22 June 2012

A performer’s thinking

We get comments from the classical stage these days, but Robert Chamberlains’s concert was more than that. This was short but specific exposure to his thinking on a work in progress. The work in progress was Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier Book 1 which he will perform in recital later this year. He didn’t play all the works – that’s about 90 minutes of performance – but he did play several and he did outline his impressions, even how he had changed his approach after discussions with other performers. One work, I think it was the toccata in Ab major, changed from solid and dignified to softer and conversational. He played a snippet of the first then the work as the second. Fascinating. I assume this is an ongoing process, and the decisions for his recital could change further in future performances. The dots are all written, but of course there are many opportunities for personality and approach. (My mate Asanka told me later that Bach has no dynamics or pedal markings, so it’s open house). I was surprised by a truncated, not quite staccato, approach to many melodies and a bit less so by a malleable tempo, but I shouldn’t be. These are all parts of the individuality of that performer working with those dots. I also loved feeling the movement of focus on the melody as it moved from right to left to right hand. And I surprised by the firm and very voluminous playing. Who says classical isn’t loud: a grand piano can certainly be loud in a limited space. So what did he play? Preludes and fugues in Cmaj/Cmin, C#maj, G#maj/Abmin and Bbmin/Bbmaj. There were some very well known themes here and presented with very different feelings: sadness in a few; dignity, conversation, delicacy, good nature. And technical variation, too: close voices in many parts; toccata sounding string-like parts; layers and registers and intervals; a modulation to E#min(!). But always both attractive and satisfying. Perhaps the piano was heavy, but that’s the nature of these newer, more powerful instruments, but what intellectual clarity. Robert ended with three preludes from Gershwin that he likened to Bach through its rhythmic drive. The first seemed bitsy to my ear, the second bluesy in AABA structure, the third excitable and bouncy with a call-and-response melody. This was a wonderful exposure to a musician’s thought and preparation and attractive and intelligent music to boot.

Robert Chamberlain performed a lunchtime concert of selections from Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier Bk 1 and three Gershwin preludes at St Alban’s.

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