Review: Varvara Maggs at “Lunchtime Live!”

Varvara Maggs, Portsmouth Cathedral, Sept 7

By Portsmouth Cathedral music events.

At Chichester Cathedral on Tuesdays one can see in advance not only who is playing but what they are playing whereas at Portsmouth you know who but not what. At first it seems preferable to see the menu before committing oneself but I don’t know so much. There might be any number of things that could be missed out on by deciding on balance against a concert and so there’s much to be said for turning up and seeing what happens.  

You can hardly go wrong with an all-Chopin programme, though, and whereas most CV’s are lists of mentors, performances and places visited, not all played with Mariss Jansons as a child prodigy or, was admitted to St. Petersburg State Conservatoire after obtaining the highest entry mark possible in the piano examination which exempted her from the rest of the exams.

Varvara Maggs is an undemonstrative performer on stage, concentrated over the keyboard. It is all in the hands, with maybe a little bit on the pedal.

The Ballade no. 2 was a lilting song before the tempest was raised. The Prelude in D Flat, the ‘Raindrop’, was dark skies and foreboding, especially contrasted with the weather outside, and whether it was Varvara’s choice of material or the way she played it, Chopin was presented as torn between a tentative joy and inner torments.

The Scherzo no.1 was blitz and energy that modulated into minor key regret before a bursting floribunda ending. Having found fault with the Chichester audience on Tuesday for not getting the applause right, the meagre turnout today weren’t even forward enough to pay tribute in between pieces. This sudden crisis locally might need to be met with some guidance on proper etiquette but they did enough after an enervated and dramatic Scherzo no.2, with its upsurge of melody, to bring Varvara back for a well-deserved encore.

‘More lovely and more temperate’ was the Fantasie Impromptu in C sharp minor as if the inner conflicts were resolved but Chopin was a troubled man in this account and the sweetness and light were never free from some darker forces at work.

Those faithful souls that attended were rewarded with a great performance that was worthy of more but what can you do. Thank you very much for coming, the highlight of Portsmouth Cathedral’s Autumn Season might well have happened already.  

David Green

About Varvara

Varvara Maggs was a legendary child pianist in St. Petersburg, Russia. At eight she performed Kabalevsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in the St. Petersburg Concerto Competition for Young Pianists, taking first prize and proceeding to play the winning concerto with the St. Petersburg State Conservatoire Orchestra in the Alexander Glazunov Concert Hall conducted by Mariss Jansons.

Another concerto appearance was at the age of ten. She performed Beethoven’s 2nd Piano Concerto with the Rimsky-Korsakov Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paulavichus. Subsequently they toured Finland, receiving excellent press reviews. She took part in competitions at least twice a year, receiving numerous diplomas and first prizes between the ages of eight and fourteen. At twelve she won a piano duet competition arranged and judged by the famous piano duo Bruk and Taimanov. Later she became Bruk’s student. During this period her performances were transmitted on Russian television and broadcast on radio. She became widely acknowledged as St. Petersburg’s leading young pianist and was sent to Moscow to represent St. Petersburg at the All Soviet Contest “Young Assemblies of Art”.

At fourteen Varvara entered the Mussorgsky Music College, having obtained the highest entrance marks in the history of the college. She began her studies there under Ekaterina Sharkova, a Professor of Merit of Russia. In her last year she came out as a Winner of the First International Pianoforte Competition named after M. Udina, St. Petersburg.

In 1998 Varvara was admitted to St. Petersburg State Conservatoire after obtaining the highest entry mark possible in the piano examination which exempted her from the rest of the exams. Whilst studying full-time at the Conservatoire under professors Valery Vishnevsky and Eduard Bazanov she taught children at the school attached to the Conservatory. She also accompanied singers from the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers and performed as a soloist.

Shortly afterwards she moved to the UK. Since then most of her time has been spent as a piano recitalist in Great Britain and St. Petersburg, Russia. Varvara has given recitals at The Glinka Philharmonic Hall, The Hermitage Theatre, The Sheremetev Palace, The St. Petersburg State University, The Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra, The Anna Akhmatova Museum at the Fountain House, The Rimsky-Korsakov Memorial Apartment Museum, The Hall on the Island in Pushkin, The Priory Palace in Gatchina and The Benua Family Museum in Peterhof.

In Britain she has played numerous recitals in Birmingham, including Bournville Music Society, St. Martin’s-in-the Bullring and St. Paul’s Church; for Redditch and Knighton Music Societies, in Newport Isle of Wight, and Minehead, at The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon, Snitterfield Village and Wootton Wawen Churches, in Kenilworth, Earlsdon Methodist Church and Warwick Road United Reformed Church Coventry, and many times at St Andrew’s Rugby. Recently she gave her first recitals in London at St James’s Church, Paddington and St Brides Church, Fleet street.

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