06 February 2018

Piano showcase

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Beethoven’s immense popularity has led to his pieces being overplayed, hence desensitising audiences to their ‘original revolutionary fervour’. Students attempted to recover this in the Beethoven Project on 30 January. They played the fortepiano (a historical piano) and used period performance techniques to produce a more authentic sound.

The earliest works resembled the classical style of Haydn, arguably Beethoven’s greatest teacher. The first taste of drama appeared in the famous ‘Pathetique’ sonata. Madeleine Brown’s assured performance possessed technical security and demonstrated her powers of expression, switching with ease between moments of tender pain and manic fury.

The arrangements of several symphonies as piano duets made me wonder: to what extent can we replicate an orchestral sound with an instrument which is essentially mechanical? On a simpler note every audience member had a smile on their face after Andrei Golovanov injected every phrase with joyful energy. His playful character shone right through the music!

After the interval the recital resumed with Rory Welsh playing one of Beethoven’s most recognisable works, the ‘Moonlight’ sonata. The pianist is directed to depress the sustaining pedal throughout the first movement, which on the fortepiano produces not an unpleasant layering of dissonances, but a wash of sound equivalent to a background of colour on a watercolour painting.

James King reminded the audience not to forget that in his time Beethoven was a true revolutionary, with each of his pieces challenging the conventions that would have restrained his contemporaries. For example, it seemed ‘a wild idea’ to include a choir in a symphony (Madeleine Brown and Camille Gontarek played an excerpt from the ‘Choral’ symphony) To finish, Andrei Golovanov and Alex Hall played an arrangement of the String Quartet in B flat major filled with sentimental romanticism far from the classical sonatas.

The Beethoven Project allowed the audience to hear Beethoven’s music as he intended it to sound in a fresh approach ‘unburdened by tradition’. It encouraged the listeners to engage with and consider the music in new ways, and it was certainly most enjoyable to watch. The true heroes of the evening were of course the students whose performances were impressively well prepared and amazed the audience with the maturity of their interpretations. Bravo to all the performers and to Mr Wey for his innovative Piano Showcase concerts!

Mika Curson, Year 10

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