable thing by going on first, possibly so that nobody else had to. Peter Copley’s Aubade seemed to begin before sunrise in a disarmingly bleak opening but splinters of light from the top end of the keyboard broke through in what was an adventurous, modernist choice. Good Grief, when the composer’s date of birth shows them to be younger than me, it must be either me that’s old or them that’s young and Copley’s 59. It must be me, then.

That was surprising enough until the ‘kids’ came on. I thought Thomas Luke yesterday in Havant was amazingly accomplished not only as a musician (obviously and astonishingly so) but as a person for someone of 18. The three musicians here are a few years behind the likes of him but it was heartwarming, if not heartbreaking to see and hear the results of all the hours of hard practice.

Bach’s Ave Maria uses that uplifting riff most famous from Handel’s Zadok the Priest and then Daisy Sissons looks unassuming until filling the acoustic of the St. Thomas Chapel with her soaring voice. Equally impressive was her enunciation of the Italian in Gluck’s O del mio dolce ardor from Paride ed Elena, not something I knew but I’m always ready to make the case for Gluck, who only died two years before Mozart but would represent the ‘classical’ period gorgeously had he not been overshadowed by such a superstar name.

Erik Hillman played Jan Sandström’s Sang till Lotta on the trombone and, not being word-perfect in Swedish, I would have liked a translation of the title. Thinking that it might be about blood, given the French, I was entirely down a blind alley trying to make more of the resonant brass sound and moving piano part from Karen than was necessary. It just means Song to Lotta and makes much more sense as such as a love song so sensitively done.

Jason Shui completed the programme with his own show within a show. There’s nothing much more sensible in the piano repertoire than a Scarlatti sonata and he began with no.29, having been spoilt for choice, I’m sure, and brought it to life with what is often the part to listen to in baroque music, the walking left hand, while the right-hand thinks it’s doing the star turn. That lead, very naturally, into Mozart who, unlike Shakespeare, never blotted a line, is as close to a glimpse of heaven as we can realistically expect even in a cathedral and in the Adagio, Jason brought out the logic and mannerisms of some choice Amadeus in what had the makings of a hymn tune while I was inspired enough to cast my theatrical friend, Graham, as Mozart opposite my sinister, diabolical Salieri.

Very unfair it was of Peter Schaffer to give us that version of Salieri in his play. Salieri wasn’t Mozart but neither was anybody else. The merry Allegretto completed a fluent exposition of ‘classicism’ before first a swerve into to two C20th miniatures from Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, which were fragments from a later world that perhaps didn’t seem to hold together so well, as by now we are well aware, and then, as any programme is well advised to, you finish on an upbeat with the jazzy, syncopated, slightly Scott Joplin, maybe even ‘stride’ piano of Fats Waller, with Sweet William by Billy Mayerl.

We couldn’t have gone over the road to the pub much happier than with that, with or without having seen the glamorous pianist from Moscow. It’s not obvious where hope comes from in a climate catastrophe with the most hapless vanity project in charge of our little bit of it, but here was some.

Thank you very much for being there, Daisy, Erik, Jason and Karen.

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