Denis Matthews Centenary Tribute


Bradshaw Hall
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ****

How fitting that the centenary of legendary pianist Denis Matthews was marked in such a generous manner, first with a discussion involving musicians who knew him, then this splendid concert reflecting Matthews' own tastes and repertoire.
Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms provided the heftiest works, with Schubert's Fantasie in F minor and a Brahms Hungarian Dance (duet works Matthews performed with Howard Ferguson) offering somewhat lighter fare. Surprisingly there was no Mozart, a composer Matthews loved and recorded extensively.
Here, Allan Schiller (a one-time student of Matthews) and John Humphreys were the duettists, always alert to Schubert's grace and Brahms's flourishes, but without excess.
One could never accuse Peter Donohoe of being inhibited, even when not at full virtuoso throttle. His account of Beethoven's A major Sonata No. 28 had a wonderfully singing quality, with textures differentiated and coloured in an almost orchestral way – as in the "deepest feeling" opening Allegretto – and semiquavers in the finale so lightly fingered they sounded like flurries of wind.
After the interval came the big guns, with spectacular contributions from three Conservatoire students. Chief of these was Emanuil Ivanov's remarkably mature reading of Brahms's 'Handel' Variations and Fugue (another Denis Matthews favourite) which, for musical maturity and technical brilliance was superbly accomplished, each variation perfectly fashioned in tempo and detail, and an awesomely chiselled fugue that soared with poetry and bristled with drama.
The Florestan and Eusebius aspects of Schumann's Kreisleriana were, perhaps, not contrasted enough by Pascal Pascalev, who tended to favour its more impetuous elements; but his playing combined wonderful clarity and golden tone with a genuine sense of lyricism.
Four cross-over pieces by Franck Laurent Grandpré closed the evening; self-indulgently too long but quite good fun (especially the last one) in a quirky sort of way. Of course, the younger members of the audience loved them.
David Hart

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