A thought provoking and enjoyable project with the cellist Selma Gokcen over the last few weeks has culminated in two concerts each devoted to a Brahms sonata in collaboration with Styra Avins and Katie Hamilton. In depth discussion and a fascinating talks on Brahms and the cello preceded each performance. Both performances and talks will be filmed at the Royal Academy of Music later this year.
For "Found in Dreams" Helen Habershon and John Lenehan offer a wonderfully diverse collection of repertoire. This includes beautiful arrangements of some of their favourite pieces; a couple of short movements of outstanding clarinet repertoire by Brahms and Finzi and some delightful new compositions of their own. As well as his beautifully crafted arrangements John has also written two lovely pieces to add to Helen’s. The cover design is a dream image from Helen’s five year old grandson. Throughout history mankind has been intrigued by the idea of dreams and Helen is no exception. As she says: “It’s interesting that all happenings begin as an idea and in order to get an idea one has to be in a receptive place. When creating I find myself in a kind of timeless space, rather like a daydream. I love the freedom of dreams, anything can happen. There are no boundaries and we are free to explore with no limits. The theme of ‘dreams’ came quite naturally and many of the pieces in the album reflect this.”
Recorded during lockdown, this disc with the marvellous Sarah-Jane Bradley was a revelation. Six works never recorded before by six relatively unknown composers but everyone of them excellent in their own way. It is available at Dutton records https://www.duttonvocalion.co.uk/proddetail.php?prod=CDLX7390 as an SADC hybrid multi channel disc. Favourably reviewed on BBC Radio 3 and on Music Web International below......
English music for viola and piano on disc often focuses on familiar names: Bax, Clarke, Bowen, Bliss, Bridge, Vaughan Williams and maybe Grainger. Once in a while the repertoire expands to include McEwen, Maconchy, Rawsthorne and some others. Dutton has gone for something different: relatively unfamiliar or near-unknown names in a tight compositional chronology of 1939-57. All are claimed as world premiere recordings – though Dutton obviously didn’t know about one previous recording, of which more later.
All the suites, sonatas, sonatinas or sonata-like pieces are compact – at 19 minutes in length Wilfrid Mellers’ sonata is by some way the most expansive – and occupy the same kind of aesthetic, some more conventionally than others. William Lawarne Harris studied with Howells and taught music in schools. His 1952 Suite is a crisp and evocative folkloric piece that won the Lionel Tertis prize for a viola suite. The finale is virile and confident, but the central movement is the most evocative, and is called The Death of Procris, named after the painting by Piero di Cosimo that Harris must have seen in the National Gallery in London. In point of fact Harris titled it in French, perhaps on the grounds that, as in the case of food, using French confers an exalted status on things.
Alan Richardson’s brief Intrada was, like the Harris Suite, dedicated to Watson Forbes, one of Britain’s finest violists of the era. It’s the equivalent of one of Kreisler’s little jests of Baroquerie and a delight. This is the piece that has been recorded before, by the dedicatee for Decca in 1941 and he was considerably faster than the excellent Sarah-Jane Bradley. Thomas Dunhill is probably the best known of the composers in this disc and his Triptych was written for solo viola and orchestra but what we hear is the viola and piano reduction as the larger scaled work seems to be lost. Its opening movement is sweetly melancholic, there’s a romantically oriented scherzo and a genial and charming finale.
Better known as a writer and academic, Wilfrid Mellers found the time to compose as well, at least in his earlier days as his Sonata dates from 1949. His piece is stylistically the most advanced, not least harmonically. Its emotional landscape veers from melancholy to overtly pessimistic, replete with mournful recollections, but there’s a buoyant tunefulness as well in the central movement. The finale, it’s true, reverts to the threnodic but it’s a quietly impressive work, beautifully played by Bradley and John Lenehan and the pianist certainly brings out the colour and glint in the keyboard writing. Christopher Edmunds’ Piano Sonata has recently been recorded on EM Records (EMR CD070-71) and here now is his 1957 sonata dedicated to Bernard Shore, erstwhile principal violist of Boult’s BBC Symphony and a fine soloist. Edmunds is good at long-breathed lyricism though I can’t pretend that it’s a particularly distinctive work.
More personal and warmly expressive is Norman Fulton’s Sonata da camera. Fulton worked for the BBC, after which he taught at the Royal Academy of Music. He wrote three symphonies. Sleeve note writer Michael Ponder – himself a fine violist - suggests that the last performance of the work was the one he gave with the composer at the piano back in 1969. It’s a welcome rediscovery; lyric, charming, whimsical, unpretentious, genial, and finely laid out for both instruments. The final work is the Sonatina of Thomas Pitfield, a number of whose works have been recorded. Again, the salient features here are unselfconscious generosity and charm, with an admixture of folklike moments.
Traditional in style and form, this selection of works has been beautifully performed and equally well recorded in St George’s Headstone, Harrow. Ponder’s notes tell you all you need to know.
Reunited with the wonderful National Symphony Orchestra and Rimma Sushanskaya, we performed the Beethoven Emperor Concerto once again at Cheltenham Town Hall. Our next project together next year is Shostakovich concerto no. 1. Beethoven was reviewed in Midlands Music Reviews below....
"There were plenty of Mozartian qualities from the excellent soloist John Lenehan, with great clarity of detail, a persuasive balancing of textures between the hands, and a dramatic delineation of dynamics, not least in the inner musings of the slow movement – leading to a well-sprung finale and a conclusion where the timpanist and Lenehan listened to each other and faded with a moving empathy. The overall effect was of huge service to Beethoven."
My association with the National Symphony Orchestra and their Principal Associate Conductor Rimma Shushanskaya continued this week with a performance of Bach's D minor Concerto at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Following on from previous performances and recordings of Mozart and Beethoven Concertos, I am happy to say that in the coming months we will be playing the Beethoven Emperor and Shostakovich first concertos together.
The Chetham's International Summer School for Pianists invited me once again to teach and perform at the Stoller Hall. I took part in two gala evenings playing music by Ireland and Rowley and gave two full concerts with silent film. II was delighted to be asked to participate in this prestigious event and see so many amazing colleagues informally. Noriko Ogawa took the photo below of me with Julian Jacobson, Hilary Coates, Martin Roscoe and Christopher Elton.
The Absolute classics organisation in Scotland is about to go live this weekend after more than a year of regularly streamed events.. On Saturday I will play a recital with the brilliant saxophonist Huw Wiggin. On Sunday I have two concerts - piano trios with the London Soloists Ensemble and a solo recital including the Goldberg Variations. Excerpts from the concerts will be recorded and available on the Absolute Classics YouTube channel in the future. Morel information here https://absoluteclassics.co.uk/festival/
There was a very special atmosphere at St. Mary's Church in Petworth as Emma Johnson, Raphael Wallfisch and Simon Blendis joined me in this extraordinary piece as part of the Petworth Festival. Extraordinary and effective lighting from Lee Stoddart certainly added to the occasion!
I received a very warm welcome at the Harrogate International Festival recently when I stepped in at two days notice to replace an indisposed Martin Roscoe. Luckily I had played the Goldberg Variations in the previous week and they were delighted to have this as their first concert in 16 months. A memorable occasion!
The European Piano Teachers Association's magazine features an extensive interview with me and can be read in full here....
The conversation (with Melanie Spanswick) covers a wide variety of subjects from my early teachers to improvising for silent films and recording John Ireland's piano music.