Ashley Fripp at St Mary’s

Ashley Fripp at St Mary’s

Ashley Fripp
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.
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 .
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 with Dr Mather presenting his programme to an awaiting world audience
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.

Ashley’s CD of the Chopin Concerti
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.

Ashley with an admirer after the concert
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.

Dario Ntaca and his student flown in especially from Berne where he had been performing two pianos with Martha Argerich
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!

The latest CD of Bach , Ades and Chopin

Unlimited Talent Mathew Lau at St Barnabas

Unlimited Talent Mathew Lau at St Barnabas

Dr Hugh Mather with Matthew Lau explaining his programme to a rapt audience
What a way to start the year at that Mecca for all young pianists in Dr Hugh Mather’s extraordinary series of concerts at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas.Many of the finest young talents are invited by this ever generous benefactor to give concerts before a very discerning public.
This is Friday concert number 515 so it states on the programme and is only a small part of the well over a hundred concerts offered to these very talented musicians every year.
Little was I expecting to hear such talent from someone so young and modest as the young man who was presented today in collaboration with the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe.
In fact Matthew Lau was the winner last March 2018 of the Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition.
I have heard many of the winners of the Senior competition which have included pianists of the stature of Ilya Kondratiev and Mihai Ritivoiu and many others .I was infact on the jury with Noretta Conci-Leech and Piers Lane when Mihai was unanimously awarded the first prize for his remarkable performance of the “Appassionata”.

Today’s programme at St Barnabas
Talent cannot be taught but it can be nurtured and encouraged as is obviously the case with this young musician from Prestwich in Manchester.
He has been taught by John Gough  at the Junior RNCM and is currently at the age of 18 continuing his studies with him at the senior RNCM.
The real problem arises now of how to give a more profound and varied technical repertoire to a young musician without destroying his extraordinarily delicate and sensitive natural musicality.
In the eastern countries it is well known the technical grounding and hours of work that talented children are expected to follow in specialist schools.
This of course can give them a technical repertoire that they can call on to express their musicality.
It can with the wrong sort of training also kill any natural musicality and substitute it with a mechanical perfection that we are often aware of with great virtuosi who can play Rachmaninoff and Tchaikowsky but do not know what to do with a Beethoven Bagatelle!
Here is a very talented young man who will now dedicate the next few years to resolving this problem.
It could be a choice of repertoire like Schubert Wanderer Fantasy,Beethoven Waldstein,Schumann Etudes Symphonique,Brahms Handel Variations or the Chopin 27 Studies where in conquering the musical values one also gains in technical skill.
Matthew and his mentor of course will choose the route that most suits as did Paul Lewis and Stephen Hough who have taken their rightful place on the world stage as two of the supreme interpreters of our time.
Stephen Hough chose to go to the USA but his real training was from Gordon Green at the RNCM.
Paul Lewis had been closely followed by Alfred Brendel but only after early training from Joan Havill.
Some really exquisite playing starting with the rarely played Six Variations in F major op 34 by Beethoven.
Almost Mozartian in Matthew’s hands but it is the work that precedes the great Eroica Variations and there is much more storm and drang than one would have imagined in this extremely beautifully shaped account.Richter played them at one of his early  London recitals and I do not think I have seen them programmed since.
Of course he also had moments of great temperament but the actual depth of sound on this magnificent Bosendorfer has yet to be found.
The two Etude Tableaux by Rachmaninoff were beautifully shaped which is so much more preferable than the usual barnstorming pianism that they are so often subjected to in lesser hands.
The Etude op 33 n.4 was played with such a playful sense of colour and the passionate outburst of the main theme in op 39 n.5 showed just what is there, ready to be be released in these important few years of total dedication to music that he has before him.
The three Debussy Preludes revealed all his delicate sense of balance.
But in the hands of a true virtuoso such as Richter “Voiles” with more depth of sound can reveal even more of its secrets.
A very accomplished performance of the very difficult “Ce qua vu le vent d’Ouest” showed considerable technical skill allied to a rare musicality.The ferocious side will be more obvious as his technical command grows.”La Terrasse des audiences du clair de .lune” from Book 2 was beautifully evocative.
The opening octaves of the Rigoletto paraphrase were beautifully shaped and showed off all his already remarkable artistry.Some of the more difficult passages were resolved with beautifully rounded phrasing taking perhaps more time than Liszt intended.
More Eusebius than Florestan but nevertheless a very successful and enjoyable performance of a piece that is too often put in the wrong hands.
As Ilona Kabos once said to me many years ago “ Darling you play it beautifully…..disgustingly beautiful… would play it better if you were a better pianist”.
Rather cruel at the time but it certainly made me work and of course now I can appreciated exactly what she meant even though seemingly at the time too direct!
All this to say with what pleasure and admiration I followed this opening recital of the year and am sure that Matthew Lau will be a name to watch out for in the not too distant future.

Mr and Mrs Lau
It was very refreshing to see his parents present and the surprise for them and Matthew of the ovation he received after his very beautiful playing.An uncontaminated innocence of youth  unused to  playing in public was very refreshing to witness.
He had not expected an encore but on Dr Hugh’s insistence he played one of the most suggestive of Rachmaninoff Preludes,the one in G sharp minor .Not perfect as it was so unexpected but talent will always out as it did here too today.