On Saturday 13th April 2013 at 7.30 pm an audience gathered at Portsmouth Grammar School music department, in the ‘Rotunda’ room, for a solo recital by the Maltese pianist Maureen Galea. A distinguished performer and academic specialising in the works of Czech composers, she provided a superb evening’s entertainment.
The fewness of audience numbers was no deterrent to Galea who, wearing a flowing green dress and a strikingly broad smile, dazzled us with a programme of virtuoso works by Czech and other composers. She prefaced each piece with an intelligent and well-judged introduction, drawing on her research as well as a deep affinity with the music. We went away feeling we had learned something as well as having had a spiritually elevating and artistically very pleasurable experience.
The opening Beethoven Grand Sonata Pathetique Op. 13 was executed with drama underpinned by precision. Ms Galea has very strong and secure technique and plays with an almost percussive rhythmic style that gives real purpose and direction to her performance. From the first chords of the opening Grave her desire to communicate with the listeners was evident. The two Allegro movements were fiercely uncompromising and demonstrated her formidable Italian-style passion. The famous Andante Cantabile had tenderness and was not overly sentimental.
Next came two Bagatelles from Op 107 No 3 by the Austrian (but would today be Slovenian) composer Hummel. ‘La Contemplazione: Una Fantasia Piccola’ and ‘Rondo All’ Ungherese’ revealed, it seemed to me, strong influences of Mozart (a teacher of Hummel) and shades of Beethoven too. These technically demanding works were easily mastered by our pianist whose command and confidence was so great that she was able to use one pause of no more than a second to adjust the ring on a finger and another to adjust her clothing. Astonishing, though her confidence was, amusingly, her undoing at one moment, I think it was during her next pieces, Dumka and Furiant by Dvorak which she played from photocopies. A page turn did not go exactly as planned (characteristically she did her own, gratuitously adding another challenge to an already demanding workload); necessitating a few unscripted filler notes. None of this detracted from her very impressive overall delivery of Dvorak’s rich, inventive works.
The interval provided an opportunity for socialising among the Portsmouth Music Club members, a committed band of music lovers fronted by the charming Diana Swann. As well as supporting local music in schools an elsewhere, the Club puts on a series of top quality classical events, one of which upcoming in November will be a concert by local piano virtuoso Valentina Seferinova (details to follow on the Club web site), who like Galea has done much to champion music that does not enjoy its deserved prominence in the established repertoire. This is one way, hopefully, in which a younger audience can be attracted to these kind of events: I am 60 this week, the concert being something of a birthday treat, and was one of the youngest present.
The break was followed by three pieces by Smetana: Georgina’s Polka, Pensee Fugitive and Louisa’s Polka. Sandwiched between the two very lively polkas, the Pensee Fugitive provided one of the evening’s moments of calm and romance. Galea’s introductory remarks about the intriguing origin of the works really enhanced my appreciation of them.
Beethoven’s Fantasie Op. 77 reminded us why he remains a towering figure in the piano repertoire. Fire, subtlety, variety (the piece is variation-based), the unparalleled power to move and excite the more turbulent emotions. Such music is ideally suited to the abilities of Galea who had no difficulty in pulling it off with style and flourish. If pianistic performance styles could be compared to motor cars, she is definitely a Ferrari, with raw power allied to panache and beautiful styling.
Her penultimate offering was Love Song by J. Suk, Op. 7 No. 1. This moving work, prefaced by remarks that made clear Galea’s personal fondness for and affinity with it, was crafted lovingly by her on the immaculate Steinway.
The final piece was by Vorisek, Fantasie Op. 12, that happily provided a great way for the pianist to finish with sparkle and flourish.
On the basis of last night’s performance, Galea comes highly recommended.