Portsmouth Steinway Concert

Steinway Concert, Portsmouth Central Library, Oct 8

It was a gala occasion this afternoon in Portsmouth’s Menuhin Room, marking the resurrection of the Steinway grand, ‘widely regarded as the finest instrument along the South Coast’ and, we must earnestly hope, the versatile space that was once known as the Third Floor Arts Centre and had theatre groups and readings as well concerts. Enormous thanks must go to Andrew McVittie for organizing it all and being its genial host and for all he will go on to achieve there.

Valya Seferinova was one of many others involved in bringing it all together and she began with Debussy’s Cathedrale Engloutie emerging from the mist or waves to ring and chime. She was then joined by Bogdan Vacarescu and his violin for a Brahms Hungarian Dance that zipped along, some exhilarating top notes in the song and dance of a Chopin Waltz before The Bee by Schubert, not previously known to me but I suspect it was known to Rimsky-Korsakov. The room has a fine, intimate acoustic and Bogdan’s wonderful technique benefitted from it as did all the performers.

We will hope to hear Ashton Gray play whole Beethoven Sonatas sooner rather than later but today, as here writing about it, there was a lot to pack in and so we only had the first movement of Op. 14, no. 2, early Beethoven and thus redolent of Mozart with Ashton’s subtle dexterity as the main theme changed hands littered with sunbeams.

Angela Zanders ran beautifully through the paces from gentleness to rapture in Dreaming from Four Sketches, op. 15, by Amy Beach before the bonus item of a pertinent poem from Diana Swann, a piano teacher who, now 88, feels ‘old age isn’t the bitter end, that you can find new and interesting things to do’ and has eloquently proved it. The first half ended with Karen Kingsley, the immensely versatile pianist back in her double act with clarinettist Robert Blanken for the Sonatina by Horowitz, in which the Allegro calmato was as acrobatic as a kitten and the ‘calmato’, if it really means ‘tranquil’, was lost on me. Rob’s clarinet was warm in the shades of evening in the second movement and, if I usually think of the clarinet as a jazz instrument due to my father’s Sid Phillips records more than Artie Shaw, the Con Brio fulfilled my expectations.

Karen’s choice of Bogies and Sprites that Gambol by Night by Hubert Parry was a quirky, comic piece to begin the second half with, quoting Three Blind Mice, I think, and not something one would guess was written by the same person that arranged Jerusalem. Ashton returned with Novellette no. 2 by Robert Schumann which began in full spate before restraining itself into lyricism and then returning to a strident, bravura recapitulation of where it had started.

Valya’s En Autumn by Zygmunt Noskowskishe explainedrepresented a bridge between Chopin and the C20th and proved tumultuous in its broad sweep, still very much the acceptable face of late Romanticism. But in a programme made up entirely of highlights, and mainly because it was Shostakovich and cello, when she was joined by Mikhail Lezdkan for Adagio and Spring Waltz, they edged it as my favourites, the first sonorous and resilient, the second merrier as Shostakovich somehow had the resources to be. There isn’t enough Shostakovich played in the concerts I regularly attend locally. It is the one, very minor complaint I can summon up if I have to find one and, so, heartfelt thanks to Mikhail for that. Valya then did the underwater paddling while Mikhail glided serenely on the surface of The Swan.

As Andrew said, we hadn’t had four hands on the Steinway yet but Helen Morris and Katie Burrows were rhapsodic in A Song Before Sunrise by Delius and then changed places as well as mood fora somewhat de-constructed transcription of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm by Gregory Stone.

To finish, it was fitting to have Chopin and Angela Zanders returned for a fluent Polonaise in C sharp minor that was at different times military and sensitive.

And all that was for free ( ! ) and so it was little wonder it was well attended and hugely appreciated. Portsmouth and its surrounding area are not badly served for excellent music events but any further series established in this venue will add an extra dimension. There is no shortage of wonderful musicians or repertoire. All that is needed is an audience of similar proportions if and when it actually costs money to get in.  

Again, thank you very much to all involved in making this afternoon happen.

Betcha by Golly Wow, I’m more stunned by the array of talent than when it is only one artist playing. I feel a bit dizzy actually and almost overwhelmed. Let there be more of it, then.   

Read more about the Menuhin Room Concerts.

David Green

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