A beautiful programme to start the year at the opening Sunday afternoon concert at St Mary’s Perivale.
Ashley is a favourite with Hugh Mather’s very discerning audience and this charming wooden “redundant” church in the countryside setting of Ealing Golf Course was completely sold out for a popular programme of Schubert,Schumann and Chopin.
It was also streamed worldwide so a much wider audience could appreciate the remarkable concerts that have been up until now for the lucky few.
I have written many times about Ashley’s performances and it is good to see how his playing has matured and grown in stature since winning the Gold Medal at the Guildhall where he studied with Ronan O’Hora.https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/ronan-ohora-at-the-wigmore-hall/10155506340997309/
But even more since he has been under the eagle eye of Eliso Virsaladze in Fiesole whilst completing a doctorate on the piano music of Thomas Ades at the Guildhall .https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/elisso-virsaladze-in-latina-the-grande-dame-of-the-piano/10156059610812309/
A fascinating programme of sixteen little pieces :
Schubert 4 Impromptus op 90,Chopin 4 Impromptus and Schumann’s eight pieces that make up his Fantasiestucke op 12.
Finishing a long programme with Chopin’s 4th Scherzo op 54.
I remember Walter Klien giving a similar programme of many miniature pieces many years ago and it can be not only tiring for the performer but also for the listener.
The concentration needed for each piece can be extremely wearying.
But when you have a real artist at the helm the pieces can become a series of contrasted tone poems in the context of an overall form that each composer has tried to create.
A fascinating voyage of discovery as in today’s case with Schubert ,Chopin and Schumann.
From the first note of the C minor Impromptu of Schubert it was clear that Ashley wanted to draw us in to hear this magic world that the composer had created.
A beautifully expressive melodic line seemed to evolve out of the opening declamatory bare octave.Ashley almost conducting as he coaxed the sounds out of the piano before him.
The second impromptu seemed to glow so seemlessly from his fingers as the passionate contrast with the rather military middle section and coda was made even more remarkable.
The beautiful G flat Impromptu was beautifully shaped and the accompaniment played with such a delicate web of sound that allowed the melodic line to sing out unimpeded.
I personally wish he could have found the same luminosity that he immediately found in the opening A flat impromptu of Chopin.
I realize of course that he did not want the web of sound that Schubert creates to disappear in the same delicate shimmer that is of Chopin’s world.
Even though the last Schubert impromptu was played with a delicate shimmering sound and the balance between the hands in the more passionate melody that follows was quite remarkably controlled.
Ashley immediately transported us to Chopin’s delicate sound world with the magical fiorituri of the first Impromptu played with a delicacy but always within the wonderful flexible line that he allowed to sing so naturally.
It was the same magical balance in the F sharp n.2
Rather on the slow side to begin but then led to a fluidity that the right hand accompanying scales seemed to weave their web above a sumptuous left hand melodic line.
The melodic interruptions played with such a melancholic nostalgia which led so naturally into the almost Poulenc like Impromptu n.3.
The magnificent G flat impromptu that in Rubinstein’s hands, as in Ashley’s today, had such a refined aristocratic sense of line that surely it must have been the inspiration for Rubinsteins old friend Poulenc whose own A flat Impromptu I think is dedicated to him.
The famous Fantasie Impromptu, the last of the set, started with the bare left hand octave that was immediately encapsulated into the busy passionate weaving of this remarkable piece.
Very similar to the opening in fact of the Schubert C minor with the bare chord that then dissolves into the very fabric of the piece that follows.
It takes the ear of a very fine artist indeed to be able to paint with such a subtle palete of colours and the true artist who can then shape them into a whole landscape.
It was exactly this that Ashley did with the Fantasiestucke by Schumann that followed after a brief interval.
Each of the eight pieces was shaped as a miniature tone poem.
The abundant use of pedal in the first “Des Abends” allowed a wonderful luminosity of sound without any hardness but with such a subtle sense of colour it was indeed a sublime song without words.
“Aufshwung” showed his aristocratic sense of balance in a piece that too often can allow Floristan to rear out of control.
The beautifully simple “Warum” was contrasted with the coquettish caprice of “Grillen”.
Leading immediately into “In der Nacht” keeping the overall shape of these eight miniatures in mind.
The middle section here was played with such a breathtaking sense of colour and nostalgia.
The story telling of “Fabel” could almost have been set to words.
The technical difficulty of “Traumes Wirren” was of no significance for Ashley as he shaped this Feux Follets type piece with a sense of style and delicacy disappearing into thin air like Rachmaninov does in his preludes op 23 n.5 and 32 n.12 many years later.
The grandeur of the “Ende vom Lied” was just as I remember Rubinstein in his very last public recital and the Schumann dotted rhythms were given a shape and meaning that only a real artist could appreciate.
The fourth and most elusive of Chopin’s Scherzi was the final work in this wonderfully long programme.Played with all the aristocratic musicianship that Ashley has aquired under the guidance of Elisa Virsaladze .The long slow middle section played with such feeling but with a forward movement never sentimental but full of the nostalgia that crowns Chopin’s last works .
The little waltz op 70 n.2 beautifully shaped was Ashley’s way of thanking his always affectionate public here at St Mary’s and who knows where else in the world too!