London Piano Festival – Circus of dreams

Charles Owen-Katya Apekisheva-Kathryn Stott
Gabriela Montero-Finghin Collins

Playing of ravishing beauty of sublime wondrous sounds as the Gods were obviously hovering above Kings Place this afternoon for Katya Apekisheva’s recital of two of the masterpieces that Schubert bequeathed to the world in the last year of his short life.


Drei Klavierstucke D 946 and the Sonata in B flat D 960 were recreated before an audience bewitched by the golden streams of sound that I have not heard since Krystian Zimerman’s recital of Schubert at the Festival Hall a few years ago when he stood in at the last minute for that other unique Schubertian Mitsuko Uchida.

Katya Apekisheva recreating Schubert


Playing with the score less subtly than Zimerman one was not aware of anything except the continuous stream of sounds of rarified beauty.From the exquisite second Klavierstucke where beauty contrasted with subtle menace with such a simple outpouring of melody of a fluidity that belied the fact that a piano is a box of hammers and strings.
She made it appear as if it was a celestial harp with never a harsh or abrupt sound.
That does not mean that there were not contrasts or a great architectural line .
Quite the contrary.
Here there were whispered utterances of reverence and love as we were enveloped into a magic world where time seemed to stand still………..Schubert’s last sonata played as a gift from heaven with such ethereal sounds and ravishing beauty.From the very opening where she barely touched the keys and a bass trill that was a mere vibration that suddenly came alive and became the accompaniment of Schubert’s continuous outpouring of song.There was such grace and playfulness too.No repeat but a beautiful modulation and beseeching melodic line as play mingled with song.An Andante Sostenuto of poignant beauty and stillness and an outpouring of streams of golden sounds.A Scherzo of ethereal lightness as it duetted so magically between the bass and tenor like puffs of smoke that arose and disappeared as it led to the menace of the trio.Played like things that go bump in the night which almost got out of hand with a final more than menacing last note!The resonance of the gong that heralds the last movement was played with such a glowing varied sound each time it interrupted the flow.There was a superb control of sound as one layer replied to another until Schubert’s insatiable melodic invention takes wing with a shimmering sense of legato.Full orchestral sound in the central episode never forsook the Philadelphian velvet texture that enveloped and bewitched us as we were drawn into this wondrous world that Schubert was just a stone’s throw from inhabiting forever.On wings of song as never before!A glimpse of paradise indeed.

Sally Beamish in conversation with Owen Mortimer

What fun we were having at Kings Place ……after sublime Schubert the fun of Sonnets by Sally Beamish delighted to describe her lockdown project for three pianists on two pianos chasing each other around the pianos in the final fugue.Well it does after all mean the chase of one voice answering another .

Sally Beamish


In conversation with Owen Mortimer,Editor of International Piano Magazine she oozed charm and delight at what a fun piece she had written thanks to the indication of her husband Peter Thomson,the playright and stage director.He had pointed out that Shakespeare’s Sonnets were also written in a period of lockdown – the Plague!
Three pianists who have to act and run about the stage as they outline the story of Shakespeare’s love triangle as in Sonnets 19 and 129 re-enacted and vividly brought to life. The young man played by Finghin Collins and the dark lady of Katya Apekisheva and we will see what role is assigned to Charles Owen in this UK premiere.The world premiere was at the New Ross Festival in Ireland on the 25th September and the UK premiere today the 9th October at Kings Place.It was commissioned by the New Ross Piano Festival and the London Piano Festival.

More superb playing with the ever more exquisite phrasing of Katya Apekisheva combining with the elegance and charm of Finghin Collins to bring to life with joyous brilliance and streaming sunshine the Sonata in D for two pianos by Mozart.A musical conversation of delight and joy.There was a purity and such subtle phrasing from Katya replied by such elegance from Finghin who showed all his masterly musicianship with accompaniments of ravishing delicacy before contrasts ignited with such driving rhythms from just a masterly touch from the bass.An Andante of sublime beauty and Katya opened the molto allegro too with such beguiling charm that was matched by Finghins superb injection of rhythmic energy in a performance that was ravishing as it was exciting.No wonder Josepha Auernhammer was so enamoured with Mozart whom he unfortunately described as ‘ fat as a farm girl and her sweat makes you feel sick!’She did come from a wealthy family though that had just acquired a piano with a high F sharp that Mozart uses here for the only time generously giving it to Josepha on first piano.

