Review: Nicola Meecham at the Menuhin Room

Nicola Meecham, Menuhin Room, Portsmouth, July 6

It was thirty years, my homework tells me, before Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 23, op. 57, acquired its ‘impassioned’ title. It wouldn’t be his only piece it could be applied to but such names can only pass into common usage by popular consent. Among the crueller revenges that fate took on Beethoven as retribution for his monumental musical gift was the onset of his loss of hearing, from about 1803, and it’s hard not to think that the Appassionata was at least in part his ‘rage, rage against the dying of the sound’, about 150 years before Dylan Thomas exhorted us all to do similarly against that of the light.

Fate might be the point as the ‘fate motif’ that it opens with is not far from that of the Fifth Symphony. Adopting his heroic stance, Beethoven tempts the pianist to get carried away into something too grandiose but Nicola Meecham is wise to that and informed her performance with nuance and expression to provide the necessary contours on this mountain. She opens the Andante with a dampened statement of the theme, almost staccato it seemed to me, before it blossoms into the sumptuous variations.

The Allegro becomes Presto with each hand busier in its turn or with them busy in unison. Beethoven is grandstanding, not for the first time, but in his case it doesn’t count as a bad habit. I’m often very taken with musicians like Nicola who play from memory and envy what they carry in their memory, obviating the necessity of carrying round with them a gadget with earpieces in order to have music wherever they go.

I only wondered if putting the big ticket item first might overshadow what was to follow. He’s not an easy act to follow. Boris Pasternak, better known for writing film scripts for Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, could have devoted his life to music but chose literature instead. His Two Preludes here were broad in vision if short in duration hinting that there might have been a Zhivago Symphony in him but Scriabin took the other route and Nicola ended with his Six Preludes, op. 13, and Sonata-Fantasy, op. 19, beginning with some portent in the Maestoso before the frillier Allegro and on into a sea of lulls and fff that one could happily get lost in and, I have to admit, I did. Not that it detracted from the enjoyment.

Nicola readily and impressively maintained the tradition and high standards of the Menuhin Room series. I’d be more superlative if I saw less of such things because, by definition, not everything can be special but it happens that most things are and that makes a nonsense of the language. Recent weeks have been tremendous. I don’t really want a rest from such things but I’m going to have one. It might help re-set the battered lexicon, the ‘word-hoard’ as Seamus Heaney called it, before the Autumn season across the region where I can already see a litany of wonderful-looking things lined up in wait.

David Green

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