Review: Portsmouth Music Festival, adult piano

Portsmouth Music Festival, Adult Piano, Portsmouth Menuhin Room, Feb 12

It’s like Narnia, a whole world of categories and divisions within them and a collection of trophies as if Captain Pugwash had come back from a rare successful pirating expedition. Portsmouth Music Festival extends over a number of weeks, covering brass to pop music, strings to speech and drama but I thought I’d try an evening of piano.

By accident rather than design perhaps, the pieces formed a coherent programme beginning with some bright, shiny Scarlatti by Miriam Sampson, then two plates of Bach done in different ways before a Romantic blend of Chopin and Brahms. Michael George won that with the roaring fortes of his Chopin Nocturne.

Senior Citizens playing pieces written since 1900 asked the adjudicator to pick between Angela Cheverall’s Woman with a Parasol by P. Wedgwood which was completely charming, Christine Limb’s Coleridge-Taylor that was open and generous and Miriam’s Messaien, necessarily much more challenging. Richard Deering’s assessments were thorough and enlightening, and he’d been doing it since 9 a.m. He is qualified to compare apples with pears. I couldn’t have picked between such different pieces and performances but I was quite probably the only person in the room who can’t play the piano.

Angela then had two categories to herself which effectively provided a jazzy interlude in a three hour session that flew by much quicker than a Wagner opera and then the Adult Recital section was a natural climax. 

In many ways a highlight was Christine Limb’s Schumann, Brahms, Schubert selection that had innate musicality and caught the substantial depth of the Brahms and the exquisite Schubert but it seemed to me not long into Jack Adams’s Ravel that he was a class apart technically and his Liszt Paraphrase de Concert, which was not Liszt at his most diabolic but at his most Tchaikovsky, already sounded like a lap of honour.

I often wish that music, poetry and the like were not made into competitive sports but it’s ostensibly true that some people are better at playing the piano than others. Martha Argerich is better than me, for instance. However, music is its own reward and everybody who played tonight contributed to a remarkable concert. There was a strange feel of the examination room about it but that diminished as Richard’s amiable but highly informed and judicious assessments brought some warmth to proceedings.

Sadly, another thing that diminished was the audience as those that had played did their own impromptu version of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony. I’m sure they had somewhere to get to but at local poetry readings readers also perform to a reasonably-sized audience because they are each other’s audience and in my experience those on early stay to hear those reading later. It’s not so much part of the deal as out of politeness, maybe even interest. As it happened, those that left missed what were the bits most worth hearing.

The winners proceed to the Gala Concert at Crookhorn College on Sunday, 24 March at 3pm (retiring collection). On the evidence of this qualifying heat, that will be worth attending and I’ll see you there.

David Green

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