Katya and Finghin play Mozart


Joining Finghin on stage was Gabriela Montero for a ravishing performance of Schubert’s F minor Fantasie. Very slow at the opening like the beginning of a wondrous tale that was about to unfold.And unfold it truly did with a voyage into a wonderland of emotions and multi coloured shades that was remarkable.The only work that Schubert dedicated to ‘Countess Caroline Esterhazy :An der ferne geliebte!’ as legend would have it.

Gabriela Montero and Finghin Collins
Charles Owen and Kathryn Stott

Finghin,the great gentleman always,allowed Gabriela the pedal as she carved out the miraculous opening melody with such subtle sounds.Pure magic of trills that were just vibrations of sound passing from one partner to the other contrasting with majestic rhythmic chords.A featherlight scherzo and even more ethereal trio of mingled twine weaving it’s way with such delicacy and shape.A fugue of indecent passion was quite overwhelming and only subsided when Gabriela found the same sounds and sublime serenity of the opening at the end of this great tale.It was a performance where they played as one.There could be no greater compliment than that.


Just as Kathryn Stott and Charles Owen ravished and excited an audience thrilled and excited by such sounds and driving hypnotic energy in Ravel’s ‘choreographic symphony ‘ Daphnis and Chloe Suite n.2.in the two piano arrangement of Vyacheslav Gryaznov.

Peter Thomson-Charles Owen-Sally Beamish-Katya Apekisheva-Finghin Collins


Fun and games followed after the interval with Sally Beamishes witty parody on the presumed love triangle of Shakespeare as revealed to eagle and inquisitive eyes in his Sonnets numbers 19 and 129.’Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day………to shun the heaven that leads men to this hell’

Finghin acting the part of the young man with Charles Owen’s irritated Shakespeare


Finghin revealed all his natural Irish actors skills as he played the elusive young man of Shakespeare’s unwarranted attention.Charles Owen a suitably irritated Bard as Katya K’s dark lady stole the show.This is certainly the way to present a contemporary score with extraordinary versatility and not a little virtuosity.

Gabriela Montero – Kathryn Stott


Rachmaninov in Hollywood style with his Suite op 17 was given a heavyweight performance by Gabriela Montero and Kathryn Stott.Played with sumptuous sounds and startling virtuosity it just lacked a strong musical line in their pursuit to thrill and amaze instead of ravish and seduce.A relentless Alla marcia at breakneck speed was followed by the scintillating virtuosity of the Valse and the romantic meanderings of the Romance before the majesty and astonishing bravura of the Tarantelle.

Katya Apekisheva – Charles Owen


And seduction there was with three charming bon bons by Poulenc.The Elégie written ‘as if improvising with a cigar in your mouth and a glass of cognac on the table’.Capriccio from the finale of the dazzlingly surreal cantata La bal masque.The L’embarquement pour Cythère was played with wit and charm so typical of Le Boef sur le toit of Paris between the wars.Katya K and Charles Owen’s performances were a lesson in style and charm.

Kathryn Stott- Finghin Collins


Grainger’s Fantasy on Porgy and Bess was given a swashbuckling performance of great virtuosity and swing style but rather overstayed it’s welcome and could well have benefitted from the cutting room.An audience suitably thrilled by their dynamic performance but also worried about being stuck in a traffic jam on Broadway and missing their last buses home.
However Finghin and Kathryn gave a remarkable performance and they and their companions were justly awarded a bottle of Tattinger each.

Charles Owen- Katya Apekisheva-Kathryn Stott
Gabriela Montero-Finghin Collins


I hope they will wait until Charles Owen’s early morning foray with the Goldberg is over before celebrating a joyous weekend of music making together.

Charles Owen
An admirer offering flowers to Katya


Here is the remarkable Finghin Collins in Italy in 2018 https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.wordpress.com/2018/07/29/pontine-festival-2018/

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