Thomas Kelly takes St Mary’s by storm

Thomas Kelly at St Mary’s
Thomas Kelly at St Mary`s

Today’s programme
I first heard this 22 year old pianist at the Royal College of Music during the annual Joan Chissell Schumann competition.
There were some fine performances of many of the masterpieces that Schumann wrote one after the other from the Abegg variations op 1 to the Eight Novelettes of op 21 and on.
A continuous series of masterpieces.
But it was a performance of op 9 Carnaval that caught my attention for the liquid sound and natural pianism almost of Nelson Freire dimension.
Some things cannot be taught and the God given gift to communicate has been given only to a chosen few.
They may exceed in rubato or excess of bravura but there is a quality of sound that goes straight to the heart in a direct musical conversation.
Thomas Kelly ran away with the prize and I can just see Joan Chissell with a smile of recognition on her face.
She was a critic who could in just a few well chosen words illuminate her articles in the Times.
Mr Rubinstein the `Prince of Pianists` has remained in my memory as was her description of  Villa Lobos` O Prol do Bebe` :’Mr Rubinstein turned baubles into gems.’
She could be harsh and unforgiving too and I remember Peter Katin telling me that he implored the Times not to keep sending her to his sold out Chopin recitals in the Festival Hall!
And so it was today that I was able to hear Thomas Kelly in a full recital for that connoisseur of young musicians Dr Hugh Mather.
I was not disappointed,on the contrary ,Thomas has matured without damaging his great natural talent and what we were privileged to hear today was quite extraordinary.
The only other pianists that I could liken his sound to are Leonard Pennario or Byron Janis or almost a Curzon.A liquid sound that is so pure and never with a hard edge.A sound that could go on forever in any direction.
It is a question of super sensibility to balance and a completely relaxed arm allied to ears that listen to every single nuance with a masterly control of the pedals.
That is a very simplified way of describing a sort of piano genius and in a nutshell that was what we were treated to today.
Starting with Schubert’s little A minor sonata D.784 which immediately showed his extraordinary range of sound.
The purity too of the opening theme that returns even more delicately after the menacing bass trills that were so beautifully calculated.
The initial outburst never exceeding the great architectural line created led so naturally to a heartmelting second subject.Magic was in the air even more etherial when the right hand embellishments were added.
A perfect sense of lilt in the developement section contrasted so well with the mighty dotted octaves and allowed a magical transition back to the recapitulation.
The final sighing farewell was played with a nostalgia and beauty of sound that was quite memorable.
A sumptuous sound for the Andante contrasted so well with the menacing dotted rhythmic interruptions played very clearly and precisely even though pianissimo.Maintaining the flow that Schubert asks for, the return in the tenor register of the main theme with magical embellishments high in the upper register created an otherworldly atmosphere.
This is surely one of Schubert’s most beautiful utterences full of both subtle tenderness and hint of menace.
The last movement entered in a whisper like Chopin’s B flat minor Sonata with’ the wind blowing over the graves.’
The difference is that here it was full of joy and Schubert’s endless melodic invention adding only to the glow of the contrasting episodes.
A true ‘Allegro vivace’ beautifully maintained to the very end with the famous octaves dispatched with an ease and sense of cantabile that is rare indeed.The final three chords played in crescendo and not the usual slam of the door that we are used to in lesser hands.
I remember Radu Lupu playing this sonata in the opening round of the Leeds Piano Competition and although his sound was even more etherial he together with Gilels a few years later in the Festival Hall had opened the pandoras box of one of Schubert’s most beautiful early creations.
Thomas too today has been touched by the same magic wand and his care and attention to detail kept us following his every move.
Kinderscenen by Schumann maintained the same magic with a visit from beautifully simple ‘foreign lands’ leading to a most charming ‘curious story.’A lovely ending to ‘blind mans bluff’ and has a ‘child’s imploring’ ever been more persuasive?Interrupted by a really ‘important event’ that gradually disappeared into the distance as a dream came floating in on a cloud of ravishing beauty.
A’ fireside’ both welcoming and warming and the ‘knight on the hobby horse’ entering at first so delicately.Could it have been a ‘dream’ as he mused ‘almost too seriously and frighteningly’ with such fantastic fantasy.The ‘child falling asleep’ on a truly magic wave of sumptuous sounds with a beam of light illuminating the entry of’ the poet who speaks’ so eloquently with sounds pulled out of this magic box that were so beautiful.
All this was conveyed by this young man as a Curzon or a Cortot could do in the past bringing to life Schumann’s fantasy of a child’s dream world.
The Scriabin Fantasie op 8 opened up a world of subtle insinuating sounds.
An opening that had the quiet menace of things to come.Thomas has the ideal sound for Scriabin where his liquid sound world gave endless possibilities of unsuspected directions. Scriabin’s luxuriant melodies emerge to disappear almost immediately in a couldron of kaleidoscopic sounds.Gradually re-emerging in romantic triumph.
A virtuoso performance that led the way for the almost orchestral sounds in Liszt’s Reminiscences de Norma.
Here he could let his hair down and fearlessly treat us to one of Liszt’s masterly revisitation of Bellini’s Norma.
Enormous orchestral sounds dissolving into heartmelting cantabile.
The menace of the war turning into the most demonic show piece of transcendental difficulty thrown off with all the ease that is needed and rarely offered.
The final duet between the two voices was really breathtaking in its unrelenting crescendo to the end.
As Dr Hugh Mather exclaimed an exhilarating afternoon of quite phenomenal playing that can all be relived on the magnificent streaming from St Mary’s Perivale .

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